With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at the impact stemming from the suspension of 2015’s No. 1 overall draft pick.

Jameis Winston is expected to be suspended three games for an alleged March 2016 incident with an Uber driver. While Winston will likely appeal the matter, he seems likely to miss at least a week in the season. It’s bad news for his fantasy stock, but he’ll still have a minimum of 13 games to cement his status as the Buccaneers’ long-term answer at quarterback.

 

An Early-Season Suspension Could Be Troublesome for the Offense

Ryan Fitzpatrick is expected to start in place of Winston to open the season. He’s not an everyday backup considering he’s actually willing to throw the ball downfield; Fitzpatrick joined Winston as two of just 11 quarterbacks with an average target depth over 9.5 yards in 2017. Fitzpatrick averaged 248.3 passing yards per game with a 3:1 TD:INT ratio in three starts, and he demonstrated upside by throwing for 290 yards and three touchdowns after coming in for an injured Winston against the Cardinals in Week 6.

Fitzpatrick consistently fed the wide receivers along with space back Charles Sims at the expense of the tight ends, which isn’t surprising given his nonexistent relationship with his Jets tight ends in 2015-16. Here’s how the Bucs pass catchers were targeted on a per-game basis with and without him last year.

  • Mike Evans: 10.0 vs. 8.8
  • DeSean Jackson: 7.5 vs. 6.0
  • Adam Humphries: 5.3 vs. 5.2
  • Chris Godwin: 3.8 vs. 3.3
  • Cameron Brate: 4.0 vs. 5.1
  • O.J. Howard: 2.8 vs. 2.8
  • Sims: 4.8 vs. 2.3

The problem for everyone this year is that the Buccaneers have a tough schedule to open the season, facing the Saints, Eagles and Steelers, who ranked fifth, eighth, and seventh last year in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA).

Still, the team’s skill position players are talented enough to win tough matchups, and Fitzpatrick is a competent enough backup not to sabotage the offense. Losing Winston isn’t ideal, but the team’s wide receivers could have reduced daily fantasy salaries and the potential for more targets without him. Fitzpatrick has historically offered cheap exposure to multi-touchdown upside with the occasional decent rushing performance, but a six-interception game is also in his range of outcomes.

 

Winston Took a Step Forward in 2017 and Has the Talent Around Him to Do It Again

Winston’s 3-10 record as a starter last year didn’t earn him fans, but he managed to set career-high marks in completion percentage (63.8%), yards per attempt (7.9) and quarterback rating (92.2).

The clock is ticking on the Winston-Dirk Koetter era in Tampa Bay — the team could feasibly move on from both at the end of the season — but the team has its most-loaded supporting cast in years.

  • Evans joins A.J. Green and Randy Moss as the only receivers ever to gain at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of their first four seasons.
  • Jackson has increased each of his quarterbacks’ average yards per attempt and leads the league in 40-yard receptions since 2014.
  • Godwin ranked 13th among all wide receivers in yards per route run last season (Pro Football Focus, minimum 25% of team snaps played).
  • Brate joins Jimmy Graham and Kyle Rudolph as the only tight ends in the league with at least 500 yards and five touchdowns during each of the past two seasons.
  • Howard ranked fifth among all tight ends in yards per route run as a rookie last season.

Winston Is Regularly Asked to Make Fantasy-Friendly Throws

Winston has worked behind at best an average offensive line in terms of adjusted sack rate (Football Outsiders) during his career, but that partially is due to Koetter’s downfield-centric scheme.

Overall, Winston is the only quarterback in the league to post an average target depth of at least 10 yards during each of the past three seasons. Winston’s health should probably be the team’s top priority, but consistently throwing downfield has historically been great for fantasy production.

The good news is that the offensive line ranked 10th in Pro Football Focus’ pass-blocking efficiency metric in 2017, and former Raven Ryan Jensen (PFF’s No. 9 center last season) has been added to the mix.

The Buccaneers also added running back Ronald Jones II with their second-round pick to replace the departed Doug Martin (2.9 yards per carry in 2017). Jones could help upgrade a rushing attack that hasn’t ranked higher than 25th in DVOA for the past two seasons. (The passing game hasn’t ranked lower than 12th over that span.)

The Bottom Line

There’s no doubt that Winston and company face an uphill climb to relevance — BetOnline had the Buccaneers win total set at 6.5 with a -150 lean on the over before the suspension, and having the league’s second-most difficult schedule doesn’t help — but the Bucs have the league’s seventh-most expensive offense and too many talented players to ignore. Winston has historically exceeded expectations in spite of difficult circumstances, meeting his daily fantasy salary-implied expectations on the road at the second-highest rate among quarterbacks since entering the league.

Winston possesses special arm talent and can make plays that other signal callers simply can’t. Possessing his most talented and complete supporting cast, he has a chance to cement himself as the next NFC South quarterback due for a massive pay day.

Pictured above: Jameis Winston
Photo credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports