Getting To Know Jameis Winston

The likely top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Jameis Winston is many things: a Heisman winner, a BCS Champion, a baseball fan, an alleged rapist, an outstanding quarterback, a questionable decision maker on the field, a shoplifter and the most NFL ready QB prospect. Getting to know Jameis Winston has had Mark Schofield scouring the film – and the legal briefs – to evaluate his professional potential.

Jameis Winston took the college football universe by storm in 2013. The tall passer with an outfielder’s arm, disdain for contact lenses, and quirky pre-game rituals led the Florida State Seminoles to a National Championship in his first year as a starter. The redshirt freshman completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards and a whopping 40 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions in 2013. He began his collegiate career with four touchdowns in the ‘Noles 2013 opener against Pittsburgh, and he closed out the campaign with two scoring tosses against Auburn in the BCS Championship. Prior to the victory over the Tigers, Winston won the 2013 Heisman Trophy, becoming the second freshman to win the award after Johnny Manziel.

Winston’s 2014 campaign was rocked by turmoil on the field and off. His statistics were down from his stellar 2013 campaign, as he completed 65.3 percent of his throws for 3,907 yards with 25 touchdowns and a disappointing 18 interceptions. Winston missed one game because of a suspension, and Florida State narrowly escaped with an overtime victory over Clemson.

The Seminoles continuously struggled to close out opponents, often staggering at the start of each contest. Against Louisville, Winston and the Seminoles had to overcome an early 21-0 deficit to stay undefeated. They closed out the season with one-score wins in their final four games, including a two-point victory over Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. Even with their struggles, they secured a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff, where they lost to Oregon in the Rose Bowl 59-20. Winston struggled in Pasadena, throwing an interception and losing a fumble on a sack that was returned for a touchdown.

Tale of the TapeWinston-Measurables

Winston is a big, strong quarterback who stands 6-foot-4 inches and weighed 231 pounds at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.

He was a full participant at the Combine, and posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.97 seconds. His hands measured at 9 3/8ths, on the smaller side but in line with other successful quarterbacks. While he is not the athletic specimen that Marcus Mariota is, Winston looks the part of an NFL quarterback on the field.

The signal caller suffered an ankle injury against Louisville in 2014 but played through it and did not miss any games. However, rumors about the condition of his shoulder have swirled in the lead up to the draft, with Doug Kyed of NESN reporting it is a “long term concern”:

What He Does Well

Arm Strength

Tall and imposing in the pocket, Winston has the arm to make every throw asked of him at any level of the field. While sometimes his arm strength (and corresponding confidence) gets him into trouble, it also produces elite throws for big plays. On this first play against Oklahoma State, the Seminoles attack the coverage vertically, with Winston delivering a beautiful deep ball on a streak route:

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He stands in the shotgun with a bunch-trips formation to his right. The inside trips receiver runs a quick-out route while tight end Nick O’Leary, the middle trips receiver, runs a deep out cut. Christian Green (#89) is the outside receiver running a streak route. The free safety is slow to rotate over towards the trips formation, and Winston takes advantage, delivering a perfect deep throw for a huge gain.

Later in the contest, Winston attacked Oklahoma State’s Cover 2 Man Under scheme. He lines up in the shotgun with dual slot formations, and the outside receiver to his right runs a deep slant pattern:

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Winston patiently waits for this play to develop, allowing the inside receiver’s deep pattern to occupy the play-side safety. The outside receiver then enters the deep middle soft spot of the coverage, and Winston delivers a strong, accurate throw deep down the field and just over the desperate fingers of the cornerback.

Finally, there is a throw more “NFL” than the deep out pattern. This route works well against nearly every coverage and is a staple in many offenses. On this play against Miami, Winston displays the arm strength that, in the words of one scout:

FSU has bunch-trips to the left with Winston in the shotgun. They run a stick concept, with the middle receiver running the deep out pattern:

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The Hurricanes are in Tampa 2 for this play, and with the ball on the right hash mark, Winston delivers a rocket on the outside deep out pattern. This is exceptional arm strength and evidence that when he sets his feet, Winston can make all the throws required of an NFL quarterback.

Tight Windows

Another task facing quarterbacks in the NFL is fitting throws into narrow throwing lanes: Better defenders means tougher passes and tighter coverage. With his accuracy and experience, Winston is more than capable of accomplishing this task – but there is a fine line between confidence and carelessness when it comes to throwing into tight windows.

This play, against Oklahoma State, is one such example of fitting the football into a narrow space. Early in the second quarter the Seminoles face 3rd and 7 deep in their own territory. Standing in the shotgun, Winston has slot formation to his left and pro formation to his right. The Cowboys run Cover 4 on this play. The tight end O’Leary runs a deep option route, settling into the soft part of the zone behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties on a curl route:

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The QB fits this ball perfectly into the tight triangle between the two underneath LBs and the safety flying toward the tight end. This strong, accurate throw results in a big third-down conversion for FSU.

This next play, also from the OSU game, is an extreme example of finding a narrow throwing lane:

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Full disclosure: I needed four replays to figure out how in the world Winston completed this pass.

Oklahoma State’s defense drops into Cover 3 on the play and, somehow, Winston is able to find an underneath crossing route among the two linebackers, a dropping defensive lineman, a safety crashing downfield, and the referee. Oh, and his tight end is in the mix as well. Among all those bodies the pass somehow finds the target.

Quick Release

Winston has a slight windup in his throwing motion, but it is less noticeable than that of, for example, Garrett Grayson. However, his strong arm and very quick release mitigate the negative effect the motion has on his passes. This first example is from the Notre Dame game, where Winston throws a slant route to his right:

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Advancing the film frame-by-frame, Winston begins his throwing motion at the 4.798 mark of the clip, with the ball out of his hands by the 5.129 mark. This is a difference of 331 milliseconds – very fast and much quicker than the time ascribed to Colin Kaepernick when ESPN’s SportScience put him through testing during his NFL Combine. This would also put Winston on par with Dan Marino, known for having one of the quickest releases in NFL history, but behind Tony Romo, owner of arguably the fastest release in today’s game.

Here is another glimpse of how quickly Winston gets through his throwing motion:

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Advancing through the play frame-by-frame illustrates that the duration of his throwing motion is 334 milliseconds on this pass.

To test this further I returned to a previous play, the deep slant pattern he threw against Oklahoma State. From the beginning of his motion through release, the time was 367 milliseconds. Slower, but still extremely quick. These release times are inclusive of the slight and unnecessary windup in his throwing motion. Losing that motion would give him an even quicker release time – but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Off Field Issues

The biggest knock on Winston is that he needs to improve his decision-making, both on and off the field. I will address his decisions between the lines in a moment, but his personal mistakes and transgressions cannot be overlooked. Any coaching staff, front office, and ownership group must weigh his actions in their own decision-making process. Winston’s transgressions include alleged sexual assault, and other incidents since indicate a maturity level inconsistent with that of a “face of the franchise”.

Winston is the subject of a civil suit alleging sexual assault, after a 2012 incident where he was accused of rape by a fellow Florida State student. The Tallahassee Police Department has been criticized for failing to both interview material witnesses and uncover material aspects of the incident, and no criminal charges have yet been filed.

Additionally, Winston was cleared of any violation of the school’s student code of conduct by a school investigation that has also been criticized.

In April 2014, Winston tried to leave a Tallahassee Publix grocery store without paying for crab legs. He reported at the time that he simply forgot to pay and was given a citation by the Leon County Sheriff’s Office that required 20 hours of community service and a suspension from the FSU baseball team.

Winston was finally suspended from Florida State’s football game against Clemson in 2014, after jumping onto a table in a FSU dining hall and exclaiming an expletive-laden phrase. He was originally to serve a one-half suspension, but that was increased to a full game by the school’s President and Athletic Director after they uncovered “discrepancies” between Winston’s version of events and witness accounts.

Facing the suspension, Winston still dressed and participated in pre-game warm-ups with the Seminoles, leading to a rather awkward moment between quarterback and coach.

For what it is worth, Winston has been open and forthcoming with NFL coaches and staff throughout the pre-draft process, as well as with Commissioner Roger Goodell during their face-to-face meeting in New York City. Despite the Goodell seal of approval, teams must separately evaluate these actions by Winston and consider the risk in drafting him. As recently stated by Arizona General Manager Steve Keim: “If Hannibal Lecter ran a 4.3 we’d probably diagnose it as an eating disorder.”

Some teams may not care about Winston’s behavior off the field. But for me, this is a factor to consider when handing over millions of dollars and the “face of your franchise”. At best, Winston is a player with maturity issues. At worst, he is a player with an established pattern of criminal behavior.

Back to the Film


Winston also needs to improve his decision-making between the lines as well. He threw 18 interceptions in the 2014 season, many of which were throws forced into double-, triple- or even quadruple-coverage. As indicated earlier, he has supreme confidence in his arm strength and ability to fit the football into tight windows. While this is a good trait to have, there are drawbacks. Frankly, some of the decisions that follow are baffling.

On this first play, Oklahoma State shows Winston an exotic look, using a radar defense: All 11 defenders use a two-point stance, masking each player’s intentions. Winston tries to thread the needle to a receiver running a shallow crossing route, but he loses sight of one of the defenders dropping back from the line of scrimmage:

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The defensive player cuts under the wide receiver’s route and gets his hands on the football, nearly making the interception. The ball glances high off his hands and two other defenders have a shot at the ball. Although the football falls harmlessly to the turf, Winston needs to do a better job of recognizing the defensive scheme to avoid such risky throws.

Forcing It

Next up is from the NC State game, where Winston tries to jam in a pass to his safety blanket, tight end Nick O’Leary:

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Under center on this play, the Seminoles have 22 personnel on the field and running backs in an offset i-formation to the right.  After the snap, Winston opens to his left, faking the stretch run to the left. Following the fake, the QB takes his drop, but pressure off the edge to his left forces him off his spot. He deftly climbs the pocket to avoid the first defender, but as he slides to his right, he begins to backpedal and the pocket collapses.

He continues backpedaling, but then tries to throw anyway – while moving away from his target. The pass almost reaches to the tight end, but is deflected into the arms of one of the three defenders closing in on O’Leary.

The Fall Away

This is a theme with Winston: Because of his confidence in the strength of his arm, he tries to make throws off his back foot or while falling away from his target. Sometimes as a result of actual pressure, other times because of perceived pressure. Regardless of the cause, this results a breakdown in mechanics and force throws to sail away from the intended receiver and results too often in incompletions or interceptions.

The Seminoles face 1st and 10 on their own 19-yard line early in the second quarter with the score knotted at 7-7. Winston takes the shotgun snap and executes his drop, but the pocket collapses from the interior:

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The QB continuously retreats, nearly reaching his own goal line, before uncorking a throw while falling away, in the shadow of his own goal posts, in the general direction of his tight end.

It is, predictably, intercepted.

Risky Business

Now, there is an argument that Winston and his 18 interceptions are not a cause for concern. Quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, and Ben Roethlisberger each finished college with 30 or more interceptions, and if you add Andrew Luck to that list, each threw at least 10 or more interceptions their final collegiate season. The issue for Winston is whether he learns from such throws and avoids them, or if he continues to make them.

Falling away from throws is also an issue on plays deep down the field. Against Louisville he has a chance for a big play in the vertical passing game:

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He stands in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field, and pro formation to his right. Winston tries to hit his flanker on the streak route along the right sideline, but as he takes his drop he is influenced by potential pressure at his feet. As a result he fails to step into the throw and delivers the pass off his back foot. His receiver has a step or two on the coverage, but the throw fails to reach the target and the defender prevents what should have been a touchdown.

Part 2: Is Jameis Winston Ready for the NFL?

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield knows play action, the free releasespectacular plays and how to throw on Cover 2Cover 3 and Cover 6.

Raw Footage courtesy of (@DraftBreakdown) and Adrian Ahufinger (@ahufinger7), Aaron Aloynisus (@AaronAloysius), JMPasq (@JMPasq), Aimal Arsalla (@aimalarsalla) and Magnus Bendixen (@BendixenNFL). Give those guys a follow on Twitter.

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