For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2011 was simply a massive disappointment. We thought they had clearly punched above their weight in 2010 as they made a push for a playoff spot and those thoughts were confirmed in a season full of poor performances and bad coaching that led to Head Coach Raheem Morris’ firing.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was quarterback Josh Freeman (-18.9), who dropped from being our 13th-rated QB in 2010 all the way down to 33rd this season. So how will the Buccaneers get back to winning ways? Just what pieces will they add around Freeman? We take a look and the three areas that need the most improvement.
Primary Need: Linebacker
They may have invested money at the linebacker spots, but the overall lack of quality speaks volumes here, with Geno Hayes (-11.9) being the highest-graded starting linebacker on the roster. Hayes, Quincy Black (-20.9) and Mason Foster (-20.7) combined to miss 35 tackles on the year, and that’s simply not good enough. With Adam Hayward (-2.7) adding four missed tackles as a backup, there doesn’t look to be anyone on the roster ready to step up and replace them either.
What this team needs is a linebacker who can make the tackle and stop opposing players from gaining extra yards. Luckily for them, there’s a player out there who could be a great fit. Erin Henderson (+21.7) was our third-highest graded outside linebacker against the run last season and missed just five tackles. Even more impressive was that 38 of his 69 total tackles were for defensive stops and he led all 4-3 outside linebackers with a run stop percentage of 11.6. Getting Henderson to Tampa Bay would be the first step in fixing a linebacker corps that just didn’t make the tackles they needed to make.
Secondary Need: Cornerback
Even if Ronde Barber (-20.2) is back in a Buccaneers uniform this September, it’s time to upgrade the position. The dropoff in performance from Barber between 2010, where he had a grade of +13.2, and this past season was huge. He struggled across the board, missing 22 tackles and registering just two total pressures on 41 pass rushes. In coverage, he may have allowed just three touchdowns, but he also gave up an average of 12.7 yards per reception while allowing catches on 64.8% of the passes thrown into his coverage.
So to replace Barber, Tampa Bay needs a corner who can cover in the slot, as well as outside, and someone who is a sure tackler. Step up Cortland Finnegan (+15.8). Our third-rated corner in 2011, Finnegan is very much the type of player Barber used to be. Finnegan was second among all CB’s against the run and missed just eight tackles all year. He allowed just 8.8 yards per reception while allowing two touchdowns and snagging an interception. However, it’s his performance in the slot that makes him the perfect fit in Tampa Bay. Allowing just 0.72 yards per coverage snap, Finnegan led all corners in that area.
Tertiary Need: Wide Receiver
The Buccaneers have invested draft picks on wide receivers recently but there’s still room for improvement and Freeman could really use another dependable target. Mike Williams’ (-9.5) 2011 didn’t live up to the lofty expectations from his impressive rookie campaign and none of Arrellious Benn (-6.5), Preston Parker (-2.1) and Dezmon Briscoe (-3.8) have shown that they can be a No. 1 receiver. The team is also deeply lacking a speed threat at the position which would open up the run game as well.
In a crowded free agent class, Brandon Lloyd (+10.4) probably won’t get the attention he deserves. Our highest rated WR in 2010, Lloyd continued to impress in 2011, albeit on a smaller scale, despite a midseason trade to St Louis. After dropping just eight passes from 144 targets and providing us with two highlight reel catches this season, Lloyd would instantly upgrade the Tampa Bay receiving corps and give Josh Freeman an experienced target he could rely on in clutch moments.