NFL

NFL: Is Jameis Winston Finally Growing Into His Full Potential?

The Buccaneers had high expectations for Jameis Winston when they selected the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner with the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

The first four seasons of his career have been somewhat of a disappointment. The Buccaneers have not made the playoffs since drafting Winston, and they have finished in last place in the NFC South in all but one season since 2015. Things may be changing, though, as Winston looks like he may be starting to live up his potential if the first part of the 2019 season is an indication.

Jameis Winston’s struggles

When a team uses a No. 1 draft pick on a quarterback, the front office expects him to put up impressive numbers, which Jameis Winston has yet to do in his first four seasons in the league.

His yardage totals were fine his first two seasons, as he crossed the 4,000-yard mark each of those years. He only had 22 and 28 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Those are also the only two seasons in which he played all 16 games.

He only played in 13 games in 2017 and 11 games — nine starts — last season. He only threw for 2,992 yards last season and had the worst touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career with 19 touchdowns and 14 picks.

Strong performances early in 2019

The Buccaneers are just 2-4 through their first six games this season but — other than Week 1 — Winston isn’t the team’s biggest problem. He had two particularly good games in Weeks 3 and 4.

In Week 3, he was 23-for-37 for 380 yards and three touchdowns, with just one interception in a 32-31 loss to the Giants that ended with a game-winning field goal for New York as time expired.

The following week, Winston was 28-for-41, throwing for 385 yards with four touchdowns and an interception as the Bucs beat the Rams on the road in a 55-40 shootout.

Week 4 was the fourth time in Winston’s career that he had a four-touchdown game, and his seven touchdowns in those two games are the most in any two-game span in Winston’s career. He also played well in Weeks 2 and 5, not throwing an interception in either contest.

It’s fair to point out that in Winston’s latest game against Carolina, he did not play well. He was back to throwing multiple inceptions as the Panthers cruised to an easy win.

A critical season for Jameis Winston

If this is a turnaround season for Jameis Winston, he is picking a good time to have it because this is his fifth year in the league. What that means is this is the final season of his rookie contract and, since the Bucs have not yet signed him to a contract extension, he will be a free agent after this season.

Anytime a player in any sport is in a contract year, it is crucial for him to perform at the top of his game because the better he plays, the bigger contract he is likely to get in free agency — and Winston’s situation is no different. Even if Winston ultimately re-signs with Tampa Bay, either during the season or in the offseason, the better he plays before then the more he will get in free agency.

At 25 years old, Winston should still have at least a decade of good play left in him, but first, he has to prove to teams that he isn’t a first-round bust and that he can live up to the potential the Bucs felt he had when they drafted him.