2018 NFL Season Preview- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In a year where the Buccaneers were expected to take the next step into the postseason, Tampa Bay took a big step backwards.
The Buccaneers endured two, five game losing streaks during the season as the team finished with a 5-11 record.
Quarterback Jameis Winston missed three games with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. The shoulder continued to affected him the three games he started after the injury. When the injury healed, he was completing nearly 70% of his passes with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. Turnovers are still an issue for Winston as he threw 11 interceptions and lost seven fumbles. Running back Doug Martin was suspended for a total of four games during the year and gained less than 500 yards rushing for the fourth time in his six seasons. Tight end Cameron Brate is a big red zone target and tied for the team lead with six touchdowns. Wide receiver Mike Evans joined Randy Moss and A.J. Green as only the third player to have 1,000 yards receiving in each of their first four seasons. Desean Jackson could never get on track with Winston, catching only 50 passes and setting career lows in yards per catch. The offensive line finished the year with three starters on injured reserve.
The Bucs had high hopes for defensive end Noah Spence, but he tore the labrum in his shoulder which ended his season after three games. Tampa Bay was last in the league with just 22 sacks. Outside of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the defensive line was disappointing. An injured Robert Ayers managed just two sacks on the year and Chris Baker was out of shape and didn't gel well with the team. The linebackers remain one of the strongest units of this team. Lavonte David had a Pro Bowl worthy season, forcing and recovering five fumbles. It kind of sad to think that a 34 year old Brent Grimes is the team's best cornerback. Vernon Hargreaves took a big step backwards and lost his starting job to Ryan Smith.
The Buccaneers have a big problem at kicker. The team cut Roberto Aguayo in training camp after he showed zero signs of improvement. Nick Folk was then brought in, but landed on injured reserve. Patrick Murray was ok but was lousy from beyond 50 yards and also struggled on kick offs.
Despite ranking dead last in total defense, the team had two Pro Bowlers in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Kwon Alexander. McCoy made his sixth straight Pro Bowl appearance and led the team with six sacks. Despite missing four games due to injury, Alexander finished with just under 100 tackles and set a career high with three interceptions.
The rookie class offers a lot of promise for the future. Tight end O.J. Howard exceeded all expectations and tied for the team lead with six touchdowns. Free safety Justin Evans emerged as the starter, displaying great range to finish with a team leading three interceptions. Wide receiver Chris Goodwin should value on special teams and could have a bigger role in the offense thanks to his performance in the final two games of the year. Linebacker Kendell Beckwith was a nice mid round steal who can play at all three linebacker spots.
Opponent Passing YPG
Opponent Rushing YPG
It was a big surprise to many that the Glazer family decided to keep head coach Dirk Koetter on after the 5-11 season. Maybe this would not have been the case if the team was successful in their pursuit of their former head coach Jon Gruden. Koetter also stated that he would retain defensive coordinator Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Although Monkey will no longer also coach the wide receivers.
On June 21, the NFL announced that it was planning to suspend Jameis Winston for the first three games of the 2018 season for allegedly groping a female Uber driver in 2016, with the number of games to be increased or decreased. On June 28, the official league statement cam out.
Notable Additions- DE Jason Pierre-Paul, K Chandler Catanzaro
Notable Departures- RB Doug Martin, DE Robert Ayers, DT Chris Baker, K Nick Folk, K Patrick Murray
O.J. Howard Rookie Highlights
2018 NFL Draft
Going into the draft, the Buccaneers had to make some serious upgrades to key positions. Primarily at running back, defensive end, and cornerback.
Peyton Barber is the only running back on the roster who averaged 4.0 yards per carry. The offense needs a good balance between the passing game and running attack.
Noah Spence most likely won't be 100% by the time the season starts and we don't know how Jason Pierre-Paul will work in the defense. They can't finish last in the league in sacks again.
Brent Grimes will be 35 when the season starts and Vernon Hargreaves has regressed. The pass rush needs to help the coverage and vice versa.
On draft day, the Buccaneers traded back to the 12th overall pick with Buffalo so that the Bills could draft Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. With the 12th pick, Tampa Bay ended up selecting Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea. Vea was viewed as the top run defending defensive tackle in this class, but his massive frame hinders his quickness and explosiveness.
The Bucs also notably drafted USC running Ronald Jones and Auburn cornerback Carlton Davis in the second round, and Pittsburgh safety Jordan Whitehead in the fourth. Jones was seen as the top outside runner in the draft, but lacks the power to drive through tackles. Davis has the long, athletic frame that NFL teams crave, but has moments of hesitation which leave him susceptible to giving up big plays. Whitehead was seen as the top man coverage safety in the draft, but lacks the ideal frame for the safety position.
Vita Vea Highlights
What To Expect
Considering the minimalist moves the team made in the offseason, I still think Tampa Bay will show improvement.
With a suspension to Jameis Winston confirmed, Ryan Fitzpatrick will likely be starting at least the first three games of the season. Fitzpatrick is a seasoned pro who is more than capable of managing the offense. Ronald Jones will likely be the feature back in the offense with Peyton Barber likely seeing a lot of playing time as well. On paper, the Buccaneers should have one of the most talented receiving corps in the league. Mike Evans and Chris Goodwin are the ideal outside receivers, Adam Humphries is a solid slot receiver, DeSean Jackson is the ultimate deep threat, and O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are both mismatches in the red zone. The one problem to solve is how to keep all of those guys happy. The big concern is still the offensive line. Ali Marpet was not a fit at center before his injury and J.R. Sweezy hasn't been the same since his back surgery.
The defensive line should definitely generate more than 22 sacks on the year. A healthy Noah Spence would help, but having two monster defensive tackles in Gerald McCoy and Vita Vea should open up a lot of opportunities for Spence and Jason Pierre-Paul. If Kwon Alexander can remain healthy, the linebackers should remain one of the top units in the league. The way I see it Carlton Davis will likely play opposite Brent Grimes as Vernon Hargreaves may be better suited playing in the nickel for another season or at least until Grimes retires.
Looking at the NFC South, in which every team expect the Buccaneers made the playoffs, its hard to envision seeing Tampa Bay supplanting one of them and crawling out of the basement of the division.
Best Record They Can Hope For: 7-9