Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2015 Outlook

 
 
 
 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

By Shawn Childs, Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tampa hasn't made the playoffs since 2007. They really struggled last year, finishing with only a 2-14 record. Over the past four years, the Bucs have gone 17-47 while being outscored by 446 points (about seven points per game). Lovie Smith will return for his second season as Tampa Bay's head coach. Throughout his ten-year career, Smith has produced an 83-77 record, with three playoff appearances. In 2014, the Buccaneers finished 30th in the league in total yards (292 per game) and only scored 277 points (29th). Dirk Koetter has taken over as the offensive coordinator after three successful seasons running the Atlanta Falcons' offense. Koetter also ran Jacksonville's offense for five seasons from 2007-2011. Leslie Frazier gets his second crack as saving the Bucs defense. Tampa Bay allowed 410 points (25th) and 368.9 yards per game (25th). Frazier is a former NFL coach (21-31-1) and has three years of experience as a defensive coordinator. The Buccaneers have made the playoffs only ten times in the team's 38-year history with one Super Bowl title.

Free Agency

The Bucs made a few changes in their secondary to hopefully improve their pass coverage. They added S D.J. Swearinger from the Houston Texans. The second-year defensive back played poorly in run support last season but was decent in pass coverage. Swearinger had limited success rushing the QB (one sack) and will replace Dashon Goldson, who left to play with the Redskins. Goldson performed poorly against the pass last year and wasn't much better in run support. Cornerback Sterling Moore and S Chris Conte were added to compete for starting jobs in the secondary. Moore provided a slight edge in pass coverage for the Cowboys in the 10 games he started last season. Conte has been a below average player throughout his four-year career in the NFL.

Defensive end Michael Johnson failed to make as big of an impact last season as he did in 2013 with the Bengals (five sacks, 17 QB hits, and 41 QB hurries with high value stopping the run game). Johnson was a tick below league average against the run and recorded four sacks, nine QB hits, and 15 QB hurries. Michael returned to Cincinnati this offseason. Line backer Mason Foster signed with the Bears. Foster has been mediocre at best during his four years in the league and missed time in 2014 with a shoulder and Achilles issue. Defensive end George Johnson was added to the roster after thriving as a situational pass rusher (seven sacks, five QB hits, and 27 QB hurries) in 2014 with the Lions. Defensive tackle Henry Melton was also brought in to apply some pressure after tallying five sacks, five QB hits, and 19 QB hurries in 2014.

Backup QB Josh McCown signed with the Browns and TE Tim Wright was reacquired after the Patriots released him this spring.

Draft

With the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers placed their future in the hands of QB Jameis Winston. Winston has an NFL-ready arm and body frame (6'4" and 231 lbs.) and should have some success as a pure pocket passer. He has great vision and is excellent at reading the opposing defense. However, Winston needs to improve his release and learn how to throw the ball away. If he is overconfident in his ability to make throws into tight windows, he will throw way too many interceptions at the next level.

The Bucs also made an investment to protect their new commodity. With their two picks in the second round, Tampa drafted T Donovan Smith and C Ali Marpet. Smith is a power player with upside in the run game. His lack of foot speed and athleticism will force him to step down to play a weaker position in the NFL (right tackle or guard). Marpet played well in college but it was against much weaker competition (Division III). However, he has great power and enough quickness and speed to handle playing at the next level. He needs to prove he can handle the week-to-week grind against elite players in the NFL.

In the fourth round, the Bucs selected LB Kwon Alexander. Alexander has attacking speed and power, but he is undersized (6'1" and 227 lbs.). Because his feel for the game is less than average, he may struggle early on in his career. However, Alexander has value when rushing the quarterback and his scouting report suggests he will emerge into a solid stalwart on special teams.

The Bucs tried to add some depth at the WR position with their fifth and sixth picks Kenny Bell and Kaelin Clay. Bell has elite speed (4.42 forty) and quickness (6.66 three cone drill as the NFL combined). His big knock is his lack of strength (seven reps in the bench press). Bell offers big play ability but there are still questions about his route running and release. He should improve in both areas, as he gets stronger. His profile suggests that he is gamer who isn't fazed by pressure. He is definitely a clutch player. Clay is another WR with some questions about his strength (10 reps). Kaelin should contribute instantly in the return game thanks to his ability to change gears when making the decisive cut to daylight. Clay projects as a slot receiver with value in the short passing game. He could be a huge playmaker if the Bucs can get him the ball near the line of scrimmage where his open field running ability leads to touchdowns. Clay has a sprinter's resume with limited experience and underdeveloped route running skills.

Fullback Joey Iosefa was added in the seventh round. Iosefa was a power runner in college with offensive lineman foot speed. The Bucs will give him a chance as a possible full back project.



Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Kenny Bell

Offensive Line

Tampa Bay rushed for 1,375 yards (29th in the league) and seven TDs. They only gained 3.9 yards per carry while attempting only 22.1 runs per game, which was 17.2 percent below the league average.

Rookie LT Smith is listed as the early starter for the Bucs on the left side of the line. His scouting report suggests that he will be overmatched early in his NFL career due to his lack of speed and agility. Smith was taken with the second pick in the second round in this year's draft.

Left guard Logan Mankins has had a long, successful career, especially as a run blocker while allowing minimal damage against the pass rush. In his first season with Tampa, Mankins provided value in the running game and allowed three sacks, five QB hits and 14 QB hurries.

Center Evan Dietrich-Smith has played well as a run blocker over the last two years while showing some risk in pass protection last season (two sacks, four QB hits, and 14 QB hurries). He'll battle incoming rookie, Marpet, for the starting job while the loser will most start at right guard. Marpet flashed high upside at a small school in college and handled himself well at the Senior Bowl. His challenge will be proving that he can win more battles than he loses on a week-to-week basis in the NFL.

Right tackle Demar Dotson has developed from an undrafted free agent TE into a starting RT in his six-year career. Last season, he allowed six sacks, two QB hits, and 20 QB hurries and was an average run blocker. Dotson even started at left tackle over the last three games of the year.

The Bucs allowed 52 sacks in 2014, which led to the league's 25th ranked passing game (3297 yards) with 21 TDs and 20 INTs.

This offensive line has three above average players, as long as the two incoming rookies can add value in their first season in the league. With better decision-making and a quicker release by the QB, Tampa's line could approach league average in sacks allowed. The Bucs need to run the ball better and their defense needs to keep the score close to take pressure off of Winston at the QB position.

Schedule: Offense

The above chart shows the Panthers' 2015 offensive strength of schedule in terms of rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA) and passing touchdowns (TDS).

This information is based on 2014 stats, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.

2014 Average: The league average of each stat from all 32 teams in 2014.

2014 Results: The results for each specific team in the NFL.

2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.

The Buccaneers have five games against teams with below par rushing defenses - the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, and two games against the New Orleans Saints. The Bucs were fortunate enough to draw a schedule without any real tough matchups in the running game. They have the easiest schedule against passing defenses with four favorable matchups against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Chicago Bears and two games against the Atlanta Falcons. In addition, Tampa won't play any elite pass defenses.

Offense

The Bucs ran the ball 40 percent of the time in 2014. Their RBs caught 21.9 percent of the QBs completions. TEs recorded 16.9 percent of the receptions with one TD and WRs caught 184 passes for 2,587 yards and 19 TDs.

The Bucs desperately needed an upgrade at QB after averaging 18.8 completions on 33.2 pass attempts for 226.4 yards with 1.3 TDs and 1.3 Ints per game in 2014. The ride with Winston won't be easy even with two solid WRs on the outside in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Last year, Tampa Bay allowed 52 sacks. In 2013, Jameis was electric for Florida State when he led them to a National Championship. He threw for 4,057 yards and 40 TDs with 257 completions on 384 pass attempts. In that year, he was sacked 27 times and threw 10 interceptions. His value in 2014 took a slight hit as he struggled to throw TDs (25) but threw more INTs (18) while facing less pressure (17 sacks). Overall in 2014, Winston settled for shorter completions (8.4 yards per attempt compared to 10.6 in 2013) and finished with 3,907 passing yards. Jameis has played well in a championship environment, plus he appears to have excellent football knowledge as far as reading defenses and understanding a pro style offense. Winston's offensive line will have some weakness out of the gate, but there is enough talent there to improve over the years. Jameis has two WRs with big play and scoring ability and his backs can catch the ball. In his first season in the league, Winston has a chance to throw for 4,000 yards and 23 touchdowns.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston

There has been a whole lot of ugly in Martin's game over the last two years after he flashed stud upside in his 2012 rookie campaign (1,926 yards, 49 receptions and 12 TDs). Over the last two years, Doug has averaged only 3.6 yards per rush and 5.2 yards per catch. He missed the last 10 games of 2013 with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Martin suffered a knee injury in week one of the 2014 season after rushing for only nine yards on nine carries. When he returned in week five, Doug was unimpressive over his next four games (207 combined yards on 53 touches). An ankle injury led to three more games on the sideline. Martin did show a spark in two of his last three games (14/96 and one TD and 19/108 and one TD). He only had 20 targets on the year, which resulted in 13 catches for 64 yards. Doug has had one elite season and his lack of success over the last two years has been in a large part due to injuries. Martin was motivated to get in the 'best shape of his career' during the offseason. He'll have more competition for playing time this season with the talented RB Charles Sims healthy. Martin's ADP is 124 in the early draft season as the 39th RB off the table. I've lost a ton of money on him over the last two years so he's a tough buy. However, his price is more than fair if the training camp news continues on an upward trend. With two-thirds of the RB playing time for the Bucs, Martin has a chance to finish with 1,100 total yards, plus he should lead Tampa in rushing TDs. A RB3 seems about right, with possible upside due to a favorable run schedule and improved QB play.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin

Sims saw plenty of action over his four-year college career with Houston and West Virginia. He finished his career with 3,465 rushing yards on 592 carries and 40 rushing TDs. His biggest asset is his explosiveness and reliability in the passing game (203 catches for 2,008 yards and 11 TDs). Charles has a good feel as a receiver and he has plenty of experience in pass protection. He has decent size (6'0" and 212 lbs.), but it would be nice to see bulk up a bit. Sims ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL combine, but showed questionable quickness (4.30 20-yard shuttle). His scouting report suggests his quick feet and acceleration are his biggest assets. In the run game, he doesn't run with power or create his own offense by breaking tackles. He'll turn 25 in mid-September so his age isn't an advantage. However, he hasn't assumed a high workload. His rookie season in the NFL was cut short due to an ankle injury in mid-August. Over the last eight games of the 2014 season, Sims tallied 85 touches, including 19 receptions for 375 yards and a touchdown. He only averaged 2.8 yards per rush but flashed upside in the passing game (10 yards per catch). I don't think he is built to be a lead runner and may have weakness in pass protection. I see him as the clear number two back for the Bucs with a chance at 100 to 125 carries and possibly 40 receptions. His ADP (110) is slightly ahead of Martin in the early draft season as the 36th RB off the table. If I end up with Martin on my roster, it would make sense to add Sims as a RB4 if he falls to a reasonable price on draft day.

Rainey was rewarded with 275 touches over the last two years as a result of Martin's struggles with injuries. He averaged only 4.1 yards per rush but performed well in the passing game last year, finishing with 33 receptions for 315 yards and a touchdown Bobby has three 100-yard rushing games in 11 career starts. Rainey is serviceable if Tampa Bay suffers a couple more injuries at RB, but he lacks starting upside over the long haul.

Evans drifted his way through the first seven games of the year (25 catches for 336 yards and one TD on 42 targets while missing week five with a hamstring issue) as Tampa struggled to find consistency from the QB position. He turned into a beast over a three game stretch catching 21 of 29 targets for 458 yards and five TDs. Mike's success led to defenses paying more attention to him over the last six games of the year. His catch rate decreased and he failed to produce more than 55 receiving yards in any of the final six games. Evans did maintain his value in scoring though (five TDs in his last six games and 10 TDs in his last nine games). On the year, he caught 68 of 122 targets for 1,051 yards and 12 TDs. Evans was a two-year starter at Texas A&M where he caught 151 passes for 2,499 yards and 17 TDs. In 2013, he averaged 20.5 yards per catch. He has elite size (6'5" and 231 lbs.), but he could use more strength. He doesn't have elite route running skills or quickness. His success will be driven by his ability to haul in many tightly contested balls due to his strong hands. Evans is a physical runner after the catch and will have upside at the goal due to his vertical leap and ability to win jump balls. Mike is a former basketball player who has Division I talent. His style is very similar to Vincent Jackson, but he has more speed. His college success was driven by Johnny Manziel's play making ability. Mike's game should have much more upside with Winston behind center. Evans still needs to prove he can make plays when doubled, as defenses clearly found a way to limit his explosiveness late in 2014. I see him as a 250-point WR in PPR leagues. I expect him to finish with around 75 catches, 1,200 yards and double digit TDs. Evans will be a borderline WR1 in 2015.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans

Over the last three years with the Buccaneers, Jackson has played his best ball of his career. In each year, he has caught at least 70 passes for 1000 yards on 449 combined targets. His catch rate (49 percent with the Bucs and 52.3 percent for his career) is much lower than the top wide receivers in the league, as Vincent does much of his damage downfield (17 yards per catch for his career). Last year, Jackson produced his sixth season with at least 1000 receiving yards over the past seven years, but he also recorded a career-low in yards per catch (14.3). This was the result of weak play by the offensive line, which resulted in 52 sacks and below average QB play. Over the last three seasons, Jackson has seen as many targets as the top receivers in the NFL. However, his catch total pushes him to a backend WR2 with his yards per catch and TDs typically giving him mid WR2 value. Over his career, Jackson has scored 54 touchdowns in 140 games. In 2014, he only scored two TDs, which is well below his average over the previous three years (eight per year). The Bucs don't have a great TE receiving option and their WR3 is nothing special. This gives Jackson and Evans plenty of chances to catch balls. Vincent has some boom or bust value from week to week, and his targets may fall behind Evans in 2015. Last year, he finished seven games with double digit targets yet seven games with three catches or less. The late spring rumors have Tampa Bay trying to get him some snaps in the slot, which will improve his catch rate, but lower his yards per catch. With no games missed over the last four seasons, Jackson is a solid bet for another 70 catches, 1,100 yards and between six and eight touchdowns. Jackson has a great opportunity to finish the season as a solid WR2, despite the fact that his draft value has slid to mid WR3 in the early draft season (ADP - 68 as the 30th WR off the board). I respect Winston's arm and Vincent looks like a solid value play.

There isn't much strength at the WR3 position for the Buccaneers heading into the 2015 season. The Bucs signed Murphy to a three-year extension last December after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury. This is a positive sign for his future value. He flashed his talent in three separate games (6/99 on 11 targets, 7/72 and one TD on nine targets, and 6/113 on eight targets) in 2014. Over six seasons in the NFL, Murphy has accumulated 152 receptions for 2,124 yards and 10 TDs in only 27 career starts. Murphy has low upside with possible short-term value if Jackson or Evans suffers an injury.

Over four seasons with Nebraska, Bell caught 181 passes for 2,689 yards and 21 receiving TDs. During his freshman season, Kenny recorded three rushes, accumulating 100 yards and a score. He averaged 25 yards on 51 kickoff returns and scored one TD. Bell will add speed and quickness to the offense and could be a mismatch for defenses as they focus on Evans and Jackson. The key to Bell's upside will be adding more strength while developing his route running skills. Kenny will enter 2015 as a one dimensional speed receiver with big play ability.

In his three-year college career at Washington, Sefarian-Jenkins caught 146 passes for 1,840 yards and 21 TDs. He peaked in his junior season when he caught 69 passes for 852 yards and 7 scores. Seferian-Jenkins has excellent size (6'5" and 262 Lbs.) with solid route running skills. He'll have instant value at the goal line. He needs to improve as a blocker and he has had some off the field issues on his resume (DUI). Austin had minimal value in his rookie season (21 catches for 221 yards and two TDs). He missed seven games due to an ankle injury a back issue. Seferian-Jenkins started eight of his nine games as the Bucs viewed him as the best TE option on the team in his rookie season. His college resume points to upside and he will have plenty of space to work the middle of the field with Evans and Jackson drawing so much attention from defenses. Last year, Tampa completed 51 passes for 469 yards and one TD to the TE position. There is talent and upside here so Austin is worthy of a TE2 flier.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins

After his breakout season in 2012 with the Raiders (79 receptions for 806 yards and four TDs), Myers didn't make an impact with the Giants in 2013. His lack of success was due to his inability to block and the weakness of New York's offensive line. In 2102, he had an elite catch rate (75.2 percent). In 2013, Manning wasn't on the same page with Meyers on many plays (62.7 percent catch rate). With the Bucs in 2014, Myers led the team in TE snaps (475) but was the weakest TE blocking option on the team. He finished the season with 22 catches for 190 yards and failed to find the end zone. Brandon only averaged 8.6 yards per catch. He has value as a pass catcher, but he won't earn enough playing time to make a Fantasy impact. Myers has only had value in Fantasy leagues once in his six-year NFL career.

Murray was able to outkick Conner Barth last summer to win the starting job for the Buccaneers. During his rookie season, he converted 20 of 24 field goal attempts, while showcasing value from long range (five for six from 50 yards or longer). His success rate (83.3 percent) is well within starting NFL range. Patrick served as the kicker and punter with Fordham in college. He nailed 25 of his 30 kicks his senior year, which is equal to his success rate in his first NFL season. Tampa Bay scored 20 FGs and 31 TDs in 2014 on 180 possessions. Murray has a solid leg but plays for a questionable offense. His range will offer value at times in 2015, but Patrick will be a tough play from week-to-week in season-long Fantasy leagues.

The Bucs have four possible tough matchups against the run – one game against the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys and two games against the Carolina Panthers. Their most favorable matchups are against the Tennessee Titans, Chicago Bears and two games against the Atlanta Falcons. Tampa Bay has the toughest schedule against passing offenses in the league with five real tough games – two games against the Saints and Falcons and one game against the Colts, plus three other games against teams with above average passing attacks such as the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Redskins. The Buccaneers will face two below average passing teams in the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans.

Despite their struggles in 2014, Tampa was solid at defending the run, allowing just 3.9 yards per carry. However, they allowed the 19th-most rushing yards (1,819). Game score led to 29.2 rushing attempts per game, which were 2.5 more carries per game than the league average. The Bucs allowed 15 rushing TDs.

Their best player on defense is DT Gerald McCoy who the Bucs selected third overall in the 2010 draft. Over 13 games in 2014, McCoy was a neutral run defender who excelled when attacking the QB (nine sacks, nine QB hits, and 27 QB hurries). Gerald missed one game in September due a hand issue and the last two games of the year with a hyperextended right knee. In 2013, McCoy was the NFL's best pass rusher (10 sacks, 14 QB hits, and 56 QB hurries). Defensive end Jacquies Smith was unimpressive in his first season playing significant snaps. Smith was a below par run defender with streaky value rushing the QB (seven sacks, one QB hits, and 20 QB hurries). Defensive tackle Akeem Spence has struggled throughout his two seasons in the league. In five starts last year, Spence produced two sacks, three QB hits, and three QB hurries with no success stopping the run. Defensive end George Johnson has never been a starter in his five years in the NFL after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2010. With the Lions last year, Johnson added value in the pass rush off the bench (seven sacks, five QB hits, and 27 QB hurries). Defensive tackle Henry Melton will bolster the Buccaneer's pass rushing defense after producing six sacks, five QB hits, and 19 QB hurries off the bench in 2014. DT Clinton McDonald will also compete for playing time. He has accumulated 11 sacks over two seasons but struggles in run support.

Linebacker Lavonte David has been a solid run defender over his three years in the league and proved he can get to the quarterback in 2013 when he produced eight sacks, five QB hits, and 17 QB hurries. Last year, he struggled to get to the QB (one sack), but provided plenty of value in pass coverage. LB Danny Lansanah has a short resume of playing time during his seven years in the league. He started 11 of 15 games in 2014 and was unable to prove himself as a pass rusher (two sacks) while performing slightly above league average against the run. LB Bruce Carter had no value rushing the QB in 2014 (one sack, two QB hits, and two QB hurries) and was vulnerable against the run as well. Carter is a former 2011 second-round draft pick and he did play offer value in run support in 2012. Rookie LB Kwon Alexander has enough talent to earn starting snaps at some point the season. He'll add speed and power to the defense with some risk against the run.

Cornerback Alterraun Verner had surprising value in run support in his first season with the Buccaneers. After playing very well in pass coverage for the Titans, Verner allowed 55 catches on 78 targets for 741 yards and five TDs, though he did come away with two interceptions. Cornerback Johnthan Banks improved slightly in his second season, but he still struggled in both run support and pass. Safety Bradley McDougald was able to earn starting snaps during his second year in the league after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Bradley was a neutral run defender and decent in pass coverage. Conte looks like the favorite to win the starting free safety job. His game hasn't offered any upside in any season since being drafted in the third round in 2011. Swearinger and Moore will add depth to the secondary, though the former may end up starting at safety.

The Buccaneers finished the 2014 season with 36 sacks (21st) and allowed the 28th-most passing yards (4084) and 28 TDs compared to 14 INTs.

Tampa Bay's defense has one stud (McCoy) and two other players that will be assets (David and Verner). The Bucs don't have much talent on this defense at the other eight positions. In this year's draft, they focused on improving their offense so there isn't any young talent on the rise on the defensive side of the ball. Their run defense may be slightly above average and they did try to add some pass rushers but I don't like this defensive team structure and they really have no Fantasy upside over the long haul.