2020 Passing Plus-Minus: The Search for Drew Brees' Successor

New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

The King is dead. Long live the King.

This week, we're continuing our annual review of the passing game with our look at 2020 plus-minus stats. And for the first time in a while, we're searching for a new gold standard in the field of accuracy.

Passing plus-minus is a stat we annually track to help provide context to completion percentage. Given the location of a quarterback's passes, it compares his completion percentage in each area to historical baselines. This stat does not consider passes listed as "Thrown Away," "Tipped at Line," "Miscommunication," or "Quarterback Hit in Motion" by Sports Info Solutions charting. Metrics are based on how often a pass is completed based on the pass distance, the distance required for a first down, and whether the ball was thrown to the left, middle, or right side of the field. This is a counting stat, so more attempts are obviously a great thing for the purposes of what we're talking about here. Our Completion Percentage Over Expectation (CPOE) numbers may differ from other models around the Internet.

Throughout the 2010s, all this was preamble for our annual statement that Drew Brees was very good. Brees owned the stat in the 2010s, in what I suspect will be a historically dominant performance. Brees was the single-season champion eight times in the decade. His total of +342.8 completions over expected was over 50% higher than any other passer in the last 10 years, and his 6.1% CPOE was by far the best in the league. He was the only quarterback with at least 30 pass attempts to top a 5.0% mark—and again, he did that over 5,621 pass attempts. Even in the years he didn't win (losing in 2012 to Peyton Manning and 2015 to Russell Wilson), he was always in the top 10. No one had passed him; they were just keeping his seat warm.

But now Brees has retired, after his worst season ever in this metric. That leaves a void at the top of these tables, a throne waiting for the taking. Someone is going to lead the league this decade by completing more passes than they should, and it's a wide-open field.

With Brees' noodle-armed reputation over the last few years in his career, you may think that our search for a true successor to Brees should start with the best in the short game. In the 2010s, +100.7 of Brees' plus-minus came on passes with an expected completion percentage of 75% or more, those short slants and screens that came to define the Saints' offense over the decade. That's more plus-minus than all but four other passers put up in the entire decade. Never screwing up the easy stuff is a solid foundation for a great career. But then again, Brees also led the league in plus-minus on passes 10 yards or more downfield (+156.1 to Philip Rivers' +90.3) and on passes with less than a 50% chance of being completed (+73.5 to Russell Wilson's +51.3). You don't dominate this stat just by feasting on empty calories.

So, who will take Brees' crown for the 2020s? Let's take a look at where last year's passers stood, ranking all 36 passers who qualified for our leaderboards.

2020 Passing Plus-Minus
Rk Player Team Attempts CPOE +/-
1 Deshaun Watson HOU 510 5.5% 27.9
2 Aaron Rodgers GB 491 5.3% 26.2
3 Josh Allen BUF 529 4.6% 24.4
4 Kirk Cousins MIN 464 4.6% 21.3
5 Russell Wilson SEA 516 3.9% 20.2
6 Kyler Murray ARI 500 3.9% 19.3
7 Teddy Bridgewater CAR 453 3.4% 15.5
8 Derek Carr LV 478 2.1% 10.0
9 Matt Ryan ATL 576 1.4% 8.0
10 Tom Brady TB 570 1.2% 6.8
11 Philip Rivers IND 503 1.2% 6.2
12 Baker Mayfield CLE 435 1.4% 6.0
13 Jared Goff LAR 502 1.2% 6.0
14 Ryan Tannehill TEN 445 1.1% 5.1
15 Drew Brees NO 368 1.2% 4.5
16 Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 252 1.7% 4.3
17 Patrick Mahomes KC 552 0.7% 3.8
18 Gardner Minshew JAX 303 0.8% 2.4
19 Dak Prescott DAL 209 1.0% 2.1
20 Joe Burrow CIN 376 0.2% 0.8
21 Justin Herbert LAC 552 0.0% 0.3
22 Lamar Jackson BAL 347 -0.2% -0.5
23 Nick Foles CHI 288 -0.5% -1.5
24 Cam Newton NE 337 -1.0% -3.5
25 Mitchell Trubisky CHI 288 -1.5% -4.3
26 Andy Dalton DAL 305 -1.5% -4.6
27 Matthew Stafford DET 493 -1.0% -4.8
28 Nick Mullens SF 297 -1.9% -5.6
29 Alex Smith WAS 230 -3.0% -6.8
30 Tua Tagovailoa MIA 276 -3.5% -9.7
31 Sam Darnold NYJ 325 -3.5% -11.4
32 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 574 -2.3% -13.0
33 Dwayne Haskins WAS 226 -6.8% -15.3
34 Daniel Jones NYG 413 -4.2% -17.2
35 Drew Lock DEN 407 -6.3% -25.8
36 Carson Wentz PHI 397 -6.5% -25.8

An Empty Throne

Deshaun Watson's +27.9 is the lowest total to lead the league since Peyton Manning's +27.7 in 2006, the first year we ran these numbers. His 5.5% CPOE is the lowest mark to lead the league that we've ever recorded. Don't get us wrong; +27.9 is still a very good result. In a Brees-less world, +27.9 would have led the league in 2017 and has always been at least a top-five mark. We just may have to get used to a world where the leader in this category is in the high-20s, not the mid-30s.

But let's stop holding Watson up to a historic outlier and instead look at what he actually managed to do himself. Watson put up these league-leading numbers despite having an ALEX of +0.2; the next six guys on the list all had negative ALEXes. To find someone who beats Watson's 8.9 aDOT, you have to scroll down to Tom Brady. Watson was putting up fantastic completion numbers despite his offense's lack of the checkdown. When viewed in that light, Watson's season seems far less run-of-the-mill. The last player to top Watson's +27.9 while having a positive ALEX was Tony Romo in 2014; it has been quite a while since we saw someone push the ball downfield as frequently as Watson had to in 2020 while still maintaining high success rates.

The Texans were terrible in 2020. They were the third-worst defense in the league, and had the worst rushing game in football by DVOA. That means lots of huge deficits, and lots of call for deep passes just to keep the game remotely competitive. And Watson thrived in that environment in a way we haven't seen in a long time. Yes, some of that came from Will Fuller having an amazing season; Watson had a +6.6 plus-minus targeting Fuller at least 10 yards down the field. But this wasn't a one-receiver show; he also had at least a +1.0 plus-minus on deep targets to Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Chad Hansen, Pharaoh Brown, and Keke Coutee. And Watson's CPOE actually went up by 2.9% in 2020 despite the loss of DeAndre Hopkins, so losing yet another top receiver might not have as big an effect as you might think on his numbers.

Watson has been in positive-double digits for three seasons straight now, tied for the second-longest active streak with Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins and only trailing Russell Wilson's eight-year streak. It's not a one-year wonder result for Watson, even if 2020 was fairly clearly his best season to date. Yes sir, it looks like nothing is going to derail the Deshaun Watson train entering 2021. Now, if you'll excuse me, I just need to catch up on my reading of this past offseason and…

… oh, right. All that news that happened. It's always awkward writing articles like these about a player with an active legal situation, and the odds of Watson playing a full season in 2021 are about as likely as the odds of this writer leading the league in CPOE next year. You can see why teams like the Broncos would still be campaigning to bring Watson in for their starter despite the investigation into sexual misconduct allegations, but football remains firmly on the backburner for Watson at this point, and so we shall move on.

But speaking of passers the Broncos hope are under center in 2021, we have Aaron Rodgers sitting in second place. There were worries last offseason that Rodgers' career might be winding to a close; all his stats were dropping and plus-minus was no exception. Rodgers had a -0.1 combined plus-minus in 2018 and 2019 with a CPOE of 0.0%, a poor finish to the decade that saw Rodgers get passed by Wilson and fall into fifth place for the 2010s. Well, Rodgers roared back with his best season since 2012, a +26.2 mark for the MVP. His CPOE jumped up 5.2%, making him one of three players to see a five-point jump from 2019. You always hear the stories that the LaFleur/Shanahan offense takes a year or two for a passer to grasp, and maybe that's what we saw here: Rodgers and Matt LaFleur finally getting on the same page offensively. Rodgers is unlikely to lead the league in the 2020s in this stat, as he would be 46 in 2029, but Packers fans can relax knowing that Rodgers and LaFleur are working smoothly together now.

And while we're on the subject of aging passers showing improvement in 2020, Tom Brady was dead last in this stat in 2019. We bemoaned the fact that Brady and his receivers were never on the same page, and pointed out that Brady's on-target and catchable pass rates were also in the basement. We said that it "wasn't a death sentence," and that there had been instances of players bouncing back before to have quality seasons. I would consider a Super Bowl MVP a bounceback season; Brady joins Rodgers as one of the three players to see his CPOE jump by at least five percentage points. Is there more to it than just "having good receivers helps you look good?" Well, Brady went from fifth worst to seventh best in on-target rate, per Sports Info Solutions' charting, so there was a real jump in the number of Brady's passes that were even catchable last season. Sorting out how much of that is better rapport and more trust in his receiving corps versus adjusting for his slowly declining physical abilities is a difficult process. It seems unlikely that Brady will lead the league in the 2020s in this stat, as he would be 52 in 2029, but that's assuming human aging curves ever apply to Brady. Similarly, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, and Matt Ryan are all on the wrong side of 30 if we're looking for a long-term successor to Brees.

We turn instead to the highest player on this list who is both still in his 20s and looks set to play a full season next year: Josh Allen. Allen saw his CPOE jump 7.0% from 2019, which was in itself already a 5.9% jump from his league-worst mark in 2018. In last year's article, we noted that if Allen could even duplicate half of his improvement from 2018, he would end up on the positive side of the ledger. Well, he shot well past that target, placing him in some fairly rarified air. Just like we've always said: accuracy is a real strength of Josh Allen, and part of what makes him such a dangerous player. Whether or not this is sustainable remains an open question; we go into great lengths about it in Football Outsiders Almanac 2021 (cheap plug!)

Meanwhile, in the Basement…

We come now to the bottom of the table. Allen's successor as worst CPOE in the league was Dwayne Haskins, who has now become the first passer to have back-to-back league-worst CPOEs since 2011-2012 Blaine Gabbert. Haskins now joins the Pittsburgh passing room, which features Haskins (-6.8% CPOE in 2020), Ben Roethlisberger (-2.3%), and Mason Rudolph (-6.0%) atop their depth chart. Good luck.

The race to the very bottom in plus-minus was close. For the record, it is not a tie. Carson Wentz takes the crown over Drew Lock at -25.82 to -25.81, but it if you flip one pass for either player, you get a new champion. Wentz's CPOE fell -6.0% from 2019; while he's never been a plus-minus machine with a career total of -5.9 coming into 2020, last year was an entirely new level of terrible. Frank Reich has his work cut out for him restoring Wentz to adequate NFL starter levels.

As for Lock, his -1.9 and -1.3% marks as a rookie were passable in a small sample size, but things really took a swing in the wrong direction. He's now battling Teddy Bridgewater for the starting job in Denver. It's not hard to see why Broncos fans are pining for a Watson or a Rodgers to make the trip over, but it is hard to see why the Broncos opted to pass on Justin Fields with the ninth pick in the draft.

Two other players joined Wentz in seeing their CPOE drop at least five percentage points between 2019 and 2020. One was Drew Brees, whose last season with a noodle arm apparently incapable of even challenging defenses downfield still managed a +4.5 plus/minus and a 1.2% CPOE. He retires with 15 straight years of positive seasons in both of these stats, and the only reason that stretch isn't longer is that we don't have the data before 2006. Long live the King.

The other player to see a drop-off is more relevant and interesting—Ryan Tannehill. In 2019, Tannehill was second in the league behind Brees with a 7.7% CPOE and fifth with a +20.7 plus-minus. He fell back to earth last season. His +5.1 and +1.1% marks aren't bad, mind you, but they're more in line with the player Tannehill was in Miami than with 2019's Pro Bowl season. With the Dolphins, Tannehill averaged a +3.9 plus/minus and had a career CPOE of +0.9%, so his numbers were still up last season. But you can put this in the pile with 2020's YAC+ numbers as another stat that shows Tannehill playing closer to his historic averages than his breakout season two years ago. And yet, Tannehill never came close to sniffing double-digit-DVOA in Miami. These small stat regressions saw Tannehill tumbled all the way from fifth in DVOA in 2019 to, uh, sixth in 2020. Tannehill's burst of accuracy in 2019 may have been somewhat of a small sample size illusion, but his understanding and running of Tennessee's offense is light years beyond what he managed in Miami. What that says about Adam Gase and/or Joe Philbin is left as an exercise for the reader.


62 comments, Last at 24 Jul 2021, 11:31pm

1 Tom Brady

10 Tom Brady NE

As hard as it is to believe, Tom Brady did not play for the Patriots in 2020.

3 From a Broncos point of view…

From a Broncos point of view this is one of the more glaring stats in favour of Bridgewater over Lock. Regardless of what happens with Rodgers this makes Bridgewater look like a significant improvement towards at least average QB play.

It would be interesting to see what adequate QB play could do in Denver, there are a lot of highly rated targets and seeing if they truly deserve those ratings and have been held back by the QB for several years could be very entertaining (which is more the Broncos passing game has managed recently).

4 For reasons I cannot…

For reasons I cannot reconstruct now, I was listening to sports talk radio here in Denver while the draft was going on. The expectation was that a trade with Green Bay for Rodgers was imminent, so much so that the pundits discussed how the Broncos probably took Patrick Surtain in the first round because the Packers needed a cornerback.

Whether that was also the reason the Broncos passed on Justin Fields, I couldn't tell you. But they haven't done a whole lot recently to earn the benefit of the doubt.




6 Rodgers.

You always hear the stories that the LaFleur/Shanahan offense takes a year or two for a passer to grasp, and maybe that's what we saw here: Rodgers and Matt LaFleur finally getting on the same page offensively.

  There's also a school of thought saying his season was an editorial comment on the drafting of Jordan Love...

7 Sigh

Another week of great content…and another week of crappy displays on my iPad.

9 Wow, Cam was not as bad...

Wow, Cam Newton (and the Patriots abysmal ball catchers) were not as bad as I thought they'd be here.

Sure, #24 in both stats isn't great; Cam was a bottom 1/3 passer among starters, but the actual numbers are only a little below average.  -1% CPOE, and a +- of only -3.5.  Both pretty close to zero.  

My eyes told me he was really below average in both categories.  

11 I can't tell if belichick is…

I can't tell if belichick is legitimately unlucky with receivers or has some severe blind spots.

While it's fun to make fun of him for something and Tom Brady certainly elevates your typical wide receivers, he also shrewdly acquired Moss for nothing, discovered Wes welker who became a star. And also Edelman was an absolute steal. Widen it a bit and he deserved credit for Gronkowski and Hernandez.

Frankly the only decisions belichick has made that I couldn't understand at the time were his decisions to draft running backs high at all. Even if one forgives the Lawrence Maroney pick, the Sony Michelle pick was unbelievably shocking.

I also still to this day think the decision to trade Chandler Jones was a mistake, even if it never came back to bite him. 

I also didn't really understand his decision to trade Jamie Collins either, though you can say he was vindicated after the fact considering how thoroughly misused he was in Cleveland.

18 Mostly he just flatly…

Mostly he just flatly refuses to pay market value for WRs, be it draft capital or FA contracts. To this day, he’s never given a receiver a contract with AAV > 10 million. 

Collins was traded because BB got sick of him freelancing on defense; Jones was traded because he wasn’t wiling to give him a big second contract and wanted to get something more than a 3rd round comp pick. 

20 Jones trade

To get a 2nd and a flier on a former 1st rounder in Jonathan Cooper isn't bad after he helped get a SB in 4 years. Which is smart considering he likes DBs but weird to not pay for another Moss type. 

21 I like to judge trades…

I like to judge trades before the fact. I realize he wasn't going to pay Chandler Jones so in that sense it makes a lot of sense to recoup a second round pick if you're just going to let him walk anyways.

But it wasn't like the Patriots were brimming with pass rushers that they could afford to let him go. It's more something about New England that they can get away with out having great pass rushers. But this fact was not evident at the time. If one remembers, the Pats had just started to reestablish their defensive identity.


26 Trey Flowers was unproven…

Trey Flowers was unproven after missing most of his rookie year to injury, but they definitely saw his potential as a replacement for Jones. And Belichick has always preferred EDs that can set the edge against the run and create some pressure, rather than “athletic freak” style pass rushers that rack up lots of sacks. 

Jones and Donta Hightower were in the same draft class, and they didn’t have cap room to pay them both, so a decision needed to be made. It was abundantly clear to anyone following the team that if one of them was getting a market-value deal from the Pats, it was going to be Hightower. 

31 I guess my point is - I…

I guess my point is - I think it bucks conventional wisdom. If you have a good pass rusher or a good linebacker you have to pay, you keep the pass rusher. I get that BB has always preferred lbs and defensive ends who play within structure, but its definitely unusual.

Also, I don't follow the Pats cap machinations, but you typically try to plan your cap around impending free agents you want to sign. The 49ers paid Patrick Willis and Navarrow Bowman for example. 

27 Mostly he just flatly…

Mostly he just flatly refuses to pay market value for WRs, be it draft capital or FA contracts

I mean, partly, it's also just that they're really bad at evaluating WRs for some reason. They've spent decent draft capital at WR, for instance.

They also had this odd habit of grabbing free agent WRs who've killed them in the past, too. Like, Moss had literally his highest-yardage game against any team while with the Raiders vs New England, and they pick him up when things go south. Ditto Welker: first Miami/New England game was his highest-yardage game that year, and Patriots trade for him in the offseason. Greg Lewis, marginal receiver for the Eagles - best game versus New England in 2007, and New England trades for him two years later (though he never makes the team).  Chad Johnson, murders New England in 2010 (again - highest yardage game of the season) and he's on the team the next year.

Granted, in the 2010s that trend seems to have gone away, but in the late 2000s, I swear it was "receiver X has a great game vs New England" and I'd say "oh, he'll be on the Patriots in a few years."

30 Have they, though? Harry at…

Have they, though? Harry at 1.32 was the highest BB ever drafted a WR, and you’d have to go back to Aaron Dobson in 2013 to find another second rounder. I don’t really think that a half dozen dart throws over the past decade really means that much, although 2016 4th rounder Malcolm Mitchell looked promising before having to retire due to injury and 2019 UDFA Jakobi Meyers was quietly a very effective player last year  

They tried buying low on Antonio Brown; it didn’t work. Giving up a 2 for Mohammed Sanu was pretty indefensible in terms of pure talent, but their cap sheet was a mess at the time and he was only owed 12 over 2 years. Unfortunately, he got hurt and that didn’t work out either. 

The common thread here isn’t that they are particularly bad at scouting receivers; it’s that BB isn’t willing to invest tens of millions in AAV or trade up for an elite prospect. Sometimes picking guys off the scrap heap works, but usually it doesn’t. 

36 Have they, though? Harry at…

Have they, though? Harry at 1.32 was the highest BB ever drafted a WR, and you’d have to go back to Aaron Dobson in 2013 to find another second rounder.

That's not super uncommon for a team always sitting at the bottom of the first round. It's certainly not frequent and it's not like, say, Pittsburgh, who seems to pick a top-half draft pick at WR every other year. But it's close to on par with say, the Packers, who similarly don't seem to value WRs very highly.

But you're right in the sense that it's "not much" - they're definitely on the low end of how they value WRs. It's just not, epically insanely low relative to the rest of the league, like the Eagles are with linebackers.

The common thread here isn’t that they are particularly bad at scouting receivers; it’s that BB isn’t willing to invest tens of millions in AAV or trade up for an elite prospect. 

I think those statements are both true, and related. The Patriots have dumped large contracts on pass catchers, and to be clear at least to me the Patriots value TEs close to WRs anyway. They paid Moss the modern equivalent of $20M/yr after his first year and they franchised Welker at a modern cost nearing ~$15M/yr. But both of those situations were after they got the player for extremely little. And obviously Gronk's contract was WR-scale, and they just effing redefined wacko with TE contracts this year and just picked up Agholor for $11M/yr.

But to me there's plenty of evidence that they are bad at scouting receivers - because when they do snap up trash heap guys, they're usually like, bad options. Yeah, at least Antonio Brown and Moss had serious upside potential, but... Mohamed Sanu? Trading picks for Greg Lewis and 33-year old Chad Johnson? Trading for Dorsett? Signing a 38-year old Joey Galloway? And the Smith and Henry contracts make me go "huh" as well, this year. 

Like, Brown and Moss were Hall of Fame performance still near prime. It was totally worth the gamble there. But targeting those other guys is just like, what the heck do you think you're doing? Why in the world would you expend resources on those options? It's like they're trying to find "okay" receivers off the scrap heap.

60 Not All Bad

The Belichick WRs have rarely been outstanding but they were generally serviceable relative to what he's wanted to do offensively. The debacles of the past two seasons aside, the Pats certainly haven't struggled to put up points - granted, having Brady helped a bit. In 2016, NE actually had a top-five group that didn't break the bank: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan, and Michael Floyd; the TE's (Gronk, Bennett) were no slouches either. BB doesn't just value TEs 'close' to WR's - he values them more highly, as least in terms of bang for his buck. For him, TEs offer greater flexibility, a hallmark of his approach on both sides of the ball.  As with pass-rushing specialists, BB sees WRs as overvalued. I'm sure he'd love to have a sixteen-sack guy lining up for him but he's never going to pay market rate for it. It may be legacy from Bill Parcells, who left NE, at least in part, because Kraft overruled him in drafting Terry Glenn when Parcell's wanted to draft for defense.

As a sidenote, I'm sure such articles exist but I've never read one that really traces the continuities between BB and Parcells. Those ball-possession Parcells teams from the 80s certainly provided BB a template for how he would do things.  


12 Drew Brees: Most Consistently Excellent and Most Accurate passer

Drew Brees is the most consistently Excellent passer in NFL History.

Research for yourselves what part Consistency plays in success.

and, if and until it is conclusively proven otherwise, Drew Brees is the most accurate passer QB in NFL history.

In terms of the mechanics of physically performing the position of NFL QB...not the phony and completely misleading "QB Wins" stat...

What NFL QB was/is better at performing the mechanics of the position of NFL QB than Drew Brees.

I say the answer is none.

13 So, so, so deeply excited to…

So, so, so deeply excited to see how an offensive philosophy predicated on having an incredibly intelligent QB with impeccable touch, accuracy, and ball placement now runs with Taysom Hill and/or Jameis Winston out there.

14 To that point: Drew Brees'…

To that point:

Drew Brees' career CPOE (well, career from 2006 on): +5.4%
Jameis Winston's career CPOE: +0.5%
Taysom Hill: +2.8%.

I suppose that's technically an argument in favor of Hill starting, though he has the much smaller sample size.

17 Goff's at +0.1%, though that…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

Goff's at +0.1%, though that rises to +1.1% if you exclude his rookie Jeff Fisher year.

Stafford's at -0.9%, which rises to +0.4% during Goff's career.

16 why would Sean Payton run the Brees offense with Winston or Hill

Sean Payton has shown a tremendous ability to quickly and effectively adapt to the individual talent he has at QB... he switched the offense from Brees to Bridgewater in 1 week and the won 5 straight in 2019, and switched to Taysom Hill in 2020 going 3-1...

In Jameis Winston, the Saints have acquired a thermonuclear device, brought it into the laboratory for adjustments and fine tuning ( the redshirt learning year in the Saints offices and LASIK surgery) will be conducting tests in secrecy this summer, and will detonate it over the NFL this September.

Winston will have a spectacular season in 2021, and the Saints Offense will be a formidable Juggernaut

22 "In Jameis Winston, the…

"In Jameis Winston, the Saints have acquired a thermonuclear device, brought it into the laboratory for adjustments and fine tuning ( the redshirt learning year in the Saints offices and LASIK surgery) will be conducting tests in secrecy this summer, and will detonate it over the NFL this September.

Winston will have a spectacular season in 2021, and the Saints Offense will be a formidable Juggernaut."

I guess this will be an interesting test, although it's a bit disconcerting that Jameis was unable to beat out a rich man's Tim Tebow for the backup job.

I'm also on the pessimistic side in the sense that Jameis had an ideal offensive environment to play in and he was still below average. A less ideal set of circumstances might have gotten him benched way before he ever achieves his cartoonish results.

25 Hill vs. Winston

Last year, I think that Payton wanted to do exactly what they did with Bridgewater in 2019--play conservative, don't screw up. You have a good defense, you're playing against a team that we should beat. No need for "David" strategies--they aren't "Goliath." Thus, they played Hill--not to mention, Hill probably knew the offense better than Winston. [I'm not alleging that Winston didn't know it--but every QB does better in an offense with more playing time.]

This year, I would rather that Payton play Winston regularly, and keep Hill as the "change-of-pace QB"--something like a 65-70/30-35 split. What I saw from Hill last year did not give me confidence in a 2-minute situation, nor in anything 3rd and 7+--especially in an area of the field where you are unlikely to try to convert on 4th down. I do not think that Winston will turn into Brees of a decade ago; but if he could turn into an average NFL QB, that would keep the Saints' offense working well. He doesn't need to force things--just take what the defense gives him, and let Kamara, Thomas, etc. do their thing.

28 There's the old adage of…

In reply to by Joseph

There's the old adage of when somebody shows you who they are, believe them; Winston has shown over and over again his biggest problems on the field have nothing to do with physical talent, and it's all mental mistakes and decision making.  I can't count the number of times I saw him literally just throw the ball to a defender, and, sure, that's what LASIK does.  It suddenly allows you to see that 240-pound linebacker wearing a brightly-colored jersey in the middle of the field eight yards away.  Absolutely.

Drew Brees was phenomenal at things like touch, accuracy, and decision making, which are literally EXACTLY the things Jameis Winston has consistently been bad at, and, sure, I realize Sean Payton has cultivated himself an image of Wile E. Coyote Official Genius and all, but Payton's really had the perfect QB for his system and playcalling for years in Brees, and Winston's completely different in how he plays, and I genuinely think we're going to see with Winston what happened with Manziel in college in that Mike Evans just made the QB that much better.  Winston's ball placement is generally bad, but Mike Evans has the catch radius and pure physicality to catch things most receivers just can't, and he pulled in so many slightly off-target balls that most WRs weren't going to get.

He doesn't need to force things--just take what the defense gives him

Yes, but that's literally what he's needed to do his entire career, and he never has been able to.  Sure, maybe LASIK is magic after all and Sean Payton has rebooted Winston's brain and all, but, if you were going to put actual money on this situation, would you count on a guy who is averaging 1.25 INTs per game as the one to do that?

29 I didn't want to be mean but…

I didn't want to be mean but when I saw the Lasik comment, it was hard not to mash the keyboard hysterically. If it turns out that Lasik accounts for Jameis Winston's proclivity for Ints(I guess he couldn't see the difference between the receiver and the defender), then the entire Bucs coaching staff should be fired and forced out of the NFL. Its that level of coaching malfeasance. 

On a more serious note, I agree Payton was lucky to get Brees for so long, but he's made it work with Teddy and unthinkably Hill somehow. I don't think its unreasonable to think Jameis might look like a decent passer or maybe even slightly above average.

The claim is that Jameis is going to be a superstar with Payton. I think of all of these reclamations, hes the most tantalizing. If only, ONLY, he could limit those pesky ints he'd be the GOAT in his own words. More circumspectly, I don't think that stuff can be taught but here's a chance for Payton to prove himself the GOAT coach if he does. 



32 Replying to both you and Milkman

My hope is that a little LASIK, a lot Brees/Payton mentoring, mixed with lowered expectations, 60-70% usage rate, and a different offensive system will cut down on his turnover rate. One poster claims he will be a superstar next year; I just don't see it. However, if the Saints win the division and/or hit 12 wins, I think Payton deserves to be on the shortlist for COY. With all the talent they retained, 9-10 wins is not a stretch--but I think their floor is close to their ceiling. I don't gamble, but the 2021 Saints seem like a 9.0/9.5 over/under.

35 I'll be upfront. The Lasik…

I'll be upfront. The Lasik argument I don't buy at all. Like at all. See why below.

As for the rest, there is some precendence here. Matt Flynn in a stacked offense threw 6tds and looked like a worldbeater. Matt Cassel, once he was given some rope, started looking like an MVP in New England. And Alex Smith in his final year at KC had a season that looks like an outlier compared to the rest of his career. So its not unprecendented.

However, its also not preordained and in those instances above, it was the coaching and supporting casts that turned the QB into a star, not some innate ability the qb possessed. Matt Flynn took that shiny coaching and proceeded to be awful. Matt Cassel less awful but topped out at spot starter. So clearly, whatever they gained didn't really last once they left those coaching confines. 

Either way, if I were NO, I would be on the look out for a new QB at some point. Presumably, whatever Sean Payton coaching magic is there will work with an actual good QB(Drew Brees), rather than one who needs to be elevated with magic tricks. 

42 On the lookout for a new QB

I agree with that also. Hill is over 30 already, and while Winston could have 10 years left in him, who knows whether they will be as a starter or as a backup. I believe that Payton's thoughts were, "let's see if we can get a QB who had enough potential to go #1 overall, but at a very steep discount, and see what can be done. Best case, we get acquire a QB for peanuts who can start for 5+ years; worst case, we spent very little money for a lottery ticket that didn't win." IMO, most likely scenario is that they get a few years of adequate QB play, and sometime in the next couple of years they take a QB in the first round. 

47 Winston's problems started in college:

Winston's problems with decision making, especially under pressure started in College.  As the defending national champs at FSU he went on and INT tear.  Which means he was throwing tons of INTs when his team was one of 4-5 most talented teams in the game.

He was a meme for making bad choices under pressure for the wild no hit fumble he gave to Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

This is a guy who, despite all his physical tools, just keeps making the same mental mistakes over and over.  He's a modern day Jeff George.

48 Bad Vision/depth perception = Bad Decision-making

I always thought this was a football wisdom site...perhaps for the writers it is...

@"gomer rs"

Winston had bad vision and bad depth perception. 

BEFORE Throwing the ball downfield, he has to SEE what is downfield 

What he sees downfield is moving fast.

Because of his vision, what he sees is blurry, and the perceived position of all players is slightly off (Depth perception) 

Under pressure, with less time to decide what is open and where to place the ball...

he is bound to make a lot of throws to the WRONG SPOT.

49 I just question how bad his eyesight really was...

Granted there was a study showing the mean of MLB position players was an eyesight of 20/11.  Winston appears to panic and lose his footing while overthrowing with arm strength.  If his eyesight had deteriorated to 20/30 or 20/40, sure, I get it, he's a pro athlete.  

Simply put, it appears to this observer, his problems appear to be a tendency to panic and not being able to process deliberately in adverse situations.  He seems too quick to give up on his footing and lower body base. 

57 I have no rooting interest…

I have no rooting interest against the Saints, but I sort of envision a 2016 broncos like season from them. Namely, their defense will regress some and the offense will regress a lot and the totality will sum up to around a .500 win season.

Obviously I could be very wrong and Sean Payton is a much better coach than Gary Kubiak, but that's the sense I'm getting. 

I'll admit it's rather sad that the Saints amassed all this talent just as Drew Brees entered his Twilight. Then lots of little things conspired to undermine their seasons. The infamous no call. A 13 and 3 season that didn't get them a first round bye. Interceptions that gave the Bucs all of their offensive scoring. 

It's a good thing Drew Brees has his ring (I'm not happy about how he got it), otherwise it would descend into a spiral of unhappy thoughts about "what could have been if..."

33 in his own words..."Couldnt read the scoreboard" "Depth Percepti

@ Dr.s  MilkmanDanimal and theslothook....really enjoyed experiencing the depth of your knowledge on the effectiveness and utility of LASIK surgery, the importance of depth perception in the decision-making process of an NFL QB... and the overall benefits of improved vision; greatly anticipating your next lecture series.

from 2020-

"Jameis Winston is getting a fresh start in 2020. He has a new team (the Saints), a new job (backup) and new eyes (repaired with laser beams). 

Winston, speaking reporters Wednesday for the first time since signing with New Orleans, said he decided to undergo LASIK eye surgery in February to fix his nearsightedness and astigmatism and has been pleased with the results. 

“I can read license plates. I can read street signs,” Winston told reporters. “I think the precision in the vision is the biggest difference.”

Winston said his vision was imperfect before, but it wasn’t that bad. Still, he’s seeing significant improvements since the surgery. 

“No blurriness, and I think that’s huge,” Winston said. “Depth perception has increased tremendously and those are the big things. I didn’t have bad eyes, I just had astigmatism. I had certain things that they had to fix to increase the precision and the sharpness of my vision.”

Incredibly, Winston hasn’t really done much to address his vision in the past. 

“He can’t read the scoreboard, but he can see the guys in front of him, so he’s fine,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said last year. That’s because Winston doesn’t wear contacts, although Arians said he’d sometimes wear goggles in practice. 

Anyone who watched Winston last year would have thought he was half-blind. He threw a league-high 30 interceptions, tied for the seventh-most in an NFL season and the most since Brett Favre’s 29 in 2005. 


But Winston’s eyes can’t be blamed for all those picks (and he hasn’t said that, either, though some media members are wondering how the surgery might improve his game). He’s been dealing with sub-par vision since he was at Florida State, where he threw 10 interceptions in his first season and 18 in his last. Even in the NFL, his reputation may be as a turnover machine but his interception totals in his first four seasons were 15, 18, 11 and 14. That’s a still a lot of picks—especially 14 in just nine starts in 2018—but it’s not 30. "

(source: Sports Illustrated)

34 So vision is a big part of…

So vision is a big part of why he threw 30 ints. Yet somehow, incredibly, vision was not an issue when he threw 30 + tds - the very stat that has you and others so optimistic. It seems, to me anyways, you are having it both ways. Either his vision is crap and that explains the ints and the corresponding low tds, low completions, etc etc or his vision was fine and his decision making was utter garbage. That would explain how he could simulateously throw 30 tds with 30 ints. 


37 Yep! Its all or nothing!


he hit the wide open guys for touchdowns and had terrible ball placement on the interceptions because his bad depth perception and blurriness of vision gave Winston a false target area to throw to...

38 Ok

Ok. His tds were all from wide open throws and the ints were all because of a lack of perception.

39 So, your theory is a NFL QB,…

So, your theory is a NFL QB, who was the #1 pick overall in the draft, who won the Heisman, who played baseball and managed to hit a tiny little baseball, and, most importantly, was a professional athlete had such bad vision that, rather than wearing glasses or contacts, he chose to instead play the game with vision so blurry that he literally could not see the brightly-colored jerseys on the field in front of him, and, rather than, say, wearing glasses or contacts, he just threw INT after INT after INT for five years because reasons?  That the GOOD version of Jameis Winston is the one who was so moronic and selfish that he'd rather turn the ball over, destroy his team's ability to succeed, and lead receiver after receiver into big hit because it did not occur to him until he was, let's be clear, 27--TWENTY-SEVEN--years old that maybe, just maybe, he might want to get his eyes correct?

This is the sales pitch Saints fans are selling to themselves?  That the fundamental problem with Jameis Winston was vision, and not, as people have been saying for years, decision-making and general idiocy, the kind of general idiocy that's led him to throw 30 picks in a year?

Seriously.  Every Bucs fans I talk to is DEEPLY excited about Jameis Winston being in New Orleans.  There's no dread.  Fans didn't like it when Gerald McCoy went to Carolina.  Warrick Dunn to Atlanta?  It sucked.  Jameis Winston to the Saints?  PUT IT INTO MY VEINS.

43 Bruce Arians direct Quote- "He can't read the Scoreboard"

His own coach Bruce Arians said

"He can't read the Scoreboard"...

"He sometimes wears googles in practice"...

That is from the Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, himself a former QB. 

Where does it say that Winston "could not see the brightly colored jerseys on the field"? Please point out specifically where that is...because it does NOT exist. THere is a huge difference between not being able to correctly judge where to place the ball in a split second judgement because your depth perception and clarity of vision are off, versus, "I cant see the opposition team"

I do not understand what is so difficult to understand.

Bad vision contributes to bad decision making.

How do you not "SEE" this?

He used to have bad depth perception and blurry vision. LASIK has corrected that...

He made the decision to take a Redshirt Learning year at the NFL league minimum to study under Sean Payton, Drew Brees, Pete Carmichael, etc, of the Saints ...the type of personal decision a person makes when they are trying to improve.

45 I do not understand what is so difficult to understand.

"I do not understand what is so difficult to understand."

Simple. Because if his poor play was a direct result of blurry vision, why the hell did Jameis and his coach do next to nothing about it? We're not talking about 5 games worth of bad play. We are talking about multiple seasons! Its also hilarious btw that only after his time in TB was over did this apparent reality sink in. I guess it took 30 ints to drive home the point that he needed his eyes fixed? And btw, this decision cost him millions of dollars and his starting job. 

How to explain this? Vanity? Stubborness? A desire to challenge oneself?  That's the point. If it were an issue of vision, it such an easily correctable problem that it makes no sense for it to be THE reason. 

As MilkMan suggested - to take the vision argument seriously, you are left to conclude that Jameis intentionally chose a path that would lead to the team's ruination because he preferred do that then to wear contact lenses or get Lasik sooner. So that means your left concluding hes a terrible leader, selfish, lazy, and lacks any kind of common sense. And Bruce Arians does as well. 

Or...this is all a big distraction and there is a more obvious explanation at work. 

46 google "Jameis Winston squinting" , click on ' images'

They go back to 2013.

i ask you:

Why are there SO MANY PHOTOS of jameis squinting?

What is the specific reason for this?

The world is littered with stories of headstrong super competitive people who completely believe in their ability to overcome any shortcomings they may have and ultimately triumph.

It takes  an honest and humble person to admit that they need help...and to actually take the necessary steps to achieve that goal.

Winston should be applauded.

50 I find it so odd you are…

I find it so odd you are equating fixing eyesight to something like battling alcholohism. It takes real bravery to admit he needs contact lenses? What was the issue stopping him? The annoyance of wearing lenses? Vanity at the horror of being known as someone with less than perfect vision? 

I am really struggling to understand this. So Winston, knowing his poor vision is leading to turnovers at an alarming rate, would rather continue this status quo rather than paying for Lasik or wearing contacts? If you believe this, why are you not horrifed at the kind of leader this man might be? If his priorities are so loopy, can you really trust him to do anything else? If someone can't handle basic tasks, why the hell would I expect him to handle more complicated ones?

Also, I let it slip past earlier but the assertion that his tds were all coming from wide open throws requiring less onerous stress on his eyes is patently absurd. And second, even if that were true, how do you explain the throws he managed to complete. Were they similarly all wide open?

Look I get why Winston is saying all of this. It is understandable that he, Winston, prefers everyone else believe this explanation. I would too if I were in his shoes. One makes it seem like a case of victimhood while the other is of his own doing.

53 I will try again

Winston is not saying all this. I am.

Winston said he is getting a Harvard-Level education in being a QB from the Saints, and that is Vision has really improved. ( Read the quotes from Sports Illustrated)

Who said anything about Alcoholism? Not me!

Winston was not completely blind.

HE HAD BAD VISION ...big difference.

What is going to happen if you are a thrower with bad vision?

( do you wear contacts? ask you eye doctor if all athletes can tolerate contacts...

OH! and ask him/her to define for you what astigmatism is, and what wearing contacts while playing contact sports, with astigmatism, can mean)

Downfield Decision-making:

To DECIDE where to throw the ball, he has to SEE downfield first.


If what he is seeing down field is Blurry and Inaccurately perceived...

and a quick decision is required...

Which is more likely, a Good throw or a bad throw? 

Will all throws be good? No.

Will all throws be bad? No.

Will a certain percentage be bad? most likely! For the singular reason that he had bad vision.

Apparently you have not been around too many ( or any) Type-A hyper competitive people, in any field.

Go to the Self-Help section of any book store...

These are people who truly believe they will overcome every obstacle...even if they have to "will" themselves beyond what human limitations they might have...RARELY will these people admit they have something they cannot rise above (Dyslexia, a speech impediment, stuttering, etc) I know a former stutterer...she NEVER sought treatment, never admitted she needed help ( which would have really helped her early on, especially in grade school) she just 'did it on her own' - she is very successful...not everyone can do that, but she just forced her way through

I believe Winston DID try contacts at one point...they are not always the right solution re: astigmatism in sports.( They CAN be, but not always) If you can't wear them, you do the best you can...

Winston could see just well enough to make some throws, just enough to keep him in the game, just Enough to be High School All-American, just  Enough to start at FSU, just enough to win the Heisman...but always, at each level, really missing on some throws. Trying his hardest, he is doing just enough to reach success..."Just Enough" success keeps the fire lit... Keep Trying , Rise Above, never give up..." I never lost a game, I just ran out of time"



If you ever actually attend a football game, just look up at the scoreboard and see if you can read the scoreboard. Winston couldn't do that, yet he is making split second decisions on where to throw the ball...

How is that possible?

He has the physical gifts to do the job, the will to win,  but he had bad vision...THat equates to both good throws and bad throws from the same player.


54 I wore contacts when I was…

In reply to by ahzroc

I wore contacts when I was in highschool. I got lasik later in life. We will agree to disagree with the view that the biggest explanation for Jameis Winston's career to this point is vision. I will again say, I find it curious that Winston was willing to let contacts be the difference between riding the bench and potentially signing a half a billion dollar contract. 500 million dollars + countless extra from endorsements, accolades, and having your name etched into the history books(for positive reasons).

All for contact lenses...

59 vision

ahzroc: personal anecdote--I was fairly athletic for a HS kid, but not talented enough for anything above that. Anyway, I didn't find out till I was 13/14 that I had one bad eye. Since my good eye was "stronger", it only affected my vision if I closed my good eye. And my "bad" eye isn't bad (20/45)--just not good enough to pass the visual exam for my driver's permit. My dad put a hoop on the garage when I was 7, so when I tried to play basketball w/glasses years later, I was just all messed up--took them off, no problem. However, in softball (slow pitch!), I can't play even decent without glasses--horrible depth perception. 

The anecdote is to say this--depth perception would be extremely important for a QB. The fact that Winston had this problem, and for years either nobody noticed it enough to say something to him, or he didn't say anything (or both!), is not a good sign. I want the guy to succeed, and maybe learning under Brees & Payton for 2 years has taken a little bit of hubris/bravado off of him. In my book, 30 INT's after several years of starting is not just bad decision making, vision problems, tipped balls, etc. It is sign of "I can get away with this, even though I probably shouldn't try it." Lots of rookies make mistakes like this, and come to realize that the talent advantage over everyone else that they have enjoyed all of their playing career is gone. Everybody in the NFL is super-talented. IF vision was a part of the problem, and IF he makes better risk-reward decisions, he can be a top-half-of-the-league QB. I don't see him ever becoming a top-5 QB. If he hits that, the Saints will have made a FA decision that approaches getting Brees for nothing. I would love this outcome--but like I posted earlier, it's a lottery ticket. More than likely is that Winston improves from a rich-man's Fitzpatrick.to a younger Stafford. 

61 Patently Absurd?

In reply to by Joseph

Completely preposterous? Utterly absurd? I would say that is pretty close to impossible that the Bucs, or any other team in the NFL,  would not test and monitor the health of its most important player and mega-million dollar investment. Or that the incredibly competitive athlete would not be constantly trying to find ways to give himself any edge available. In fact, many athletes these days have their vision changed to better than 20/20, especially baseball players, for obvious reason. 

I can't buy it. I've been wearing corrective lenses since the 5th grade and despite correcting my vision early, it still delayed certain my development as an athlete in profound ways. If Winston's vision was as bad as he says it was, he wouldn't have been able to play his position at all. 

24 The -6.0% is from the Browns…

The -6.0% is from the Browns game, yeah, but a sample size of 41 pass attempts is more noise than anything else.  In 2019, his CPOE was -1.1%.

Any improvement noticed from that one game probably has more to do with avoiding interceptions and sacks than anything with accuracy; SIS charting has him at about 67% on target passes in both years.

62 The less frequently you pass…

The less frequently you pass to a given depth/area of the field the more successful you should be at it. The more your offense is predicated on the short pass and run game, the same effect. It's hard to see the value of this stat. Brees is literally the textbook example of the limitations of a high completion percentage short yardage passing game to generate points. He and Payton milked that offense for all it was worth, and credit, it really only works when you can be as efficient as Brees, which few QBs can.