QB Brian Griese, RB Warrick Dunn, WR Antonio Bryant, TE Ben Troupe, TE John Gilmore, G Sean Mahan, C Jeff Faine, DE Marques Douglas, DE Jimmy Wilkerson, OLB Matt McCoy, FS Eugene Wilson.
QB Josh Johnson, RB Cory Byrd, G Jeremy Zuttah, DT Dre Moore, OLB Geno Hayes, CB Aqib Talib, KR Dexter Jackson.
QB Bruce Gradkowski, WR Paris Warren, TE Anthony Becht, TE Keith Heinrich, OT Luke Petitgout, G Dan Buenning, G Matt Lehr, C John Wade, DE Greg Spires, DE Patrick Chukwurah, DE Marques Douglas, OLB Leon Joe, ILB Jeremiah Trotter, CB Brian Kelly, S Kalvin Pearson, S Donte Nicholson.
2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offense:
The Buccaneers were never featured on national TV last year, so when the public got their first look at them in the first round of the playoffs against the Giants, some may have thought that Eli Manning and Michael Strahan were playing Abe Simpson's retirement home. It was disgusting to watch how slow Tampa Bay's offense looked. Joey Galloway, who had just two catches in the final three weeks of the season, managed only one reception for nine yards against New York. Ike Hilliard, meanwhile, failed to grab more than four balls since Week 13 until the postseason - where he had four for 27 yards. And of course Jeff Garcia's inability to get them the ball and proneness for turning it over (two picks, one fumble) didn't help matters either.
Galloway, Hilliard and Garcia have all had prominent careers, but I can't say they're going to rebound from a frustrating 24-14 home defeat. Why not? Well, for starters, Garcia celebrated his 38th birthday this offseason. Galloway will be 37 in November and recently had shoulder surgery. And Hilliard, 32, has lost most of his speed.
With age a glaring issue, I was hoping Tampa Bay would bring in some young receivers to push the old dinosaurs out the door. Well, it appears as though Jon Gruden and I aren't thinking on the same wavelength. He drafted Dexter Jackson in the second round, but the Appalachian State product is more of a dangerous return specialist more than anything else. He won't be a factor at wide out; at least not for another few years.
The guys directly behind Galloway and Hilliard are Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall and Antonio Bryant. Clayton had 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, but he hasn't even matched those numbers in the three years since. He's healthy for the first time since his initial campaign, so we'll see what happens. I have my doubts. Stovall didn't do much as a rookie (10 catches, 86 yards). Bryant is three years removed from 1,009 yards, but he was suspended in 2007 for violating the substance abuse policy.
OK, so with two rapidly regressing wide outs and not much behind them, the Buccaneers have a dangerous target at tight end, right? Well, you could call Jerramy Stevens' hands "dangerous" - as in Stevens is a danger to drop an expensive vase if you hand it to him. The former Seahawk has the worst hands in the NFL, and quite frankly, I'm shocked he's still employed. The team's starter at tight end is Alex Smith, whose seasonal highs include 41 receptions, 385 yards and three touchdowns. Smith is expected to be pushed by Stevens and Ben Troupe; the latter has a whopping 18 catches in 26 games the past two seasons. It'll be a close competition for the starting tight end gig, but only because all three candidates really suck.
With no signs of life at receiver and tight end, we finally have something at running back. Earnest Graham played well in relief of Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman last season, rushing for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns, though he didn't get a chance to carry the load until Week 7. Graham won't match those numbers in 2008 because he'll have to share carries with Cadillac and Warrick Dunn. It appears as though Cadillac will run this year, though it's unclear as to what extent. Dunn, who had 718 rushing yards and 238 receiving yards last season, will steal some touches, as with Michael Bennett.
The most prominent group on Tampa Bay's offense is the line. Though you could say that by default, the fact is the Buccaneers have one of the elite offensive fronts in the league. They're incredible in the interior, as the newly acquired Jeff Faine, a superior center, joins Arron Sears and Davin Joseph, two of the better young guards the NFL has to offer. Jeremy Trueblood is solid at right tackle, so it seems like the only thing this group lacks is a franchise left tackle. That could be Donald Penn, who played well down the stretch. However, Penn is currently listed behind Luke Petitgout, who tore his ACL in October. Petitgout, 32, should be ready by training camp, but he's a bit old to be coming off a very serious injury.
The Buccaneers were 20th in scoring last season. Despite the addition of Faine and the return of Cadillac, I can't see them matching that ranking. Garcia is way too old, meaning Luke McCown will have to replace him if he struggles. That'll probably happen because the likelihood of Galloway and Hilliard keeping their production up to par is doubtful.
2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense:
Ever since Tony Dungy transformed the laughing stock of the NFL to a perennial playoff contender, the Buccaneers have always won with defense. That wasn't any different in 2007, as their stop unit was third overall in points allowed (16.9) and first in passing yards per contest (170.5). What's remarkable about their performance was that they looked so old and completely done the year before.
Tampa Bay did a great job injecting young talent into its defense. In his third year as a pro, Barrett Ruud emerged as a star in his first season as a full-time starter. Ruud is one of the top middle linebackers in the NFL, and if he were in a larger market, everyone would be talking about him. Ruud led the squad with 114 tackles, and also chipped in with two picks and three forced fumbles. Ruud played right next to Cato June, whom the team signed last March. June is a very solid Tampa-2 linebacker, though he missed some time last year because of DUI charges and a foot injury. And of course, we can't forget about Derrick Brooks. Though the 35-year-old may have lost a step - he missed the Pro Bowl last season for the first time in 11 years - he's still pretty productive, as he doesn't have to play on every down anymore with June in the picture, thus conserving his energy.
Another huge addition to the stop unit was fourth-round pick Tanard Jackson. The Syracuse product came out of nowhere to become of the top free safeties in the NFL. Jackson, who started every game in 2007, was really missed when he left the playoff game against the Giants in the second quarter with a knee injury. Jackson plays next to Jermaine Phillips, who's entering his contract year after a solid 2007 campaign. Phillips led the squad with four picks, and also chipped in with 83 tackles, one sack and three forced fumbles.
Tampa Bay is also set at corner with Phillip Buchanon and Ronde Barber. The latter is definitely past his prime at 33, but the team is stocked at the position with rookie Aqib Talib and Eugene Wilson in reserve. Talib, who will be the nickel this season, is a great fit for Monte Kiffin's scheme and should become a starter next year.
Look for the Buccaneers' secondary to accumulate even more picks than they had in 2007 (16). My reasoning behind that is the expected improvement of Gaines Adams. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, Adams tied for second on the team with six sacks as a rookie. Doesn't sound like much, but remember that Mario Williams had just 4.5 in his first year. Of Adams' six sacks, 4.5 came in Week 11 and beyond. He also sacked Eli Manning in Tampa's playoff loss. I'm expecting double-digit sacks out of the Clemson product in 2008.
Adams could be one of two Buccaneers with 10 or more sacks. Greg White seriously came out of nowhere to lead the team with eight. Like Adams, most of White's production occurred in Weeks 11-17. With those two starting, and Jovan Haye (six sacks), Chris Hovan and rookie Dre Moore rotating in the interior, Tampa Bay is going to cause some serious problems for opposing quarterbacks.
2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Schedule and Intangibles:
Unlike every other team in the NFC South, the Buccaneers actually win at home; they're 62-34 at the New Sombrero since 1996. The team was 6-1 last year if you exclude the season finale when none of the starters played.
For the first time in franchise history, the Buccaneers returned a kickoff for a touchdown. This happened on Dec. 16, when Michael Spurlock went 90 yards to the house against the pathetic Falcons. This was a fluke; Spurlock was a terrible return specialist, but simply benefited from an unfocused Atlanta squad that just watched fraud coach Bobby Petrino abandon them. Jon Gruden apparently was thinking on the same wavelength when he drafted Dexter Jackson in the second round. The lightning-quick Jackson will be a dangerous weapon for the Buccaneers.
Matt Bryant is known for his amazing 62-yard game-winning field goal against the Eagles in 2006. But believe it or not, that was only one of two 50-plus kicks Bryant has nailed in his career. He was 0-of-3 from that distance in 2007, though he nailed 6-of-7 tries from 40-49.
Josh Bidwell had a pretty solid year for a punter; he had a 43.9-yard average even though he nailed 30 kicks inside the opposing 20.
In addition to squashing the Panthers and Falcons twice, Tampa Bay will get to lay the hammer down on the Bears, Chiefs, Lions and Raiders. That's eight very winnable games right there. Tough opponents include the Saints (twice), Packers, Seahawks, Cowboys, Vikings and Chargers.
2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Analysis: Tampa Bay's defense was incredible last year, and it should be even better this season. It better be. The team's offense has gotten so old, I have no idea how they're going to score 17 points on a consistent basis.
Still, I think the Buccaneers have a great shot at defending their NFC South crown. I feel as though they're underrated right now, as everyone assumes New Orleans will waltz in and steal the division. That could happen, but the fact remains that of the two teams with a legitimate shot at the NFC South, Tampa Bay unquestionably has the superior defense. Unfortunately, even if the Buccaneers qualify for the playoffs again, they won't make it too far, as their very weak scoring attack will cripple them.
Projection: 10-6 (2nd in NFC South)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Jeff Garcia: Jeff Garcia won't last the entire season. He's 38 and his receivers are almost as old as he is. Even if he plays all 16 games, he won't put up any dazzling stats.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 2,200 passing yards. 12 passing TDs. 80 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 196.
Earnest Graham: Earnest Graham took over for the injured Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman in Week 7, and put together a solid campaign. He had 898 yards and 10 touchdowns. Unfortunately, his production will slip because Cadillac and Warrick Dunn are back in the picture.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 650 rushing yards. 250 receiving yards. 6 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 126.
Cadillac Williams: Cadillac Williams made some noise by stringing together multiple 100-yard efforts as a rookie. Unfortunately, he hasn't done much since. Cadillac broke down with a knee injury last season, but in the four games he played, he managed just 208 yards and three touchdowns on a 3.9 average. He'll share carries with Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 350 rushing yards. 45 receiving yards. 4 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 63.
Warrick Dunn: Warrick Dunn was still productive in 2007, rushing for 720 yards and gaining 238 receiving yards. He's 33, so his numbers will naturally go down. Still, he's going to be an effective pass-catcher out of the backfield who will take away from some of Earnest Graham's touches.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 250 rushing yards. 175 receiving yards. 1 total TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 48.
Alex Smith: After a promising rookie campaign (41 catches, 367 yards), Alex Smith has struggled to beat that production. In 2007, he had less receptions but 18 more yards. Don't bother with him; Smith may not even win the starting gig with Jerramy Stevens and Ben Troupe pining for playing time.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 300 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 42.
Joey Galloway: Joey Galloway has done a great job putting up solid numbers at his age (three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the Buccaneers). However, Galloway will be 37 in November. He's coming off shoulder surgery. He struggled at the end of the year, as he was limited to one catch for nine yards against the Giants. His quarterback is 38. You're taking a major risk if you draft Galloway early in your fantasy league.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 750 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 99.
Antonio Bryant: Antonio Bryant eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier in 2005. Since then, he got into frequent shouting matches with his coach and quarterback in San Francisco, and was suspended in 2007 for violating the substance abuse policy. Bryant signed a 1-year, $605,000 contract with Tampa Bay, where he will undoubtedly work hard, sign a moderately sized signing bonus next spring and then get into trouble again.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 550 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 73.
Michael Clayton: Michael Clayton is reportedly healthy for the first time since his rookie campaign, when he had 80 catches, 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. I'm a doubter. We've heard stories of Clayton emerging before, so I'm not buying it. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me four times, and I'm a freaking idiot. I'm done taking a late-round shot on him late in my fantasy drafts.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 400 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 52.
Ike Hilliard: He's slow, he's old and he's injured. I can't think of a single reason to draft Ike Hilliard. There's just no upside.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 400 receiving yards. 1 TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 46.
Matt Bryant: Matt Bryant has just two field goals from 50-plus in his entire career, though one was a 62-yard game-winner against the Eagles in 2006. He gets a solid amount from 40-49, but he's not worth drafting.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 22-27 FG (0-1 50+). 31 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 103.
Tampa Bay Defense: With Gaines Adams expected to turn into a double-digit sack artist, Greg White playing more often and Jovan Haye progressing, the Buccaneers are going to put tons of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This will lead to more turnovers. As an added bonus, they play the Panthers and Falcons in Weeks 14 and 15, the first two rounds of the fantasy playoffs.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 10 Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
I was surprised to see Aqib Talib go at No. 20. Not because I thought it was the wrong move; I just thought teams would pass on him in the wake of finding out that he smoked weed. It shouldn't be a big deal because I'm willing to bet at least half of the players in the NFL do it. Good for Jon Gruden for seeing past this. Talib is perfect for Tampa's cover-2 ... Jeremy Zuttah is a decent pick in the third round. If Luke Petitgout gets hurt again, Zuttah should be able to step in ... I can't believe how lucky Tampa Bay got when it was able to select Dre Moore at pick No. 115. Moore should have been selected in the second round .. Geno Hayes was solid value in Round 6.
I like Dexter Jackson as a kick returner, but I feel as though Tampa Bay took him a round or two too early. I'm also puzzled as to why the Buccaneers didn't address the receiver position. Have they forgotten how bogged down their offense was against the Giants?
Grade give on 4/28/08: A
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
20. Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas
I'm surprised the Buccaneers chose Aqib Talib with Mike Jenkins on the board. That said, Talib is a solid corner who fits Tampa's system. I guess they don't care about the fact that he smokes weed. They probably shouldn't either, so kudos to them. (Pick Grade: A)
58. Dexter Jackson, KR, Appalachian State
I'm not sure if Dexter Jackson will ever make it on to the field as a receiver, but he'll be a dynamic kick returner for a franchise that has only one touchdown return in 33 years. (Pick Grade: B)
83. Jeremy Zuttah, G, Rutgers
Looks like a starting guard of the future for the Buccaneers. Nice pick. (Pick Grade: A)
115. Dre Moore, DT, Maryland
Holy crap, what a steal! Matt McGuire once had this guy at No. 20, and that would have been a decent selection. I had Moore at the top of the second round. I can't believe Moore fell into Tampa Bay's lap. (Pick Grade: A)
160. Josh Johnson, QB, San Diego
I'm going out on a limb and say that Matt McGuire hates this pick. You would have been crazy if you thought the Buccaneers weren't going to take a quarterback in this draft. (Pick Grade: B)
175. Geno Hayes, OLB, Florida State
Solid value in the sixth round, Geno Hayes will provide solid depth at linebacker. (Pick Grade: B)
238. Cory Byrd, RB, South Carolina
Not a bad seventh-round pick; I had Cory Byrd pegged as a sixth-round prospect. (Pick Grade: B)
The Buccaneers took advantage of the banged-up Panthers, befuddled Falcons and defensively inept Saints to shock everyone and win the NFC South. Unfortunately, they lost instantly in the playoffs, partly because they rested their starters the final six quarters of the season. Oops.
Buccaneers trade G Dan Buenning to Bears for undisclosed draft pick
Buccaneers acquire G Sean Mahan from Steelers for undisclosed draft pick
Buccaneers trade DE Marques Douglas from Ravens for a late 2009 pick and a conditional 2010 pick
Buccaneers cut S Donte Nicholson
Buccaneers cut WR Paris Warren
Buccaneers cut OT Luke Petitgout
Buccaneers re-sign DE Greg White
Buccaneers cut ILB Teddy Lehman
Buccaneers cut DE Patrick Chukwurah
Buccaneers cut TE Keith Heinrich
Buccaneers cut OLB Leon Joe
Buccaneers re-sign TE Jerramy Stevens
Buccaneers cut QB Bruce Gradkowski
Buccaneers re-sign DT Jovan Haye
Buccaneers re-sign DE Kevin Carter
Buccaneers sign FS Eugene Wilson
Buccaneers sign DE Marques Douglas
Buccaneers sign RB Warrick Dunn
Buccaneers sign WR Antonio Bryant
Buccaneers re-sign CB Sammy Davis
Buccaneers sign TE Ben Troupe
Buccaneers sign OLB Matt McCoy
Buccaneers sign MLB Teddy Lehman
Buccaneers receive QB Brian Griese from the Bears for a late-round pick
Buccaneers sign DE Jimmy Wilkerson
Buccaneers sign C Jeff Faine
Buccaneers sign TE John Gilmore
Buccaneers cut DE Greg Spires
Buccaneers cut DE Kevin Carter
CB Brian Kelly opts out of contract
Buccaneers re-signed RB Michael Bennett
Two Wide Receivers: Who knows how long 36-year-old Joey Galloway can stay productive? Tampa Bay needs to find his heir apparent and another wide out to play alongside him. Ike Hilliard had a solid season, but given his age and injury history, I wouldn't rely on him again. DeSean Jackson is an option at No. 20. A more likely scenario is a receiver being taken in the second or third rounds. Drafted Dexter Jackson
Two Cornerbacks: Ronde Barber turns 33 in the spring, while Brian Kelly just opted out of his contract. The Buccaneers are old and thin at cornerback, and are in need of a major overhaul at that position. Look for Tampa to take a corner off the board in Rounds 2 or 3. Drafted Aqib Talib; signed Eugene Wilson; re-signed Sammy Davis
Quarterback: Excluding his postseason performance, Jeff Garcia played well for the Buccaneers. However, at age 38, Garcia won't be around much longer. Tampa Bay will need to acquire a young quarterback whom it can groom into Garcia's successor. I don't think Chris Simms is the guy. Brian Brohm could be, should he fall to No. 20. Drafted Josh Johnson; traded for Brian Griese
Center: The Buccaneers have major problems at center. Current starter John Wade is sub-par, at best. Tampa Bay could be looking at someone like Mike Pollak in the fourth round. Signed Jeff Faine
Left Tackle: Donald Penn played well in place of the injured Luke Petitgout, but if the Buccaneers want to do a better job at keeping defenders out of the backfield (36 sacks allowed), they'll find a way to acquire a top-notch offensive tackle. Drafted Jeremy Zuttah
Return Specialist: Michael Spurlock's kick return, Tampa Bay's first in franchise history, was a fluke. He did it against the Falcons, who just saw their head coach bolt in the middle of the night just five days earlier. The assistant coaches, scrambling to share Bobby Petrino's duties, weren't ready for anything, including Tampa Bay's return game. The Buccaneers need a threat who can take it to the house every time. Drafted Dexter Jackson
Tight End: Tampa Bay needs someone to push Alex Smith, who has seemed to regress after a solid rookie campaign. Jerramy Stevens clearly wasn't the answer. Signed Ben Troupe and John Gilmore; re-signed Jerramy Stevens
Defensive Tackle: An upgrade could be used at defensive tackle, but this need isn't as paramount as the offensive ones Tampa Bay has. Drafted Dre Moore; signed Marques Douglas
Greg White can't be a full-time starter, but he's definitely the type of play-maker every NFL team needs. Despite not really coming on until Week 11, White managed eight sacks.
Jovan Haye (RFA), DT. Age: 26. Re-signed with Buccaneers (1 year, $2.017 million)
Donald Penn (RFA), OT. Age: 25.
Donald Penn took over at left tackle and started the final 12 games of the season. He did an OK job filling in, but the Buccaneers need an upgrade at this position.
Brian Kelly, CB. Age: 32. Signed with Lions (3 years)
Brian Kelly is a regressing cornerback who can no longer start in this league. He could be a valuable backup somewhere.
Jerramy Stevens, TE. Age: 28. Re-signed with Buccaneers
Jerramy Stevens was a huge disappointment this season to no one's surprise. He had 18 catches for 189 yards. Whoop dee doo.
Greg Spires, DE. Age: 34. Signed with Raiders
Greg Spires, one of two Buccaneers defensive ends released on Feb. 28, is too old to be a starter. He's also coming off injury.
Kevin Carter, DE. Age: 34. Re-signed with Buccaneers (1 year)
Kevin Carter is 34, but he's still a solid backup rotation guy on the defensive line. He could re-sign with Tampa Bay at a lesser price.
Luke Petitgout, OT. Age: 32.
Michael Bennett, RB. Age: 30. - Re-signed with Buccaneers (multi-year)
Michael Pittman, RB. Age: 33. - Signed with Broncos
Matt Lehr, G. Age: 29. - Signed with Saints (1 year)
Sammy Davis, CB. Age: 28. - Re-signed with Buccaneers
Anthony Becht, TE. Age: 31. - Signed with Rams (2 years)
John Wade, C. Age: 33. - Signed with Raiders
Kalvin Pearson, S. Age: 29. - Signed with Lions (3 years, $3.5 million)
Patrick Chukwurah, DE. Age: 29.
Leon Joe, ILB. Age: 26. - Signed with Lions
Bruce Gradkowski, QB. Age: 25. - Signed with Rams
Keith Heinrich, TE. Age: 29. - Signed with Ravens
Teddy Lehman, ILB. Age: 26. - Signed with Lions
Donte Nicholson, S. Age: 26.
Paris Warren, WR. Age: 26.
Jeremiah Trotter, MLB. Age: 32.
Divisional Rival History: Atlanta Falcons: The Buccaneers swept the Falcons in 2007, winning by a combined score of 68-10. Michael Vick was 2-5 against them, excluding the games Bruce Gradkowski started. Carolina Panthers: Domination. Carolina has claimed eight of the past 10 meetings, although it should be noted the Buccaneers gave the second game (and their playoff chances) away because they rested their starters. New Orleans Saints: Another road-dominated series. The visitor has won eight of the past 12 meetings.