Jan 1, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) throws the ball during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers 17-16. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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Heading into 2017, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has a chance to shock the entire NFL.
Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Those are two guys that are in the NFL MVP conversation almost every single year. With that in mind there is one quarterback that could be added to the conversation. His name is Jameis Winston, the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And by the end of 2017, he may join the names of Brady and Rodgers in the MVP dialogue.
Tampa Bay had a remarkable offseason. It begin with acquisitions that could put the team in a position to finally get to the playoffs. From there came the release of a schedule filled with challenging opponents. The defending Super Bowl champions and several primetime games are just some of the things to look forward to on the slate, games that will truly test the talent of Tampa Bay.
In the center of this busy marathon is Winston. With the keys to the offensive “car” so to speak, he has all the tools needed for a breakout year. All the pieces are in place for that type of massive leap to take place. We take a look at why this, among other things, could vault Jameis Winston from an above-average quarterback to a dark horse MVP candidate.
Jan 1, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) high fives fans as he runs out of the tunnel before the game against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
3. Plenty of primetime opportunities
The Buccaneers, although they may have a middle-of-the-road schedule in terms of strength, have some quality opponents on it. With quality opponents comes primetime television. Many of their games are on Fox, whether it be in their market or nationally.
There are five games in particular that I would pay attention to. In the fourth game of the season they take on the Giants, who with the acquisition of Brandon Marshall, look to be a force to be reckoned with. The following week, they take on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a classic case of If you wanna be the best you have to beat the best. That game a Sunday night showdown at 8:25 p.m. ET will be a great measuring stick.
Week 8 features a matchup with the Carolina Panthers in their first divisional matchup of the season. Although they had a down year, the Panthers are returning much of the same cast from their Super Bowl run two years ago. On top of that, they now have a running back by the name of Christian McCaffery — who I hear is pretty good at football. The Bucs then have to travel to Lambeau in Week 12 and try to win against the Packers. That is never an easy task, especially on the Buccaneer defense, who now have to face newly-acquired tight end Martellus Bennett on top of Aaron Rodgers.
Lastly, Week 14 features a Monday Night Football matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. This may be an even bigger game depending on how things shake out in the standings. Even still, if standings are a non-factor, Tampa Bay will have to face Matt Ryan and Julio Jones at the least. This will be a tough game in what may have playoff implications.
All these games are opportunities for Jameis Winston to shine. The spotlight will be on him as he goes toe-to-toe with some of the National Football League’s best. If he can pass these tough tests and win these games, he will no doubt be in the conversation for MVP.
Oct 23, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) gestures after a catch against the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter at Levi’s Stadium. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the San Francisco 49ers 34-17. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
2. An upward trend in offense
In 2016, Tampa Bay averaged 22.1 points per game. That number was up from 2015 when they averaged 21.4 points per game. On the same note, Tampa Bay scored 2.3 offensive touchdowns per game in 2016. That number too was up from 2015 when they averaged 2.1 per game.
Winston is bound to see that number increase this year. He has a bunch of new, healthy weapons at his disposal with the most especially at the running back and wide receiver position. You can bet he will be at the center of all these offensive plays. Especially in the red zone, Winston will really have a chance to make an impact.
What’s more, Winston took individual strides as a quarterback last season. He clearly showed an upward trajectory in terms of his performance, though some people might point to the interception number increasing. However, that shows him having more comfort and taking more chances, though he’ll need to improve moving forward and with better weapons.
If he can convert on the majority of chances he gets in the red zone, combined with the talent he has at his disposal, he will be part of the MVP conversation in no time.
Jun 14, 2017; Tampa Bay, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) huddles up with wide receiver Mike Evans (13), wide receiver DeSean Jackson (1), running back Doug Martin (22) and teammates at One Buccaneer Place. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
1. Offensive weapons galore
The top reason why Jameis Winston is a dark horse MVP candidate in indeed due to the offense, in particular the wide receiving core. In the offseason, they acquired a receiver in DeSean Jackson who has 8,819 career receiving yards and is a three-time Pro Bowl selection.
Mike Evans had 1,321 yards last season and ranked second in the league in touchdown receptions (12). Tight end Cameron Brate is also another viable option. Catching 57 passes for 660 yards and eight touchdowns, he was second on the team in receiving behind Mike Evans. It was truly a career year for him as the receptions, yards, and touchdowns were a personal best.
Those are just a few of the weapons at Winston’s disposal. That does not even include rookie tight end O.J. Howard or an underrated rookie in Chris Godwin. Simply put, Winston should be able to put up big numbers.
This is the best group of receivers that the quarterback had had at any point in his career. He has passed for over 4,000 yards in both years of his career (4,042 in ’15 and 4,090 in ’16) and this may be the year he throws for at least 4,100. Numbers like those would automatically make him not just a dark horse MVP candidate but an MVP candidate period.