The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we remain in the NFC South and take a look at a Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2016 preview.
Here we will be discussing a team that is counting on some serious development from second-year quarterback Jameis Winston.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2016 Preview
Head coach: Dirk Koetter (1st season)
Key arrivals: OG J.R. Sweezy, DE Robert Ayers, CB Brent Grimes, LB Daryl Smith
Key departures: DT Tony McDaniel, CB Mike Jenkins, K Connor Barth, RB Bobby Rainey
1. Can Jameis Winston avoid the sophomore slump?
Coming into the league as the No. 1 overall pick out of Florida State, Winston exceeded expectations last year. He passed for 4,042 yards, rushed for another 213 and combined to score 28 touchdowns.
Tampa Bay also exceeded expectations by going 6-10, winning games against NFC South rivals the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons (twice).
But it’s never easy to replicate early success. Tampa Bay’s season hinges on Winston’s ability to do just that, if not improve upon his 2015 performance.
Early performances this preseason indicate there will be some bumps in the road. After looking sharp against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 of the preseason, Winston and the entire Bucs offense looked overmatched in Week 2 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Winston completed just three passes on 10 attempts, somewhat redeeming an interception with a tremendous touchdown pass to Mike Evans. The turnovers are already rearing their ugly heads. In addition to his interception against the Jags, Winston lost a fumble against the Eagles.
It’s going to be interesting to see if he can sharpen up his game this season or if the dreaded sophomore slump finds him.
2. Is Doug Martin good for another blockbuster campaign?
One of the reasons Tampa Bay won six games last year was because Martin showed up big time in the running game.
The man once known as Muscle Hamster was second only to the great Adrian Peterson in rushing yards, finishing the season with 1,402 yards and six touchdowns on the ground and another 271 yards and one touchdown through the air.
The Bucs appear set on making Charles Sims a bigger player in this season’s gameplan, however. This could be a good thing for the offense, and it could also benefit Martin, who has battled through injuries already in his young career.
If Martin and Sims can tag-team their way to a couple thousand yards on the ground (they came awfully close last year), they’d help Winston immensely and would keep defenses from attacking the young gunslinger.
3. Can the defense take the next step?
Tampa Bay gave up a lot of points last year, averaging 26.1 points allowed per game (No. 26 in the NFL).
Needless to say, Winston and the offense just can’t score enough points to balance the scales if the defense continues to allow teams to score at will.
The arrivals of veterans Brent Grimes and Robert Ayers should help immensely, as should the emergence of rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and rookie defensive end Noah Spence.
Of course, the defense is led by linchpin Gerald McCoy. One of the most disruptive defensive tackles in all of football when healthy, he’s racked up 26.5 sacks the past three years.
Perhaps with the additional veterans added, plus the infusion of new blood, Tampa Bay’s defense can finally start kicking butt and taking names.
Vernon Hargreaves, cornerback
Rookie cornerbacks don’t often wow from the get-go. As talented as many are physically, the mental aspect of the game, along with the speed at which it is played in the NFL, takes some getting used to.
Don’t tell that to Hargreaves, who appears destined for greatness. In two games, he’s already gotten his hands on three passes, two of which he intercepted.
— Gators 24/7 (@FLGatorNation_) August 21, 2016
The folks at Pro Football Focus have been particularly impressed with Hargreaves.
Defensively, rookie CB Vernon Hargreaves III stole the show for the Buccaneers. He was targeted just three times on 11 coverage snaps, and didn’t allow a catch. What’s more is that he intercepted two of those targets, on both of which he had to make a play on the ball. Hargreaves has yet to allow a catch this preseason, and has picked off or broken up three of his four targets. His overall grade is the highest among corners in the NFL through two preseason weeks.
If Hargreaves continues to play like this during the regular season, then Tampa Bay’s pass defense could emerge as one of the best in the league.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
The Bucs have assembled terrific young talent on both sides of the ball.
Winston, who has the two young running backs behind him, along with Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson on the perimeter, appears to have what it takes to emerge as a league superstar.
Defensively, the front line is stout, the linebacking corps is fast and the defensive backfield features some solid corners.
Provided the team minimizes mistakes and forces turnovers, there’s a real possibility Tampa Bay could win more than half its games this year.
REASON TO DOUBT
It still feels like the Bucs are a year or two away from contending.
In addition to the fact that youth prevails at key positions, the NFC South is still dominated by the Carolina Panthers. The Saints and Falcons are right behind them and feature veteran quarterbacks with proven track records.
Tampa Bay will be competitive this year, but we’re betting on more downs than ups for Winston and Co. in 2016.
Prediction: 7-9, fourth place in NFC South