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, MIA - 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 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.
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.
WR Mike Williams, --- - Solid/Safe Pick
Tampa Bay knew what they were getting when they took a risk selecting Williams in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. The talent had always been there for Williams, but it was his numerous off the field troubles that kept him from being an elite pro prospect at Syracuse.
Williams racked up 60 receptions for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2007-08, when he set a Syracuse record by catching a touchdown pass in nine consecutive games. He missed the entire 2008-09 season after being caught cheating on an exam, but re-enrolled at Syracuse in January 2009 and was on his way to another outstanding season with 49 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns before the school announced Williams "voluntarily took himself off the team" with three games remaining in the season.
Williams put his checkered past behind him in his rookie year with the Buccaneers, winning a starting job in training camp and emerging as one of the top wide receivers in fantasy football last season. Williams caught 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie and will look to build on his solid rookie campaign in his sophomore season.
Williams has cemented himself as the Buccaneers' number one wide receiver and will have one of the NFL's most talented young quarterbacks in Josh Freeman throwing him the football this season. Williams has the potential to become the next elite fantasy wide receiver and he could make the jump as early as this year. Fantasy owners should target Williams in the early rounds as a solid number two fantasy wide receiver with elite upside this season.