During one of his post draft press conferences, head coach Dirk Koetter was asked how he wanted this year’s Buccaneers football team to be known. His answer, “As a badass football team!”. Now I realize that this is extremely premature. I mean, the draft just ended less than a week ago. However, on paper this Bucs team appears to be one of the most complete teams, from top to bottom. That said, let’s see why Dirk seems to be so optimistic headed into this season and why we as fans should be too.
The offense has a new look with a lot more speed and more depth. All of that speed won’t matter if the re-aligned o-line doesn’t hold up. The Bucs have decided to move Ali Marpet, their best lineman, to center looking to get bigger and stronger in the middle. Last year’s free agent signing J.R. Sweezy will handle duties at right guard where he played with much success in Seattle. Donovan Smith will again be protecting Winston’s blindside at left tackle. The position that seems to be up in the air is right tackle, where it’s rumored that last year’s reserve swing tackle turned starting left guard Kevin Pamphile may be given a chance to compete with Demar Dotson for the starting role. I personally think this is simply a coaching ploy to light a fire under Dotson’s ass, but you just never know. Should Pamphile somehow win that job, it could set off an interesting chain of events. For instance, what happens at left guard if Pamphile is at right tackle? Would it be recently signed free agent Jarvis Harrison? Could it be second year reserve guard Caleb Benenoch? Who now makes the team as the active reserve linemen? Typically, most NFL teams only keep 8 or 9 linemen on the active roster. After the starting five, a team usually has backups at center, guard and tackle. It helps to have versatile players who can play multiple positions as your reserves. The problem with former swing tackle/guard Pamphile starting at right tackle, it leaves Dotson as the backup tackle and recently re-signed Joe Hawley as the backup center, which neither of them are capable of playing any other positions. Now the Bucs would be faced with the decision of keeping a guard as their third reserve player which would either backup guard/center Evan Smith or whoever loses the battle for the starting job between Benenoch and Harrison. Either way, the Bucs would have to cut some pretty good linemen. Besides one of those guards, there’s also guard Michael Leidtke, centers James Stone and Josh Allen and tackles Leonard Wester, Korren Kirven and Cole Gardner. Not to mention any linemen that get invited to camp tryouts or signed during the second free agency period. Whatever happens, how the Bucs decide to choose their “best five” of this group will be the key to the offense. If they can gel together and just play decently, then this offense will be insane!
PREDICTION: Starters- LT D.Smith, LG Harrison, C Marpet, RG Sweezy, RT Dotson, Reserves- C Hawley, G/C E.Smith, T/G Pamphile and G/T Benenoch with T Wester going to practice squad
QB Jameis Winston is entering his third season as the Bucs franchise quarterback and has more than exceeded expectations. Besides the fact that he’s THE team leader, a team captain and an extremely mature 23-year-old, he’s also produced two of the most productive quarterback seasons in NFL history. He’s the ONLY player in history to throw for 4,000+ yards in each of his first two seasons. He was only 60 yards short of Andrew Luck’s all time record of 8,196 yards in his first two seasons. He ranks 4th in NFL history for touchdowns in his first two years with 50 behind Dan Marino’s 68, Derek Carr’s 53 and Peyton Manning’s and Russell Wilson’s 52, in addition to being the youngest player in history to reach 40 touchdowns. He also managed to break Josh Freeman’s franchise records for yards and touchdowns in a single season. He already ranks 7th among Buccaneers QB’s in career yards and touchdowns after just two seasons. And if he has the kind of year that I think he’ll have, he could end this season as the Bucs 4th all-time leading passer and 1st in passing touchdowns.
PREDICTION: Griffin wins the backup job, Winston- 65% comp, 4,500+ yds, 35+ tds, 2nd Pro Bowl
The running backs should benefit from the added speed to the Bucs passing game which will spread the defense out much more than last season. Doug Martin successfully completed rehab and is now back with the team looking better than ever according to general manager Jason Licht. Even though he’ll miss the first three weeks of the season finishing up his suspension, he’ll be back in Week 4 and will resume the lead back duties. Recently re-signed free agent Jacquizz Rodgers will likely handle the primary role in his absence along with third-down specialist Charles Sims and their 5th round pick from Boise State Jeremy McNichols. My first thoughts when McNichols was drafted was that Sims could be on his way out the door. However, what might make more sense is to send Peyton Barber to the practice squad while he’s still eligible and let Sims play out the final year of his contract. He’s only set to make $750K this season and if he can stay healthy (and that’s a big IF) he could be a good offensive weapon. Considering the injuries in the Bucs backfield last season, I could see them keeping 4 or possibly 5 backs on the active roster this season including an actual fullback in Austin Johnson.
PREDICTIONS: They keep Martin, Rodgers, Sims & McNichols, Martin- 1,200 ru yds & 10 tds in 13 games, rest of backs combine for 800 ru yds, 750 rec yds & 10 tds
The wide receiving corps went from slim to morbidly obese this offseason with the re-signing of exclusive rights free agents Adam Humphries and Freddie Martino, the additions of DeSean Jackson and Derel Walker in free agency and the pick of Chris Godwin in the 3rd round of the draft. I can see the Bucs keeping 6 wideouts on the active roster which would obviously include superstar Mike Evans, Jackson, Humphries and Godwin. The last two spots are going to be a battle between Walker, Martino, Josh Huff, Bernard “Speedy” Reedy, Donteea Dye, Thomas Sperbeck and BoBo Wilson and it should be a good one. My feeling is that Walker and Wilson win the battles and round out the group. Martino and Sperbeck end up on the practice squad.
PREDICTIONS: Evans- 1,500 yds & 10 td’s, Jackson- 1,000 yds & 5 td’s, rest of receivers combine for 1,200 yds & 5 td’s
The tight end group received a big shot in the arm this offseason with the pick of the best dual threat TE in the draft O.J. Howard in the first round and the signing of undrafted free agent Antony Auclair. The Bucs decided against re-signing Brandon Myers as expected but still have last year’s breakout star Cameron Brate and blocking backs Luke Stocker and Alan Cross. The addition of Howard will have a bigger effect on this offense than some fans realize and Auclair could be a diamond in the rough. If the Bucs decide not to keep a fullback, then Cross could end up as one of the four tight ends on the roster but will primarily be a blocking back and may even transition into more of a fullback role. Stocker is released in favor of the youth and athleticism of Auclair.
PREDICTION: Brate, Howard, Cross & Auclair combine for 750 yds & 15 td’s
The defensive line should be a force to be reckoned with this season. The coaching staff will have a difficult job in camp deciding which 10 or so players to keep out of a pretty solid group. Gerald McCoy, Chris Baker, Robert Ayers and Will Gholston will be the starters. Noah Spence and Jacquies Smith should be the backups at defensive end while Clinton McDonald and DaVonte Lambert should be the backups at defensive tackle. That leaves George Johnson, Channing Ward, Ryan Russell, Sealver Siliga and Bucs 7th round pick Stevie Tu’ikolovatu battling it out for the last two spots. Johnson is entering the final year of his contract which could give him some inspiration. Siliga and Tu’ikolovatu are similar players which will make for a good battle. I see Johnson and Tu’ikolovatu rounding out the d-line group with Ward going to the practice squad.
PREDICTIONS: McCoy & Ayers both finish with 10+ sacks, rest of the group combines for 25 sacks, team tops 50 sacks for first time in franchise history, most since the 2004 season (45)
The linebackers should feel like kids in a candy store with the new and improved d-line front and produce accordingly. Obviously Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David will be the starters along with either Devante Bond, their 6th round pick of 2016 or Kendall Beckwith, their 3rd rounder from this year. That leaves two possible spots as the Bucs are likely to keep six LB’s on the active roster. With six more LB’s currently on the roster, this should be an interesting position battle to watch in camp. I see last year’s reserves Adarius Glanton and Jeff Knox winning those last two spots with Cameron Lynch and Paul Magloire being sent to the practice squad meaning undrafted free agents Riley Bullough and Richie Brown are released.
PREDICTION: Beckwith wins the starting SAM LB role in camp, Alexander & David both finish with 100+ tackles & go to the Pro Bowl
With 10 cornerbacks currently on the roster, this could be another good position battle to watch in camp. Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves are the obvious starters with Jude Adjei-Barimah and Javien Elliott fighting for the nickel corner position. Ryan Smith and Josh Robinson will likely fill two more roles in the group. The question will be, do the Bucs keep more than six CB’s on the active roster? If they do decide to keep an extra CB, then Maurice Fleming, Cody Riggs, Greg Mabin and Jonathan Moxey would be in a fight to the death for that last spot. However, seeing as how the Bucs will most likely be keeping four safeties, I doubt that they keep a 7th corner. My guess is that one of the four end up on the practice squad while the other three are released and word is that Moxey impressed during rookie camp.
PREDICTION: Hargreaves breaks out snagging 7 int’s & making his first Pro Bowl, Elliott wins the nickel corner job, Bucs corners combine for 24 int’s
With only six safeties on the current roster and the Bucs most likely keeping four of them, the battle for this position doesn’t quite seem as competitive as the cornerbacks battle. The obvious choices to win those four spots are last year’s starters Chris Conte and Keith Tandy, recent free agent signing J.J. Wilcox and their 2nd round draft pick Justin Evans from Texas A&M. The odd men out will probably be undrafted free agent Alex Gray and 2016 undrafted free agent Isaiah Johnson, but one of them if not both could end up on the practice squad.
PREDICTION: Evans and Wilcox beat out Tandy and Conte for the starting jobs, group combines for 6 int’s, Bucs set franchise record for int’s with 34
Just for fun, let’s take a look at what the roster could potentially look like according to my predictions:
53-MAN ROSTER (starters in red)
QB– Jameis Winston, Ryan Griffin
RB– Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Jeremy McNichols
G/C– Jarvis Harrison, Ali Marpet, J.R. Sweezy, Joe Hawley, Evan Smith
OT– Donovan Smith, Demar Dotson, Kevin Pamphile
WR– Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Derel Walker, BoBo Wilson
TE– Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, Antony Auclair, Alan Cross
DE- Robert Ayers, Will Gholston, Noah Spence, Jacquies Smith, George Johnson
DT– Gerald McCoy, Chris Baker, Clinton McDonald, Davonte Lambert, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu
LB– Kwon Alexander, Lavonte David, Kendall Beckwith, Davonte Bond, Adarius Glanton, Jeff Knox
CB– Vernon Hargreaves, Brent Grimes, Javien Elliott, Jude Adjei-Barimah, Ryan Smith, Josh Robinson
S– Chris Conte, Keith Tandy, Justin Evans, J.J. Wilcox
ST– Nick Folk (kicker), Bryan Anger (punter), Garrison Sanborn (longsnapper)
10- MAN PRACTICE SQUAD
RB Peyton Barber DT Channing Ward
WR Freddie Martino CB Jonathan Moxey
WR Thomas Sperbeck LB Paul Magloire
OT Leonard Wester LB Cameron Lynch
CB Cody Riggs S Alex Gray
In my opinion, this is one of the most, if not the most complete roster I’ve seen in Tampa Bay. At least on paper. Now we just have to wait and see if it translates to the football field. With the new additions to both sides of the ball, the speed, the depth, the size, the playmaking ability…this should be an exciting team to watch. Last year, they were on the verge of the playoffs. After their free agency additions, they were a playoff contender. After their draft, they could be a Super Bowl contender. It’s pretty ballsy to say in the beginning of May, but I believe it. Barring another injury plague like last season, if this team lives up to their billing they will be tough to handle on defense and tough to stop on offense. They should be exactly what their head coach wants them to be…A BADASS FOOTBALL TEAM! Hard Knocks definitely picked a good year to follow our Buccaneers because this season should be fun to watch! Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!! #MissionSB52 #BadassBucs