The Buccaneers once had a coach who won a Super Bowl (with them) in Jon Gruden. Two coaches and five years since his firing, the Bucs again have a coach who has experience with the big game.
That would be Lovie Smith, who has been to the Super Bowl twice in his coaching career, losing as the defensive coordinator of the Rams in 2001 and as head coach with the Bears in 2006. But Smith had ties to the Bucs as their linebackers coach from 1996 to 2000, when he left for that Rams job, so it's a homecoming of sorts for him.
The Bucs need a quarterback to come to their home. The team hasn't had a reliable signal-caller since ... Brad Johnson in 2001? Trent Dilfer in the 1990s? Vinny Testaverde in the late '80s?! Don't expect a franchise passer this year as veteran Josh McCown has been enlisted as the team's starter (assuming second-year passer Mike Glennon doesn't get ahead of him in training camp). McCown was outstanding with the Bears last season, completing 66.5 pct. of his passes at 8.17 yards per attempt, resulting in 1,829 yards and 13 touchdowns (not including a rushing score) with one lone interception and one lone fumble. It's the best he's ever played, and there is some trepidation is trusting a 35-year-old quarterback with a spotty track record, but he looked great last year handing off in between throwing it to two physical receivers. He'll be in the same exact spot with the Bucs this season.
That's right -- two physical receivers. The Buccaneers still have Vincent Jackson but drafted Mike Evans out of Texas A&M with their first-round pick. Evans is practically a clone of Jackson -- both are 6-foot-5 and north of 225 pounds with plenty of muscle. Playing opposite each other should make for some tough decisions for the defenses they will face, particularly since the Bucs are ripe with running backs and tight ends to cause havoc elsewhere on the field. Anything helps after Tampa Bay averaged 18.0 points per game.
It sets up for a dramatically improved offense for the Bucs, who will be coordinated by former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, who is making his NFL coaching debut.
For all the improvements the Bucs made offensively, it's the splashes they made defensively that could help the team the most. They signed pass rusher Michael Johnson away from the Bengals, and he should be a factor for a team that had just 35 sacks last season. They also added Alterraun Verner fresh off of the best year of his career and he'll end up replacing Darrelle Revis, who was released when his contract became too much for the organization to bear. Moreover, the Bucs didn't spend a single draft choice on the defensive side of the ball.
Pressure is already on Smith to improve a defense that ranked 18th against the run and 16th against the pass (with Revis). If he can work his magic, the team could be one of the league's biggest surprises in 2014.
Bounce-back season ... Doug Martin
How can't he? Martin began last season playing fairly decently (76.0 rush yards, 11.0 receiving yards per game) but couldn't find the end zone after Week 1 and then got hurt in Week 6.
It hurt Fantasy owners then but if you consider everything now, it's a blessing. Martin only took on 139 total touches in his second season and should be more than ready to handle a solid workload with the Bucs. He'll lose some reps, notably passing down plays, but it's the Bucs intention to run the ball a ton. Not only did Lovie Smith demand it when he was the head coach of the Bears but Tedford leaned heavily on running backs through his college career. For example, over the last three years of his tenure at Cal he gave his backs anywhere from 27.7 to 28.4 carries per game, and in two of those three seasons backs had nearly as many carries as his quarterbacks had pass attempts.
Expect plenty of work for Martin, even if he has to lose some touches, but he's not a lock as a first-round back (more on this later).
Late-round pick ... Charles Sims
Between stops at Houston and West Virginia, Charles Sims proved to be a dynamic running back capable of running inside and outside as well as catching passes out of the backfield.
Over four years in college (48 total games) he averaged 5.8 yards per carry, 10.4 yards per catch and 1.06 touchdowns per game. Maybe a heavy workload scared off some teams, but the Bucs have seemed enamored with him since he arrived, so much so that their plan for him has seemingly leaked. They have referred to his receiving skills a bunch and seem content with him beginning the year as the passing downs back. But Sims can also work between the tackles and could potentially take some work from Martin.
There is no doubt that Sims is a must-own if you take Martin with a Top 25 pick, but that's not a prerequisite for potential Sims owners. Anyone should consider taking a chance on Sims with a late-round pick (maybe around Round 10 in a standard or PPR league) since he does offer some significant potential. We already know the coaches like him plenty.
Rookie sensation ... Mike Evans
|Bobby Rainey||148 (137 car., 11 rec.)||20.8%|
|Doug Martin||139 (127 car., 12 rec.)||19.5%|
|Vincent Jackson||79 (78 rec., 1 car.)||11.1%|
|Brian Leonard||76 (47 car., 29 rec.)||10.7%|
|Mike James||70 (60 rec., 10 rec.)||9.8%|
|Timothy Wright||55 (54 rec., 1 car.)||7.7%|
Rookie wideouts tend to not make a huge impact in Fantasy, but Evans could be an exception. His unique size, speed and skill set combination makes him a contender to get a ton of targets, particularly in the red zone. That jibes with what he did in college, catching 147 passes for 2,427 yards and 17 touchdowns over 25 games.
Many will question his quarterback, but McCown was outstanding throwing to big receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago last season. Many will question the offense he's in and they'll have a point -- the Bucs aren't expected to lean on their passing attack. But no one will argue that the Bucs will often be in close games or playing from behind, and that should lead to work for Evans. We suspect he'll finish outside the Top 24 receivers in Fantasy, but not the Top 36.
If you're in a seasonal league, he's worth a mid-round pick. If you're in a dynasty/keeper league, he'll get taken a round sooner. But if you're in a rookie-only draft, he'll get taken with a Top 5 pick since he's likely to have staying power for the foreseeable future.
The first five weeks are rough on the Bucs. They kick off the year with three games in 11 days against two Top 5 run defenses from a season ago. The third game in their 11-day marathon start is the beginning of a three-game road trek against the Falcons, Steelers and Saints. Tough places to play. Another tough defense awaits in Week 6 before their bye in Week 7, then things lighten up. Maybe the Browns and Bengals are their two toughest opponents in their seven post-bye contests, which isn't bad. The Week 15 game at Carolina could be tricky, as could games at home against the Packers and Saints to round out the year. We could see Martin and the run game get off to a slow start until that Thursday night game vs. Atlanta in Week 3, then take off starting after the bye. Patience will be needed with Bucs players in Fantasy.
Training camp battles
Who's backing up Martin? When the Bucs drafted Charles Sims (and subsequently talked him up), it led to speculation that last year's backups were in jeopardy of losing a meaningful role on the roster. Mike James had 43 carries for 238 yards and six grabs for 33 yards in three starts before hurting his ankle. Bobby Rainey fared much better, totaling 324 yards and two scores on 99 carries over six starts, and that doesn't include a 30-carry, 163-yard, two-score game against the Falcons that he didn't start. A case can be made for each to work second behind Martin, so camp will determine who that player will be. It's possible one of them could be cut.
Who's the best tight end? There's an interesting three-way battle set to go down between veteran tight end Brandon Myers, second-year tight end Timothy Wright and rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Myers has evolved as a pass catcher but has always been a good blocker and has the most experience of the three, so odds are he'll end up seeing the most playing time. Wright is far and away a better receiver than blocker -- he was a wideout in college -- so he could see a lot of work in two-tight end sets. Seferian-Jenkins has potential to be a better receiver than Wright, but it will probably take an injury for him to see regular playing time. Training camp will be an interesting proving ground for these guys, though it might not mean a lot for Fantasy.
Who's the third receiver? The Bucs need to develop another wideout to work in passing sets with Jackson and Evans. The candidates are a cavalcade of disappointing and/or unknown receivers like Louis Murphy, Chris Owusu and Skye Dawson. One intriguing option could be Robert Herron, the team's seventh round pick from Wyoming. He looks the part of a slot receiver at 5-foot-9 and 193 pounds but comes into the NFL with a nice stat sheet from college (2,030 receiving yards in four years with a little less than half coming in his senior season). The other possibility is that the Bucs scrap using a third receiver regularly and put another big body on the field more often with a second tight end.
Does Mike Glennon have a glimmer of hope? When the only guy standing in front of you for the starting quarterback job is Josh McCown, you have a shot. But the Bucs paid a decent chunk of change for McCown this offseason and have made forward-looking statements that definitely favor McCown (like Smith saying "Yes, he is" when asked if McCown was his starter). Glennon wasn't bad last season, tossing 19 scores and only nine interceptions with 200.6 yards per game over 13 starts. It's unlikely he'll start in Week 1, but if McCown reverts to his previous form as a brutal starter then we'll see him.
Don't feel nervous about drafting Doug Martin, but don't do it with a first-round pick. Sure, it's great that he'll work in a run-heavy offense, and it's great that he's coming back from shoulder surgery at full strength after taking on 139 touches last year. But the opportunity to rack up a ton of carries and catches like he did as a rookie (23.0 per game) and as a second-year player (23.1 per game) seem unlikely. In turn, his production won't be as robust as you might think ... or maybe it will be what you think if you believe the 3.6 rushing average he had last season will be the norm.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has already gone on the record favoring a multi-back approach, a problem for Martin. Tedford knows it's hard for one back to handle a big rushing workload and he won't force it. That's why the Bucs drafted Charles Sims -- to ease that workload. Sims is seemingly set to work as the passing downs back, which isn't necessarily a great thing, since Tedford's recent track record suggests running backs get a decent portion of his team's receptions but never more than 19.5 percent and as low as 9.7 percent in 2011. But anything Sims does will take away from Martin.
This is not to say Martin will be a bust -- a 1,350-yard, eight-touchdown season is in play, even if he averages fewer touches per game. But that's a far cry from the 1,926-yard, 12-touchdown season he had in 2012. Keep expectations in check. Martin won't finish as a Top 10 running back in Fantasy this season.