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2014 Team Report: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Jameis Winston [R]
Backup(s): Mike Glennon

Starting QB: Tampa Bay ultimately pulled the trigger on Jameis Winston as the No.1 overall draft pick in 2015. All signs point to the rookie opening the season as the starter. Winston's most significant flaw during the draft process was his questionable profile off-the-field with immaturity and shoddy decision-making. On the field, Winston is a pure pocket passer with the ability perform in critical moments and with imminent pocket pressure. With three super-sized targets in Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Winston has a strong weapon set compared to the average top-drafted quarterback coming into the NFL.

Backup QB: Mike Glennon had a strong statistical season in 2013, where he threw 19 touchdowns to only nine interceptions while absorbing 40 sacks and a 4-9 record. Tampa Bay promptly replaced Glennon with journeyman and Marc Trestman Chicago product Josh McCown in 2014, which produced middling results. Now with No.1 2015 draft pick Jameis Winston in the picture, Glennon will need an injury or complete meltdown fron Winston to see the field much in Tampa Bay. Glennon projects as one of the better primary backup quarterbacks in the NFL.

Running Backs

Starter: Doug Martin
Backup(s): Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey, Mike James
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Despite the Tampa Bay offensive line grading out as an above-average run-blocking unit in 2014, Doug Martin continued to struggle since his 2012 rookie breakout. Martin rarely broke a tackle, was average as a pass-catcher, and struggled in pass protection. In consecutive seasons nearly every Tampa Bay ball carrier, from Charles Sims to Bobby Rainey to Mike James to Brian Leonard has been more productive within the same offense as the struggling Martin. There is plenty of buzz that Charles Sims is a legit threat to Martin's tenuous hold on the starting job. Martin, a former first round NFL draft pick, is now in a make-or-break season.

Backup RBs: Charles Sims is gaining steam as a challenger to the starting job in Tampa Bay. Sims has one of the strongest receiving profiles of any running back prospect in recent memory and has similarities to fellow Day 2 selections Matt Forte and DeMarco Murray. Sims was solid in the pass game, as expected, as a 2014 rookie, with upside to develop between the tackles. Bobby Rainey has exceled with an expanded role over his two seasons with Tampa Bay, eclipsing 125 rushing yards in each of his games with three of the four games logging 20 or more attempts. While Doug Martin and Charles Sims have more name recognition and draft pedigree, Rainey is a solid NFL backup at a minimum. Mike James is a more rugged between the tackles option than Rainey or possibly Charles Sims with above-average athleticism for his prototypical frame. While James is down the depth chart, he also has a 100-yard game under the belt from 2013 in place of an injured Doug Martin.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson
Backups: Louis Murphy, Robert Herron, Kenny Bell [R]

Starting WRs: Mike Evans rose to the top of the Tampa Bay depth chart quickly as a highly-regarded 2014 rookie. Evans size and wingspan translated to the NFL level even with poor quarterback play from Josh McCown for a majority of the season. Vincent Jackson downshifted to one of the better secondary receivers in the NFL and remains a productive mismatch down the field. The duo split red zone targets last season, but Evans turned those opportunities into six close-range touchdowns while Jackson managed two scores. As the tallest starting tandem in the NFL, Evans and Jackson are poised to make life easy on rookie quarterback Jameis Winston in 2015.

Backup WRs: Louis Murphy has largely underwhelmed in his NFL career despite prototypical size and enviable athleticism coming out of Florida. Murphy is a veteran stopgap as Robert Herron and Kenny Bell develop behind him. Herron sparsely played as a 2014 rookie. His best traits are a thick frame and average athleticism. If Herron sticks in the NFL, it will be as slot receiver. Bell is a very good athlete, but leveled off as an average producer at Nebraska, falling well into Day 3 of the NFL Draft this year. With Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson soaking up perimeter targets, not much work is left for a third receiver to emerge as a fantasy viable option.

Tight Ends

Starters: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Backups: Brandon Myers, Luke Stocker

Austin Seferian-Jenkins has prototypical size, above-average athleticism, and produced at a high level early in his college career. During an injury-shortened rookie season, Seferian-Jenkins exceled as a run blocker and flashed occasionally as a receiver. Brandon Myers is uninspiring short-term depth years past his volume-based productive season with the Raiders and Giants. Luke Stocker is a decent athlete than has not amounted to much since being a mid-round draft pick in 2011. Tampa Bay has brought in alternatives to Stocker every step of the way, signaling his replacement-level status in the NFL hierarchy.

Place Kicker

Patrick Murray: After his best pro season in 2012, kicker Connor Barth then missed all of last year with a torn Achilles tendon. In an apparent cost savings move, he lost out for the job to Patrick Murray. Michael Koenen will once again handle punting, kickoffs, and holding. The team will have a new long snapper this year. The competition between former Jaguars snapper Jeremy Cain and Andrew DePaola, who was in camp last year, was won by the latter. The Bucs climbed to 14th in attempted kicking points in 2012 after having ranked 26th the year before. In 2013 they dropped right back to 26th.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Kaelin Clay, Bobby Rainey, Solomon Patton

Tampa Bay was not content with their returners in 2014, cycling through Marcus Thigpen, Solomon Patton and Bobby Rainey as well as signing Trindon Holliday for a game. The situation was addressed in the draft with the selection of wide receiver Kaelin Clay. Clay did not try his hand at the return game until his senior year, when he excelled as a punt returner but also handled 22 kickoffs for a 24.9 yard average and a touchdown. Clay may get the first opportunity at returning kickoffs, though Bobby Rainey's 26.3 yard average on 6 returns last season should open the door to a competition. Solomon Patton is another receiver who could compete if he can land a roster spot.

Punt Returners: Kaelin Clay, Solomon Patton, Bobby Rainey

While Clay and Rainey should compete for the kickoff return duties, the punt returns are likely Clay's to lose. As a senior at Utah, Clay returned 23 punts at a 15.0 yard average and scored 3 touchdowns. Solomon Patton is likely the second best punt returner on the team, but as with last season, may struggle to hold a roster spot if he is not a primary returner.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Anthony Collins, LG Carl Nicks, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, RG Patrick Omameh, RT Demar Dotson
Key Backups: G/T Oneil Cousins, G Jamon Meredith, G Kadeem Edwards [R], T Kevin Pampfile [R], T Matt Patchan [R], T Jason Foster

The Bucs’ offensive line currently grades out as a below average unit. This is due to a multitude of change, at several key positions. At left tackle, former Bengals swing tackle Anthony Collins takes over for the departed Donald Penn. Collins has spot starting experience and was too good at pass protection to remain a backup for his entire career. Collins will get his chance to start with the Buccaneers, and he could turn into one of the better starting tackles in the game. Left guard Carl Nicks missed all of last season with a MRSA infection he contracted at the team’s facility. Nicks might have some hard feelings about this situation, as he was conspicuously absent from organized team activities. Should he show up (and make no mistake, the team needs him), Nicks can be a dominator at the position. If Nicks doesn’t start, the guard position becomes extremely murky. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith was signed as a free agent in the offseason. He is a former starting center for the Green Bay Packers and a solid player with versatility at several positions. Right guard is a true battle between Patrick Omameh and Jamon Meredith. Both players contributed last season and neither are elite options at this time. Backup Oneil Cousins and rookie Kadeem Edwards could also factor in the guard equation, especially if Nicks cannot regain his form. At right tackle, Demar Dotson is one of the leagues more underrated starters, he provides quality play at a relatively low price, and his starting position is locked in pretty strongly. Overall this line is ranked quite poorly but could make a serious move up the rankings, should the guard positions settle down and the new starters at center and left tackle play to their potential.

Team Defense

There are big changes on the Bucs defense, not the least of which is Head Coach Lovie Smith and his system. Michael Johnson should solidify the defensive line at least to the point of bring respectable, and it could be even more if Gerald McCoy can repeat his 2013 campaign. Lavonte David is a spectacular linebacker but the team hasn't put much around him at linebacker. They'll need the defensive line to help out much more than last year to be good against the run. The loss of Revis hurts, but Verner should be good in Smith's system and Barron is a stud at strong safety. There are too many question marks to expect this to be a great defense in 2014, but if enough things go right they could be good.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Gerald McCoy, NT Clinton McDonald, DE Jacquies Smith, DE William Gholston
Backups: DT Henry Melton, DT Akeem Spence, DE Larry English

Starting DL: The Bucs will be hoping to put a disappointing 2014 behind them with a better effort up front on defense. The talent is there to be a strong unit, and adding veteran backup Henry Melton was a smart move. Gerald McCoy is an ideal fit as a 3-technique in Lovie Smith’s scheme, not to mention an all-world talent. McCoy suffered a sprained knee towards the end of last season, cutting his impressive season short. The Bucs signed McCoy to a $108m contract not so long ago – they expect him to be the anchor of this front four for a long time. Clinton McDonald will slot in at nose tackle after being re-upped by the Bucs on a four-year, $12m deal this offseason. McDonald filled the 1-technique role very well last season and his space-eating should allow others to make plays up front. Relative unknown Jacquies Smith is slated to start at left defensive end. A beat writer called Smith the Bucs’ ‘best’ defensive end this offseason. The journeyman will be given every opportunity to compete after a solid seven-game stretch at the end of last season that saw him rack up 6.5 sacks. William Gholston rounds out the Bucs’ presumed front four. Gholston logged 600 snaps last year and will get the first crack at the starting right end job, but expect a rotation if the Bucs can add some young blood via the draft.

Backup DL: In Henry Melton, the Bucs secured one of Lovie Smith’s disciples from Chicago. Melton enjoyed his most productive seasons under Smith and should perform a valuable role as a rotational option behind incumbent starters Clinton McDonald and Gerald McCoy. Akeem Spence, the second-year pro out of Illinois, endured a trying rookie campaign. He will be tasked with spelling Clinton McDonald at nose tackle, contributing 500-600 quality snaps. Larry English could be training camp fodder depending on how the Bucs decide to address their defensive front in the draft.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Lavonte David, MLB Bruce Carter, SLB Danny Lansanah
Backups: LB Jason Williams, LB Orie Lemon, LB Kwon Alexander, LB Larry Dean

Starting LBs: Bruce Carter was one of the more shrewd moves made by general manager Jason Licht this offseason. The former Cowboy has missed his fair share of games throughout his career, but there is no doubt he can still get it done. The Lovie Smith scheme will suit him to a tee. He is slotted in at middle linebacker and should make that position his own. He represents a significant upgrade on the departed Mason Foster. Weakside phenom Lavonte David will join Carter in an every-down role. The fourth-year pro may not be the biggest, but he is among the very best at his position. Ideally suited for the responsibilities of the weakside linebacker in the Tampa-2, David will continue to be a force. Danny Lansanah completes the Bucs’ linebacking trio. He finished second on the team in tackles last season and should retain his starting role on the strongside, but will not see the field in subpackages.

Backup LBs: Signed to a one-year deal, Orie Lemon will fill a role on special teams and act as valuable veteran depth. Jason Williams spent most of his career with division rivals Carolina, but was picked up by Tampa when the Panthers cut ties last season. He will be a versatile backup option that the Bucs hope they never need to turn to, such is the potential of their starting trio. Draft pick Kwon Alexander will be a standout special teams ace from day one and can learn from Lavonte David to play weakside linebacker.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Alterraun Verner, CB Johnthan Banks, FS Chris Conte, SS Bradley McDougald
Backups: CB Leonard Johnson, CB Sterling Moore, S Major Wright, S Keith Tandy

Starting DBs: The Bucs coaching staff has raved about strong safety Bradley McDougald’s potential, according to reports. They believe the young player can be elite. High praise doesn’t always translate to snaps on the field, but McDougald finished last season strongly after earning the starting job in Week 13. He is the leader in the clubhouse entering training camp. Alongside him, former Chicago Bear and Lovie Smith disciple Chris Conte will line up at free safety. Handpicked by Smith this offseason and signed to a one-year deal, Conte may be viewed as more of a stopgap option until the Bucs can find a younger, rangier player. Johnthan Banks endured a somewhat difficult sophomore season in Tampa with the entire team crumbling around him, but he will be given first crack at the starting cornerback job opposite Alterraun Verner. The latter is an ideal fit for the Tampa-2 and he showed his comfort level last season, albeit struggled in coverage in patches.

Backup DBs: The Bucs, in a tidy piece of business, snapped up nickel cornerback Sterling Moore this offseason. Moore, a former Cowboy, will push incumbent Leonard Johnson hard for the nickel role in camp. Johnson was often picked on in coverage last year, but the Bucs decided he was worth bringing back on a one-year deal. Safety Major Wright will provide a decent backup option for starters Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald. Like Conte, head coach Lovie Smith has familiarity with Wright from his time in Chicago.

Last modified: 2015-05-10 21:40:18