QB Jameis Winston | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | 3rd Year
2016 Stats: 4,090 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 18 interceptions;
165 rushing yards, 1 TD
At first glance, a quarterback who topped 4,000 passing yards in each of his first two NFL seasons would not scream “fantasy football breakout candidate.” But Jameis Winston has not finished either of those seasons as a top-12 fantasy quarterback, and 24 turnovers in 2016 (18 interceptions, six lost fumbles) helped lead to him finishing as merely the 16th-ranked quarterback in ESPN scoring.
The Buccaneers’ passing game centered on wide receiver Mike Evans last season, with a league-high 175 targets and the requisite production (96 catches for 1,321 yards, 12 touchdowns). But moves were made to change that this offseason, with the signing of wide receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency and the use of the 19th overall pick on tight end O.J. Howard.
It’s worth noting that one-third of Winston’s turnovers last season (six interceptions and two lost fumbles) came over the final three games. Prior to that stretch he threw zero or one interception in nine straight games, so some late-season pressing as Tampa Bay tried to maintain momentum and stay alive in the playoff race looks probable.
I don’t like to buy into strength of schedule at all, or a previous season’s numbers too much, since things can change so much. But two of Winston’s divisional opponents, the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints, were among the six worst teams in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks in 2016 (ESPN scoring) and little seems to have changed with either team’s defense. Winston was particularly good against the Falcons last year, going 46-for-69 for 542 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) with seven touchdowns and just one interception over two games against the eventual NFC champions.
With an obvious upgrade in his passing game targets, and what at least looks like a deep group of running backs, Winston is in line for good things in 2017. Third-year breakouts are most often reserved for wide receivers, but Winston fits the bill as a signal caller this year. I’m fully buying into a breakout, and there’s serious potential for a top-5 fantasy finish among quarterbacks.
4,400 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, 16 INT, 150 rushing yards, 2 TDs
Breakout Percentage: 95%