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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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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

2013 Touches Leaders
711 total touches
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%
All others 144 20.2%

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.

Schedule analysis

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.

Bold prediction

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.

Injury report

Mike James (ankle) probable for start of training camp. ... Dashon Goldson (foot) questionable for start of training camp. ... Carl Nicks (toe) questionable for start of training camp.

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Player News
Report: Patriots hoping to sign Darrelle Revis to long-term extension
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Patriots are reportedly looking to sign cornerback Darrelle Revis to a long-term extension, according Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

However, New England has not ruled out paying Revis the $20 million team option in 2015, Rapoport reports. The decision needs to be made by April 1, when a $12 million roster bonus kicks in for Revis.

Revis totaled 47 tackles in 16 games for the Patriots, grabbing two interceptions and forcing one fumble.


C.J. Spiller expecting 'March Madness' style free agency
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Bills running back C.J. Spiller is getting healthy again. Spiller, who has fully recovered from a shoulder injury, just ended the final season of his contract and is looking at his options for next season.

"Physically, I’m back to 100 percent, back to doing normal activities," Spiller told The Post and Courier on Friday. "As far as football, free agency will start in March, and I’ll get with my people next week and get a game plan together."

Spiller has played five seasons for the Bills, only playing two full years. He ran for 1,244 yards in 2012 with six touchdowns.

"I guess you could say it’ll be March Madness," Spiller said with a smile. "It’ll be a fun March."


Report: Rams among teams interested in trade for Eagles' Foles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Teams are beginning to show interest in Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, as reports are surfacing Philadelphia is unsure of what to do with the third-year quarterback, per NJ.com. A source said the Rams have interest in Foles should the Eagles choose to trade him this offseason. 

The Titans and Texans have also been mentioned as teams that would have interest in Foles, if he hits the trade market.

It's still unclear if the Eagles would be willing to move Foles. NJ.com reported last week the Eagles, who have the 20th pick in the NFL Draft, are considering making a run at Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the draft. 

"From No. 20, it's certainly not going to be easy,'' a source said. "It's probably going to take moving up twice to do it. There's going to be some wheeling and dealing involved.

"Can it happen? I don't know. But they're going to try."

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly recruited Mariota to Oregon and coached him for two years.

"Obviously, [with] my relationship with coach Kelly, it'd be a lot of fun to be a part of that offense and be a part of that team," Mariota said when asked about a potential reunion with Kelly.

Foles is 15-9 as a starter in the NFL, but he has yet to play a full season. He has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 6,753 yards, 46 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.


Colts' Luck on new contract: 'There's nothing there right now'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) An ESPN report surfaced last week stating the Colts were working on making quarterback Andrew Luck the highest-paid player in the NFL. When asked about the subject at the Pro Bowl, Luck seemed surprise when he heard the news.

"There's nothing there right now," Luck said, per The Indianapolis Star. "I didn't think about it all during the season and it's only been a few days since it ended. I haven't thought about it. I will have conversations with my agent just because you have to prepare, but I'm not sure where that report came from."

Luck has two years remaining on the $22 million deal he signed as a rookie in 2012. It includes a team option for 2016, which must be exercised later this year.

Luck just completed his third season in the NFL. He has been to the Pro Bowl every year he's been in the NFL. He's gone 11-5 in every season as an NFL starter. He threw for a career-best 40 touchdowns in 2014 and led Indianapolis to the AFC title game this season.


Seahawks' Sherman disappointed he won't receive gifts from Pro Bowl
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) In case you missed Sunday's Pro Bowl, Team Irvin knocked off Team Carter, 32-28, thanks to a second-half rally, which included touchdown catches by Emmanuel Sanders and Jimmy Graham.

While many Pro Bowl players that made the original roster were absent from the game due to injuries, Pro Bowl players from the Patriots and Seahawks also did not play due to preparations for next Sunday's Super Bowl.

One player who seemed upset about missing the Pro Bowl was Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. However, it was for a reason you probably wouldn't suspect.

“Only thing I’m disappointed in is they won’t give us our gifts from the Pro Bowl, which is kind of dumb,” Sherman said, per The Boston Globe. “The NFL is the only league that punishes the players who actually make the All-Star game by not giving them their gifts. It’s supposed to be watches and some other stuff, but we don’t get them so I couldn’t tell you.”


Patriots' Tom Brady on Deflategate: 'My feelings got hurt'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) If you have been out of the loop for the last week, then you might be unaware the Patriots have been under a lot of scrutiny since the AFC title game due to improperly inflated footballs used against the Colts. The media hoopla has transformed the controversy into what we know as Deflategate.

If you haven't been out of the loop, then you are well aware of the nonstop coverage it has received the last week and despite the Patriots pleas for it to go away, it just won't.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has had to deal with the backlash from Deflategate, and he found himself talking about the subject again Monday morning during an interview with WEEI.

“It’s all speculation,” Brady said. “I’ve tried to wrap my head around it, too. I’ve done that and I’m trying to move past that, because I continue to try to rehash things. I personalized a lot of things and thought this was all about me, and my feelings got hurt. Then I moved past it, because it’s not serving me. What’s serving me is try to prepare for the game ahead. I’ll deal with whatever happens later. I’ll have my opportunity to try to figure out what happened and figure out a theory like everyone else is trying to do. But this isn’t the time for that. Honestly, I’m not interested in trying to find out right now, because we have the biggest game of our season ahead.”

One topic Brady didn't have a problem addressing was the speculation coach Bill Belichick threw him under the bus during a press conference on Thursday. But Brady came to the defense of Belichick, who has won three Super Bowls as the Patriots coach.

“I’ve never once felt that we’re not on the same page,” Brady said. “He’s a great coach. He’s the only coach I’ve ever played for; he’s the only coach I’d ever want to play for. There’s a lot of people over the years that have criticized him, but I’d say there’s not one player who’s ever played for him who’s not had an unbelievable amount of respect for him and how he prepares and his diligence and his preparation."


Giants' Odell Beckham says he played with hamstring tears
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham said he played all season with two tears in his hamstrings, according to the New York Daily News.

Beckham took part in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, but admitted he's still not fully healed. Beckham said the injuries prevented him from getting to that "last gear that I wanted to have." He added that the injuries really bothered him against the Eagles and Colts. Beckham said he was "stumbling" and falling over during those games. He added that he's not sure whether he'll ever be 100 percent again.

The rookie had a tremendous season, hauling in 91 balls for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. 


Patriots' Tom Brady meeting with NFL after Super Bowl 49
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady doesn't expect to meet with the NFL until after Super Bowl XLIX, according to NFL.com.

The Patriots have been in the headlines all week due to Deflategate, and it appears the situation won't be resolved until after the season. "I believe they're going to do [a meeting] after the season," Brady said. "So we'll deal with it after this game. I think everybody is locked in, ready to go for the Super Bowl." Both Brady and coach Bill Belichick have held separate press conferences during the week to deny the team's involvement in deflating their footballs. 

The Patriots are subject to punishment from the NFL if the league finds any wrongdoing during the investigation. 


Earl Thomas on bad shoulder: 'I'll still play fearless'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who dislocated his shoulder in the NFC Championship Game, could remain limited in practice this week ahead of the Super Bowl, reports the Seattle Times. But he said he won't be thinking about the injury against the Patriots.

"When I come alive nothing is limited,’’ he said. “I’ll still play fearless, throw my body around, and let whatever happens, happens.’’

Thomas did allow that he might have to rely more on his teammates.

“My mindset is I have an opportunity to really trust my teammates,’’ he said. “This is the first game I’m going to have to trust them because of my injury. So I really, really, really trust my teammates, and that’s what I’m banking on, my teammates doing what they need to do and I need to come through myself.’’

It's unclear if Thomas will need offseason surgery.

The Seahawks are 1-point underdogs after opening as 2.5-point favorites.


Colts QB Matt Hasselbeck pondering retirement
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck told ESPN.com he's not sure if he'll retire or return for a 17th season. Hasselbeck, 39, appeared in four games this season and played well, posting a 102.6 passer rating.

He's set to hit unrestricted free agency.


 
 
 
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