Has the Bucs Depth Really Changed?
A lot has changed for the Buccaneers this year. Lots of talents from the 2018 season have moved on, but the team has some new acquisitions. How does it fare though? Are the Buccaneers in a better or worse position? Comparing the new coaching staff with the previous one, the franchise is for sure in a lot better spot. However, the depth this team has this season, isn’t looking very promising. Of course there are a lot of highly skilled players on the roster, but if one goes down, we’ll be looking at a huge tier gap. Let’s take a deeper dive position group by position group.
The team signed Blaine Gabbert to replace the media’s best friend Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Griffin is still here. Jameis Winston is the obvious starter and are in a really good position with him, financially. No long term deal, yet. We will have to wait and see how he performs under Arians before we jump to any conclusions on if he will get an extension. I would have liked to see the team draft a quarterback with a late-round pick, but I am not upset they didn’t. They did however, bring in UDFA Nick Fitzgerald out of Mississippi State. The rookie has been compared to Taysom Hill and if the offensive staff utilize him similarly, it will be great for Winston. Get the starter off the field for just a bit and let him gather himself and regain his composure if he becomes a little anxious. All in all, the quarterback depth didn’t get much worse. But if Winston goes down, this team will not be able to win games.
There’s a lot of position groups with question marks and this is the first. Peyton Barber has done nothing, but improve since coming in as an undrafted rookie. Barber still has yet to achieve the 1000 yard rusher milestone. In 2018, he had 871 yards on 234 attempts (3.7 yards per carry). Ronald Jones barely even saw the field last year so who knows what Tampa Bay has in him. A small but vocal part of the fan base have already given up on the sophomore, but he has all the physical attributes to have tremendous production for Arians offense. He has also packed on some size, rumored to weigh 220 lbs. Bucs also picked up Andre Ellington who hasn’t played since 2017 and signed UDFA Bruce Anderson out of NDSU. Ellington mostly hasn’t played due to injuries, but he is a good running back to have. Anderson has great straight line speed and caught a lot of passes out of the backfield at the college level, which is very popular for Arians to take advantage of (i.e. David Johnson). The team is in a better spot, but that’s not saying a lot. Outside looking in, this is one of the worst position groups for the team, if not the worst. There’s still potential, RoJo could very well have a break out year and Bruce Anderson could turn some heads. Barber could thrive and keep on improving. Do not be surprised if Jason Licht tries to make a play for Duke Johnson or Melvin Gordon, who has expressed his discomfort with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Outside of the duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, this receiving core took a big step back. Losing two key pieces, Desean Jackson and Adam Humphries. The next man up likely being the former UCF star Breshard Perriman. He’ll replace Desean’s speed threat and he did show a lot more with the Cleveland Browns than he did with the Ravens, but he still has a big question mark over his head, along with most of receivers on the roster. Justin Watson is returning after his rookie season, he didn’t do much but he could be some sort of impact. The Bucs drafted one receiver this year, Scotty Miller. Miller has great speed and it’ll be interesting to see how he will be used in Arians’ vertical offense. Those three will likely compete for the third receiver spot. Needless to say, if Evans or Godwin go down, the tier drop will be very significant and the offense will suffer. The other two notable names are Damarkus Lodge and Anthony Johnson. Two undrafted rookies who were projected to be drafted late. Both have already impressed, do not be surprised if one of them manage to sneak their way into the third receiver conversation and lead to one of the others listed above to be cut or sent to the practice squad.
Without a doubt the best position group on the team. OJ Howard who did nothing, but exceed all the expectations last season. In his second season, he turned into secretly one of the best tight ends in the NFL. And with Rob Gronkowski now retired, he could easily make his case into being the best tight end in the NFL if he improves and produces even more than before. Cameron Brate was probably signed to a bigger deal than many would have liked and it is kind of putting the Buccaneers in a hold, but he’s still a good tight end who excels in the redzone and a favorite target for Jameis Winston. Having these two will probably help that gap the wide receivers have, especially if the coaching staff find a way to use two tight end sets. In late May, the Buccaneers landed Jordan Leggett off of the waivers after the New York Jets released him. Several teams tried to claim the tight end, but the Bucs were able to snag him. He hasn’t played much, but he is very talented and expect him to play a role. And don’t forget Tampa Bay’s favorite canadian football player, Antony Auclair. The hard knocks star reeled in 7 catches last season, it’s unknown what more production he can do, but still, the depth here is amazing.
With the majority of the offensive line returning, we won’t see much different. It’ll very much be a wait and see approach. One can only hope the last couple seasons were due to lack of coaching. Aside from Ali Marpet, the offensive line is something to be concerned about. No one knows who the starting right guard will be, the team signed Earl Watford to a one year deal who has played for Arians in the past when he coached the Arizona Cardinals. So he is familiar with the scheme and what Arians will be asking. He will be competing with Alex Cappa, who was drafted last year and is still an incredibly raw talent. Keep an eye on Cappa, he now has a year under his belt and may have an Ali Marpet type of growth. Donovan Smith was signed to a big deal in the offseason. A lot of fans were very vocal on that deal. “Three year $41.25-million is too much for a guy who holds every play!” That’s the main argument and its not accurate in the slightest. He isn’t an all-pro tackle, but he is very much a starting caliber tackle and that is very hard to come by in the NFL nowadays. Ryan Jensen is also returning who didn’t have the production everybody would have liked, but very much like Smith, he’s starting caliber and the Buccaneers don’t have anyone to really compete with him. If one of the starters go down, this offensive line will not look good and Jameis will be fighting for his life. And the run game will look really bad.
Edge and Interior DL:
On to the defensive side of the ball, the pass rush has been subpar at best over the past few seasons. Jason Pierre-Paul was able to break the ten sack curse that has been lingering over the Buccaneers’ head for a decade. But with him unlikely to play a down in 2019, names like Carl Nassib and newly acquired edge rusher Shaquil Barrett are going to have to step up big time. Nassib had a breakout year last season, but where is he going to play? Is he going to be standing up on the edge or is he going to keep his hand in the dirt where he has shown success. Them two probably being the best edge defenders on the roster raises some huge question marks. As for Noah Spence, he has been nothing but a disappointment thus far into his career. Entering the NFL draft as a suspected 3-4 edge rusher, he will finally be able to play in that role so could we possibly see a breakout year for Spence? There’s just a bunch of red flags on the line. The interior is not looking much better either, William Gholston and rookie Anthony Nelson likely to be the starting defensive ends, that’s very concerning. And honestly, Vita Vea just may be the team’s best pass rusher this season. Now that is REALLY concerning. Vea is a good player and has potential to be great, but he’s not going to be Fletcher Cox. But him being able to push the pocket and make the quarterback uncomfortable will probably lead to more sacks for guys like Barrett and Nassib. The obvious strength for this unit will be at stopping the run. Which is huge in this division considering the running backs the team has to go against.
Drafting Devin White instantly made the linebackers the best unit on the defensive side of the ball. White will be teaming up with Lavonte David, who has done more than prove himself. Having two sideline to sideline caliber linebackers is huge, especially for teams like the Saints who just dink and dunk and use quick passes to get upfield. As for the depth behind them, it’s really deep. The Buccaneers picked up Deonne Bucannon in the offseason to a one year deal. Bucannon thrived in Arizona under Todd Bowles, when he was one of the most exciting players to watch. Now he is reunited and will have a nice role in the defense. Making the linebackers coverage ability one of the best in the NFL. Also, Kevin Minter is returning and he will be a force at stopping the run.
This room is very very young and unproven. Vernon Hargreaves III is the best cornerback on the roster when he is healthy. The problem is, he is almost never healthy. The good news however, the front office haven’t neglected the defensive backs like previous regimes. Drafting six in the past two years. The biggest issue with the defensive backs was lack of depth, relying on the rookie Carlton Davis and veteran Brent Grimes in 2018. Carlton Davis impressed last season and will likely only get better. Behind Davis and Hargreaves is Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean. Two rookies who are both pretty raw, but will be competing. The safeties seem to be a lot better than last year. No more Chris Conte, Justin Evans and Jordan Whitehead will probably be the starters. Mike Edwards who was acquired in the draft, but who knows if he’ll see much playing time. Especially with talks on MJ Stewart playing at safety this upcoming season. Buccaneers also scooped Kentrel Brice in free agency who played for the Packers last season. But he was not a fan favorite in Green Bay, as he was often lost in coverage and cost the team many points. The Buccaneers addressed the cornerbacks and safeties, but seemingly by throwing darts at a dart board. You have to respect it, though. It is much better than ignoring the problem. Hopefully, the pass rush can exceed a lot of expectations help out this secondary.
Basically, this team is loaded with a lot of question marks. That’s not saying they’ll be bad, the offense is going to put up a lot of points. The team has the potential to achieve a playoff berth, but it has the same potential to blunder down to a 5-11 season. It’s going to be a lot of wait and see if Bucco Bruce Arians can bring this team back to the glory days when the playoffs were almost a guarantee.