OT: Three underdog QB’s that are changing their narrative

Saints quarterback Jameis Winston flashes a “W” to Saints fans after a dominant win over the Packers. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports.

JASON STORMS | SPORTS REPORTER | jstorms@butler.edu

The 2021-22 NFL season opener showcased a lot of old faces in new places, as players were traded and signed in free agency or proved themselves in the offseason in order to make the starting lineups. Storylines emerge every year from these changes, and this offseason was no different.

In this offseason and after week one, three quarterbacks have shown that, so far, they can overcome adversity and have success despite prior failures. Tyrod Taylor, Taylor Heinicke and Jameis Winston have the potential to change the narrative around their names. These three have potential to prove that they aren’t just “underdogs” and that they deserve a place in the most competitive football league in the world.

Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston’s career couldn’t have had a more picture-perfect start. He was the number one overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and was slated to be the starter the second the Buccaneers drafted him. He was selected to the Pro Bowl his rookie season, passing for over 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns. The Bucs weren’t very good, finishing at 6-10, but the future looked bright for Winston.

The only concern surrounding Winston’s rookie season was his turnovers, but practically every rookie QB deals with bad decision making in their first year in the league. As his second, third and fourth seasons on the Buccaneers passed, however, this issue remained. The Bucs couldn’t win either, with a combined record of 21-33 with Winston under center.

Winston’s fifth season proved to be his most polarizing one yet — tossing for 5000 yards and 33 touchdowns, while also throwing 30 interceptions. Throwing the seventh most interceptions in a season in history certainly didn’t please Tampa Bay, as they elected to not re-sign Winston after the 2019 season.

Winston’s turnovers, terrible decision making and lack of development during his time on the Buccaneers didn’t land him any starting gigs in 2020 free agency. He signed a cheap one-year deal with the Saints to serve as 41-year-old Drew Brees’ backup. He didn’t play much, but did throw a 56-yard touchdown pass during a 2020 playoff game versus his former team.

In the 2021 offseason, Winston re-signed on another one-year deal and battled it out with Taysom Hill for the starting gig in New Orleans. He got the job, and in his first start since 2019 balled out against reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, slinging five touchdown passes and looking like a much smarter player in the pocket.

Jameis Winston has certainly defied the odds and seems like he’s turned his career around. Will he continue to prove people wrong throughout the season? Only time will tell. Jameis is a historically streaky QB, but if he can show more week to week consistency and growth in his decision making, which he has so far, then he will certainly prove his current narrative wrong. 

Tyrod Taylor

Another QB with a chance to prove himself is Tyrod Taylor — the current starter for the Houston Texans.

Taylor was drafted by the Ravens in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He served as the backup to Joe Flacco and didn’t get much playing time for the first four years of his career.

After signing with the Bills during free agency in 2015, Taylor grinded for the starting job, and his work would prove successful. During his time in Buffalo, he was selected to his only Pro Bowl in 2015 and led the Bills to their first playoff appearance in 17 years in 2017.

One would think that Taylor proved himself to be the Bill’s long-term QB — but the Bills thought otherwise. They traded him to the Browns in 2018 and selected their new QB, Josh Allen, with the seventh overall pick in that year’s draft.

Taylor started the first few games of the 2018 season, until a head injury thrusted him out of the lineup, and rookie QB Baker Mayfield into the starting role during week three’s games. Baker would start the remainder of the games, leaving Taylor as an afterthought.

Taylor signed a two–year contract with the Chargers during the 2019 offseason. He served as Phillip Rivers’ backup his first year in the organization, and as history repeated itself, the Chargers would go on to draft QB Justin Herbert sixth overall in the 2020 draft.

Herbert was seen as a “sit and develop” quarterback however, leaving Taylor the starting role coming into the 2020 season. Unfortunately, before their second game, the Chargers team doctor accidentally punctured Taylor’s lung while trying to administer painkillers for his ribs, leaving him out for a couple weeks. Herbert would start that game and shine — taking over the starting job and ultimately breaking rookie records in his Rookie of the Year campaign.

Taylor, again, was seen as an afterthought, despite being a winning quarterback for his career.

He signed a one-year contract with the Texans this offseason to fill in as their starter for the season, as the team deals with the Deshaun Watson controversy. In week one he shined — leading what was thought to be the worst team in the league to a dominant win over the Jaguars, 37-21.

Taylor was injured in the Texans week two matchup against the Browns. Taken out at halftime, he completed 10 of 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, accompanied by another rushing touchdown of his own. Taylor underwent an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of his injury. He is estimated to miss at least four weeks, which could land him a spot on the IR.

Rookie Davis Mills is the expected starter for Thursday night. History is repeating itself AGAIN, but for Taylor’s sake, hopefully he can come back midseason or so and break the curse. He’s seen this movie too many times in his career.

Tyrod Taylor has a chance to finally play more than half the season — barring his injury isn’t season-ending — something he hasn’t done since 2017. His flashes of athleticism and leadership could be traits that shine in his comeback campaign, as he hopefully has a clean enough slate to prove what type of quarterback he can be.

Taylor Heinicke

Taylor Heinicke’s story is the ultimate underdog narrative.

Heinicke went undrafted out of Old Dominion in 2017, and during the stretch of a year was signed and cut by the Vikings, Patriots and Texans practice squads. He signed with the Panthers as a backup in 2018, and threw one touchdown and three interceptions in his only appearance of the season.

He served as a backup in the XFL for the St. Louis BattleHawks in 2020, while also working on his engineering degree at Old Dominion. He signed with Washington’s practice squad the same year — and while finishing up his degree — got called up and almost won a playoff game against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

His valiant performance earned him a two-year extension with the team — to serve as their backup.

The Football Team signed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter this offseason, but Heinicke got his playing time, as Fitzpatrick went down with a hip injury mid-game. Fitzpatrick was placed on the IR, and Heinicke was named the starter.

From undrafted to XFL backup to NFL starter, Heinicke has the perfect opportunity to showcase if he’s the real deal. 

He’s doing well so far, though. On Thursday, in his second ever regular season start, he led Washington to a 30-29 victory over the Giants. Barring an injury or a veteran QB signing — like Cam Newton — Heinicke should be this team’s starter for the rest of the season. If he can keep proving he’s starting-caliber, he might not need to finish up that degree.

All three of these players have chances to prove themselves this season. Whether it’s Winston’s revenge tour, Taylor claiming what’s rightfully his, or Heinicke beating all the odds — regardless of how they turn out, these three narratives will be exciting to follow this season.

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