Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2015 Outlook

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

By Rusty Reeves, Friday, September 12, 2014

We currently have McCown ranked as the No. 25 QB heading into 2014. The good news is he had success as a starter last season filling in for the injured Jay Cutler in Chicago. The Bucs seem to be attempting to set him up with a similar setup in Tampa. With their first two draft picks being spent on WR Mike Evans and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs provided McCown two additional 6-foot-5 targets, to go along with WR Vincent Jackson. With a solid RB in Doug Martin, this is the Sunshine State's version of Marshall, Jeffery, Bennett, and Forte. The bad news? It's a poor man's version of the Bears' skill positions and McCown has never worked with any of them. If the Bucs can keep McCown upright after allowing 47 sacks in 2013 (ranks sixth from the bottom) he could be a sleeper candidate. Two of their free agent acquisitions, OT Anthony Collins and C Evan Dietrich-Smith, should both step into the starting lineup and help improve in that area. If only due to the talent the team has at RB and WR, McCown is a sleeper candidate.

Editor's note: Jackson (6-foot-5), Evans (6-foot-5) and Seferian-Jenkins (6-foot-6) give McCown three huge targets who can all challenge defenses deep down field. Even if you don't believe in McCown, there is plenty to like about this situation.

SOMETHING TO PROVE: Martin was one of last season's sexy picks to be a Top 5 fantasy back. A torn labrum ended his season after five games and the team scrambled to fill the void all season long. Ultimately, the team views Martin as their best running back, but they learned last year that it takes more than one RB to succeed. Heading into 2014, Tampa has said they want to use a rotation at the position, which includes Martin, Mike James (who proved to be the best backup last season, averaging nearly 5.0 yards per carry), and third-round draft pick Charles Sims out of West Virginia. This is good news for Bucs fans, as it will help to keep Martin healthy. For fantasy owners, this is not something you want to hear. Martin is a prime candidate for a bounce-back season; but if his carries are divided by not one, but two other backs... his days as a Top 5 RB are long-gone. Martin is the most talented of the three, which is why we have him ranked as a low-end RB1/high-end RB2.

Editor's note: Offseason discussion about what a team wants to do doesn't have a direct correlation to what they end up doing. If it turns out that Martin is far and away the best back on the team, they'll give him the strong majority of carries. If Sims or James is unable to pull their weight, then no committee backfield is going to slow down Martin from contributing like a fantasy starter. These are the risks you take. When the Bears signed Michael Bush a few years ago, everybody thought it was the beginning of the end of a workhorse role for Matt Forte. The change never happened and Forte has found second-life in his career over the last couple seasons. That's a part of the game.

James was arguably the most-effective RB to replace Martin when he went down last season, averaging 4.9 yards per tote. An ankle injury in Week 10 ended James' season and the rest of the year was the Bobby Rainey show. Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford is a known advocate of running back committees, so James (who performed well when given the chance last season) should get opportunities to carry the ball; however, for fantasy purposes, he's a risky proposition and is probably a late-round stash.

Editor's note: According to our ADP figures, which are updated nearly every day, James is not being drafted in most standard leagues. Digging a little deeper by using our high stakes ADP (which naturally includes information from high stakes fantasy football drafts), James is the 86th RB drafted with an ADP of 276.3. That places him in Round 23 or 24. If the Bucs are serious about using a committee and the rookie Charles Sims does not pan out, James could be a bargain handcuff to Doug Martin. The whole backfield is a risk until someone separates from the pack.

Sims is probably the most interesting running back in the Tampa Bay backfield. Teams typically don't spend a third-round pick at the position unless they plan to use him. He could very well be the best pass-catcher out of the backfield for the Bucs. At West Virginia last year, he caught 45 passes for over 400 yards, while rushing for over 1,000. He found the end zone a total of 14 times. Keep in mind, this was in the Big 12, so it's not like he was playing against teams from New Mexico (look it up, they're bad vs. the run). Since it's a crowded backfield, Sims has his work cut out for him just getting onto the field. Due to his play-making ability and someone in the front office apparently liking him enough to spend a third-round pick on him, Sims has to be considered one of the few rookie sleeper RBs with immediate upside.

Update (8/15): Sims suffered an ankle injury that will require surgery on Saturday. Initial reports said recovery time is 12 to 14 weeks. However, it could be as long as 13 to 15 weeks, according to Bucs beat writer Rick Stroud. While it's possible that he could be back late in the season, as early as week 13, his fantasy value for 2014 is pretty well gone. However, as a dynasty league pick, SIms still holds some value. The Bucs expect him to be an asset in their passing game. In his college career, Sims caught 203 balls for 2108 yards and 11 touchdowns combined at Houston and West Virginia. As it stands, Doug Martin's value takes a tick up. Mike James and Bobby Rainey will battle for the backup/change-of-pace role.

Jackson is Mr. Consistency. He went for over 1,000 yards in five of the last six seasons (he missed 11 games in 2010). As the Bucs' lone bright spot on offense last season, Jackson hauled in 78 catches for 1,228 yards and seven touchdowns. There were times when it appeared that Mike Glennon's gameplan was to simply throw it towards V-Jax. A lot of times, that worked. Jackson saw double-digit targets in nine of the team's 16 games, despite facing double-coverage much of the time. This year, the Bucs have given the former Northern Colorado receiver a sidekick in rookie WR Mike Evans (and another weapon in the passing game,TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins). If Jackson and new QB Josh McCown can develop some chemistry, Jackson is a lock to eclipse 1,000 yards yet again (and could reach double-digit TDs for the first time in his career). It's hard to project a WR to be a stud with so many new pieces on offense, which is why we have him as a WR2. There is potential Top 10 upside here.

Editor's note: Jackson has an absurd 306 targets over his two seasons in Tampa Bay. Only Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson and A.J. Green accounted for that many targets over the same span. Considering Jackson posted the numbers he did with Freeman and Glennon at QB, projecting him to somehow perform worse this season doesn't make much sense. He'd have to hit the wall hard.

DYNASTY BEAST: If not for Sammy Watkins, Evans would've been the rookie WR that everyone was fawning over heading into the NFL Draft. Unlike Watkins, Evans is in a much-better fantasy situation. He slipped to the Bucs with the No. 7 pick and will benefit from having the better quarterback in Josh McCown. Lining up opposite of V-Jax will bring the rookie the opportunity to see single-coverage often; whereas Watkins will likely see a ton of double-teams in Buffalo once he proves he was worth all the hype. Oh, and the weather in Tampa is nicer in December, so Evans has that going for him, which is nice. In two seasons at Texas A&M, Evans amassed 151 catches for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was Johnny Manziel's bailout on many broken-down plays. At 6-foot-5 and 225 lbs, Evans is the prototypical "beast" wide receiver. Since he is a rookie, the safe play is to draft him as a low WR3 or flex; however, his upside is absolutely off the charts.

Myers was brought in to add depth. However, there is little reason to believe that by Week 4 he will be used as more than a blocker in two-TE sets.

The Bucs' defense wasn't their weak point last year. While it wasn't elite, it was sufficient. They lost CB Darrelle Revis and signed Alterraun Verner as a replacement (who was arguably the second-best free agent corner and is three years younger at just 25 years old). They also signed DT Clinton McDonald to split time with Gerald McCoy. McDonald was third on the Seahawks last year with 5.5 sacks and even managed to intercept a pass. Ultimately, the Bucs' defense is largely the same, but a little younger. They should again finish around the middle of the pack and may be worth a look when the matchup makes sense.