Who is the “X factor” for the New Orleans Saints’ 2021 season?

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

With the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback competition heating up, your “X factor” for the 2021 season is….Jameis Winston.

And really, who else could it be?

Winston remains the favorite for the starting spot despite his inconsistent numbers for his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his tumultuous five-year career with the Bucs, Winston scored 121 touchdowns but has 88 interceptions to counter for it. He’s scored double-digit touchdowns in every season but has double-digit interceptions in those seasons as well.

So he’s a take-the-wins-and-the-losses kind of guy. His time in Tampa gave a crystal ball preview into a mercurial but potentially explosive player a franchise could build around, and he might even have stayed in Tampa if not for the rude arrival of a certain quarterback veteran.

It was maybe the higher-production sparkle in his step that makes him shine brighter compared to his duller, Swiss army knife rival Taysom Hill, but he’ll need to prove he can hold onto the starting quarterback spot. And it will likely come down to how well he meshes with the Saints’ passing offense. Ben Linsey of PFF writes:

"Jameis Winston passed for 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions the last time he had a starting quarterback job. That’s about as X factor as it gets. It will be interesting to see not only how coach Sean Payton integrates both Winston and Taysom Hill into this offense but also how the passing offense evolves with Winston as the projected starter. Winston led all qualifying passers in average depth of target (10.8 yards downfield) in his five seasons with the Buccaneers. Over that same stretch, the Saints’ offense ranked 32nd in aDOT (7.5 yards)."

Winston is truly the “X factor” in all interpretations of the word. He’s a player who Simon Cowell could either scrunch his eyebrows at or give the golden buzzer. He’s the last remaining variable in the Saints’ offensive equation that could produce a multiplicity of outcomes. 5-12. 14-3. First-round playoffs. Super Bowl champion.

Jameis Winston is the New Orleans Saints’ X-factor

But Winston’s name should come with an asterisk with another name attached to it: Sean Payton. Payton has had the luxury of preening Drew Brees for fifteen seasons, but he’s not considered the league’s fifth-best head coach for nothing.

Bountygate far, far aside, Payton possesses that keen ability to turn overlooked, underappreciated talent into productive and even star players for the Saints. When fans were calling Brees “hot garbage” and “noodled-arm” following his 2006 contract signing, Payton kept the faith. In the modern NFL, Payton’s one of the league’s most aggressive play-callers whose innovative offensive system can make or break Winston’s special talents.

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Come the start of the season, all eyes will follow Jameis Winston. The pressure is on for the prospective quarterback, but rightfully so.