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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Every year, a team comes out of nowhere to surprise the rest of the league and challenge for a playoff spot. In 2010, the Buccaneers were that team, led by a young quarterback, rookie starters at running back and wide receiver, and a young head coach.

No one expected the Bucs to be this good this soon, but now everyone expects them to keep it up.

It won't come easy. Josh Freeman piloted the Bucs to a 10-6 record thanks to his exceptional play and lack of turnovers (just six interceptions and three fumbles lost all year). Fantasy owners cashed in on Freeman because he was nearly an every-week cinch to land 230-plus passing yards and 20-plus rushing yards, and he only went touchdownless once all year with seven games with two-plus touchdowns.

But it was the help around him that made Freeman so good. The Bucs struck gold with Mike Williams, a fourth-round pick who fit into the starting lineup right away, and LeGarrette Blount, an undrafted free agent signed last September after the Titans cut him loose. Williams went on to record 11 touchdowns on 65 catches with 964 yards, and Blount romped for 1,007 yards on just 201 carries with six end-zone visits. Those guys not only made it easy for Freeman and the Bucs, but both were saviors to their Fantasy owners.

Now the secret is out on these guys, and the Bucs won't sneak up on anyone in 2011. A tougher division coupled with a schedule loaded with some challenges (including a "home" game in London) might make it harder on this offense to match last year's numbers. On the other side of the ball, the defense could have even more problems, which in turn would force Freeman to throw more (and Blount to run less), and thus potentially post more turnovers.

Or, the Bucs might surprise us all and make a Super Bowl run.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value
Quarterbacks
Josh Freeman
Running Backs
LeGarrette Blount
Kareem Huggins
Allen Bradford
Wide Receivers
Mike Williams
Arrelious Benn
Sammie Stroughter
Tight Ends
Kellen Winslow
Luke Stocker
Kickers/Defense
Connor Barth
Buccaneers DST

Sleeper ... Kellen Winslow, TE

All right, you know who Winslow is. But I bet you didn't know that he caught over 140 passes over his last two seasons with 10 touchdowns. I bet you didn't know that he led the Bucs in receptions both seasons, and I bet you wouldn't guess that he didn't miss a game over that time. That's right, the man most associated with injury risk among the tight end population has been as healthy as a horse (well, thanks to some offseason surgery). Here's why he's a sleeper: Fantasy owners will fall over themselves to grab the likes of Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Dallas Clark and Vernon Davis between Rounds 4 and 5. Winslow, who finished as Fantasy Football's seventh-best tight end in 2010, can be had much later -- at least Round 9 and potentially Round 12. By targeting him and other low-end No. 1 tight ends on Draft Day, you can load up at other positions and still expect a good amount of production. Winslow should be earmarked if you whiff on the elite tight ends.

Keeper-league target ... Luke Stocker, TE

Of course, Winslow can't do this forever. That's part of the reason why the Bucs picked up Stocker in the NFL draft. Naturally, they also had a need to improve at their backup tight end spot, and that's the role he'll fill for now. But Stocker has good hands and short- to mid-range receiving ability, so it's not a stretch at all to think he'll eventually be a solid contributor. And if Stocker has a solid training camp and lands some playing time, the Bucs could always flex Winslow out from the linemen and put Stocker there to exploit mismatches. He's not worth picking up in a standard league but he's not bad if we're talking long term.

Bounce-back candidate ... Arrelious Benn, WR

While Mike Williams thrilled Bucs fans and Fantasy owners alike, Tampa Bay's other rookie wideout -- the one they took with a second-round pick -- struggled to impress. And then once Arrelious Benn started to put it all together, he tore his left ACL in Week 16. Instead of spending his offseason improving his route running and overall game, he's rehabbing his knee. That said, all accounts are that he's on pace to get back on the field in August, but even if he's there chances are he won't be 100 percent healthy or 100 percent in tune with the Tampa Bay offense. The hunch here is to pass on Benn on Draft Day and consider him off waivers once he gets into the swing of things with Josh Freeman & Co.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
DET @MIN ATL IND @SF NO vCHI bye @NO HOU @GB @TEN CAR @JAC DAL @CAR @ATL

For starters, the Bucs have seven home games and nine road trips, assuming you include their "home" game in London against the Bears to be a roadie. That's never good. The Bucs also play a fair share of pass-happy teams for much of the season; that might mean the offense has to pass a lot to match up on the scoreboard, or it could mean that the offense becomes one-dimensional in its second halves and gets battered. A big key will be to see how the Bucs deal with star cornerback Aqib Talib, who got in some trouble this offseason -- if he's gone and their safeties aren't improved, the Bucs' secondary will be a liability. You might want to grab Buccaneers for the Fantasy postseason run, though -- they play the Panthers twice and Jaguars once between Weeks 13 and 16.

Training camp topics

2010 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
LeGarrette Blount 206
Cadillac Williams 171
Kellen Winslow 66
Mike Williams 65

As we said earlier, these Bucs won't sneak up on anyone in 2011. So in order for Freeman, Williams and Blount to put up the production we expect, they have to step up. That should be easiest for Blount, who was a brute force last year running behind one of the better young O-lines in football. If the line remains strong, he should be OK, though it remains to be seen who his primary backup will be. If you draft Blount, you'll want his backup in case he slows down during the season. But Freeman, and by association Williams, might be in for tough times. For Freeman to repeat his 25-touchdown, nine-turnover endeavor will take much skill and luck, and if he falters in any way then Williams' numbers will be impacted. Williams scored in 10 of 16 games last season -- that's going to be a tough task to achieve with defenses keying in on him. Then again, defenses knew he was the primary playmaker late last season and he still finished with four touchdowns in his last three games. If you draft Freeman and/or Williams, do it expecting a slight decline in stats this year but not enough of a decline to make them unappealing.

Tampa Bay's defense got a double dose of pass rush help on Draft Day with Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers joining the team via first- and second-round picks. The infusion of youth combined with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy playing from the inside should give the Bucs the good Cover-2 look they've been desperate for. But the secondary is in flux and they're expected to lose star linebacker Barrett Ruud, which could result in some pretty big complications against the pass.

Injury update

Arrelious Benn (knee; questionable for the start of training camp).

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at dmfantasyfootball@cbs.com .

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Player News
Report: Buccaneers bringing in Dan Connolly for a visit
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Former Patriots offensive guard Dan Connolly will visit the Buccaneers on Tuesday, per a report by Fox's Ross Jones, citing a source. 

Connolly has played in 87 games for the Patriots in the last seven years and hasn't played in fewer than 13 games in a season since 2008. 


Steelers RB DeAngelo WIlliams says signing was easy decision
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After playing his first nine seasons with the Panthers, running back DeAngelo Williams signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the Steelers this offseason. Among his many thoughts on the signing, he called it an easy decision, according to the Sporting News.

“I didn’t know they wanted me. I had never been on a visit before,” Williams said. “I was with the same organization for nine years. When I got the call and they said, 'hey we want to bring you in for a visit' I took it as that. Had they said we wanted to bring you in for a signing I would have had a different mindset. I had no idea what was going to transpire when I got here.”

Williams added that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the team to the next level.

“It’s the opportunity to take maybe one or two reps or whatever it takes to make this team better,” Williams said. “That is what I will do. I want to make it to a Super Bowl and win it. I know this team has that potential and they can do it.

“Coming here was an easy decision. This is a Super Bowl contending team. Every veteran out there, veteran or rookie, they want to go to the Super Bowl and win it and get the best opportunity. I think the best opportunity is here in Pittsburgh.”

Williams has rushed for 6,846 yards on 1,432 carries with 46 rushing touchdowns in his career.


Lions WR Golden Tate doesn't feel pressure due to loss of Suh
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Although Lions wide receiver Golden Tate feels the loss of Ndamukong Suh is a blow to the team, he doesn't believe it puts more pressure on the offense, reports ESPN. 

When asked specifically about the subject, Tate was clear about his thoughts.

"No, I don't think it adds any pressure," Tate said by phone Monday. "We just need to be who we are. We know that we have a lot of weapons all over the field. We just need to reach our potential each and every week.

"We just need to go out there and play fundamentally sound football and I have no doubt our defense is going to be really good again this year and we just got to do our jobs. There's no pressure on anyone but to be ourselves and to play good football."

Additionally, Tate recognizes that Suh was a game-changing player for the Lions, but he likes the addition of Haloti Ngata.

"Obviously, losing Suh is a big hit," Tate said. "I don't care what team you are, he's the guy that can change the game. Change an opposing offense's game plan. He affects the game so much. But with that being said, I'm thankful to have [had] the opportunity to play with him for a year and be a part of something special. But the show must go on.

"The guy we got, [Haloti] Ngata, is a heck of a player. I think it's a good pickup for us. I know he has a past with coach Caldwell so he knows the ins and outs of the system, probably. But we're ready to move forward. We can't live in the past and football season must still go on. We're preparing to have a great year and build from last year."

The 26-year-old stated that he plans on focusing on the intricacies of the offensive playbook heading into this season.

"One thing I really want to focus on is learning the playbook a little bit better," Tate said. "I felt like I knew it for the most part, but details, running the plays exactly how Joe Lombardi draws them up, could help us win more games and create more opportunities for myself and our team."

Tate finished his first season with the Lions catching 99 passes for 1,331 yards and four touchdowns.


Report: LB Rolando McClain ends Patriots' visit without contract
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After visiting the Patriots on Monday, linebacker Rolando McClain and the team did not agree to terms on a contract, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The same report states that the visit was a positive one.

McClain played in 13 games last season for the Cowboys, collecting 81 total tackles and one sack. Over his four-year career, the 25-year-old has accumulated 327 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 23 passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.


Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu looks forward to being healthy
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu believes that he is regaining his health and he's ready to make an impact this season, according to the team's website.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy,” Mathieu said Monday. “Last year I felt like I took a back seat. I played well my rookie year and then last year it was kind of, eh, I was there but I wasn’t there. This (year) is more important for me because I really want to let everyone know I’m back and I can still make some plays.”

Mathieu tore his ACL and LCL toward the end of the 2013 season. He recently said that the comeback was "way harder than I thought."

Head coach Bruce Arians talked about how Mathieu was not himself last season.

“You saw him fight through it last year,” Arians said. “He was not the player he was used to (being) and it was very frustrating for him.”

Mathieu was aware of the chatter from the outside world and he is using that as motivation going forward.

“You hear people talk and I had time to listen to them talk, so it’s like … I hear it,” Mathieu said. “Like I said, I didn’t feel like I made enough plays last year to help our team. I am looking forward to this year because I know I can do it.”

The 22-year-old has registered 106 total tackles, one sack, three interceptions and one forced fumble in 26 games played during his two-year career.


Saints plan to rework Jahri Evans, Cameron Jordan contracts
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Saints coach Sean Payton said that the team has a plan in place to rework guard Jahri Evans' contract to help create salary cap space, per ESPN's Mike Triplett

Evans is scheduled to make $6.8 million salary in 2015 and cost $11 million against the cap. 

The team might also extend defensive end Cameron Jordan's contract. Jordan is entering the last year of his contract and is scheduled to make $6.969 million this year.


Rams have agreed to terms with OL Tim Barnes
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) The Rams have agreed to terms with offensive lineman Tim Barnes, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The one-year deal has a maximum value of $1 million. 

Barnes recently visited had a visit with the Chiefs before signing with the Rams. The 26-year-old spent all three of his previous seasons with the Rams, starting four of the 45 games he appeared in.


Report: Brandon Tate visits Chiefs
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Free agent wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate visited the Chiefs on Monday, according to a report from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, citing a source.

Tate had 17 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown for the Bengals last year. He also had a combined 571 yards in kick and punt returns. 


Lions' Riley Reiff open to playing right tackle
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Lions coach Jim Caldwell said that Riley Reiff might start at right tackle next season. 

Reiff has started 32 games at left tackle over the last two seasons. The Lions aren't sure that last year's right tackle LaAdrian Waddle will be fully recovered from knee surgery, and backup tackle Cornelius Lucas is better on the left side. 

Reiff told the Daily Republic he doesn't care where he plays. 

 "I like playing, and wherever they want to put me, that's fine. I'll play," he said.


Broncos OL Michael Schofield looking to compete for starting job
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Broncos offensive lineman Michael Schofield is ready to come in and compete for a starting job this season, reports the Denver Post.

After not dressing for a single game as a rookie, Schofield added weight and he looks forward to fighting for a starting job.

"I am going in there with that mentality. In the NFL everybody is competing," Schofield said during a road trip to see family in Illinois. "They are looking for someone to step up and take over. I want to make that jump."

The third-round draft pick of the Broncos in 2014 struggled with weight issues, but he is now up to 305 pounds. He also recognized that his pass protection needs improvement.

"Personally, I felt there were reasons I wasn't out there (for games). I wasn't consistent enough in pass pro (protection). And my weight was really fluctuating," Schofield said.

Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak believes that the team's zone-blocking scheme can help Schofield elevate his game, and Schofield agrees.

"We like the Schofield kid, so we'll see. We think he's got some flexibility (in where he can play)," Kubiak said. "It will be very competitive."

"I feel like I am better suited for this," Schofield said. "You have to be able to reach block, and I feel the steps required fit me better."


 
 
 
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