The Big Board: Running with Winston?

April, 23, 2013
4/23/13
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Because Jimbo Fisher hasn't been entirely forthcoming about Florida State's quarterback race, there's been a wealth of assumptions on the part of the fan base.

In most cases, the tea-leaf reading hasn't been all that tough, but at a recent booster club event in Pensacola, Fisher had an interesting statement that might undermine at least one of those assumptions.

During the Q&A portion of the event, a fan asked Fisher to compare outgoing quarterback EJ Manuel with the presumed 2013 starter, Jameis Winston. His answer was a bit surprising.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesFSU coach Jimbo Fisher said quarterback Jameis Winston might throw better than EJ Manuel.
"Jameis is a very talented young man," Fisher said. "He and EJ are different. EJ might run a little better and be a hair bigger. I think Jameis throws the ball a little better overall."

What's so surprising is that Fisher's analysis is at odds with the popular perception that Manuel's greatest asset was his high completion percentage, while Winston has the athleticism to allow FSU to open up its offense.

As Winston's case to become the starting quarterback has grown, so have the arguments from fans who think Fisher can embrace a more wide-open style that allows his quarterback to run with the ball early and often. In fact, the comparisons between Winston and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel have already begun -- even if they're not entirely fair.

But what Fisher's assessment of Winston's athleticism indicates is something that probably should have been fairly obvious even before: His offense isn't going to change, regardless of which player is starting at quarterback.

Even if you want to argue with Fisher's assumption that Manuel was the better athlete, it's worth noting that QB runs were never a big part of Florida State's game plan. Here's the breakdown during Fisher's six years as offensive coordinator, which included seasons with Drew Weatherford, Christian Ponder and Manuel.
(Note: For our purposes, "designed runs" include all quarterback rushing attempts that did not result in a sack. This isn't a perfect measurement, but it's a relatively close approximation.)

Since Fisher arrived at Florida State, no quarterback has run the ball with as much success as Manuel did last year (6.36 yards per carry), and yet Fisher called fewer designed runs (8.3 percent of all plays) than in any other season.

Similarly, a look at the ACC's top running quarterbacks shows just how successful Manuel was when he used his legs in 2012.

Georgia Tech obviously throws the numbers off a bit with its triple-option offense. Manuel stacks up well against Tajh Boyd at Clemson and Logan Thomas at Virginia Tech, but both those schools used quarterback runs nearly twice as much as FSU, which finished sixth in the conference overall in QB run percentage.

Manuel projects as a first- or second-round pick in this week's NFL draft, and Fisher happily chalks a lot of that up to the preparation his former quarterback received at Florida State. It's not just that Manuel can run the suddenly popular option, but that he completely understands the pro-style approach Fisher has made his bread and butter for years. That's Fisher's style, and he's been calling those plays for a lot of quarterbacks for a lot of years.

It's certainly possible Fisher calls a few more quarterback runs in 2013, if for no other reason that it simplifies the offense a bit for a first-year starter. But what's clear from the numbers -- and from Fisher's comments -- is that fans shouldn't expect anything close to an overhaul of the offensive play-calling in 2013, whether or not Winston is the starter.

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