With training camp rapidly approaching, this seemed like a good time to recap the players I projected to breakout in 2016. Some predictions worked out better than others, but regardless it is a fun yearly exercise to partake in. I’ll be starting with quarterback where I only picked two players to take their games to the next level in 2016. What I wrote about those quarterbacks at the time can be found here.
Jameis Winston, Buccaneers: Entering 2016, I wrote that Winston had weapons at his disposal, and the Buccaneers figured to be in the playoff mix late in the year with the roster they had assembled. The Buccaneers were in the playoff mix late in the season as their three win increase in 2016 led to a 9-7 finish, which was the first winning season the franchise has had since 2010. Winston was also able to establish some of the weapons I had mentioned this past year as Mike Evans showed he should be a top tier wideout for years to come, and Cameron Brate at tight end hauled in eight touchdowns to go along with 660 yards. The big question with Winston now is his turnovers.
While his completion percentage rose from his rookie campaign, Winston threw more interceptions in 2016. His 18 thrown were second amongst all quarterbacks. As someone who plays with more of a “gunslinger mentality”, turnovers could always be questioned with Winston in an era where teams seem to be throwing shorter and are more cautious with the ball. Good news for Winston is that help is on the way in terms of weapons who cater to his skill set. DeSean Jackson, who has been a premier deep threat for almost a decade, signed with the Buccaneers this offseason. On top of that, they added two pass catchers in the draft with tight end O.J. Howard in the first round, and the talented receiver Chris Godwin out of Penn State in the third. The Buccaneers are already a trendy pick to make the playoffs in 2017, but the growth of Winston between his second to third year will make the difference.
Hit or miss: Push
Marcus Mariota, Titans: At the end of my Mariota write-up, I mentioned it wouldn’t be surprising if the Titans more than doubled their 2015 win total and where considered one of the league’s up and coming teams entering 2017. Both those things happened, and the Titans actually tripled their 2015 total by going 9-7. Heck, if Mariota didn’t break his leg in the middle of their week 16 game against the Jaguars, there’s a chance the team would’ve been playing for a playoff spot the following week.
Due to playing in 12 games his rookie year, Mariota saw increases in all major categories for 2016. Not only was he more efficient in terms of stats such as adjusted yards per attempt, but he threw one less interception despite throwing 81 more passes, and threw for touchdowns at an above average rate with 26 on 451 pass attempts. Despite the strong stats, Mariota did have some outings this past year that showed there was room to grow. Like Winston, Mariota will have a stronger supporting cast in 2017. Along with signing Eric Decker, the Titans also drafted three pass catchers in Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith this past April. While 2016 may not of been a defining season, I’m chalking this up as a breakout campaign as there were more than enough positives to believe that Mariota will help the Titans take the next step in 2017.
Hit or miss: Hit