Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last Year: 2-14)
2015 NFL Season Preview:
TE Tim Wright, DE George Johnson, DT Henry Melton, OLB Bruce Carter, LB Larry Dean, CB Sterling Moore, S Chris Conte.
Early Draft Picks:
QB Jameis Winston, OT Donovan Smith, C/G Ali Marpet, LB Kwon Alexander, WR Kenny Bell. Buccaneers Rookie Forecast
QB Josh McCown, OT Anthony Collins, OT Oniel Cousins, DE Michael Johnson, DE Adrian Clayborn, DE Da’Quan Bowers, ILB Mason Foster, ILB Dane Fletcher, S Dashon Goldson.
2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offense:
A franchise quarterback can fix a broken team. That’s exactly what the Buccaneers are hoping Jameis Winston can do for them. Winston was Tampa’s man all along; despite some strange, rogue reports, there was never any doubt that the front office was going to pick him.
Winston has all the talent in the world, but the concern with him are some off-the-field issues. He has a long list of them, prompting former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden to say that Winston was an “embarrassment” to the university. Winston staying clean, especially in a party town like Tampa Bay, could be a challenge. The interceptions are a factor as well. Winston was careless with the football quite often this past season. Sure, he came up big in huge moments, but he didn’t exactly play elite competition for the most part. Things will be much different when he has to dissect NFL defenses rather than pedestrian ACC squads that barely know how to play football.
Having said all of that, Winston is undoubtedly an upgrade over both Josh McCown and Mike Glennon. Winston will also have some spectacular weapons to work with. This includes Mike Evans, who exploded onto the scene as a rookie. Evans quickly surpassed Vincent Jackson as the team’s No. 1 wideout, catching 68 balls for 1,051 yards and a whopping 12 touchdowns. Other Buccaneer receivers flashed early and went on to disappoint like Michael Clayton and Mike Williams, but Evans’ talent level is legitimate. Jackson, meanwhile, didn’t seem to try very hard at times, but still managed to accumulate 70 receptions for 1,002 yards. He scored just twice, but who could blame him for being so frustrated with his miserable quarterback situation? He’ll definitely be more motivated with Winston at the helm.
There are a couple of other second-year players who could be big factors in the offense. One is Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who managed just 21 receptions in 2014. However, Seferian-Jenkins was dealing with a lingering back injury that limited him to nine games. He should be much better in his sophomore campaign. Meanwhile, Charlie Sims disappointed greatly, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry and barely offering anything in the passing attack. It’s worth noting that Sims dealt with an ankle injury, so maybe he’ll perform on a higher level once he’s healthy.
Sims will battle Doug Martin for the starting running back job. Martin has inexplicably disintegrated since a dynamic rookie campaign, gaining just 3.7 yards per carry in 2014 after rushing for 1,454 yards back in 2012. Martin, however, is entering his contract season, and he could bounce back with a better offensive line and a quarterback whom defenses will actually respect.
Speaking of the front line, the Buccaneers added two players in the second round of the draft, so the blocking should be improved. The first was Donovan Smith, an extremely athletic, but raw left tackle. Smith was an obvious reach, but there’s no denying his talent. He never played very well at Penn State, but perhaps the coaching staff can mold him into a quality blocker. Ali Marpet, meanwhile, was snagged at the bottom of Round 2, as Tampa Bay moved ahead of the Seahawks, who were very high on the Hobart product. Marpet can play all five positions up front, and it makes sense for him to start at right guard.
Tampa Bay’s ideal offensive front reads like this: Donovan Smith at left tackle, Logan Mankins at left guard, Evan Dietrich-Smith at center, Marpet at right guard and Demar Dotson at right tackle. This is much better than last year’s unit. Mankins, acquired from New England, and Dietrich-Smith, brought over from Green Bay, both performed well in their first seasons with Tampa. Dotson, meanwhile, was the team’s best blocker in 2014. He was stationed on the blind side, so he could be even better at his new spot.
2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense:
The Buccaneers made sure to improve their offense this offseason by drafting a franchise quarterback and bolstering their offensive line. They’ll have to do as much work to their defense next season. They neglected this side of the ball, and they won’t be able to stop many offenses as a consequence.
Tampa Bay has just three players who can be defined as strong defensive starters on their roster. The best of the bunch is Gerald McCoy, who is one of the top linemen in the NFL. McCoy missed some action in 2014, and his absence was definitely noticeable; the team surrendered 33 points per game in the three contests he missed, and 23.8 otherwise. McCoy has been able to dominate the trenches in his career, and this past season was no different; he was solid in run support, but was at his best when asked to rush the passer. He notched 8.5 sacks last year, which is a high number for a player at his position.
Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, the rest of their defensive line isn’t any good. Michael Johnson was a colossal free-agent bust and is no longer on the team, and neither are other failed defensive ends like Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn. The starters at the position will be some combination of George Johnson, William Gholston and Jacquies Smith. Johnson, acquired from Detroit, has the most promise, as he looked good in limited playing time. Gholston is decent versus the run, but brings no sort of pass rush to the table. Smith does nothing well. Meanwhile, Akeem Spence and Clinton McDonald will join McCoy in a rotation at defensive tackle. McDonald had his moments – he has collected 10.5 sacks the past two seasons – but Spence, like Smith, doesn’t offer anything positive.
The second “strong starter” is linebacker Lavonte David, a 2012 second-rounder selection who has no weaknesses in his game. He leads a linebacking corps that is also comprised of Danny Lansanah and Bruce Carter. Lansanah had a decent 2014 campaign, but his ability to play all three downs is highly questionable. Carter, meanwhile, was signed this offseason. The former Cowboy made a huge mistake going to Tampa; he should have signed with a team running a 3-4 because he has never performed well in a 4-3 scheme.
Finally, the third “strong starter” is cornerback Alterraun Verner, who thrived with the Buccaneers after a stint on the Titans. Tampa’s defense would have been so much worse if it wasn’t for Verner; all of the other members of the secondary struggled, but Verner performed like a solid No. 1 corner. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, he did not help 2013 second-rounder Johnthan Banks improve his game. Banks has struggled throughout his NFL career and will have to be replaced with another poor season. There’s no one who can upgrade Banks right now, save perhaps for Sterling Moore. Another former Cowboy, Moore had some quality showings in 2014, so perhaps he can emerge as Tampa Bay’s No. 2 corner.
The Buccaneers aren’t in great shape at safety either. Bradley McDougald might be a fine starting strong safety, but the free safety spot is a huge question mark. There’s a chance Chris Conte could start there, which would have all Chicago fans rolling over in laughter; Conte was so bad for the Bears that he was exiled from that horrid secondary.
2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Schedule and Intangibles:
Prior to the 2009 season, the Buccaneers were 68-36 as hosts. However, they were a shameful 1-6 at the New Sombrero in 2009, a mediocre 4-4 in 2010 (compared to 6-2 in away contests), and 3-5 in 2011, 2012 and 2013 before a disgraceful 0-8 this past season. It goes without saying that they need to reestablish dominant homefield advantage.
Punter Michael Koenen was awarded a 6-year, $19.5 million contract four springs ago for some strange reason. It’s basically the equivalent of an average person spending $2,000 on a pack of gum. Koenen had the fourth-worst net-punting average and barely got many attempts inside the 20 in 2012. He followed that up with the eighth-worst figure in 2013, and he had the fourth-worst number last season.
Kicker Patrick Murray had a strong rookie campaign. He went 20-of-24, but managed to hit 5-of-6 from 50-plus.
Tampa Bay failed to score a touchdown on special teams and surrendered one itself, but it outgained the opposition by five yards on punt returns. Kickoffs were about even.
The Buccaneers have a pretty easy schedule. Save for a home game against the Panthers, they don’t play a team that made the playoffs until Week 10 when they take on the Cowboys – also at home.
2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rookies:
Go here for the Buccaneers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Analysis: The Buccaneers hit rock bottom in 2014, but that may have been a blessing in disguise because it allowed them to draft Jameis Winston. If Winston lives up to expectations, Tampa could be back in the playoff mix by next season. However, the concerns with Winston are real, so it’s no guarantee that the Buccaneers will be able to turn things around.
Projection: 5-11 (4th in NFC South)
NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ Grade
Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: We all know by now that the Buccaneers plan on drafting Jameis Winston. With that in mind, their goal is simple: Build around by Winston by upgrading the offensive line and running back positions. Adding some better players on the defensive side of the ball, including a pass-rusher, is a must as well.
2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Buccaneers nearly accomplished everything they needed to. They drafted a quarterback, added two offensive linemen to protect their franchise signal-caller and then found some weapons for him. Tampa couldn’t block whatsoever last year, but that shouldn’t be the case this upcoming season.
I like the actual players that the Buccaneers drafted, for the most part. In fact, my lowest grade, save for the seventh-rounder, came on the first selection, but you can read about my thoughts on Jameis Winston in my individual NFL Draft Grades page.
Tampa’s sole omission came in terms of finding a pass-rusher. They neglected to obtain someone who can get heat on the quarterback, which will hurt, given the types of signal-callers they have to go up against twice per season. However, this is more than just a 1-year rebuilding project, as I have the Buccaneers picking a defensive end in my 2016 NFL Mock Draft.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State: C+ Grade
I’m going to lock this pick in. It’s almost certain that the Buccaneers will select Jameis Winston. Of course, this was apparent months ago when Tampa refused to hire Marc Trestman as its offensive coordinator because the former Chicago coach wanted to take Marcus Mariota No. 1 overall.
I’m with Trestman on this one, and we’ve spoken to some teams that agree. Though Winston is the slight favorite amongst the league, I’d rather have Mariota, and the reasoning, as you may guess, has to do with the off-the-field issues. Some of Winston’s problems have been overblown – the fact that he was suspended for shouting in the student union was ridiculous – but the Buccaneers really have to worry about Winston staying clean. I especially wonder what’ll happen to him in Tampa’s crazy (and underrated) party environment. I’ve joked about Mons Venus, one of the nation’s most famous strip clubs, renaming its establishment to “Mons Jameis” for all the money he’s going to spend there, but I sincerely believe that Winston may have trouble staying focused in his new home, much like one of his predecessors, Josh Freeman. And I’m not alone in this; someone I trust called Winston the “demon spawn of JaMarcus Russell and Johnny Manziel.”
I can’t give the Buccaneers a terrible grade because this selection could totally pan out. But if I’m investing the No. 1 overall pick into a player, I wouldn’t want to be worried about what he’s doing Monday through Saturday. Winston has told enough people that he has grown up and matured, and he has aced all of the pre-draft events, but we heard and saw the same exact thing from Manziel last year. Winston is much more talented than Manziel, but if he gets into trouble and can’t stay on the field, what difference does it make?
Follow @walterfootball for updates.
34. Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State: C+ Grade
It had to be one of the tackles, and I would’ve gone with Jake Fisher over Donovan McNabb, erm, Smith. I think it’s a mistake to pass on Fisher. Smith is very athletic, but never developed at Penn State – and I say this as a Nittany Lion alumnus. Smith has motivation issues, so taking him atop Round 2 is awfully risky. He has the potential to be a Pro Bowler, but he could just as easily bust.
61. Ali Marpet, C/G/OT, Hobart: B+ Grade
The Buccaneers moved up for Ali Marpet? Why, you ask? Because the Seahawks were set to select him. Ali Marpet is definitely worth a late second-round pick; he can play every position up front, which is important for a team with multiple holes on its offensive line. Marpet is highly athletic and was coveted by one of the top-drafting teams in the NFL, so this is very promising for the Buccaneers.
124. Kwon Alexander, LB, LSU: A- Grade
The Buccaneers were expected to address the linebacker position at some point, and they got themselves a good one in Kwon Alexander. The LSU product was expected by some to come off the board in the third round; in fact, one team was targeting him there before addressing the position earlier.
162. Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska: A- Grade
Kenny Bell isn’t as big as the monstrous skill players on Tampa’s offense, but he’s still pretty big at 6-1, 197. He’s also very athletic, and he can run routes pretty well. With Vincent Jackson on his way out soon, Bell, who could’ve gone earlier than this, may emerge as a starter in a year or two.
184. Kaelin Clay, WR/KR, Utah: B Grade
Kaelin Clay may never see the field on offense, but that’s OK because he’s a dynamic return specialist. He’ll inject some life into Tampa Bay’s special teams, and this was the right spot to add him.
231. Joey Iosefa, FB, Hawaii: C- Grade
An injury-prone player with off-the-field problems, Joey Isoefa should’ve been a UDFA player. I don’t like this pick, but it’s the seventh round.
It’s hard to believe that some of the talking heads projected the Buccaneers to win the NFC South. It was obvious early on that Tampa wouldn’t be competitive at all when it lost to Derek Anderson and Austin Davis to kick off the season. Fortunately, the Buccaneers will be able to draft a franchise quarterback with the first-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
- Quarterback: This need will be taken care of 15 minutes into the 2015 NFL Draft. The Buccaneers should select Marcus Mariota to be their franchise quarterback, but will also consider the troubled Jameis Winston.
- Guard: Perhaps Tampa’s biggest area on its troubled offensive line is at right guard. Luckily, there will be plenty of guard prospects worth considering atop Round 2 of the 2015 NFL Draft.
- Safety: The Buccaneers have tons of holes on the defensive side of the ball, and none are bigger than what they have at the safety position. They traded Mark Barron, leaving the inept and overpaid Dashon Goldson, as well as impending free agent Major Wright, to start at the position. Bradley McDouglad looked decent to close out the year, but Tampa desperately needs another safety. Signed Chris Conte
- Two Defensive Ends: Michael Johnson didn’t meet expectations as a free-agent addition, which wasn’t much of a surprise. He was released, so the Buccaneers now need defensive ends. Signed George Johnson
- Inside Linebacker: Mason Foster has never lived up to expectations. He struggled in 2014, and he happens to be a free agent anyway. This is one area the Buccaneers could address in free agency. Signed Bruce Carter
- Cornerback: Johnthan Banks hasn’t lived up to his second-round billing yet. Perhaps the Buccaneers, with all of their needs, will give him one more year, but competition should be brought in to challenge him. Signed Sterling Moore
- Left Tackle: The Buccaneers thought they had resolved their left tackle issues when they signed Anthony Collins this past offseason. That apparently was not the case, as Collins proved to be a big disappointment.
- Running Back: Doug Martin was a major disappointment this season, while Charles Sims didn’t really show anything. Tampa Bay may use a second-day selection on a new starting running back, or at least someone to pair with Sims.
- Defensive Line Depth: In addition to obtaining another defensive end, the Buccaneers need more depth up front with all of the impending free agent linemen they have. Signed Henry Melton
- Punter: Despite all the money Tampa spent on him, Michael Koenen has been in the bottom 10 in terms of net-punting average over the past couple of seasons.
Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Henry Melton, DT, Cowboys. Age: 28.
Signed with Buccaneers (1 year)
Henry Melton had a couple of awful seasons to close out his tenure in Chicago, but thrived in his first year with the Cowboys. He was a liability in run support, but put a tremendous amount of pressure on the quarterback. Unfortunately, Melton’s durability was once again prevalent when he was knocked out of the playoffs with a knee injury.
Bruce Carter, OLB, Cowboys. Age: 27.
Signed with Buccaneers (4 years, $20 million)
Bruce Carter was miscast as a 4-3 outside linebacker when the Cowboys made a scheme switch. He should go to a team with a 3-4 defense so he can play inside linebacker again.
Sterling Moore, CB, Cowboys. Age: 25.
Signed with Buccaneers
Sterling Moore barely played in 2013, but had to start numerous games this past season. He was a big surprise, handling himself relatively well in coverage.
- Chris Conte, S, Bears. Age: 26. — Signed with Buccaneers
- Larry Dean, OLB, Bills. Age: 27. — Signed with Buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Michael Johnson, DE, Buccaneers. Age: 28.
Signed with Bengals (4 years, $24 million)
Michael Johnson recorded 11.5 sacks in 2012. He saw a dip in that number the following season, but still played well. He ended up signing a 5-year, $45 million deal on the first day of free agency last March, but was absolutely dreadful, much like most free agents who take the money and run to inferior situations. Johnson, who just turned 28, might be able to rebound.
Danny Lansanah (RFA), OLB, Buccaneers. Age: 30.
Re-signed with Buccaneers
Danny Lansanah was quite the surprise this past season. Signed off the Jets’ practice squad, Lansanah started at strongside linebacker for the Buccaneers, containing the run well. He wasn’t a liability in coverage either.
Mason Foster, ILB, Buccaneers. Age: 26.
Signed with Bears
Mason Foster missed half the season with a shoulder injury. He’s still young – he’ll be 26 in March – but he hasn’t really lived up to expectations thus far.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Buccaneers. Age: 27.
Signed with Falcons (1 year, $4.5 million)
Adrian Clayborn registered six sacks in 2013, but missed all but one game this season with a torn bicep.
Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Buccaneers. Age: 25.
Da’Quan Bowers has been a major bust in the NFL, but he came into the league with loads of talent. He probably won’t ever play well, but there’s a chance he could find a home and live up to expectations if he’s coached up extremely well.
Dashon Goldson, S, Buccaneers. Age: 30.
Dashon Goldson was a first-team All-Pro in 2012, but was always an overrated player. The Buccaneers didn’t recognize this and made the mistake of paying him $41 million over five years back in 2013. Goldson will turn 31 during the season and is probably not a starting-caliber safety anymore.
Anthony Collins, OT, Buccaneers. Age: 29.
Proving how overhyped free agency is, Anthony Collins signed a 5-year, $30 million contract last offseason and remained on the team for exactly one full year. He was constantly penalized and struggled to block. He did play well in Cincinnati though, so perhaps he’ll be able to rebound from his dreadful 2014 campaign.
Josh McCown, QB, Buccaneers. Age: 36.
Signed with Browns (3 years)
Josh McCown has proven that he can be a reliable backup quarterback, and he can even start for a stretch if he has quality offensive coaching aiding him. He can’t do it all himself though, as we saw last year when he struggled with the Buccaneers. Still though, McCown is a solid reserve who should find work.
- Bobby Rainey (RFA), RB, Buccaneers. Age: 27. — Tendered by Buccaneers
- Major Wright, S, Buccaneers. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Buccaneers
- Leonard Johnson (RFA), CB, Buccaneers. Age: 25. — Re-signed with Buccaneers
- Mike Jenkins, CB, Buccaneers. Age: 30. — Re-signed with Buccaneers
- Oniel Cousins, OT, Buccaneers. Age: 31.
- Orie Lemon (RFA), OLB, Buccaneers. Age: 27.
- Dane Fletcher, ILB, Buccaneers. Age: 28.
- Luke Stocker, TE, Buccaneers. Age: 27.
- Lawrence Sidbury, DE, Buccaneers. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Buccaneers
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