NFL Insiders See Ex-No. 1 Overall Pick as ‘Best Fit’ For QB Needy Steelers

Mike Tomlin

Joe Sargent/Getty Images Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during pregame warm-ups at Heinz Field on December 5, 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in urgent need of a new starting quarterback, with the draft, trade, and free agency the three possible avenues for the organization to pursue. If the team looks to free agency, the leading candidate might well be 2015 No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston, who spent the first five years of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before moving on to New Orleans for 2020-21.

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James Winston + Matt Canada = ‘The Full Scheme’?

That’s the sentiment of some analysts, including ESPN insiders Jeremy Fowler and Matt Bowen, who teamed up on Tuesday February 15 to identify the best team fits for each of the Top 50 NFL free agents, labeling Pittsburgh as the best landing spot for the Florida State University product.

“With Winston, we would see the full scheme under (offensive) coordinator Matt Canada,” writes Bowen. “That means more motion/movement, under-center play-action and full-field passing concepts on dropback throws. The decision-making with Winston is still a concern, but his arm talent and second-reaction movement ability would fit well here.”

Indeed, it’s decision-making that led the Buccaneers to move on from Winston after the 2019 season, a year in which he threw 33 touchdown passes and an eye-popping 30 interceptions in 16 games.

Eye Surgery and a Move to New Orleans

But the numbers look much different since Winston moved to New Orleans … and got LASIK eye surgery to correct his vision.

At his first meeting with the media after signing with the Saints, Winston talked about getting LASIK to address his nearsightedness. “I can read license plates. I can read street signs,” Winston told reporters. “No blurriness, and I think that’s huge…. Depth perception has increased tremendously and those are the big things,” he added.

With that in mind, consider that Winston appeared in 72 games for the Bucs, posting a 28-42 record as a starter, with a 61.3% completion percentage, 121 touchdown passes, 88 interceptions and an 86.9 passer rating, all per Pro Football Reference.

After coming to New Orleans, Winston cut his interception percentage from 3.5% to 1.7%, albeit with a much smaller sample size, as he made 11 appearances and posted a 5-2 record as a starter with the Saints. Notably, he threw just three interceptions in 172 attempts in 2020-21, completing 59.3% of his passes for 1,245 yards and 14 touchdown passes, good for 101.5 passer rating.

Those numbers may inspire New Orleans to try to keep Winston around, as noted by Fowler.

“The Saints very well could be a factor here, as they keep most of the offensive staff intact post-Sean Payton,” he says. “… But if the Steelers eschew the trade market, Winston is a high-pedigree free-agent option who thrives off play-action.”

The Malik Wallis/Rookie Quarterback Factor

Going forward, much depends on how the Steelers brain trust feels about the rookie quarterbacks available in the 2022 NFL Draft, a group that includes Kenny Pickett (Pitt Panthers) and Matt Corral (Ole Miss). General manager Kevin Colbert & Co. are widely believed to be very interested in Liberty quarterback Mailk Wallis, who has been compared to former Steelers quarterback/wide receiver/running back Kordell Stewart.

What is a given is that the Steelers are going to add at least one new quarterback this spring, even assuming that the Steelers re-sign restricted free agent Dwayne Haskins, who was a Washington first-round pick (No. 15 overall) in 2019.

At the moment, the Steelers have just one quarterback under contract for 2022, that being former third-round pick Mason Rudolph, who inked a one-year extension in March 2021, a deal that Rudolph called a “vote of confidence” on the part of the Steelers organization.

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