2016 was an important year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise. Seemingly, they took the next step and became enjoyable to watch and cheer for. For once, a small market team (in comparison to powerhouses like New England, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles) has found their savior. Jameis Winston has proven himself as a proficient NFL starting quarterback and continues to prove his doubters wrong. Coming into the 2015 draft, Winston was widely criticized for his lack of maturity and leadership; that concern has completely vanished. Winston has been touted as one of the best young leaders in the NFL, which may play a role in this team making their first playoff appearance since 2007.
Winston’s promising developmental course hopes to take the next pivotal step in cutting down the turnovers. Winston threw eighteen interceptions last year; three more than his rookie year. If Winston can improve on his decision-making this year, he can become one of the top gunslingers throughout the league. He contains phemomenal arm strength and his ability to throw downfield is only proven by his 2016 statistics; 4,000 passing yards and a 60% completion rating last year.
Winston won’t have a problem finding a capable receiver, either. After the addition of Desean Jackson and tight end OJ Howard, the Buccs arguably have the top receiving core in the NFC. Last year, Mike Evans continued to show show improvement to an already dead arsenal of weapons. Evans snagged twelve touchdowns last season and is projected to be one of the NFLs premier red zone threats in 2017. Vincent Jackson rounds out the already impressive group. Though his stats last year may not show it, Jackson is a valuable part of this offense, especially in clutch situations in which he averaged 11 yards per reception in 2016.
The glaring defect of the powerful offense lies at the running back position. Doug Martin’s explosive 2015 season didn’t carry over, as injury and suspension brought his production in 2016 down from 1402 yards to 428, nearly a drop of one thousand yards. This team has a much better chance for success if they’re not living and dying on the passing game. Though Jacquizz Rodgers had a passable backup running back season last year, the ground game will depend on Martin regaining his form from 2015.
Another obstacle for Martin and the running game to overcome is an offensive line that profootballfocus.com ranks thirteenth in the league. While thirteenth seems a bit harsh, they’ve been unsuccessful to this point. Donavan Smith has been a major disappointmentn but Ali Marpet has the potential to become one of the best guards in the league with playing time.
Fans rarely turn their focus to the special teams, but Tampa Bay is an exception. While I personally love Roberto Aguayo, it has to be said that he has been a major failure. If Aguayo wants to make this team, he’ll need to turn it around and beat out veteran kicker Nick Folk in camp.
Shifting gears, the Buccaneers defense is solid. The addition of Chris Baker only made it better. Baker was an undervalued talent in Washington and fits extremely well into Tampa’s scheme. The secondary was one of the more underrated in the league last year, partially because of their market size and viewership. Alterruan Verner is a shut down corner, and he with the rest of the secondary can bury teams.
In what is expected to be an exciting and competitive NFC south, Tampa can benefit from a great showing in 2017. Steered by their fierce leader and one of the best young QBs in the league, Winston’s time is now to push the Buccaneers over the hump and into the playing, all while proving why he was the #1 pick just a few years back.