Saints quarterback Jameis Winston signed with New Orleans in April 2020. He wasted no time generating intrigue — and even optimism for some — about the next phase of his career.
During his introductory press conference with the Saints, Winston revealed that he had LASIK surgery earlier that offseason.
After he described his dramatically improved vision, fans wondered whether that would lead to better performances. After all, Winston threw too many interceptions during his first five NFL seasons as a Buccaneer (88 in 70 starts, to be exact). In fact, he threw 30 in his final season in Tampa Bay.
Was it possible that LASIK would help limit the interceptions?
We didn’t get the answer in 2020, as he backed up Drew Brees. Based on Winston’s play in 2021 and 2022, it appears that while LASIK may have improved his vision, it hasn’t had a dramatic impact on his game.
Post-LASIK Winston avoided interceptions in 2021
After spending 2020 as Brees’ backup – Winston only attempted 11 passes that season – the 2021 season opener provided fans’ first meaningful look at post-LASIK Jameis Winston.
New Orleans kicked off the 2021 campaign against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 12. Whether it was his improved vision or the Packers defense playing poorly, Winston displayed an efficiency he had rarely shown in Tampa. That day, he completed 14-of-20 passes for 148 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions as the Saints blew out the Packers 38-3.
He came crashing back down to earth the following week, though. The Panthers picked him off twice and limited him to an 11-of-22, 148-yard, no-touchdown day, as New Orleans lost 26-7 to Carolina.
Injury Ended 2021 Season
Winston’s 2021 season ended in Week 8, when he tore his ACL during a game against the Bucs. His overall numbers on the season – 95-of-161 passing, 1,170 yards and 14 touchdowns – were solid. Perhaps most notable was the fact he threw just three interceptions in 161 pass attempts.
When you compare the Saints’ record with Winston (5-2) vs. without him (4-6) last season, their decision to stick with post-LASIK Winston as their starter this year makes sense.
One caveat when breaking down Winston’s play in 2021 is that New Orleans coach Sean Payton was not asking him to do too much. After attempting at least 33 passes per game in every season as a Buccaneer from 2015-2019, Winston attempted just 23 passes per game with New Orleans in 2021.
Less was more: passing attempts, interceptions back up in 2022 for Winston
Dennis Allen was hired to replace Payton as head coach of the Saints this offseason, and Winston’s pass attempts per game are back up in the high-30s. Through two games this season, Winston looks much more like the player we saw for five years in Tampa Bay. He has already attempted 74 passes, including 40 in Week 2 against his old team.
While he’s completed 64.9% of his passes this year, he’s also thrown three interceptions. His interception percentage this year is at 4.1%. That number is higher than it was in any season as a Buccaneer, besides the 30-pick disaster in 2019. This year’s figure is also dramatically higher than it was in 2021, when he was intercepted on an impressively low 1.9% of his pass attempts.
Based on five seasons in Tampa and his nine starts as a Saint, Winston can avoid interceptions when leaning on his team’s ground game and defense. Both before and since his LASIK surgery in 2020, though, he’s shown that when asked to carry an offense, he throws too many picks.
Jameis Winston’s completion percentage has not improved since LASIK
Surprisingly, Winston’s completion percentage throughout his 70 games with Tampa is nearly identical to his completion percentage as a Saint. Winston completed 1,563 of 2,548 attempts (61.3%) as a Buccaneer. In New Orleans, he’s 150-for-246 (61%). For his entire career (including both Tampa Bay and New Orleans), Winston has completed — you guessed it — 61.3% of his passes.
How has LASIK affected Winston’s ability to avoid sacks?
This stat obviously has a lot to do with the offensive line play in Tampa and in New Orleans. For what it’s worth, Winston went down on 6.2% of his dropbacks – 169 times in 2,717 dropbacks — in Tampa Bay.
Overall, in 13 appearances for New Orleans, Winston’s sack percentage has been a concerning 8.6%.
That includes a rough start to this season – opponents have sacked Winston on 11.9% of his dropbacks in 2022. After the Falcons sacked Winston four times in Week 1, the Buccaneers got to him six times last weekend in the Saints’ 20-10 loss. With 10 sacks of Winston allowed in two games this season, the Saints’ pass protection has regressed significantly from a year ago, when New Orleans gave up 11 sacks of Winston in seven games.
AP Photo/Butch Dill