A Disappointing Season
Vincent Jackson was the apple of many fantasy owners' eye last preseason. The veteran receiver was the clear-cut #1 on his team, with little competition for targets. He was coming off a season where he ranked WR14 -- his 3rd consecutive Top 15 fantasy ranking. Excluding an injury-shortened 2010 season, Jackson had delivered 5 straight Top-15 fantasy seasons, and had finished as a WR1 (Top 12 or better) in four of those years. At 6'6", 235 lbs., Jackson could pass for an NFL tight end. Yet his blazing downfield speed and sharp routes are more in-line with what we see of All Pro wide receivers. Unfortunately, Jackson ended up one of 2014's most disappointing fantasy assets. He finished 37th -- falling well short of his average draft position (he was drafted as a fantasy WR2 in most leagues).
plenty of room for improvement
The Buccaneers are a team in search of an identity. Ownership hoped that Lovie Smith (hired as head coach prior to last season) would instill a sense of focus and discipline that was sorely missing under Greg Schiano. The team failed to respond to Smith and his coaching staff:
- 29th in points scored
- 25th in points allowed
- 25th in passing yards
- 31st in interceptions thrown
- 29th in yards per attempt
- 29th in rushing yards
- 24th in yards per rush
- 29th in scoring percentage (26.7% of drives ended in scores)
- 30th in sacks allowed (52)
Massive Changes Are Afoot
When you're as bad as the Bucs were in 2014, major changes are a given. We won't know the effectiveness of the changes until Tampa takes the field, but we can speculate.
- Jameis Winston, the new starting QB -- Tampa used the 1st overall draft choice on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston's on-field talents are generally well regarded and most scouts believe he has the mindset and mechanics to succeed at the NFL level. His maturity and off-the-field decision-making is far less assured, but realistically that shouldn't be a concern early in his career. At least not in Week One. I wouldn't expect Winston to be a world beater in 2015, but Josh McCown and Mike Glennon set a low bar for Winston to jump over.
- Dirk Koetter, the new offensive coordinator -- Jeff Tedford's brief tenure as the Bucs' play-caller was over before it started -- heart surgery kept Tedford from the team for the entire season. QB Coach Marcus Arroyo was over-matched as the fill-in OC. Dirk Koetter joins the team from division-rival Atlanta where he spent three seasons as play-caller. Koetter's system emphasizes a vertical passing attack and offensive balance.
- Rebuilding the offensive line -- As previously stated, the Bucs line gave up 52 sacks last season. Tampa is counting on two rookies -- LT Donovan Smith and RG Ali Marpet -- to right the ship. Both were 2nd round picks and have small shoes to fill. Last year's starting left tackle, Anthony Collins, ranked 39th in pass blocking efficiency according to ProFootballFocus. Last year's RG Patrick Omameh was even worse, ranking 54th out of 59 qualified offensive guards.
Jackson isn't a special talent anymore
Jackson will be 32 years old this season, and although his career has been impressive, many signs point to a player on the decline.
- Ranked 27th in yards per route run in 2014
- Jackson dropped 9% of his catchable targets (7 drops in 77 catchable targets)
- Quarterbacks throwing to Jackson had a woeful 61.3 passer rating -- 2nd worst among NFL starting receivers
- Among receivers that played at least 50% of snaps, Jackson's catch rate of 50.5% was 76th (out of 78)
- Jackson also ranked 76th among qualifying wide receivers in YAC/rec at a paltry 2.4 yards
- Jackson is still a dangerous deep threat -- catching all nine of his 'catchable' downfield passes last year. If Winston is even marginally better than McCown and Glennon, Jackson will provide a handful of big plays (and long TDs)
- Jackson remains in line for an inordinate number of targets -- Jackson ranked 6th among NFL receivers with 142 targets last season, and since the Bucs added no one of consequence to the receiving corps, he'll continue to get looks
- Offseason changes are almost guaranteed improvements -- when your offensive line gives up 52 sacks, your QBs were McCown and Glennon, and your play-caller was Arroyo, it's hard to fathom that changes won't lead to some improvement. I wouldn't expect massive improvement, but even incremental change means positive things for Jackson (and Mike Evans)
- Mike Evans is the team's #1 receiver -- Jackson spent most of his career as the #1 option, but is clearly no longer the top receiver in Tampa Bay
- Jackson was downright terrible in 2014 -- Jackson's 70 receptions and 1,002 yards may not seem like a big drop off, but Jackson's underlying metrics were frightening. He never had a high catch rate, but it was among the worst in the league in 2014. He was terrible after the catch, did his quarterbacks no favors (by catching difficult passes), and dropped balls at an alarming rate
- One dimensional receivers often fall off the cliff -- Jackson's career has been almost entirely predicated on using his size and speed to win battles downfield. He doesn't break tackles, he doesn't make catches in traffic, and he's never been particularly dominant in the red zone (in spite of his 6'6" frame). If Jackson loses a step, and his downfield ability with it, he could see a massive falloff versus a gradual decline
I'm not sold on Jameis Winston. I'm not sold on Dirk Koetter's offensive system. I'm not sold on the Bucs' offensive line. However, I am sold on the idea Winston is better than either Josh McCown or Mike Glennon. I am sold on Dirk Koetter being a better play-caller than Marcus Arroyo. I do believe the Bucs offensive line can be better than last year's sieve. In other words, it won't take much for Tampa Bay's offense to be better than last year's. Tampa Bay's receiver depth chart is woefully shallow, meaning that Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans are mortal locks for a massive number of targets. Jackson's target volume, combined with better quarterback play and a more productive system give hope that Jackson can rebound from last year's disappointment. On the other hand, Jackson is 32 years old and remains a limited player. He's never been great at making tough catches, and generally only scores when he gets over the top of opposing defensive backs on the outside. All-in-all, we can't rule out a bounce-back year but history warns against betting on a major resurgence. If you can draft Jackson as your WR4 and utilize him in obvious matchups or on bye weeks -- go for it. If you're hoping Jackson will instead produce top end WR2 value as he has done for the last half decade, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.
Thoughts from Around the Web
numberFire's Tyler Buecher asks if Vincent Jackson can rediscover his touchdown-scoring prowess?
Jackson is coming off the heels of his worst performance dating back to his early San Diego days as he struggled finding the end zone last year, scoring only twice. After watching Jackson this offseason routinely being drafted in fantasy circles after less promising sophomore and rookies, I'm not ready to throw in the towel on Jackson quite yet and you shouldn't either.
FantasyPro's Bobby Bunch sees Jackson as a bounce-back candidate in 2015
Jackson will benefit from the easiest strength of schedule (SOS) for WRs and QBs this year. Also, the Bucs will likely trail in most games resulting in increased pass attempts and opportunities for Jackson. Rookie QB Jameis Winston will be looking to prove himself as an NFL QB and it has already been noted he has a gunslinger mentality. Teammate Mike Evans will draw most of the attention from opposing secondaries, and Tampa’s running game ranked 29th in the league last year, which should translate to an even higher volume of passing. Even with the awful QB situation in Tampa last season, Jackson was able to top 1,000 yards and 70 receptions. TD opportunities should also increase significantly in 2015 with Winston at the helm. Jackson’s ADP currently sits as the 27th WR drafted in standard formats and the 30th WR drafted in PPR. If you’re looking for potential value, V-Jax could offer a significant return on investment.