The comparisons are pretty clear. Vinny Testaverde was the first overall pick in the 1987 draft and Jameis Winston was the first overall pick in the 2015 draft, both taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both had up-and-down careers in Tampa before moving elsewhere.
Testaverde went to Cleveland and then Baltimore, where he was let go after the 1997 season. We signed him with the Jets in June of 1998 to be a backup to starter Glenn Foley, but it didn’t take long for Testaverde to take control.
I saw it firsthand: Here was a guy who was in world-class shape. He was a great teammate, had tremendous ability, and he just needed a little more experience.
He didn’t start the first two games that season, but then he came in and took us to the AFC Championship Game. And we had the lead at halftime against Denver. Here was a guy who threw more interceptions than touchdowns in seven of his first eight seasons, and he had a breakout season in 1998, throwing 29 TDs and 7 INTs, with a career-best passer rating of 101.6.
I see remarkable parallels between Testaverde going to the Jets in ‘98 and Winston now having a chance to start in New Orleans. I think Winston can be the breakout player of 2021.
It’s rare for somebody to be 27, with 70 career starts, and have so many people question whether he’s a starter. While Winston led the NFL with 30 interceptions in 2019, he’s actually never thrown more picks than TDs in a season. Now he’s had a year sitting behind Drew Brees and learning from Sean Payton, which is going to serve him well.
Now that Brees has retired, I fully expect Winston to start over Taysom Hill. I think Hill has some real strengths to him, but I just don’t think he’ll be the one to start. Long term, I think Winston is the better player. I really would be surprised if he isn’t the starter.
The Saints have won 49 regular-season games and four NFC South titles in the last four years, yet few are expecting them to sustain that success without Brees. But this is still a good football team. I think they’re going to be a surprise team and it’s in large part because of how Winston will play.
Running back Alvin Kamara is going to be a big factor. So is receiver Michael Thomas. Kamara is dynamic with the ball in his hands, whether taking handoffs or catching passes out of the backfield. Thomas has a big catch radius, a big physical guy. I think those two will immediately make Winston better.
When we last saw Winston on the field, he threw a 56-yard touchdown pass against the soon-to-be NFL champion Buccaneers in the playoffs. It was the only postseason pass attempt of his career. Don’t be surprised if his next playoff appearance comes after a breakout 2021 season.