2016 cheat sheet: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
To get you ready for the 2016 NFL season, the PFF analysis crew is assembling team “cheat sheets” to catch you up on the latest changes, grades, and rankings of note involving your NFL team.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers move into the 2016 season with Dirk Koetter at the helm, leading an offense stacked with potential. The line remains a work in progress, but with Jameis Winston, Doug Martin, and Mike Evans at the skill positions, everything is possible. The defense is a different proposition, transitioning to a new scheme under Mike Smith. A foundation might be developing, though, with the arrival of rookies Noah Spence and Vernon Hargreaves III looking particularly impressive this preseason.
Three biggest things to know
1. Gerald McCoy faces make-or-break season.
Talent-wise, few interior defensive lineman shape up in comparison to McCoy. In the past four seasons, he has recorded 33 sacks, 43 hits, and 143 hurries—the record speaks for itself. Still, the 41 combined pressures he managed last season was a significant drop-off from the three years prior. His pass-rushing productivity fell from 9.4 to 7.6. McCoy also lacked discipline against the run, allowing himself to be widened at the point of attack frequently. A run-defense grade of 42.4 is pitiful for a player of McCoy’s caliber. Chances of a bounce-back season are high, but a quiet preseason hasn’t alleviated legitimate concerns.
2. Offseason additions key to pushing the pocket.
A shortage of edge rushers crippled the Bucs’ defensive efforts last season. Free-agent addition Robert Ayers and second-round rookie Noah Spence look capable of treating that specific ailment, however. The former took a while to get into his stride, but is now one of the league’s more underrated pass-rushers. In a way, Ayers is the perfect addition because of his consistency off the edge. With seven pressures from 48 preseason rushes, he looks ready to roll on Sunday. Noah Spence is more of a boom-or-bust type rusher. With that in mind, Ayers’ reliability should mesh well with Spence’s dynamism. He led the Bucs in pass-rush grade this preseason, generating six combined hurries. Prioritizing edge defenders appears to have paid off.
3. The offensive line remains a work in progress.
Even with the addition of J.R. Sweezy, the Buccaneers’ offensive line is a concern. Now Tampa Bay will be forced to begin the season without their splash signing, after he was placed on the PUP list with a back injury. Backup Josh Allen, an undrafted free agent in 2014, has taken the majority of snaps at left guard this preseason, and the results have been ugly. Donovan Smith, meanwhile, looks like an awkward NFL tackle at best. At worst, he might be a barely serviceable guard. Although only a rookie in 2015, Smith’s 37.1 overall grade was 71st amongst tackles. He’s rarely produced, dating back to his time at Penn State. Joe Hawley’s outlook is slightly more positive, but even he is coming off a season in which he ranked 29th with a 47.3 overall grade. Keeping Jameis Winston upright could prove to be a challenge for Tampa Bay this season.
Key arrivals and departures
Top three draft picks: CB Vernon Hargreaves III (Round 1, pick No. 11 overall, Florida), DE Noah Spence (Round 2, pick No. 39 overall, Eastern Kentucky), K Roberto Aguayo (Round 2, pick No. 59 overall, Florida State)
Signed in free agency: G J.R. Sweezy (Seahawks), DE Robert Ayers (Giants), CB Brent Grimes (Dolphins), LB Daryl Smith (Ravens), CB Josh Robinson (Vikings), P Bryan Anger (Jaguars)
Left via free agency: DT Henry Melton (UFA), LB Bruce Carter (Jets), CB Sterling Moore (Saints), CB Mike Jenkins (Cardinals), S Major Wright (UFA)
Retired: G Logan Mankins
Rookie to watch
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida (Round 1, pick No. 11 overall)
Thankfully, the Bucs drafted a pair of impact defenders before unfathomably selecting a kicker in the second round. Willingness to forgive such a move depends on the success of Hargreaves and Spence. Hargreaves was a slight risk after an indifferent final season in college, but looks well-suited to the NFL—at least in exhibition games, that is. In 83 snaps, he’s been targeted eight times, allowing just one catch for 2 yards. Hargreaves also has a pair of interceptions and a pass deflection. Replicating that sort of form in the regular season would dramatically change the fortunes of this Tampa Bay defense.
Highest-graded player last season
Doug Martin, RB, 84.8 overall grade
Three of the Bucs’ skill position players managed grades of at least 80.0 in 2015. Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, and Mike Evans are an imposing, physical trio of weapons to defend. A touch inconsistent to this point in his career, Martin was on fire a season ago. He led all backs (minimum 360 snaps) with an 83.6 rushing grade, averaging 3.1 yards after contact and registering 57 broken tackles. The aforementioned issues on the offensive line add pressure on Martin to rediscover his peak performance. Protecting him with just 10 preseason carries was probably a wise move.
Breakout player watch
Ali Marpet, RG
The offensive line in 2015 was not without positives; Ali Marpet is the sort of player Sweezy aspires to be. A small-school product out of FCS Hobart, Marpet bullied defenders up the gut last season. He is a road-grader who looks to exert his physical dominance on opposing linemen every time he steps onto the field. For a rookie, an 82.2 run-blocking grade is outstanding. Although Marpet struggled occasionally in pass protection, giving up 22 combined pressures, he allowed only five total knockdowns. At least the right side of the Bucs’ line should be strong, with Marpet and returning tackle Demar Dotson.
Nickel defense (2015 season grades shown)
Offense with three receivers (2015 season grades shown)