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2018 Team Report: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Offensive Philosophy

Over the last few years, offensive coordinator Todd Monken and quarterback Jameis Winston have combined to form arguably the most aggressive passing game in the NFL. No team throws a higher percentage of its passes beyond the first down marker, meaning no team gets more first downs per completion, (leading the components of Tampa's passing offense to overperform in point-per-first-down leagues). While the passing game is the engine that drives the offense, the running game has been the brake that holds it back. If rookie Ronald Jones can make the rushing attack as effective at gaining first downs as the passing attack already is, the entire offense could be poised to really take off in 2018.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Jameis Winston
Backup(s): Ryan Fitzpatrick

Starting QB: 2017 was a disappointing one for the Tampa Bay offense as they were ninth in yardage but 18th in points scored and they finished last in the highly-competitive NFC South. Jameis Winston had his positives with career-best marks in completion rate (63.8%), interception rate (2.5%), yards-per-attempt (7.9), and passer rating. However, the offensive line struggled to protect Winston, sustain a run game, and Winston led qualifying quarterbacks in fumbles (15). Tampa Bay's strong roster of offensive skill position players was thwarted by penalties, turnovers, and stalled drives. Mike Evans was extended and Cameron Brate resigned to leave Winston's collection of targets unchanged from a year ago. The big question will be cleaning up the offensive line and finishing drives.

Backup QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick returns as Jameis Winston's backup in 2018 after filling in for Winston with three starts a year ago. Fitzpatrick is one of the few sturdy veteran backup quarterbacks in the NFL as he posted a 59% completion rate and 7-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio on 163 passes. Fitzpatrick is a middle of the road efficiency quarterback by advanced measures for his career and still adds rushing upside to extend plays and run for first downs in his mid-30s. With a strong set of weapons, Fitzpatrick can keep the Tampa Bay offense afloat even if starter Jameis Winston misses extended time.

Running Backs

Starter: Ronald Jones [R]
Backup(s): Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Dalton Crossan
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Ronald Jones landed on one of the most readily available running back depth charts in the NFL. Tampa Bay drafted Jones in the early second round over Derrius Guice of note. Jones lacks prototypical size, relying on his speed and acceleration for his best traits. Surprising for his size, Jones' receiving profile from USC is lackluster as 2017 saw true freshman Stephen Carr be the primary receiving option over then-junior Jones as one example. Tampa Bay offers an enviable set of pass-catchers to keep the stacked boxes minimal if their offensive line can show improvement from a year ago.

Backup RBs: Peyton Barber has a prototypical frame with above-average feet. His long speed is questionable, but he has quality traits to excel between the tackles. With Doug Martin miring through a rough season in 2017, Barber had seven games of 10 or more carries, including a career highlight effort of 143 total yards on 27 touches against Green Bay in Week 12. While Barber lacks difference-making traits of the upper echelon NFL starters, Barber is a lunch pail grinder profile who can sustain a run game, break tackles, and carry the load for interior carries. He'll split early-down work with Jones. Jacquizz Rodgers is undersized, but a tough runner and solid receiver over his seven NFL seasons and time as a feature back in college. Rodgers has lost a step now in his late 20s and is close to the NFL fringe in terms of upside within his role and if needed as a spot starter. However, he is the veteran presence on a thin Tampa Bay running back depth chart. Charles Sims was brought back to reprise his third-down role. Dalton Crossan has a thinner build and went undrafted in 2017. He was was more productive as a pass-catcher at New Hampshire than a runner. His most notable trait is his lateral agility more than outright speed or acceleration. Crossan is a below-average ancillary running back in the NFL by his prospect profile.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson
Backups: Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries, Justin Watson [R]

Starting WRs: Mike Evans received a contract extension this offseason to cement his future status with Tampa Bay after four straight 1,000-yard seasons to open his career. The former No.7 overall pick has a prototypical frame and strong ball skills which blends well with Jameis Winston's strength to push the ball downfield. The biggest oscillation with Evans' performance to-date has been the wild swings in touchdown production with 12-3-12-5 in his four years. Evans is one of few true No.1 receivers in the NFL. On his third NFL team in five years, DeSean Jackson still offers deep speed to an offense, however, his first year in Tampa Bay was his second-worst production-wise in his 10-year career. Jackson faded to the finish last season with one touchdown over his final nine games plus three games of more than 50 yards in the span. Also pressing into Jackson's rebound potential for 2018 is Chris Godwin's promising rookie season as the No.3 receiver and two strong tight ends also in the mix.

Backup WRs: Chris Godwin showed well as a Day 2 rookie, especially late in the season. Most of his 525 yards came from Week 10 on and Godwin posted 98 yards and 111 yards in the first two games of the season when DeSean Jackson was inactive. Godwin has a thick build and strong measured athleticism to challenge for the No.2 role behind Mike Evans, which the team has said he will have a chance to capture. After three years with Tampa Bay, Adam Humphries was tendered at a second round level to be retained by the organization in 2018. Humphries is at home in the slot as a strong route runner with good hands and feel for contact. Humphries has little upside beyond a chain-mover with the bevy of weapons on Tampa Bay's offense and high investment in both of their incumbent tight ends. Watson wasn't invited to the combine, but his pro day and tape were impressive enough to inspire a fifth-round pick this year and possible role as the #3 wideout in 2019.

Tight Ends

Starters: O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate
Backups: Antony Auclair

O.J. Howard's promising rookie season ended on the injured reserve. The first round pick logged five games of more than 50 yards, a lofty total for a first-year tight end. Howard is an above-average mover for his size and projects to expand his role in 2018 despite the team bringing back Cameron Brate on a long-term contract. Brate has 14 touchdowns over the last two seasons and has long been Jameis Winston's favorite receiver down the seam and in the red zone. Brate got off to a hot start in 2017 before fading to the finish over the second half of the year. Brate is one of the better contested catch tight ends in the NFL, having complete trust from Jameis Winston. The competition for targets between Mike Evans and the two tights will be high in 2018 unless the Tampa Bay offense takes a noteworthy step forward in overall prowess.

Place Kicker

Chandler Catanzaro: The Buccaneers kicker woes have been painful to watch over the last three years, so the team went out and signed Chandler Catanzaro to a three-year, 9.75 million dollar deal with 3.75 million guaranteed. Catanzaro didn't get back to the high levels of his rookie and second year in 2017, but he did improve from the 75% conversion rate in 2016 that convinced the Cardinals to let him leave last year to make 25 of 30 field goal attempts for the Jets. As recently as 2015, Tampa Bay was tied for second in the league in field goal attempts, so Catanzaro is a good name to keep on waiver wire/bye/injury fill-in lists.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jacquizz Rodgers

At this time last year, Tampa Bay's returner depth chart was a giant question mark. In 2018, at least, they have a little bit of stability in the form of Jacquizz Rodgers, last year's top returner.

Punt Returners: Adam Humphries

Adam Humphries is a reliable-but-unspectacular punt returner, but that reliability means that while Tampa often tries other options, at the end of the day it's usually Humphries lining up deep.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Donovan Smith, LG Evan Smith, C Ryan Jensen, RG Ali Marpet, RT Demar Dotson
Key Backups: J.R. Sweezy, Alex Cappa [R], Caleb Benenoch, Leonard Wester

Left tackle Donovan Smith has improved his pass protection and can be relied upon to limit the hits on the quarterback. Right guard Ali Marpet is a versatile player who spent time last year at center but is better at guard. Center Ryan Jensen arrived from free agency from the Baltimore Ravens. Jensen is underrated by casual fans and can be among the league's better pivot men. Left guard Evan Smith will likely start the season while J.R. Sweezy rehabs another injury. Sweezy should be starting but he will likely miss the start of training camp. The team drafted Alex Cappa to push Caleb Benenoch for the swing tackle role. Overall the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line grades as a mid-tier option as the season opens.

Team Defense

The Buccaneers defense had a lot of momentum heading into 2017, but things fell apart quickly. They responded to the failings of last year by trading for Jason Pierre-Paul, signing Vinny Curry, and drafting Vita Vea with the 12th overall pick to create the best two-deep lineup on the defensive line this side of Philadelphia. Linebacker remains a strength with Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David being joined by 2017 third rounder Kendall Beckwith, but the secondary has some instability. 2016 first round pick Vernon Hargreaves is going to have to earn playing time after a slow start to his career, but Ryan Smith came on last year, and he is joined by this year's second round pick Carlton Davis as viable alternatives to Hargreaves outside, and this year's third rounder MJ Stewart is an option at nickel corner. Chris Conte, Justin Evans, and Keith Tandy will compete to fill the safety spots. Even with their woes last year, the Buccaneers had four defensive touchdowns and 26 takeaways, so if the additions on the defensive line have the desired effect, the Buccaneers could be a very useful matchup play.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Gerald McCoy, NT Vita Vea [R], DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DE Vinny Curry
Backups: DT Beau Allen, DL Davonte Lambert, DE William Gholston, DE Noah Spence, DE Will Clarke

Starting DL: Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht has aggressively attacked the perceived greatest weakness of the defense this offseason - the front four. The results look promising on paper for a team that was highly touted entering 2017. The lynchpin is Gerald McCoy, whose totemic presence is as fearsome as ever as he enters his ninth season. He is a handful for any offense to deal with and should see fewer double teams with the drafting of behemoth defensive tackle Vita Vea. The man mountain Vea has been compared favourably to Haloti Ngata and he should provide an immediate 1-technique bulldozer for the Bucs. On the edge, the Bucs made a series of moves to upgrade, with both Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry signed up. Pierre-Paul will be asked to play fewer snaps than he did in New York and should be more effective as a result. An outstanding run defender, the Bucs have needed a player like him for a long time. The other NFC East addition, Curry, has impressed in the rotation-heavy front in Philadelphia. He is likely to fit a similar role in Tampa, with Noah Spence and others spelling him.

Backup DL: Noah Spence will be the first man off the bench for the Bucs' revamped defensive front. A torn labrum in his shoulder ended his 2017 season, but prior to that he had been praised in camp. A breakout season could be on the cards in 2018. Beau Allen, added from Philadelphia, will be an excellent rotational presence. William Gholston and Will Clarke might see their snap numbers go south, but their down-to-down efficiency go up. The Bucs backup defensive line could hold their own as a starting group for a few teams.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Lavonte David, MLB Kwon Alexander, SLB Kendell Beckwith WLB Lavonte David, MLB Kwon Alexander, SLB Devante Bond
Backups: LB Adarius Taylor, LB Cameron Lynch, LB Devante Bond, LB Nigel Harris, LB Riley Bullough, LB Jack Cichy [R]

Starting LBs: Despite missing three games due to injury last year, Lavonte David did not miss a beat and remains an elite option at the position. The injection of talent up front on the defensive line should only help with his ability to make clean-up tackles. He has been a superstar every season he has played, and 2018 should be no different. Kwon Alexander will man the middle and has a claim to be one of the best up-and-coming linebackers in the game. Despite his relative lack of experience, Alexander has the tools and nous to make this defense tick. Kendell Beckwith played almost 900 snaps in his rookie season. While the Bucs did not perform well as a team, the on-field work must have been beneficial. Beckwith should be able to use it as a springboard to greater things this year as he transitions back to Sam linebacker.

Backup LBs: Jack Cichy was drafted by the Bucs for his special teams potential, while Riley Bullough showed he can provide decent value as a backup in 2017. Devante Bond is a young player capable of stepping in if Beckwith gets injured. Cameron Lynch has bounced around in his three seasons and would be the first man called upon if an injury occurred to Kwon Alexander.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Brent Grimes, CB Ryan Smith, CB Vernon Hargreaves III, FS Chris Conte, SS Justin Evans
Backups: CB Javien Elliott, CB M.J. Stewart [R], CB Carlton Davis [R], S Jordan Whitehead, S Isaiah Johnson

Starting DBs: Vernon Hargreaves will hope for some better days after a disappointing second season that ended on IR. The promise of his rookie year will give him some encouragement as he enters his third season. He will be just 23 when the season starts; his potential is massive, but he may kick inside to play the slot this year and give way to Smith on the outside. Brent Grimes is slated to start, but draft day duo M.J. Stewart and especially Carlton Davis may have a say in that eventually. At 35, Grimes has shown he will not simply go quietly in the night. Chris Conte will battle it out with Keith Tandy in camp for one of the safety spots, while Justin Evans is likely to reprise his role at free safety after an impressive rookie season.

Backup DBs: M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis were drafted by the Bucs in the second round with the future in mind. Both players have a chance to impress in camp and perhaps supplant Brent Grimes and end Hargreaves' Tampa career after his rookie contract is up. Davis is perhaps the more refined player and makes every catch a hassle for opposing outside receivers. Stewart lacks the all-around tools to be a real difference maker, but his versatility will excite the Bucs brass. Jordan Whitehead, another rookie, will provide depth at safety.

Last modified: 2018-06-16 12:55:00