With less than a week until training camps, there’s no better time to look back at who I projected to breakout during the 2017 season. This is always an enjoyable exercise as not only can it be fun to project, but there’s also opportunity to learn from players I might have missed on. This past year, I projected three quarterbacks to take their games to the next level. Two of them burst onto the scene and hope to show that 2017 wasn’t a fluke, while the other is almost at a career crossroads. What I wrote about these players leading up to 2017 can be found here.
Jameis Winston, Buccaneers: There was plenty of hype surrounding Winston and the Buccaneers this time last year, and needless to say they disappointed. Entering the year with playoff aspirations, the Buccaneers went 5-11 and 3-10 in games Winston started. There was growth for Winston in 2017 in some statistical categories. He had career bests in completion percentage, yards per attempt and cut down on interceptions. 2.5 percent of Winston’s passes were intercepted compared to 3.2 in 2016.
The turnover still added up, as he had 19 turnovers combining his 11 interceptions and eight lost fumbles. Some of the fumbles can be on Winston’s offensive line, but also his tendency to try and get something out of every play. Entering 2018, the biggest concern surrounding him is off the field decisions. Winston will miss the first three games of 2018 due to violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Entering year four of his rookie deal, the Buccaneers have to decide if they’re willing to commit big money to Winston. How they assess Winston’s choices on and off the field is likely going to be the deciding factor in if he’s worthy of a new deal.
Hit or miss: Push
Carson Wentz, Eagles: Entering 2017, I wrote that if Wentz’s offseason improvements showed in his play, the Eagles could make a playoff push. They ended up doing that and a whole lot more. After flashing as a rookie, Wentz was arguably the favorite for MVP honors before tearing his ACL. While additions like Alshon Jeffery helped open things up, the growth in one year by Wentz was very impressive. His yards per pass attempt went up 1.3 yards from his rookie year, and his 33 touchdown passes (which accounted for 7.5% of his throws) suggest he was on pace for one of the most prolific touchdown seasons in recent memory.
While hope was initially shattered when Wentz went down, credit goes to Nick Foles and head coach Doug Pederson. They adjusted their scheme once Wentz went down and rode it to the franchise’s first Super Bowl win. That could be a blessing in disguise for Wentz, as Foles’ play shows the Eagles don’t necessarily need to rush him through the recovery process. The way the roster is assembled, the Eagles have the look of a serious contender for the next few years. Wentz playing at this level while on a rookie deal only increases the likelihood.
Hit or miss: Hit
Jared Goff, Rams: I wrote that with a new coaching staff 2017 could be a “make or break” year for Goff. Despite him being a number one overall pick, the new group had nothing invested in him and could have gone in a different direction. It was clearly a “make” year for Goff as the team’s reaction has been to go all in while they have him on a rookie deal. Goff led the Rams to their first playoff appearance since 2004, and made his first Pro Bowl in the process.
While Sean McVay’s scheme and improving the offensive line certainly helped, Goff deserves plenty of credit for his improvements. His completion percentage went up over seven points, yards per attempt went up almost three yards, and his interception rate went from 3.4 to 1.5%. With an array of weapons at his disposal and stars all over the defense, some are looking at this as a “make or break” year for Goff to lead the Rams to the Super Bowl. What a difference a year/modern coaching schemes makes.
Hit or miss: Hit