Sure, the season started, but we haven’t finished out FY 2016 NFL team previews! Not a fan of the Bucs? Jump to Arizona; Atlanta; Baltimore; Buffalo; Carolina; Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Green Bay; Houston; Indianapolis; Jacksonville; Kansas City; Los Angeles; Miami; Minnesota; New England; New Orleans; New York Giants; New York Jets; Oakland; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; San Diego; San Francisco; Seattle.
Where They’re Coming From
Taking up residency in the basement of the south.
Last season marked the fifth-straight year the Bucs finished last in the NFC South, but their six wins matched their combined total from the previous two seasons. (High-five for improvement?)
Tampa Bay’s offense gained the fifth-most yards in the league (shocking, I know), but they couldn’t finish drives (20th in scoring), and turned the ball over far too often (28 times, 22nd in the league).
Defensively, they were pretty average, except for the secondary. Average wasn’t bad, all things considered, given that the D was consistently put in bad situations by the offense.
Where They’re Going
Hoping to get famous with Jameis.
Prior to ever taking an NFL snap, many believed Jameis Winston would turn out to be a bust. However, he showed a lot of promise in his rookie campaign, completing 58.3-percent of his passes, while throwing for 4,042 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions, good for an 84.2 passer rating.
If the Bucs want to shed their label as one of the NFL’s bottom-feeders, it will have to start with Winston becoming the leader this offense needs. He has no shortage of weapons to throw to (Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson) and a resurrected Doug Martin provides some balance. All eyes are on Winston in 2016.
Key Offseason Moves
Additions: CB Brent Grimes, DE Robert Ayers, CB Vernon Hargreaves (drafted)
Losses: G Logan Mankins (retired), RB Bobby Rainey, CB Mike Jenkins
What to Watch For
As mentioned, the Bucs’ secondary struggled last season, giving up 31 touchdowns through the air (25th) and only recording 11 interceptions (21st).
Thus far, Alterraun Verner has been a major disappointment, considering the contract Tampa Bay gave him – $25.75 million over four years. But Verner wasn’t the only one getting beat in the secondary; the Bucs couldn’t find a single corner they trusted to start.
In the offseason, Tampa signed free agent corner Brent Grimes, who will certainly be a starter this season, and they used their first-round draft pick on Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves, who is expected to push Verner for the other starting spot.
Thanks to the passing league we live in, most defenses frequently find themselves in the nickel, which means all three guys will see a good deal of playing time.
The additions of Grimes and Hargreaves should yield immediate improvements for the secondary. If the talent in the front-seven – Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, and Kwon Alexander – lives up to its All-Pro potential, Tampa’s defense will no longer be just mediocre.
Who to Watch For
Roberto Aguayo, K
I’ve already covered Winston, so I’ll move onto the next major headline surrounding the 2016 Bucs: second-round pick Roberto Aguayo. That’s right, you’re allowed to take a kicker in the second round of the draft.
Coming off an incredible college career, which saw him convert all 198 extra-points he attempted and 88.5-percent of his field goal tries, Aguayo’s introduction to the NFL did not go as expected. The rookie missed the first extra-point he attempted, and then shanked two field goal attempts in his second preseason game.
With an improved defense, and an offense that is ready to take the next step, the Bucs could find themselves in a lot of close games this season. If their kicker can’t shake the early misses and regain his confidence, Tampa Bay will wind up on the wrong end of those tight games.
What Could Go Wrong
Careless play with the football.
Winston has proven that he is susceptible to not only turning the ball over, but doing so in hilarious fashion. (To the viewers, not his coaches.) His 15 interceptions in 2015 were only three behind the league’s high of 18 (Blake Bortles), and Winston threw 74 fewer passes than Mr. Bortles.
On top of those interceptions, the Bucs’ quarterback also coughed the ball up three fumbles; he was only out -done in that category by running back Doug Martin, who lost four.
It doesn’t matter how talented their offense is; if they keep giving the ball away, they won’t get anywhere.
Where They’ll End Up
Bringing some respect back to the franchise.
The Bucs’ defense is easily the second-best in the division, and their offense isn’t the worst. They may not be ready to displace the Panthers atop the NFC South hierarchy, but a second-place finish is very attainable.
A playoff berth will be tough to come by. You figure Arizona or Seattle is locked into one Wild Card spot. That only leaves one berth up for grabs, and a very tough Minnesota defense may fend off all challengers. This may not be Tampa Bay’s coming out party, but their invitation is in the mail.