The Outlook for NFL’s Tampa Bay Team is Bright
In January of 2014, new Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht was charged with rebuilding an organization that was coming off its fifth losing season in six years. In the three years prior to Licht’s arrival, the team had won a grand total of 15 games, and had dismissed two different head coaches.
Under Licht, the Buccaneers made it a primary focus to build and develop their football team through the NFL Draft, and supplement their picks with the right mix of veteran players that will help the football team both on the field, and in the locker room.
The former #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft enjoyed a magnificent rookie year, throwing for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns; he was 23 yards short of franchise pass yards record set by Josh Freeman in 2012. Winston became the youngest player in NFL history throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season, and was the first rookie quarterback in the history of the Buccaneers franchise to be selected to the Pro Bowl.
Winston might be in the midst of a bit of a “sophomore slump” early in the 2016 season, turning the football over 10 times in the first four games of the season. But, head coach Dirk Koetter was elevated from his previous post of offensive coordinator to his current head coaching position for that specific reason: to continue to develop the team’s most valuable and important asset in Winston.
The Buccaneers front office has continued to assemble a supporting cast on offense to help out the quarterback. In 2014, the team used its first round pick on wide receiver Mike Evans out of Texas A&M. Evans has been nothing short of spectacular in his first two seasons, recording back-to-back years with 1,000 yards receiving. So far this season, Evans is 8th in the NFL in receiving yards (360), and on pace for 1,460 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns over a 16 game span.
In 2014, the team also drafted Charles Sims, a dynamic dual-threat running back that’s the ideal complement to starting running back Doug Martin. Sims himself is on pace for over 1,000 combined rushing and receiving yards, along with eight combined touchdowns.
In the same 2015 draft class that brought Winston, the Buccaneers also drafted two players who quickly emerged as starters on the offensive line that keeps Winston upright: Donovan Smith, the team’s second round pick who emerged as the Buccaneers starting left tackle; and Ali Marpet, the team’s third round pick who emerged as the Buccaneers starting right guard.
After a heavier focus on offense in Licht’s first two drafts, the Buccaneers turned their attention to the defense in the 2016 NFL Draft, selecting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III with their first round pick, and edge rusher Noah Spence with their second round pick. Those two will join linebackers Kwon Alexander (also taken in the 2015 NFL Draft) and Lavonte David, along with stalwart defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, in forming the foundation of the rebuilt Buccaneers defense.
With the addition of free agent acquisitions like defensive end Robert Ayers (to further bolster the team’s pass rush), cornerback Brent Grimes (a former Pro Bowl player who starts opposite of Hargreaves), and linebacker Daryl Smith (a former First-Team All Pro), the Buccaneers are counting on those guys to help bring together all the young talent they’ve acquired through the draft, as Tampa plays the high-powered offenses of Carolina, New Orleans, and Atlanta in six of their 16 regular season games.
Licht’s job is clearly far from done, as Tampa Bay has only gone 7-29 under Licht’s watch and they are Number 31 in our power rankings. But, the foundation for the future of this Buccaneers team is clearly in place.