Only five quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown for more than 5,100 yards in a single season. They are: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees (four times), Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Jameis Winston.
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Winston, despite all you hear to the contrary, is keeping some pretty elite company.
What kind of numbers would he put up if given a running game or a defense? What if he had coaching stability?
How good could he be if he cuts down on his interceptions like so many previous risk-taking QBs that eventually ended up in the Hall of Fame?
What, these questions aren’t being bandied about on the cable sports talk shows or in the endless column inches dedicated to NFL coverage across the country?
Nope. Everywhere you go, sports media is fixated on Winston’s interceptions instead of his 5,109 yards. If Winston were a young prolific white gunslinger, what kind of analysis would we get from an NFL media who will yell “FitzMagic” if a below-average white QB can string together just two exciting wins in a row?
Thankfully, Monday’s episode of the Dan Patrick Show, former Buccaneers and Colts head coach Tony Dungy tried to bring some attention to this. “You look at Jameis’ numbers and Peyton Manning’s numbers in those first five years, there’s not a lot of difference other than Peyton’s team won more,” Dungy said.
Is Peyton’s former Super Bowl coach right? Let’s take a look:
Peyton vs. Jameis Stats first 5 years:
Peyton: 20,618 passing yards; 138 TDs, 100 INTs, 62.1 Completion percentage.; 85.9 QB rating; 4.9 TD rate; 3.5 INT rate
Jameis: 19,737 passing yards; 121 TDs, 88 INTs, 61.3 Completion percentage 86.9 QB rating; 4.7 TD rate; 3.5 INT rate
Dungy is spot on. The two sets of numbers are almost identical.
Manning is Winston’s greatest NFL statistical comparison after five years. Young Peyton’s superior win-loss record has more to do with his superior support, notably Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James. Winston (6-10 record) had a far superior rookie year, but Manning’s 3-13 rookie record helped land James with the No. 4 overall pick. Now consider this stat on Peyton’s first five seasons.
· 35-17 with Edgerrin James
· 7—21 without Edgerrin James
We will come back soon to “The Edgerrin Effect” on young Peyton, and “The Bruce Arians Effect” on Jameis, but first, can we have an honest conversation about Winston’s interceptions?
Interceptions Over Five-Year period
100 Peyton Manning– Years 1-5
102 Dan Marino — 1985-1989
101 Brett Favre — 2004-2008
93 Brett Favre — 1998-2002
97 Joe Namath — Years 1-5
88 Jameis Winston — Years 1-5
Okay, now that we know Winston didn’t invent “The Interception,” let’s discuss “30.”
1. STOP SAYING “30-30 CLUB” or “30 FOR 30” OR “PICK SIX.” IT’S STUPID
Winston’s final pass this past season was his 30th interception, and media had a field day with it as the first “30-30” TD-INT guy in NFL history. The constant “30-30” framing punishes Winston for his 33 touchdowns, second most in the NFL last season.
Ten NFL players threw 30 interceptions before Winston, but none could hit the 30 TD mark. George Blanda once threw 42 INTs, but fell three TDs short. Ken Stabler (16-30) and Bucs record-holder Vinny Testeverde (13-35) couldn’t even reach half of Winston’s TDs.
Peyton once threw 28 TDs. Eli threw 27 TDs. Brett Favre? 29 TDs. But none hit 30. Why? None had 626 pass attempts like Winston did in 2019. But what if they did? Let’s adjust:
TD/INT Ratio Adjusted for 626 Pass Attempts (like Winston in 2019)
33-30 Jameis, (2019)
28-30 Peyton (1998)
21-30 Brett Favre (2005)
20-31 Eli Manning (2013)
24-31 Ben Roethlisberger (2006)
20-34 John Elway (1992)
17-33 Warren Moon (1986)
That’s right, all these great QBs matched or exceeded Winston’s 4.8 Interception rate in 2019, but not his TDs. Also, none threw for 5,000 yards in these seasons. Or even 4,000 yards.
Others argue Winston’s 30 interceptions are “going in the wrong direction.” Nonsense. Big Ben’s INT spike came in his third season after his Steelers won a Super Bowl. Marino in his seventh year, Elway and Eli in their 10th season and Favre in his 15th. At age 40, Favre’s best season and INT rate (1.3) came with 33TDs.
Others mention stats like “pick sixes,” otherwise known as interceptions returned for TDs. Let’s start here.
Favre, Marino, Namath, Brees. Peyton.
These are the NFL career leaders in “pick-sixes.” Not a bad list. When Winston set a new record with his seventh pick-six, less attention was paid to the previous co-record-holder Peyton Manning, who had six in 2001.
Prior to 2019, Winston averaged only one pick-six per year. Why? Because it is pretty arbitrary when and if any INT is returned for a TD. That’s why there is a different pick-six leader every year. Citing this stat as if it means anything is just statistical trolling.
Worst of all is when the media discusses interceptions like a permanent mark, not the fixable flaw that they are.
2. INTERCEPTIONS ARE A QB’s MOST FIXABLE FLAW
Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit echoed a media-wide sentiment when he said: “History says a risk-taking QB like Winston won’t change”
Unless you are talking about Brett Favre, this is absolutely false. Back to Peyton and friends. The following players all started their first five years with equal or higher interception rates than Winston
INT Rate Drop After Fifth Season To Rest Of Career
3.5 to 2.3 Peyton Manning
3.9 to 2.6 Kurt Warner
3.6 to 2.3 Roethlisberger
3.5 to 1.4 Alex Smith
3.5 to ??? Jameis Winston
All these men had equal or higher INT rates than Winston after five seasons. What about 10 years?
3.4 Eli Manning first 10 Seasons
3.5 Brett Favre 11 Seasons (1998-2008)
Together Brett and Eli have thrown 20, 21, 22, 23, 23, 24, 25, 27 and 29 INTs, and Favre’s Jeckyl and Hyde interception rates had no discernable pattern over 19 years.
If Peyton’s ceiling is Jameis’ ceiling, his floor is more like Favre’s. That’s a pretty good floor.
The NFL Hall of Fame is littered with players who cut down their interceptions over time:
Cut Down INTs After Seventh Season
5.0 to 3.9 Dan Fouts
4.6 to 2.9 Roger Staubach
3.7 to 2.7 John Elway
3.7 to 2.5 Dan Marino (Years 3-7 to 8-16)
Cut Down INTs After Four Seasons
6.8 to 4.9 Terry Bradshaw
4.6 to 3.7 Jim Kelly
4.6 to 3.0 Warren Moon
3.9 to 2.5 Troy Aikman
Different eras, rules, and styles can be debated, but their ability to cut down INTs remains consistent.
Speaking of Winston’s INTs, Terry Bradshaw says: “You can fix that, you can fix it. I promise you, you can fix it.”
3. THE BRUCE ARIANS EFFECT ON WINSTON
“Don’t you dare mention Jameis Winston’s 30 interceptions without mentioning the fact he led the NFL in completions of 10 yards, 20 yards, oh and 30 yards,” says ESPN’s Emmanuel Acho.
In 2019, Winston threw more passes of 20 or more yards downfield than any quarterback in eight years.
His 99 attempts more than tripled the number thrown by Drew Brees and Jimmy Garoppolo. The last QB to throw more was rookie Andrew Luck in 2012 who was coached by… yes, Bruce Arians.
Arians is the NFL’s most aggressive head coach with quarterbacks. When Nate Burleson asked Arians what he wanted out of Winston, Arians said: “If he doesn’t make the throw, if he hesitates, if he checks it down, even if there are two guys on one of our star receivers, I am going to yell at my quarterback”.
That’s Arians. And Winston followed instructions. And why not?
Look at Carson Palmer, who posted his best season under Arians but not before throwing a career high 22 INTs in their first season together. Let’s look:
Carson Palmer under Arians
2013: 24TDs, 22 INTs, 83.9 pass rating
2015: 35 TDs, 11 INTs, 104.6 pass rating
At age 36, Palmer had an MVP-worthy season. If a 10-year veteran like Palmer can throw his career high INTs adjusting to Arians system, why would anyone expect the 26-year-old Winston not to do the same? With Arians, your INTs go up before they go down. Why can’t we just “trust the process”?
All of which brings us back to Peyton’s 28 interceptions as a rookie with Arians as his QB coach.
4. THE EDGERRIN EFFECT ON PEYTON
In his first two seasons, Edgerrin James led the NFL in rushing, and his whopping 35 TDs from scrimmage propelled the Colts to 13-3 and 10-6 records after Peyton’s 3-13 rookie season. Then the Colts fell to 6-10 in 2001. What happened? Edgerrin tore his ACL after the 6th game in 2001. These are Peyton’s 2001 split stats:
- 3-3 record and 92.2 pass rating with Edgerrin
- 3-7 record and 79.5 pass rating without Edgerrin
With James, Peyton’s passer rating resembled Years 2 and 3 (92.8). In 10 games without James, it more closely resembled his rookie year (71.2). And also this:
Peyton’s INT Rate
4.9: Year 1
2.8: Year 2
2.6: Year 3
4.2: Year 4
Without James, Peyton was forced to “make plays” to win games.
Does Peyton’s interception rate seem like a natural growth, or more indicative of lack of ground support?
I’m asking for Winston who hasn’t played with a 1,000-yd rusher since his rookie year.
5. WILL THE NFL PERMIT A BLACK PEYTON MANNING?
Winston is a very rare NFL player, a black gunslinger in an NFL where black QBs are not allowed to the same make mistakes white ones are.
Aaron Rodgers (1.4) has the lowest INT rate of all time. After Rodgers, four of the next six QBs names are Tyrod, Dak, Colin, and Russell), graduates of the Donovan McNabb School of “Take Care of the Damn Ball”.
But Winston is a graduate of the “Let It Fly Academy” whose previous grads include Peyton Manning, Favre, Marino, and Warren Moon, the Academy’s only black Hall of Fame graduate.
“You throw 30 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards,” says Moon, “you cut those interceptions in half and you’re having an MVP season.”
Moon should know. In his third season he had a TD/INT ratio of 13/26, but later improved to 33/13 and 33/14 in his seventh and 12th seasons, respectively.
Which brings us to this:
Arguing about Winston’s interceptions is not really about Winston, it’s about not giving permission to future black Peyton Mannings or Brett Favres to play through their mistakes to realize their Hall of Fame selves.