2011 Team Outlook: Tampa Bay
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are clearly sailing in the right direction after producing the greatest single-season turnaround in franchise history with quarterback Josh Freeman as the team's captain and a pair of outstanding first mates in running back LeGarrette Blount and wide receiver Mike Williams alongside. The Buccaneers' young offensive core made tremendous strides last season with Freeman emerging as one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL in just his second season. Blount and Williams were two of the biggest breakouts in fantasy football as rookies last season and both have the potential to be even better in 2011.
Head Coach Raheem Morris will be returning for his second full season at the helm for the Buccaneers after leading them to a 10-6 record and a third place finish in the NFC South behind Atlanta and New Orleans last season. Morris and his coaching staff have put together one of the NFL's youngest and most explosive offensives, but still have some work to do on the defensive side of the ball in order for this team to evolve into a true contender in the NFC.
The Buccaneers have hit home runs with their selections in the NFL Draft on offense in Freeman and Williams and the signing of un-drafted free agent Blount. They are hoping to repeat that success on the defensive side of the ball with the selection of defensive linemen Gerald McCoy in 2010 and a pair of defensive lineman -- Adrian Clayborn and DaQuan Bowers -- in 2011. The Buccaneers, who ranked 7th in the league in pass defense last season, were 28th against the run. McCoy, Clayborn and Bowers are expected to help shore up their run defense this season.
The major piece to the puzzle is Freeman. If he takes the next step toward superstardom this season (which he has the potential to do) then the Buccaneers are contenders in the NFC.
QB Josh Freeman, --- - Sleeper (undervalued)
Despite only 25 NFL starts in two seasons under his belt, Freeman appears primed for a major breakout in his third year with the Buccaneers. The 6-foot-6, 248 pound quarterback (with excellent athleticism, a powerful arm and unlimited potential) was selected by Tampa Bay in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft with the hope that he would become their franchise quarterback at some point in the future. After watching the improvement Freeman made from his rookie year to his sophomore year, it looks like the Buccaneers hit a home run with the selection.
As a rookie, Freeman struggled with his accuracy, completing just 54 percent of his passes and committing 20 turnovers. He corrected both of those issues in his sophomore season, completing 61 percent of his passes for 3,451 yards with 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions. With a talented group of young wide receivers headlined by Mike Williams at his disposal, Freeman should continue to improve this season. Being one of the strongest and fastest quarterbacks in the league is another added bonus for Freeman, who is one of the most difficult quarterbacks to tackle in the open field.
Freeman isn't ready to join the elite upper echelon at the quarterback position in fantasy football just yet, but he took a major step forward last season and is primed for a monster breakout in 2011. Fantasy owners should target Freeman in the middle rounds as a low-end number one fantasy quarterback with tremendous upside.
RB LeGarrette Blount, NE - Solid/Safe Pick
Blount was one of the biggest surprises in all of fantasy football last season, coming out of virtually nowhere as a rookie, rushing for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns on 201 carries last season. Blount certainly has the potential to improve upon his stellar rookie numbers in 2011 because he only played in 13 games (starting just seven of them) and averaged 5.0 yards-per-carry last season.
With so many teams using a running back-by-committee approach, Blount is one of the few true number one running backs, which makes him all the more valuable in fantasy football this season. Blount is firmly entrenched as the Buccaneers' true featured back and with a few more yards and touchdowns this season will join the elite tier of fantasy running backs.
Fantasy owners should target Blount in the third or fourth round of fantasy drafts this season as a legitimate number two fantasy running back with elite upside.
RB Kregg Lumpkin, --- - Not Draft Worthy
Even if the Buccaneers backfield were devastated due to injuries this season, there is no guarantee that Lumpkin would have a major fantasy impact. Lumpkin had just one carry for zero yards and one reception for 12 yards last season with the Buccaneers. Lumpkin is competing with Earnest Graham for the backup role in training camp this season. Lumpkin is a guy to keep on your radar in case Blount goes down, but he has zero fantasy value heading into the season.
RB Earnest Graham, --- - Not Draft Worthy
Even with Cadillac Williams likely to depart via free agency, Graham has zero fantasy value in 2011. Unless LeGarrette Blount goes down with an injury for an extended period of time, Graham will be used primarily as a blocking fullback in the Buccaneers offense. Fantasy owners may remember his legendary breakout campaign in 2007 when he rushed for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns, but that was four years ago. The times have changed in Tampa Bay and Graham has scored just six times since 2007. After just 99 yards and one score on 20 carries last season, it is time to forget about Graham in fantasy football.
WR Arrelious Benn, JAX - Bye Week Fill-in
Benn was overshadowed by fellow rookie wide receiver Mike Williams all of last season and never developed into the player the Buccaneers envisioned when they selected him in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Benn showed flashes of potential late in the season before tearing a ligament in his knee in Week 16 versus Seattle. Benn finished his rookie season with just 25 receptions for 395 yards and two touchdowns.
Benn is a major gamble for fantasy owners this season due to the knee injury he suffered in the regular season finale last season. Unless Benn proves he is fully healthy in training camp, he is not worth drafting in fantasy leagues this year. If Benn is fully recovered, then he will battle for the starting job opposite Williams in training camp. Benn has legitimate upside and could be in line for plenty of playing time this season if he is fully healthy, which makes him a player to keep an eye on in training camp this year.