The New Orleans Saints have named Jameis Winston the starting quarterback for Week 1. What are the ensuing ramifications to know entering upcoming fantasy football drafts?
Following 15 seasons of mostly elite-level play from Drew Brees, the Saints will hang their 2021 fortunes on the right arm of Winston after he beat out Taysom Hill.
When Brees went down last season, the Saints turned to Hill, who went 3-1 in his four starts, albeit against teams that finished a combined 13-34-1. That didn’t stop New Orleans from re-signing Winston, and the general vibe most of the offseason has been that the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer was the slight favorite to start all along.
It makes sense as Winston is four years younger and boasts a stronger arm. He also features a more comparable skill set to Brees as a pocket passer and has more experience — Winston has thrown 2,559 career passes to Hill’s 134. Moreover, the 31-year-old Hill is just not that talented of a thrower in comparison to Winston.
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Individual skill has never been in doubt when it comes to Winston. Ball security is sure to be a major focal point after Brees averaged a paltry 8.2 interceptions over his final eight seasons, which is an area that Winston has struggled in the past. Not every throw needs to be a hero ball, and head coach Sean Payton won’t have much patience for this kind of play.
Of course, if Winston is asked to operate the same type of quick-hitting passing attack as Brees, turnovers figure to be less of an issue. To a large degree, Payton can manipulate Winston into favorable situations.
He will play behind a strong offensive line and has among the league’s best one-two punches at running back in Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray to lean on.
The receiving corps will be patchwork to begin the year, however. All-star wideout Michael Thomas (ankle) may not return until close to midseason after surgery, although he professes to be ahead of his rehab schedule. This leaves mostly unproven preseason darling Marquez Callaway as the likely WR1, followed by an amalgamation of Tre’Quan Smith (hamstring), who once again is injured and may be in doubt for Week 1, Deonte Harris, and Lil’Jordan Humphrey. The trio of Callaway, Harris and Humphrey generated 49 combined career catches in the regular season. It felt like Thomas caught that many balls by halftime some weeks.
Winston starting drastically raises the floor for all of his weapons, though. His arm talent will make players around him better, particularly the deep threats, such as Callaway.
Starting tight end Adam Trautman (foot) has been widely pegged as a breakout candidate, but he was carted off in the season preseason game with a foot injury and doesn’t have a clear prognosis just yet. Media reports say he escaped serious injury but is week-to-week. To further complicate things, his backup, Nick Vannett, is out up to a month, which puts the first two games of the season in doubt.
Jameis Winston fantasy football outlook
Winston will be asked to do very little in the first couple of games. Play smart football, hand it off, check it down to Kamara, and then take the occasional deep shot to Callaway. Look for Harris to be a creatively used gadget weapon early on, while Humphrey is somewhat of an X-factor.
The Saints open vs. Green Bay, Carolina, and New England, followed by the New York Giants and Washington before a Week 6 bye. Thomas is likely to return in Week 7. The early-season expectations for Winston should be rather low. All of those teams but Carolina have high-end pass defenses, and the Panthers’ improved pass rush could mask their deficiencies.
Even after the bye, life doesn’t get much easier, so Winston profiles as more of a spot-starter than a set-and-forget option. Some of the matchups could create more passing by necessity, and it will be a double-edged sword. Until we consistently see him protect the ball, increased passing from Winston is bound to lead to more mistakes than what you’d see from most other starters.
Speculatively, he could become a victim of circumstance and lose his starting job through little fault of his own. With pretty close to a murderer’s row of a first five-game slate, coupled with limited weaponry, a 1-4 start, give or take, could compel Payton to make the move to Hill coming out of the Week 6 break. Be aware of this possibility if for some reason Winston is pegged to be your full-time starter.
Draft Winston as a low-end QB2 with marginal upside. He will use this opportunity as an audition to prove he can play intelligent football. His long-term fantasy worth is directly tied to the ability to make wise choices and show he isn’t a turnover vending machine.
Taysom Hill fantasy football outlook
Hill should be used in the same hybrid role he has filled the past couple of years, only with more snaps at QB. Payton had no qualms about pulling Brees in favor of Hill at pivotal times in the past few seasons, so one can bet that won’t change with Winston. If anything, we should see even more of Hill. As a standalone player, unless Winston implodes, no one should be playing Hill in 2021 leagues.