This offseason we’ll take a look at all 32 NFL teams’ most pressing needs heading into the 2018-19 season. Next up is last year’s lovable yet disappointing Hard Knocks crew: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Jameis Winston‘s 3-10 record under center wasn’t exactly what the team hoped for in his third season as a starter, but Winston did post career-high marks in completion rate, adjusted yards per attempt, and quarterback rating.The Buccaneers were a trendy dark horse pick in the NFC South last season but ultimately finished 5-11. If there was a silver lining, seven of their losses were by no more than one score, and their estimated record (based on points scored and allowed) of 6.8-9.2 indicates that the Bucs were fairly unlucky.
Perhaps this idea that last season’s team was unlucky inclined the front office to run it back with essentially the entire coaching staff. The same can’t be said for the roster, as general manager Jason Licht has already released both ex-franchise back Doug Martin and run-stuffing tackle Chris Baker. The Bucs also face the prospect of losing contributors in the secondary and on the offensive line to free agency. They have seven draft picks and the fifth-most cap space in the league to work with, but Winston, Mike Evans, and Kwon Alexander will all be due for contract extensions after this season.
Need No. 1: Cornerback
The Buccaneers’ ninth-ranked pass offense in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) was the team’s strength, while the 32nd- and 31st-ranked defense in overall and pass DVOA, respectively, was undoubtedly the kryptonite. Each of the four top corners are 5’11” or shorter and allowed at least 1.08 yards per cover snap, a mark 53 other defensive backs managed to best. Brent Grimes is back, but Robert McClain is a free agents. Vernon Hargreaves and Ryan Smith were each graded outside of Pro Football Focus’ 75 top cornerbacks in 2017. Overall, the Bucs ranked among the league’s bottom-five defenses in yards per attempt, passes of 20-plus yards, and yards per game.
Hargreaves and Smith are the only corners the team has drafted since 2014. Grimes will be 35 years old by September and wasn’t deserving of his top-20 contract in 2017. The league’s single-worst defense in DraftKings points allowed to wide receivers is in dire need of talent at both slot and outside corner, especially in a division with two former league MVPs plus Drew Brees under center. A shift in philosophy to taller cornerbacks wouldn’t hurt against the likes of Julio Jones (6’3″), Michael Thomas (6’3″), and Devin Funchess (6’4″).
Telling Stat: The Buccaneers allowed two of last season’s seven 40-plus point wide receiver performances. They joined the Texans as the only defenses to allow multiple receivers to eclipse 150 yards and score two touchdowns in a game.
Need No. 2: Defensive End
Robert Ayers earned PFF’s No. 10 overall grade among edge defenders last season, but his production is hardly guaranteed moving forward given that he’ll be 33 years old in September and hasn’t played more than 12 games in a season since 2013. Former second-round pick Noah Spence has the build and first step of a difference maker off the edge, but he’s suffered four shoulder dislocations and two torn labrums since entering the league in 2016. The rest of the position is a giant question mark, as PFF didn’t have another Bucs defensive end graded among the top 80 linemen at the position. The Bucs again proved to be incapable of dealing with the loss of either of their stud linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander:
- Bucs w/ David and Alexander, 2015-17 (39 games): 19-20, 23.4 points allowed, 355.8 total yards, 248.1 pass yards, 107.7 rush yards
- Bucs w/o David or Alexander, 2015-2017 (9 games): 1-8, 28.6 points allowed, 390.8 total yards, 261.9 pass yards, 128.9 rush yards
The overhaul has already begun with the release of defensive line coach Jay Hayes, but the unit still needs additional depth and talent. It’d behoove the team to upgrade through the draft, as the Bucs have spent a total of two draft picks on the defensive line since 2014. The front seven is talented with the likes of Gerald McCoy, David, and Alexander, but the ceiling of the defense can only be so high without a consistent pass rush.
Telling Stat: The Buccaneers’ league-worst defense in adjusted sack rate produced just 22 sacks in 2017, and zero of their defensive ends totaled more than 2.5.
Need No. 3: Running Back
Martin was released despite being one of just four running backs with multiple seasons of 1,400-plus rushing yards since 2010, and scat back Charles Sims is a free agent. This leaves Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber as the team’s top backs, so it the position will likely be addressed in either free agency or the draft. Barber seems to have the best bet of taking control of the position, as the 5’10” and 228-pound bowling ball was fed 12-plus carries in each of the Bucs’ final five games last season and flashed three-down ability by catching 16 of his 19 targets.
Still, only Mike Gillislee and Martin forced fewer missed tackles than Barber among the 47 backs to have at least 100 carries in 2017. Overall, the Bucs finished the season as one of just three teams to average at least 0.5 fewer yards per rush than they had adjusted line yards per rush, and accordingly they ranked 31st in both second-level and open-field yards per rush. Meaning: The Buccaneers running backs rarely showed the ability to create yards on their own. At the very least, adding a third-down back with an ability to create explosive plays to replace Sims will be vital.
Telling Stat: The Buccaneers are one of three teams to average fewer than 3.65 yards per rush over the last two seasons. Martin, Barber, and Rodgers weren’t among the 35 backs last season to average at least four yards per carry (min. 50 carries).
- Safety: Backups T.J. Ward and Keith Tandy could both be lost to free agency, while incumbent starters Chris Conte and Justin Evans deserve plenty of blame for leading the team’s bottom-12 unit in pass DVOA vs. tight ends and running backs. Evans was a second-round rookie and will have every chance to progress, but the defense could probably do better than Conte, given his status as one of just 10 safeties to miss eight-plus tackles last season.
- Interior Offensive Line: The Buccaneers will need a new left guard if Kevin Pamphile takes his talents elsewhere, and depth is an issue with Evan Smith‘s potential departure as well. There are certainly more glaring holes to fill than PFF’s 10th-best offensive line in pass-blocking efficiency, but the head coach Dirk Koetter‘s offensive system requires plenty of time for Winston to throw. Overall, Winston is the league’s only quarterback with a double-digit target depth over each of the past two seasons. The Bucs signed former Ravens center Ryan Jensen, who was PFF’s No. 9 overall center last season.
Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
Our mock draft has the Bucs selecting defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick with the No. 7 pick. Check out Fitzpatrick’s player profile and be sure to conduct offseason research yourself with our NFL tools!
Photo via Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports