Taking a Look Back at the 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offense

Published by All Things Bucs on

With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017 campaign behind them, let’s look back and see how well the Offense performed.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard moves to block New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower during an NFL game on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo)

Tight Ends

I want to start here with the tight ends because they were the best group on offense by far. If you look at the production of both starting tight ends, they snagged forty-six percent of all the passing touchdowns for the Buccaneers during the 2017-18 season. That’s nearly half.

Also consider that this team has one of the best wide receivers in the game in Mike Evans and one of the best deep threats in the game (still) in Desean Jackson. There are two sides to this argument with that kind of production from one group not named wide receivers.

This could be seen as a problem because these receivers aren’t getting more production due to chemistry issues, bad play, etc. One could say that the wide receivers massively under-achieved last season. For now, let’s just focus on the tight ends.

The Buccaneers just signed former Harvard standout Cameron Brate to a six-year, $40.8 million dollar contract extension to keep him in Tampa for the long-term. The Bucs run a two-TE set more than any other team in the league. With this type of extension the Bucs gave Brate, they envision him and O.J. Howard out-matching opposing defensive coordinators for a long time.

Once we got towards the end of the season, Buccaneers fans could see why the Bucs drafted O.J. Howard with the No. 19 overall pick in 2017.  Earlier in the season, Bucs fans were raving, screaming mad, and wondering why Howard wasn’t used more during games, especially in the red zone.

The classic line being used by fans last season, “If you’re not using Howard, then why draft him at No. 19?”. Another line was also heard all season long, “We could’ve had Dalvin Cook…”. Dirk Koetter must’ve heard the fans because he began utilizing Howard more and more.

Buccaneers fans could start envisioning what the young tight end could be molding into with good production over the middle of the field. You could see in the offensive play that Jameis Winston started trusting Howard.

Low and behold, Howard started seeing the ball more. He ended the year with 432 total yards and 6 touchdowns. That’s not a bad stat line at all for a guy who started the year slowly. From the tight end position, no less. Negatively, I believe O.J. and Brate had one bad game each, dropping passes in clutch moments.

2018 season outlook:

Overall, this group was THE marquee group for your 2017-18 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and should be a huge strength moving forward. Without actually predicting final stat lines for both Brate and Howard, I can see a reduction in overall touchdowns for one of them, while both seeing huge jumps in yardage. This will mainly be due to Dirk figuring out better ways to incorporate all of Jameis’ weapons into the game plan week after week.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receivers

Ughhhhhh! I get upset thinking about all the wasted potential of this group from last year. We all bought into the hype of exactly what this wide receiver group could do and they completely disappointed.

Mike Evans had too many drops in a lot of games last year. Desean Jackson was completely misused all season long, except for a few plays here and there. To me, the misuse of Jackson is mostly all on the shoulders of the ole’ ball coach Dirk Koetter. He has said as much and even low-key placed some on the blame on Jameis Winston.

Can’t say I disagree with that assessment. Sling it accurately Jameis and maybe we win some more games, huh? The Buccaneers paid Mike Evans handsomely this off-season. Not for his performance last season, but for what he has done overall and for the lights-out play still to come. This contract for Mike Evans was well deserved and if he continues this Hall of Fame trajectory-type play, his jersey will be mine in the next couple of years.

Adam Humphries was OK. There, I mentioned him. The real bright spot from this group and you all knew this was coming, was rookie sensation Chris Godwin.

Man, do I love me some Chris Godwin. We snagged, excuse me, stole Godwin in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. There was something special about his college play and he was every bit of that tough and gritty type of receiver last year for the Bucs. There wasn’t anything the kid did not do well.

He ran routes over the middle. Check. Made the tough, bang-bang catches and fought for the ball at its highest point. Check. Won the Buccaneers a damn game with a touchdown catch on a final second, nail-biting throw by Jameis Winston in the last play of the last game. Check. Over a division rival in the New Orleans Saints by the way.

2018 season outlook:

With next season looming, I can’t say that this group will have the biggest jump in production. More on that prediction later. Looking toward the trends of Mike Evans past seasons, when he has a “down” year, he comes back and destroys the next year. Blowing up the stat sheet week by week. Can you say All-Pro?

I can.

He just got paid and should be very hungry to live up to this massive deal. Speaking of hunger, I believe Desean Jackson is very eager to show he still has the X-factor and deep threat ability he wasn’t able to show last year. Godwin is going to Godwin.

He will be more incorporated into the game plan after what he showed last year. Especially because of what he did in weeks when Evans was suspended and Jackson was injured. I believe the wide receiver group as a whole will be extremely productive in the 2018 season.

Nov 26, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber (25) runs the ball for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in the third quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-US TODAY Sports

Running Backs

I can’t. I just can’t with this running back group. I just don’t know how the Bucs waited this long to address this position group with some much-needed umph! Doug Martin came back after his four game suspension and looked like he might be back to the old Douggernaut in the game against the Patriots.

Then, next week happened. Then the week after that and nothing for the rest of the season. Koetter kept trotting him out there like he was going to catch lightning in a bottle. He never did. For the second year in a row he averaged 2.9 yards per carry. That is just not going to get it done, folks.

When the better running backs on your team are Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers, you have a serious problem. Those last two guys I mentioned in Barber and Rodgers were just that. The best on the team. Barber and Rodgers both averaged 3.9 and 3.8 yards per carry respectively. Charles Sims is only good enough to be mentioned in this one sentence.

For this team to take it to the next level, it needs a game-changing, dynamic runner. The guys currently on the roster will not be the feature back. The 2017 NFL Draft was chalk full of those types of running backs and the rookie numbers they put up suggest as such.

Koetter and Licht miserably failed to select one and waited until round five to scrape the bottom of the barrel for Jeremy Mc-not on the roster by the end of training camp. Epic fail Bucs…EPIC!

OK.

Now that that’s out of my system we can get down to brass tax. The Buccaneers have another huge opportunity in this upcoming 2018 NFL Draft to choose a game-breaking running back. There are many many running backs that can change a team’s offense overnight.

Running backs like Saquon Barkley, Ronald Jones, Sony Michel, and Derrius Guice just to name a few. I fully expect that a running back will be added to this team in the 1st or 2nd round of the 2018 draft.

2018 season outlook:

Whomever the Buccaneers select to be their rookie running back should fare much better than the previous 2017 running back group. I really think that when all is said and done this running back group as a whole will be the most improved unit on the team.

Licht and Koetter do not have the luxury to mess around anymore. Every choice from here on out will be selected with the utmost importance. Simply stated…they can’t afford to miss. All of the top running backs in this year’s draft class slotted to be chosen are where the Bucs will be selecting ARE game-changers.

Running behind this retooled offensive line, with Jameis and his receivers undergoing another offseason of chemistry-building, this rookie will be set up for success. The main reason for being the most improved unit is that the rookie will not only be hungry to succeed, but you can’t get much worse than the running backs from last year. That is putting it mildly.

Photo from foxsports.com

Offensive Line

Well, well, well…someone’s got a pretty new makeover, huh?

Before we dive into the pretty new overhaul of the offensive line, we need to look back into the ugly duckling that was last year’s O-line. I will give George Warhop credit. He did the best with what he was given. Donovan Smith was mostly consistent in 2017 with the usual sprinkled in really bad Donovan Smith plays.

What went on with the left guard spot though? Koetter and Warhop couldn’t decide on a starter by the end of training camp, so you constantly switch out Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith? Seriously? That’s a bush league move, coach.

At least give these pros the decency to name a starter and run with it. How can you expect them to level up their play and get better and be consistent when you can’t on your own? Demar Dotson was probably the most consistent of all the offensive lineman. Dotson had one of his best seasons, in my opinion, last year. It was really sad to see him get hurt towards the end of last year.

J.R. Sweezy was a huge letdown and has been since he signed on the dotted line to become Tampa Bay’s starting left guard two years ago. I really liked Sweezy coming from Seattle because of his attitude. He was supposed to bring that with him, but I haven’t seen it yet. It’s probably somewhere in Bangladesh with some more of Sweezy’s lost luggage. He missed all of 2016 with a mysterious back injury, played some mediocre football during 2017 and then got injured and is still not cleared for football activities as we speak.

Add another check to the growing list of free agent misses by General Manager Jason Licht. I wholeheartedly believe that J.R. Sweezy has already played his last down for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Good riddance, guy.

Ali Marpet had some rough games as a center, especially in the early part of the season. I felt like he was just coming into his own as a center and then the injury bug bit him too. As a matter of fact, the injury bug bit a lot of this team throughout the 2017 campaign.

The offensive line was one of the main victims. At points during the season, the offensive line was missing as many as three starters. Ironically, after the starters were injured, the running game picked up and performed better than it had all season. I don’t put that on the offensive lineman though (*cough* Doug Martin *cough*).

2018 season outlook:

This offseason has brought some much-needed change back to the offensive line of your Buccaneers. The Glazer family showed the red carpet to free agent pick up Ryan Jensen, who will be your new starting center in 2018. Jensen showed up and showed out in his first full year as a starter for the Baltimore Ravens last year. His best football is definitely ahead of him as he is only 26 years old.

The better news from the Jensen signing is that Ali Marpet can move back to his natural and best position of right guard. Ali was throwing very large human beings around at that right guard spot like he was America’s best bouncer ten years running. Demar Dotson will be back after last year’s injury and should again be one of the most consistent lineman, protecting Jameis and steadying the right tackle position.

I also expect that Jason Licht is not done adding to this offensive line as a whole. As it stands right now, every position is accounted for except the left guard spot. As noted earlier, I don’t believe it will be manned by Mr. Operation J.R Sweezy. Instead, look for Jason Licht to add a starting guard in this upcoming draft as well. If Quenton Nelson is there at No. 7, he will be the Buccaneers’ first round draft choice.

If Nelson is not, I would look for Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn, or Utep’s Will Hernandez to start next year at the left guard spot for the Bucs. We also have depth returning with the signing of multi-faceted swing-man Evan Smith, and up and coming Caleb Benonoch.

Donovan Smith is another year older and wiser and has not missed a game in his career. That’s what I want out of my left tackle. With some super solid new pieces and stalwarts on this 2018 offensive line I see some huge upswings in passing and rushing yards for the offense. Gotta stay away from injuries, though. Which is never something anyone can ever predict.

After leaving FSU early, Jameis Winston became the top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Quarterback

Was Jameis hurt or not?

I believe that was the overall looming question for this group for the 2017 season. Jameis supposedly got hurt in the Arizona game, but many believe he was actually hurt in the Minnesota game. Taking the injury away for just a second, Jameis was very inconsistent in his play once again.

He couldn’t develop a great chemistry with Desean Jackson all year long, and as always, made some “Bad Jameis” throws we’ve become accustomed to. He just couldn’t quite get the team going or where they needed to be early on in the season. Had he come into the season sharp and ready, I think we’re looking at 2, 3, maybe even 4 more wins.

I am not one of those fans calling for Jameis’ head though. I will stand on the soapbox and shout that Jameis Winston is the best quarterback this franchise has ever seen. You heard (read) me right. Stop looking at the screen like that. The main reason Jameis’ injury is shrouded in mystery is because of the coaching staff not really addressing it until it was obvious.

This, because during these some of the games where he was or was not injured, Jameis was throwing precision-marked rockets! That Buffalo game was the perfect example before Adam Humphries cost the Bucs a game with that costly fumble. That was Jameis’ best game of the season in my eyes, a shame it had to end that way.

Jameis was also masterful on third downs throughout the entire season, which is a HUGE sign for a young quarterback looking to take the next step. I don’t know how many times last season I was biting my nails on third and whatever only to shout for joy at another first down.

It was great to see that leadership intangible come through in all those clutch situations from Jameis. That will bode well for next year. Hopefully an injury-free season from any team’s most important position. In relief of Jameis Winston during his injury, Ryan Fitzpatrick actually led the team to a 2-1 record.

Jameis Winston only had one more than his backup quarterback, and that’s not good. Those games could’ve easily been won by Jameis as well. I wouldn’t put as much stock into that nugget as others might. The Buccaneers saw enough of Fitzpatrick to re-sign him for another year, which is great. He provides a sense of stability at the backup quarterback position which is monumental to this team’s success going forward.

2018 season outlook:

This is probably the hardest outlook for a group to project. I think if Jameis has the season we all know he is capable of, then this team is in the playoffs. Hands down. I just don’t know or can’t guarantee that he WILL make that leap.

Yes, I know am supposed to be projecting his next season. I get it. That said, I do believe that Jameis has another off-season with the same weapons as before. Since he has come into the league he has seemed to learn from the mistakes of the previous season and became better in most aspects of his game.

Except those “Bad Jameis” throws that seem to be of the traveling type from year to year. Jameis has made it a personal mission this off-season to connect with Desean Jackson and that should strike fear in the hearts of any defensive coordinator. The chemistry with Mike Evans and Cameron Brate is always going to be there.

O.J. Howard will continue to be more of a focal point in this offense and so will the other rookie Chris Godwin. Jameis connected with all those guys very well with the one exception being Jackson. I believe he connects with all of them next year, mostly due to Koetter’s full understanding of how to properly use all his weapons.

The addition of a stud running back will be the ultimate reason for a pro-bowl Jameis Winston in the 2018 season. This offense will again become a dual-threat offense with the running game back in full form. If Jameis can lead his team to wins early in the season, say 4-2, than this will be a playoff team next year on his shoulders. The early games will be the indicator though.

Stay Tuned.

 

Shawn Sudler is a contributor for All Things Buccaneers. Follow him on Twitter and the All Things Buccaneers website for more of his work.

 


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