Five Questions Heading In To Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp
Now is the time of year when your fantasy football draft research should be ramping up, as every team’s camps start up over the next week or so. Not until training camp can we finally get a sense of how 53-man rosters and depth charts may turn out. Let’s take a look at five things to watch during Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp that will help with your upcoming drafts.
1. Will Jameis Winston Receive Sufficient Volume to Meet Expectations?
It is not hyperbole to state that the franchise’s success depends primarily on Jameis Winston’s continued development.
Through two seasons, Winston has posted a respectable 85.2 QB Rating. Though separated by 17 years, his numbers after 32 games even closely resemble those of a certain Hall of Fame quarterback …
From a fantasy perspective, Winston produced top 18 positional finishes in each of his first two years. But the expectation is that he will take a leap in year three. He is being drafted as the QB3 in dynasty and the QB10 in redraft.
We can reasonably expect that Winston’s efficiency will improve as he continues to develop. Volume is a question. Tampa Bay finished 16th in pass attempts for the 2016 season and pass volume decreased significantly after the first four games (44 attempts per game to 32). The team has ranked in the top ten in rush attempts each of Winston’s first two seasons.
How will the offense look with upgraded talent at WR and TE and with Winston a year older?
We do know that the team will attack vertically through the air. In 2016, Jameis Winston ranked just 12th in the NFL in passing yards but third in air yards. Mike Evans led the league in Air Yards and was second in yards per route run. He also led the league in deep pass targets (20+ yards downffield) with 39 such throws. Similarly, free agent acquisition DeSean Jackson led the league in deep receiving yards. Third round WR Chris Godwin led the Big Ten in deep receiving yards and first round TE O.J. Howard gained 23% of his 2016 receiving yards on go routes. Returning TE Cameron Brate was No. 5 in air yards among NFL TEs in 2016.
The theme is clear, but watch for volume and level of execution during camp.
2. Will Mike Evans Retain Elite WR1 Status With Legitimate Receivers Around Him?
Much has been made of the fact that Mike Evans led the NFL with 171 targets in 2016. His 30% target share was also first among WRs. He led the league in air yards but was 67th in yards after catch, 55th in yards per target (7.7) and 67th in catch rate (56.1%).
Evans is being drafted as a top five overall (No. 2 WR) dynasty asset and top ten (No. 4 WR) in redraft.
In 2016, Tampa Bay’s four leading pass catchers were Evans, the former first round pick, and three undrafted free agents. With legitimate weapons at other positions, will Evans either retain elite volume or improve his efficiency enough to justify his ADP?
The answer depends on the previously discussed offensive philosophy. During his Heisman winning college year, Jameis Winston distributed the ball so well that he supported three 1,000 yard receivers and fed 17th percentile SPARQ TE Nick O’Leary enough production to become an NFL draft pick.
Despite these questions, Evans remains the WR1 in one of the league’s emerging offenses. He is a crucial part of the young offensive core along with Winston, Godwin and Howard, all of whom are age 24 or younger.
3. Which, If Any, Tertiary Pass Catchers Hold Fantasy Value?
Mike Evans and Cameron Brate ranked among the top six at their positions in 2016. DeSean Jackson is still performing at a high level and is being taken as the WR36 in redraft. What is the extent to which the more athletic and pedigreed O.J. Howard hurts Brate’s fantasy value?
Only two rookie TEs (Jeremy Shockey ’02, John Carlson ’08) have eclipsed 600 receiving yards since 2002. However, Howard is regarded as the best rookie TE prospect in years. The Bucs may deploy a lot of two TE sets to get both Howard and Brate on the field. No other TE in the league ran a higher percentage of routes from the slot than Brate (64%) in 2016. Meanwhile, Howard is versatile enough to play in the slot or in line.
Chris Godwin should overtake Adam Humphries at some point in the season as the WR3. Though an intriguing dynasty prospect, Godwin’s redraft value this season is likely limited. My bet is on Brate to hold the third most value in the passing game based on the limited history of rookie TE success, the timeshare in which Godwin should find himself and the limited upside presented by Humphries.
4. Will the Offensive Line Outperform Expectations?
This month, Pro Football Focus ranked the Buccaneers offensive line as 30th best in the NFL going into 2017. The team did not address the unit with a single selection in the NFL Draft. Though TE O.J. Howard projects as a good blocker, his position serves merely as an extension of the offensive line.
Instead, the team is redeploying its OL talent. The plan is to move former second round pick Ali Marpet from RG to C and replace Marpet with 2016 free agent signing J.R. Sweezy, who missed the 2016 season due to a back injury after signing a five year, $32.5 million free agent deal.
Donovan Smith, Demar Dotson and Kevin Pamphile round out the starting five. The average age of the unit is 26.6 years, with three of the five under that mark.
Source: Pro Football Focus
This unit represents the biggest question mark facing the offense. Watch the preseason to learn how well Jameis Winston and the line get into the right protections, and how cohesively they communicate and prevent rushers from running free.
5. Who Will Emerge at Running Back?
27-year-old journeyman Jacquizz Rodgers performed adequately when placed into action in 2016, posting career highs in rushing attempts and yards as part of a 129-560-2 (4.3 Y/A) line. He played in ten games and made five starts filling in for Doug Martin. Rodgers will likely start the first three games while Martin completes his suspension for PED use.
Former UDFA Peyton Barber could earn snaps with a strong preseason. Though limited athletically, Barber currently sits next in line behind Rodgers. Many are optimistic that rookie Jeremy McNichols will emerge as the RB to own in the Bucs backfield. Exercise caution here, as McNichols missed all offseason OTAs and on-field work due to offseason shoulder surgery, and was just a fifth round draft pick. He has, however, been cleared medically for camp and has an appealing depth chart above him.
One time #ZeroRB darling Charles Sims underwhelmed during Martin’s absence, averaging just 2.9 yards per attempt. Despite seeing limited action in a third down role, Sims has had durability issues in his three seasons, missing 17 games due to three separate injuries.
The team raved about Doug Martin this offseason and easily could have parted ways with him. It appears that Martin will have the inside track to the RB1 role upon his return in Week 4. Whatever RB emerges as the starter during Martin’s suspension could be a sneaky value play. The Buccaneers play three below average rush defenses during that stretch in Miami, Chicago and Minnesota.
Do you see any other questions as more pressing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they enter training camp? Any thoughts regarding answers to these five? Any strong buys or fades for this offense in fantasy for 2017 or beyond? Let me know what you think on Twitter at @threedownhack.
Also, check out the TFA website for more training camp articles and content!