NFC South Preview: What to Make of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?


The NFC South has seen a tremendous turnover in players, coaches, and front office staffs this offseason.  Every team is filled with new faces, but none may be higher-profile than the first overall draft pick now representing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise.  Jameis Winston is just one of many new players in head coach Lovie Smith’s locker room.  Will his arrival and a second year in Smith’s signature defensive scheme be enough to overhaul a team that hasn’t won more than seven games in a season since 2010?

Offensive Additions:  The selection of Jameis Winston is the most significant offensive addition in the division in years.  He offers the lowly Buccaneers a legit option to be the face of their franchise.  It’s impossible to say how his career will go:  he could flame out like Josh Freeman, find a successful niche like Matt Ryan, or maybe hit somewhere in-between as a middling starter that his team will struggle to upgrade from, like Cam Newton.

This was another offense-heavy draft for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as the team brought on a number of rookies expected to see big snap counts this year.  The highlights of the class are offensive tackle Donovan Smith (from Penn State) and guard Ali Marpet (Hobart, a Division III school).  One of my favorite wideouts in the class, Kenny Bell (Nebraska), was selected as a late-round choice by Tampa Bay.  All three rookies should make an impact with both linemen starting and Bell continuing to push for the slot receiver job.

Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

In spite of those moves, the Buccaneers have looked like one of poorer offensive lines in football.  Quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Mike Glennon have been among the most-frequently pressured in football, while the running backs have combined for an average of 0.98 yards gained before contact through the preseason.  For perspective, the Saints gained 2.02 yards before contact last year.  Winston is a young quarterback who isn’t afraid of taking shots downfield into dangerous situations, so he’s prone to making turnovers.  Combine that with poor blocking in front of him and you get a rough situation.

One bonus for the Buccaneers is the addition of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who accomplished a serviceable offense in Atlanta for several years in spite of poor personnel along the offensive line and at tight end and running back.  He is inheriting an arguably better group of players to work with in Tampa Bay.

Defensive Additions:  Tampa Bay only made one significant draft pick on defense, but it could be huge.  LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander was brought in to compete for the starting job at middle linebacker with Bruce Carter, a free agent signee from Dallas.  Alexander has drawn comparisons to Seattle’s Kam Chancellor and has reportedly won the competition with Carter already, per ESPN Staff Writer Pat Yasinkas.  Alexander is a hard-hitting and athletic linebacker who should pair very well with the team’s weakside linebacker, Lavonte David, who is himself very underrated.

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The area the Buccaneers most improved on defense is the defensive line.  Defensive end Michael Johnson, a free agent flop, was released and returned to Cincinnati.  The team added several free agents to the defensive line including Clinton McDonald (Seattle), George Johnson (Detroit), and Henry Melton (Dallas), all of whom have strong resumes and should be effective in the rotation alongside the often-overlooked Gerald McCoy.

On the back end of the unit, Tampa Bay picked up D.J. Swearinger from Houston, Sterling Moore, and Chris Conte.  Swearinger is an aggressive, rangy defender who should challenge Major Wright for the starting job at strong safety.  Moore was a mediocre cornerback in Dallas who should only be there for depth.  Conte was an often-injured starter at free safety in Chicago who was frequently picked on in coverage, but may be the best option the Buccaneers have at the position.

Important Losses:  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t really lost any personnel this offseason.  If anything they’ve cut ties and moved on with several veterans like quarterback Josh McCown, free safety Donte Whitner, and defensive end Michael Johnson.  Other than that, the team is largely intact except for a handful of veteran and rookie additions.

What it means for the New Orleans Saints:  The minimal gains made by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (the addition of Koetter and Winston notwithstanding) should not be enough to make them a threat to the Saints moving forward.  The Saints have not lost to the Bucs since October 2011 and they are built to capitalize on the flaws of this Tampa Bay team like its bad offensive line and antiquated defensive scheme.  The Saints specialize in attacking horizontally which will play havoc in the soft zone coverage used by Smith’s defenses.  It’s possible that a rejuvenated defensive line and a new quarterback could be enough for the Buccaneers to win one or both division matches with the Saints, but they should not be in the conversation about competing for the NFC South title.

Projected Win/Loss Record:  5-11 (.312), fourth in the division.  Las Vegas’ betting lines currently have the Buccaneers set to win 6 games in 2015, which sounds about accurate.  I like what the Buccaneers have done through the draft and on stocking up their defensive line, but I don’t have any faith in Lovie Smith or his defensive scheme.  NFL offenses had no trouble running wild on it last year and the flaws are more in the system than the personnel.  Until he either abandons the Tampa-2 or the team finds a new head coach who will, I’m not convinced that this team will get anywhere close to winning eight games in 2015.

Did you like this article?  What are some things you want to see that I didn’t talk about?  What kinds of Saints-related content do you want to see from me in the future?  Drop me a line on Twitter for updates and notes about all things New Orleans Saints football.

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