Photo via Andres Leiva/ Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans have grown used to disappointment. Every year Tampa Bay finishes with a losing record, the phrase “next year will be our year” is uttered. After a number of unsuccessful seasons, it’s beginning to lose its meaning.
However, and I say this with a certain amount of caution, this could be the Bucs’ year. Tampa Bay finally had a winning record last season. Fans were not disappointed they had a bad year, but that they narrowly missed out on the playoffs.
This could be the breakthrough year Tampa has waited so long for. The Super Bowl isn’t a realistic expectation (although anything can happen), but the new and improved roster indicates a bright future.
Wide Receiver Corps
The acquisition of former Washington Redskin wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who ranks as the no. 32 wide receiver in the NFL1000 rankings, will be an important asset for quarterback Jameis Winston. Jackson will provide a much-needed threat deep and speed to complement WR Mike Evans’s big frame.
Evans is a big target and a top 10 receiver in the NFL. Last season, he had 1,321 receiving yards and caught 12 touchdowns. With Jackson playing alongside him, there’s a good chance Evans will shatter those marks.
Evans won’t be the only beneficiary. Tight end Cameron Brate will be able to slip unnoticed through the defense because most of the focus will be on containing Jackson and Evans. Brate is a good red-zone target and with the aforementioned help, his numbers should improve.
We can’t assume their play will improve, thought, without a good a quarterback to throw them the ball.
QB Jameis Winston
While Winston had an impressive first two seasons, he’s just getting started. He has all the talent and hasn’t realized it yet.
Winston has one of the strongest arms in the league and can throw with pinpoint accuracy. He is inconsistent, though. There are stretches where he looks like an all-pro, and the next week he looks like a first-round bust.
If the former Seminole is able to get his mind right and grow between the ears, he has some great targets that could help him take the league by storm.
RB Doug Martin and Co.
The Bucs will need running back Doug Martin to return to his 2015 form. Before his hamstring injury, he was a pro bowl running back with immense patience, vision, and quickness to burst through the offensive line.
After the injury, his performance tailed off and he used PEDs. The NFL caught him and slapped him with a three-game suspension to start the 2017 season.
If Martin can use this offseason and the first three games of 2017 to get healthy, he could be a scary addition to the Buccaneer’s offense.
Running back Charles Sims could also be an important piece in the upcoming season. A great receiver out of the backfield who helps move the chains, he was a great asset to the Bucs in 2015. He’s often injured, though, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be healthy this year.
Offensive Guard Ali Marpet (84.5 PFF player grade) and offensive tackle Demar Dotson (80.3 PFF player grade) should be able to hold down the fort and keep teams away from Jameis.
Like most quarterbacks, Winston’s play suffers when he’s pressured. If those Dotson and Marpet keep him safe, Jameis could play like an all-pro.
Weaker than the offense, the defense still looks promising. Defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Chris Baker are the Bucs two best players on this side of the ball. Both had great campaigns in 2016; McCoy’s PFF rating was 85.2 and Baker’s was 82.2.
The d-line also boasts DE Robert Ayers who had 6.5 sacks last year and an 81.4 PFF grade.
Linebacker Lavonte David has been a consistent player on defense and has plenty of good football left. Inside linebacker Kwon Alexander has plenty to build on in his third season coming off an impressive 145 tackle season.
The Bucs have the potential to be a superb team, but their tough division (Drew Brees and the Saints, defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons and 2015 MVP QB Cam Newton) might make it difficult to improve on last year’s 9-7 record. It should only take a one game improvement for Tampa Bay to reach the postseason, though.
The Bucs have already shown they can beat good teams. Last season, they pulled out wins against the Seahawks and the Falcons. If the Bucs can hone their talent and transfer their youthful energy into impactful plays, they will win at-least 10 games. It’s been a decade since the Bucs secured a playoff spot; this may be the year the drought ends.