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Spotlight: Josh Freeman

posted by Steve Holloway on Jul 15th


Steve Holloway's thoughts

Setting the Stage
Josh Freeman passed for 7,175 yards in high school playing in the Kansas City metro area. He was rated a four-star prospect by both Rivals.com and Scout.com. Rivals.com also ranked him the fourth best pro-style quarterback in his class. Interesting though is that despite these high rankings, he was also recruited by some schools as a tight end prospect. The combination of his athleticism and 6-foot 5 height makes a lot of sense for that position, but Freeman wanted to play quarterback. He originally committed to attend the University of Nebraska, but was convinced by newly named Head Coach Ron Prince to go to Kansas State.

Freeman played in eleven games as a freshman and became the first Wildcat freshman to start at quarterback since 1976. He started 32 games over his three seasons there and saw his production and efficiency improve each season. He threw for 8,078 yards and 44 TDs, completing 59.1% of his passes and also running for 343 yards and 20 TDs. He left school after his junior year declaring for the 2009 NFL Draft.

Freeman was drafted 17th in the first round by Tampa Bay and was the third quarterback drafted, behind only Matthew Stafford taken first by Detroit and Mark Sanchez selected fifth by the Jets. Freeman became the youngest ever starting Buccaneer quarterback to win his first game 31-28 at home against the Green Bay Packers in week nine. That win broke an eleven game team losing streak. Freeman has remained the starter ever since.

The Buccaneers' passing offense has improved in each of Freeman's three years, climbing from 24th in his rookie season up to 16th last year. That production measured in yards per game has also steadily climbed from 185.8 yards up to 228.1 yards. The team's receiving options during this same period have been nothing special, to put it mildly. Kellen Winslow was their best receiver, yet he could only muster 12 TDs in three years as the top targeted guy. An interesting stat from last year was that Winslow was the target on ten of Freeman's 22 interceptions. At age 29, Winslow was considered expendable and traded (given away for a conditional 2013 seventh or sixth round pick) to Seattle this off-season. Their second best receiving option was Mike Williams, but he seemed to lack focus at times. Beyond those two, there were even less experienced guys like Arrelious Benn, Desmon Briscoe, and Preston Parker.

Reviewing Freeman's production from his first three years seems more positive that the numbers in the following table provide when you consider the talent or lack thereof that his team has had to this point.

Year Team Gms Cmps Atts Cmp% PassYds YPA TDs Ints RushYds RuTDs Rank
09 TB 10 159 291 54.6 1,857 6.4 10 18 162 0 27
10 TB 16 291 474 61.4 3,451 7.3 25 6 364 0 7
11 TB 15 346 551 62.8 3,592 6.5 16 22 238 4 16
Total 41 796 1,316 60.4 8,900 6.8 51 46 764 4

Looking Forward to 2012
The team's new coaching staff led by Greg Schiano is expected by most to lean heavily on the running game. The team's decent offensive line from a year ago retained all their starters and in the off-season added Carl Nicks, one of the most sought after free agents this year. This year's offensive line could be among the league's most athletic and should also be considered one of the best, particularly for the rushing game.

The team also added Vincent Jackson, one of the top free agent wide receivers, and signed him to a five year $55.6 Million contract. He will be playing with Freemen for a while and early reports are that he has embraced a leadership role for the receivers. The team also signed Dallas Clark, an experienced tight end. Clark has had injury issues the last two years, but is only 33 years old and two seasons removed from catching 100 passes.

Tampa Bay's defense should be improved but that does not say much since they finished 32nd in points allowed at 30.9 per game, 30th in yards allowed at 394.4 per game, and 32nd in yards allowed per play at 6.3 a season ago. When reviewing these numbers and realizing that their schedule includes six games against the Saints, Falcons, and Panthers, their desire to focus on the rushing game may fall quickly by the wayside. Other games on their schedule include facing the potent offenses of the Giants, Cowboys, Eagles, and Chargers. Their defense will be severely challenged again during this season.

Positives

  • Extremely good offensive line combined with suspect defense
  • Vastly improved top receiver Vincent Jackson will provide Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn opportunities in single coverage against lesser defenders
  • Adding Dallas Clark will provide Freeman with a dependable outlet
  • Reports are that Freeman will play this season at 240 pounds, almost 20 pounds lighter than a year ago

Negatives

  • The excellent offensive line could produce improved running game and diminish passing opportunities
  • New offensive system may take some time for Freeman to adjust
  • Clark might again miss time to injuries leaving the team hurting at tight end

Final thoughts

The projected top five quarterbacks for 2012 (Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Stafford and Newton) will likely be drafted inside the first two rounds. A season ago, those same five were far and away the most productive fantasy quarterbacks. The difference between Stafford who finished QB5 and Eli Manning at QB6 (4 pts/passing TD scoring) was 53 fantasy points (3.3 ppg). From Manning at QB6 down to Sanchez at QB10 was another 48 points (3.0 ppg). Freeman finished at QB14 another 37 points (2.3 ppg) back. In 2012, if you decide not to draft an early quarterback and select Freeman or another quarterback near his ADP. A slight production from last season could give you a player that could score only five points per game less than the leading quarterbacks that was taken eight rounds later. That could definitely enhance your overall team production.

Freeman finished at QB14 a season ago and has an improved offensive line, a much better top wide receiver and an additional receiving threat out of the backfield with rookie Doug Martin. His current ADP is QB16 and 121 overall, primarily based on the premise that his team will be looking to run the ball more and pass less. Their team's defensive capabilities and schedule both forecast a much different need for the team.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

TheDirtyWord said:

The defining hallmark of Freeman's awful regression last year IMO can be summed up by his 1st quarter performance.

56 Completions
96 Attempts
537 Passing Yards
0 TD's
3 INT's

Overall, the Bucs scored 1 offensive TD in the first quarter all season. That's almost impossible and it obviously speaks to need to remove Raheem Morris as HC. This was a team clearly unprepared on a weekly basis to come out and compete and if you saw them play toward the end of the season, it may have been one of the worst examples of a professional team going through the motions that you'll ever see.

The question I ask though is this? Where was Josh Freeman during this? Doesn't this reflect on him as well? I recognize that he's still a young QB. But he's entering Year 4 now...where was the anger? The indignation? The leadership? If things go south again whether it be next year or in future years...will he react in the same low-key manner?

Most people thought that Freeman was a longer term franchise QB project and it seemed like his schedule was accelerated after what appeared to be a breakout 2010. But what was more concerning to me what how for the most part, you really didn't see Freeman step up during this time, not necessarily from a level of play standpoint, but more of a 'not on my watch' standpoint. Maybe because TB was off the map in terms of coverage, I didn't see it or missed it, but IMO this was something that in my view can't be ignored when I look at his short and long term prospects. I could not see Matt Ryan or Cam Newton standing idly by. And when you read off-season pieces about him...I feel like his teammates are making excuses on his behalf. For a guy entering Year 4, still seems like a lot of kid gloves are involved here.

So, I'm not high on Freeman bouncing back even with some weapons that have been brought on to assist his development (Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin). I think it's fair to wonder if this is his make or break year and if he does not produce, whether he's with the Bucs in 2013. I'm betting no. Schiano strikes me as a guy who wants to see progress and is simply a no-nonsense guy and he won't allow Freeman the type of leash he was afforded under Morris that IMO stunted his growth and ascension to being the leader and centerpiece for this team.

sspunisher said:

Freeman was absolutely torture to watch last year. TB's refusal to throw a pass deeper than 10 yards was just mind boggling at times. They had 37 passes completed over 20 yards. The league low was 30 (Jaguars) and league high was 72 (Patriots). That number should have been at least in the 50's, but they were really babying Freeman last year. If he was a rookie I'd understand, but it was his 3rd year. He seems to have plateaued, at least temporarily.

VJax and an improved oline will definitely help that, as will Doug Martin... but what I saw last year was more than a RB/WR/Oline problem. I can't put my finger on it, but I fully expect Freeman to continue struggling to break the 200 yard passing mark some weeks. He's far too inconsistent and a new offensive coordinator won't help that. His career seems to be headed the same path that Jason Campbell's went.

Bayhawks said:

TB was horrible in 2011, and Freeman was definitely part of that. However, much has changed in TB. New HC, FA additions of Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, and Dallas Clark, trade of Kellen Winslow, drafting of Doug Martin.

TB looks to have a much improved O-line, and while their D should be improved (McCoy will be back, several FA additions, drafting Barron & David), I don't think it will be a top unit this year. Plus I see 11 games against teams whose offenses should force the Bucs to have to throw the ball (perhaps more than Schiano would like). With Jackson, Clark, and Martin as new targets, plus Mike Williams not having to face the opposition's CB1, I see a slightly higher TD rate than his career average.

Grahamburn said:

Freeman looks like a value play at QB after an abysmal 2011. He clearly has several playmaking weapons that weren't in his arsenal last year. Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams as a WR2, Martin out of the backfield, Dallas Clark/Luke Stocker as outlet TEs. I have Vincent Jackson projected for 1,050 yards and 8 TDs. Mike Williams will no longer face the main coverage from secondaries, so he should improve on his 2011 numbers, but the TD production from his rookie season likely won't be duplicated. He only had 3 in 2011 after 9 in 2010. He's somewhere in between those two players. 800 yards and 6 TDs. In 2010, when Freeman had RBs who could catch he passed to them for roughly 500 yards. The addition of Martin should give Freeman an outlet he didnt' have in 2011, and we could see a couple of TD passes to the RBs. Winslow put up 730 yards and 761 yards in the last two years respectively. His loss will be felt. 500 yards and 4 TDs from the TE spot would be respectable production. Benn has had his yardage increase from 395 to 441 the past two seasons. I expect that trend to continue as he's another year removed from injury, and should expect an increased role in the offense. I'll project him for 35 receptions, 500 yards and 4 deep ball TDs.

Chase Stuart (Footballguys.com Staff Writer) said:

I'm willing to give Freeman a pass for last year. He's still really young, and the majority of great QBs were struggling at Freeman's age last year (23), too.

I think Clark is a great addition, and obviously Jackson and Nicks should pay huge dividends. Throw in Martin, and you have a complete overhaul -- the team just added their top TE, WR, RB and OL. So as bad as his numbers were last year, I think you need to look past them.

Morris was a terrible HC. I have no idea how Schiano will do, but if nothing else, he's likely to be the change of pace they need down in TB. I was extremely skeptical about Freeman as a prospect -- he was not very good in college -- but I think he's proven that he's capable of being a legitimate NFL QB.

Fantasy wise, he's in a decent situation. I think he's going to find himself in a bunch of shootouts, or at least be forced to pass. No, he doesn't have a pass happy HC, but don't forget it's not Schiano calling the plays. Sullivan was the QB coach for the Giants the past few years, and I think we'll see a similar downfield passing attack out of Freeman with Jackson/Williams/Benn and Clark. It's actually got the potential to be a very interesting offense.

In any event, with a new OC, WR, TE, OG and RB -- along with a new attitude at HC -- the 2012 Bucs won't look like the 2011 Bucs. Freeman is an intriguing prospect.


Josh Freeman projections

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