Byron Dixon| Elite Insiders
Our last team preview takes us to Tampa Bay with number one overall pick who played at Florida State Jamies Winstion who looks to take Lovie Smith back to the playoffs. A franchise quarterback can fix a broken team. That’s exactly what the Buccaneers are hoping Jameis Winston can do for them. Winston was Tampa’s man all along; despite some strange, rogue reports, there was never any doubt that the front office was going to pick him.
While We Were Away: Winston has all the talent in the world, but the concern with him are some off-the-field issues. He has a long list of them, prompting former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden to say that Winston was an “embarrassment” to the university. Winston staying clean, especially in a party town like Tampa Bay, could be a challenge. The interceptions are a factor as well. Winston was careless with the football quite often this past season. Sure, he came up big in huge moments, but he didn’t exactly play elite competition for the most part. Things will be much different when he has to dissect NFL defenses rather than pedestrian ACC squads that barely know how to play football.
Having said all of that, Winston is undoubtedly an upgrade over both Josh McCown and Mike Glennon. Winston will also have some spectacular weapons to work with. This includes Mike Evans, who exploded onto the scene as a rookie. Evans quickly surpassed Vincent Jackson as the team’s No. 1 wideout, catching 68 balls for 1,051 yards and a whopping 12 touchdowns. Other Buccaneer receivers flashed early and went on to disappoint like Michael Clayton and Mike Williams, but Evans’ talent level is legitimate. Jackson, meanwhile, didn’t seem to try very hard at times, but still managed to accumulate 70 receptions for 1,002 yards. He scored just twice, but who could blame him for being so frustrated with his miserable quarterback situation? He’ll definitely be more motivated with Winston at the helm.
There are a couple of other second-year players who could be big factors in the offense. One is Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who managed just 21 receptions in 2014. However, Seferian-Jenkins was dealing with a lingering back injury that limited him to nine games. He should be much better in his sophomore campaign. Meanwhile, Charlie Sims disappointed greatly, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry and barely offering anything in the passing attack. It’s worth noting that Sims dealt with an ankle injury, so maybe he’ll perform on a higher level once he’s healthy.
Sims will battle Doug Martin for the starting running back job. Martin has inexplicably disintegrated since a dynamic rookie campaign, gaining just 3.7 yards per carry in 2014 after rushing for 1,454 yards back in 2012. Martin, however, is entering his contract season, and he could bounce back with a better offensive line and a quarterback whom defenses will actually respect.
2015 Season Outlook: The Buccaneers made sure to improve their offense this off-season by drafting a franchise quarterback and bolstering their offensive line. They’ll have to do as much work to their defense next season. They neglected this side of the ball, and they won’t be able to stop many offenses as a consequence.
Tampa Bay has just three players who can be defined as strong defensive starters on their roster. The best of the bunch is Gerald McCoy, who is one of the top linemen in the NFL. McCoy missed some action in 2014, and his absence was definitely noticeable; the team surrendered 33 points per game in the three contests he missed, and 23.8 otherwise. McCoy has been able to dominate the trenches in his career, and this past season was no different; he was solid in run support, but was at his best when asked to rush the passer. He notched 8.5 sacks last year, which is a high number for a player at his position.
Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, the rest of their defensive line isn’t any good. Michael Johnson was a colossal free-agent bust and is no longer on the team, and neither are other failed defensive ends like Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn. The starters at the position will be some combination of George Johnson, William Gholston and Jacquies Smith. Johnson, acquired from Detroit, has the most promise, as he looked good in limited playing time. Gholston is decent versus the run, but brings no sort of pass rush to the table. Smith does nothing well. Meanwhile, Akeem Spence and Clinton McDonald will join McCoy in a rotation at defensive tackle. McDonald had his moments – he has collected 10.5 sacks the past two seasons – but Spence, like Smith, doesn’t offer anything positive.
The second “strong starter” is linebacker Lavonte David, a 2012 second-rounder selection who has no weaknesses in his game. He leads a linebacking corps that is also comprised of Danny Lansanah and Bruce Carter. Lansanah had a decent 2014 campaign, but his ability to play all three downs is highly questionable. Carter, meanwhile, was signed this offseason. The former Cowboy made a huge mistake going to Tampa; he should have signed with a team running a 3-4 because he has never performed well in a 4-3 scheme.
Finally, the third “strong starter” is cornerback Alterraun Verner, who thrived with the Buccaneers after a stint on the Titans. Tampa’s defense would have been so much worse if it wasn’t for Verner; all of the other members of the secondary struggled, but Verner performed like a solid No. 1 corner. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, he did not help 2013 second-rounder Johnthan Banks improve his game. Banks has struggled throughout his NFL career and will have to be replaced with another poor season. There’s no one who can upgrade Banks right now, save perhaps for Sterling Moore. Another former Cowboy, Moore had some quality showings in 2014, so perhaps he can emerge as Tampa Bay’s No. 2 corner.
2015 Record: 9-7
The Buccaneers hit rock bottom in 2014, but that may have been a blessing in disguise because it allowed them to draft Jameis Winston. If Winston lives up to expectations, Tampa could be back in the playoff mix by next season. However, the concerns with Winston are real, so it’s no guarantee that the Buccaneers will be able to turn things around.