SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. Winston Is Better, More Accurate

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are supposed to make the playoffs this year.

But why?

Because Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston is supposed to have a big season entering his third year.

But why?

Why is Winston going to have a bigger season – a season that will be so much better that it will catapult Tampa Bay into the postseason for the first time since 2007?

What exactly is the empirical evidence that suggests this will be the case for Winston and the Bucs in 2017?

Winston improved his completion percentage, his yardage and his touchdown production from his rookie season to his second year. In 2015, Winston made the Pro Bowl as an alternate completing 58.3 percent of his passes for 4,042 yards with 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Last year, Winston completed 60.8 percent of his throws for 4,090 yards with a franchise-record 28 touchdowns and a career-high 18 interceptions.

But just because he showed progress from his first year to his second doesn’t automatically mean that Winston’s third year will be even better. Look at Jacksonville’s beleaguered quarterback Blake Bortles for example.

The third overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Bortles passed for 2,908 yards with 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions as a rookie, before throwing for 4,428 yards with 35 TDs and 18 interceptions. But Bortles regressed last year, passing for 3,905 yards with 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, his QB rating dropping from 88.2 to 78.8.

A big reason for Bortles’ inconsistent play has been the fact that has completion percentage hasn’t improved. He hit on 58.9 percent of his passes as a rookie, 58.6 percent of his throws in 2015 and completed 58.9 percent of his passes last year.

Winston’s growth can be attributed to increased accuracy, and that’s the biggest reason why he will make the necessary jump statistically that will carry the Bucs to the playoffs.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

In parts of three preseason games, Winston has completed 47-of-69 passes for 495 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. But the key thing is his 68.1 percent completion percentage. If Winston can improve from 60.8 percent a year ago to even 63 percent the Bucs could be on their way to the postseason. A 68 percent completion percentage – if Winston could somehow maintain that over the course of a season – could lead to even bigger than simply making the playoffs as a wild card team.

“I think it speaks to Jameis and what he’s wanted to do in terms of improving his accuracy and being detailed in terms of ball placement and putting it on the receiver the right way to let the receiver turn and get yards after the catch,” Bucs tight end Luke Stocker said. “He’s putting it in front of guys or where guys won’t take hits. He’s done a great job.

“He’s had another year in the NFL, so he understands the athletes, the speed and the timing and when to take the chance to squeeze the ball in those tight windows. He knows the throws he can make and the ones he has to save for later. As he gets older he’s only going to get better.”

It wasn’t like Winston completed a bunch of check-down passes to boost his preseason completion percentage, either. He had a 7.17-yards per pass average in August that compares favorably to his 7.6 mark from his rookie year and his 7.2 mark from last season.

Unlike Bortles, who regressed from 7.3 average yards per pass in 2015, which was his best season, to 6.2 last year, which was almost identical to the 6.1 figure from his rookie year.

As HBO’s Hard Knocks series has revealed for the nation to see, Winston has put in the work to get better and become more accurate, and it clearly showed in training camp and the preseason.

“I’ve been with him since 2015 – we came in as rookies together,” Bucs wide receiver Donteea Dye said. “To see him grow like this is crazy. To see him work hard and come in at 5:00 a.m. shows the type of person he is. He’s always continuing to work, so I’m excited to see what this year is going to bring.”

Winston knows he has to greatly reduce his number of turnovers from a year ago when he threw 18 interceptions. He only had one INT in the preseason, which came against Cleveland, although Winston was bailed out on another one in Jacksonville when the refs said he was in the grasp and whistled the play dead as he heaved an ill-advised pass into the end zone where it was picked off.

Yet the interceptions in practice have been fewer and far between, which is an encouraging sign.

“In terms of his progress, the first thing is the number of ‘Wow’ throws I’ve seen from him,” Tampa Bay safety Keith Tandy said. “It’s not unusual to see a ‘Wow’ throw from a quarterback every couple of days in practice. But it’s getting to the point where it’s every day and it’s three or four throws a dau where you go, ‘Wow.’ On some of those throws there is nothing a defensive back could do about that. He’s gotten to the point with his consistency where he doesn’t have the throws that get away from him and are easy interceptions like in the past. I’ve definitely seen a huge difference in him this training camp.”

Although Winston didn’t throw a touchdown pass and led Tampa Bay to just one touchdown drive in the preseason, Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter isn’t worried. He’s seen Winston account for 57 touchdowns (50 passing, seven rushing) in his first two years in the league.

His August slump aside, the first overall draft pick in 2015 didn’t forget how to get the ball in the end zone.

“I think Jameis has done fine, minus a couple of plays, but you could say that for the best of the best and every player out there,” Koetter said. “I think Jameis has worked hard on the things that we wanted him to improve on. I think his accuracy has been better, throwing the games in with the practices. We didn’t really throw any deep balls with him [Saturday] night. I think Jameis is where he needs to be. It’s time for him to play a real game.”

Not only has Winston become a more accurate passer in general during the offseason, training camp and the preseason, he’s also become more accurate with his deep balls. Perhaps his best pass of the preseason was a 43-yard strike to Mike Evans, who dropped a perfectly thrown ball at the goal line in Jacksonville. Winston also threw a great touch pass to Dye at the front right pylon against Cleveland, but Dye couldn’t fully secure the ball all the way to the ground and it was ruled incomplete.

Bucs WR DeSean Jackson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“If he has time in the pocket he can deliver a good ball every time,” Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries said. “He’s putting the ball on the money. He’s done well the past couple of games from that standpoint. Also with Jameis you have a guy that will hang in the pocket or scramble, too. He’s a tough guy. As receivers we’re always ready for whatever he’s going to do. Every single week he’s doing something like that.”

In an effort to increase the team speed on offense, Bucs general manager Jason Licht and Koetter added three new weapons for the passing game. Speedy receiver DeSean Jackson, who led the league with a 17.1 yards per catch average last year, was signed in free agency, and the Bucs drafted tight end O.J. Howard, who ran a 4.51 at the NFL Scouting Combine, in the first round, then selected wide receiver Chris Godwin, who has sub 4.5 speed, in the third. Winston spent training camp working on the timing on deep routes with those new additions.

“That’s probably the biggest area he’s improved and made those ‘Wow’ plays,” Tandy said. “You see DeSean Jackson running full speed and it hits him right in stride. Whenever you are running as fast as DeSean, I imagine it’s hard to catch the ball if it’s not thrown right in stride. I wouldn’t know anything about that. Jameis has put the ball right over his shoulder, and you’ll see a DB with his arms stretched out and the pass goes right over the DBs’ fingertips by inches to DeSean. That happens almost every single day.”

Humphries marvels at how much Winston’s deep ball accuracy has improved.

“That’s awesome to see because we have three guys now with Chris and DeSean coming in that can go and get it,” Humphries said. “Obviously with guys like that it’s good seeing him be accurate with those balls. He just gives guys a chance, and that’s all you can ask for with your quarterback. He’s done really well with that.”

With Koetter lamenting the fact that the Bucs didn’t have enough explosive plays last year on offense, Winston had to become more accurate downfield in order to change Tampa Bay’s fortunes and he’s done just that.

“We’ve got a lot of deep threats now – one specifically in DeSean Jackson – so we have to work on the specific ball placement with him so we can sync up and produce more touchdowns,” said Dye, who also runs a sub-4.5 time in the 40-yard dash. “He works hard, DeSean works hard and all of our receivers work hard to be on the same page. I think we’ve all done a great job.”

Ask his receivers and they’ll tell you it wouldn’t surprise them a bit if Winston lived up to the preseason hype and won NFL MVP honors this year.

Bucs WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson and QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson and QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“That’s the kind of guy he is,” Humphries said. “He’s going to get better each year he’s in the NFL. He’s more confident. He’s always been confident, but you can just tell by the way he’s running things in the locker room and the offense. This year is different. He’s a lot more confident in general. He’s making really good throws.”

The last two NFL MVPs happened to be quarterbacks from the NFC South in Cam Newton (2015) and Matt Ryan (2016), who happened to lead Carolina and Atlanta, respectively, to the Super Bowl over the past two years. Will Winston improve enough to return to the Pro Bowl this year and perhaps become the league MVP?

“I actually think he’s going to be a Hall of Famer,” Dye said. “I can see him in the Hall of Fame in the next few decades. I really can. I’m sure he can see himself there, but he probably won’t tell you because the dude is so humble. That’s how good he is. That’s how good he’s going to be.”

Accuracy is of utmost importance. We’ll see how accurate that statement will be in time, and just how accurate Winston will be in leading the Bucs to the playoffs in 2017.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

32 COMMENTS

  1. Bayless is a Cowboy hack that literally says things to mug for the camera and create controversy. One of the most important things I saw this preseason was that the team came out of it without any major injuries. I’m still stunned to see different sites having the Bucs finish fourth in the NFC South. I know it’s a damn tough division, but fourth? I think that as much that Jameis has improved, I also think that resigning Smitty was the best move of the offseason. I think that the D is going to surprise some people and this team should be sending PR into their “playoff scenarios” mode by December.

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    Rating: +12. From 14 votes.
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    • No free-agent pickup or draft pick was as important as retaining Mike Smith. We desperately needed continuity in the coaching staff and front office (which we’ve only had one other time since Gruden was let go) after finishing 2016 on an upward trajectory. Thank goodness for Dean Spanos being a idiot and going through with the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles… if they do the smart thing and stay in San Diego, I don’t think we would’ve kept Smith. The timing on the decision-making on both sides was not a coincidence, IMO.

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  2. Skip Bayless is a pompous ass who knows nothing, absolutely nothing about the Buccaneers other than what he’s seen on Hard Knocks. No credibility whatsoever. I’d rather not spend a second thinking about him or his bogus opinions but here I am. Five minutes I’ll never get back.

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  3. Brian Anger is a WEAPON! A punter as a weapon? In Anger’s case, absolutely. He gives the Buccaneers great control of field position time and again.

    Good stuff Scott. Incidentally, it might be a good idea to allow comments after each individual Fab of the Five? Each one deserves individual comment and I really believe you’d get more if you took my suggestion.

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  4. We still need to bring in another QB and put Griffin on IR and let’s see where he is and several weeks. I still don’t see backup offensive tackle, the same for defensive ends. As of today I only see 8-9 wins if Winston stays healthy. Maybe we’ll get lucky and get those 10 to 11 wins, but that’s areach as of right now.

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  5. If Greeny ‘s on board with Winston and the Bucs then I’m not holding much hope for the season. Dude is the kiss of death if there ever was one.

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  6. Random thought, but isn’t time we revise the “downed inside the 20” stat considering teams now get the ball at the 25 after a touchback? And where did that term come from anyway? Why not “downed inside the 10” which is much more impressive and effective? Just a thought….

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    • Getting the ball at the 25 is only on kickoffs, punts and turnover touchbacks are still at the 20.

      And I think it’s the stat because most punters can kick it 60-75 yards into the endzone for a touchback, whenever they want to, the skill comes from hangtime, ball placement, and putting the correct spin on the ball to give your ST a chance to down it.

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  7. One thing I have noticed about Jameis in the preseason is that he starts to the game faster, or better. The last two seasons, and even in college, he started off slow. That is one of the benefits of him being more accurate this year. Great stuff on Jameis!

    I am proud to say I have never watched a show Bayless has been on. I wonder if him, and Tom Jones, have any self respect as men, to even try to get it right.

    Anger is everything we hoped Aguayo would be. It looks like it’s a lot of fun to be a gunner when he is punting!

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  8. Seahawkers podcast has a whole segment at better at life than Skip Bayless, one of the funnier segments out there. There Prisco World segment is absolutely x10 better at life than Skip Bayless though.

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  9. Could’ve stopped the headline at, “Bayless is clueless”

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  10. SR………”If there is one thing about today’s world of sports reporting and news reporting in general that I detest is the supposed need for hot takes – the more controversial and attention grabbing the better.”

    SR……..Gruden will be returning to coaching!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  11. If Skip doesn’t like Dirk who cares, keep winning games and he will get on board. Feel the Bucs should’ve taken the gamble on Cameron Irving due to his ties with Jameis and talent coming out of college. Hopefully our line stays healthy but we can never have too many talented big guys used to playing in the FL heat.

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  12. The less said about Skip Bayless the better. May his name never pass our lips and keyboards again.

    I love our coaches,as well as our players. Don’t give a rat’s rear end for pre-season games as anything more than scrimmages designed mostly to figure out who makes the cut to 53. Other than that, they’re irrelevant to regular season expectations.

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  13. Scott, I’m not sure why you guys have been pushing the re-signing of Evans all off season as if they are running out of time. I am not surprised at all. When the bucs re-signed McCoy and David, they both had one year left on their contract and not two like Evans does. That is why the contract talks have not picked up steam. Neither side is in any rush. Why should they be? Evans option year is going to pay him $15 million. Last time I checked, that is still top 5-6 in the league at his position. Evans will get paid his worth in due time. No need to rush.

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    • The rush isn’t to get him signed, The rush, although there obviously isn’t one, would be to sign him for less. Because obj is going to get signed too. So we either let obj set the market and end up paying more or we set the market with Evans and probably pay less. Well almost certainly. That’s the incentive.

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      • Look, you are talking about pennies at this point. Antonio brown makes about 17 mil a year. Hopkins just signed a contract that put him in that ball park. Evans and obj will be in that ball park. Its not like the bucs are going to save 30 mil by signing evans now. The market is already set. Again, evans option year next year pays 15 mil.

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        • I think we’re basically both agreeing that there is no rush. But all the intel I’ve heard leading up to now was that they preferred to set the market. I agree though nickels and dimes at this point.

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  14. If Skip Bayless predictions held any salt Tim tebow would have multiple Super Bowl rings, RG3 would be starting QB for the Dallas cowboys, and… I probably don’t have to say more. You can youtube compilation videos of everything he’s gotten wrong, it’s pretty great.

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  15. Koetter is the best thing that has happened to this team in a long time. So is Smith. When we make it to the playoffs, there will be a lot Crow to go around for skeptics. The Defensive line is a little sketchy, but if we are lucky and keep healthy, good things are going to happen.

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  16. Right now I’m picturing Skippy bleeding out on a cold castle floor. Lord Skip Balesh, not bad Scott.
    Basically Bayless is a dickhead. Always has been. Excuse my potty mouth Scott but sometimes you got let it fly.
    8 more days and we shall see if the BUCS are for real.
    I haven’t been this juiced at a start of the BUCS season for awhile.
    GO BUCS
    GO RAYS
    GO LIGHTNIG
    HELL, GO TAMPA

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  17. I’m often amused and frequently just baffled at what I overhear fans in the stands blurt out loud enough so those around them can, in their minds, be educated by their utter nonsense and ill-informed rhetoric. This past game (?), the idiot behind me, who obviously received the tickets as a gesture of sympathy from the true season pass holder, actually found fault with punter Bryan Anger when the cesspool (field) of players was filled with a collection of turds floating around until today’s scheduled cuts.

    That fan might well have taken his cue from Skip Brainless who always tries to portray himself as a bit of an intellect when in reality we all know he’s just another pompous Cowboy fan still living in the past.

    As the host of Iron Chef says, “Let the battle begin!” Thankfully, our favorite team came out of these meaningless games(?) relatively unscathed. The goal was to evaluate the players and improve the roster from a year ago. I believe that was accomplished. Other than the questionable back-up QB, I think the team has better talent at each position group than at the start of the 2016 season.

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  18. Regarding Bayless–The national medial largely ignores the Bucs, which means they do little homework and there is usually not much depth behind the statements they make. Bayless has followed Jameis a little closer, but is off base with his assessment of Koetter, imo. He is correct with his facts, but wrong with his conclusion.

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  19. JW has indeed looked more controlled and accurate so far. If he can maintain that in the regular season it would be huge. Cutting down his total turnovers to something below the 20+ he has averaged could alone be enough for two more wins. Fingers crossed…

    The most telling line in the FF came from one of our own starters on offense:

    “If he has time in the pocket he can deliver a good ball every time,” Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries said.

    If, indeed. He certainly has the weapons. Will he have the time…? It’s all guesswork at this stage. Again, fingers crossed

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  20. Bayless along with most ESPN talking heads is the result of the failed Disney?ESPN upper management brain trust, and their PC SJW warrior mentality is turning off viewers every where. It seems they have little understanding of why most America watches sports especially football. They need no lessons in “group think” from those idiots.

    Their NEW World order of programming leaves much to be desired.

    I seldom watch any of them anymore. Their schtick has grown tiresome. They have completely lost touch with most Fans.

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  21. Runole, thanks for amusing us with your inner Donald Trump. Political correctness used to be called being polite and civil until the uber right made such civil behavior a dirty word.
    ESPN is having a tough time not because of what you perceive to be their political leanings, but because they sunk huge amounts of money into the NBA and it isn’t paying off.
    Now for some football.
    Scubog. as usual, you nailed it.
    Skip Bayliss knows very little about anything except for his beloved Cowboys.
    I would love to see Bayliss step into an elevator with Troy Aikmen and see what he looks like when he comes out.
    If you remember Bayliss was the one who was spreading unfounded rumors around about Aikmen possibly being gay.
    Aikmen almost quit Fox when he found out they hired him.
    The guys is just a complete no talent jerk with a big mouth which is what keeps his name in print. See Howard Stern,

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    • Drd. At least Howard is somewhat funny. Satire and dumbass not equatable.
      GO BUCS

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    • Drdneast

      He probably got that idea from ron and jp who always spew that slant on reality. The fact that many stream their tv now has nothing to do with espn numbers i guess. Its all about politics according to them as why viewership is down. I love how they constantly bash espn about their “left” leaning views and how they do not tune into sports for politcs but yet all they do is spew their right leaning views. Very hypocritical.

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  22. Trey Wingo’s comment wasn’t moronic. It was right on the money. Taking Roberto Aguayo in the second round was the worst draft pick ever. Aguayo was the only kicker drafted the year he was drafted. If one of Conner Barth’s misses in 2015 would have been a make, his field goal percentage for the season would have been better than his career percentage. I find it hilarious that the Bucs waived Barth when Aguayo was drafted, but the Bears decided to keep Barth instead of Aguayo. Kicking the most extra points is as indicative if not more of making the playoffs than FG accuracy or making the most 50-yd FGs (reasons why the Bucs drafted Aguayo in the first place). There is a large percentage of teams that have undrafted players as their starting kickers. At the time, more weapons for Winston were needed more than a better kicker.

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  23. Calvin Boaz, can you say Ryan Leaf, Bo Jackson that big steroid tackle Green Bay took years ago, Booker Reese etc, etc. Any first or second round pick that doesn’t make the team is a mistake, it doesn’t matter what position he plays and the draft is littered with wasted first and second round picks.
    Did you know I believe it is 50 percent of the players chosen in the first round aren’t in the league after four years. What makes those better picks.
    If Aguayo had kicked in the pros like he did in college he would have been a weapon.
    BTW, I didn’t like the kick either but I have moved on. I suggest you do the same.
    Give it a rest.

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    • Tony Mandrich. That’s the big steroid using tackle you refer to.
      He actually had a some what decent career with Indy.
      Hands down Bo Jackson is the worst ever. At least all those other bums show up to camp.
      Go Bucs

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  24. Skippy is like a hemroid that needs to be removed!

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