Home > NFL, Roster Roundouts > Roster Roundouts ’10: A Tampa Bay Buccaneers Season Preview

Roster Roundouts ’10: A Tampa Bay Buccaneers Season Preview

It’s the middle of July.  The 2010 FIFA World Cup concluded yesterday.  Baseball is at the all-star break.  There are no competitive team sporting activities worthy of television anywhere in the United States until Thursday.  The baseball all-star game is a single day exhibition contest parlayed into a half-week break for all teams, and pushed as something more than an exhibition, which it is not.

In other words, this is the time of the year where it makes sense to start pushing the pro and college football preseasons.  Under these conditions, the first (and likely the second) of LiveBall Sports’ 32 Roster Roundouts articles appears.  The focus will begin with the franchises in development and push towards the contenders in an unofficial “power rankings” sort of way.  The Bucs are not the 32nd team in my power poll exactly, but with all teams having some sort of idea of projected upside if everything goes to plan this season (it never does), the Bucs are a team that probably doesn’t have much shot at a division title even if they avoid all injury and turmoil.  With the early focuses on franchises in development — as opposed to title chasing — I wanted to start far away from directionless franchises, and towards those that have pieces at key positions already on the roster.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Projected Finish: 5-11)

Star Players

  • TE Kellen Winslow (trade – Cleveland/2009 2nd round pick)
  • C Jeff Faine (signed – New Orleans/2008 free agency)
  • LB Geno Hayes (drafted – Florida State/2008 6th round pick)

Best Prospects

  • QB Josh Freeman (drafted – K-State/2009 1st round pick) [Peak Comparable: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay]
  • G/T Jeremy Zuttah (drafted – Rutgers/2008 3rd round pick) [Peak Comparable: Damian Woody, New York Jets]
  • DT Gerald McCoy (drafted – Oklahoma/2010 1st round pick) [Peak Comparable: Kevin Williams, Minnesota]
  • CB Aqib Talib (drafted – Kansas/2008 1st round pick) [Peak Comparable: Jonathon Joseph, Cincinnati]

The Bucs might have landed their quarterback of the present and future when Josh Freeman was selected with the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, and clearly, this analysis of the Buccaneers franchise could stop right there.  Freeman is a top prospect who has been put in charge of one of the most talent void teams in all of football.  When he turns around to hand off, he’ll find aging players such as Derrick Ward, Cadilliac Williams, and the best of the bunch, fullback Earnest Graham.

When he drops to pass, he’ll be protected by a line that lacks a premium player.  C Jeff Faine and RG Davin Joseph are the line’s anchors, both of whom were first round picks a “football generation” ago, and have found their way to Tampa where they make up one of the better interior lines in football.  For a long time, the Bucs have resisted using a first round pick on an offensive tackle.  In 2001, the Bucs brought in Florida’s Kenyatta Walker, who ended up playing a league average right tackle on that super bowl team, but didn’t earn a contract extension when Jon Gruden decided he could do better with a veteran.  The current OL group pairs undrafted LT Donald Penn and 2nd round RT Jeremy Trueblood, which is a duo not suited to block for premium players like Freeman.  Zuttah is in the mix at tackle as well as guard, but there’s only one of him.

So there’s problems for Freeman in the running game, and problems for Freeman in protection (though all running backs the Bucs have throughout the roster have excellent reputations in protection).  Both of the problems pale in comparison to the lack of a standout receiver, as well as the absence of a notable prospect there.  Rookie second round draft pick Arrelious Benn (Illinois) has all the skills you could want in a number one receiver, but showed for two years at Illinois that without Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield to open up lanes downfield, Benn was an average at best college player.  Benn is ahead on the depth chart of troubled Syracuse receiver Mike Williams, a 4th round draft pick who has the same immense physical ability of Benn, but isn’t even at the point where he can work on refining his on field skill because academic and discipline issues kept him off of it.

Benn and Williams will try to overtake unimpressive veterans Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall in the starting lineup.  However, the best receiving talent the Bucs might have could be 2009 7th round pick Sammie Stroughter, formerly of Oregon State.  Stroughter has freakish speed that translates very well to the football field.  His hands are raw, but in a draft that featured potential no. 1 receivers Johnnie Knox (Chicago), and Darrius Heyward-Bey (Oakland) in the exact same mold, it wouldn’t be unexpected if Stroughter emerged as the Bucs no. 1 receiver ahead of schedule.  Players of his ilk tend to be blocked by veterans and forced into part time roles until the middle of their careers, but the Bucs have only token veterans ahead of him, and the current leadership of the Bucs has no ties to either 7th year vet Clayton (09: -44 DYAR) or 5th year vet Stovall (09: 28 DYAR).  Everyone on the roster will compete with offseason acquisition Reggie Brown (09: -34 DYAR w/Eagles), now in his 6th NFL season.

Freeman’s offense is the classic “blank slate” west coast group.  Who emerges this year to help him will depend as much on Freeman as on any of the individuals.  Freeman will throw to Kellen Winslow a lot, and the Bucs figure to be in enough high scoring games where that relationship will make Winslow a viable no. 1 fantasy tight end.  Winslow and Graham are the only players on the offensive roster who have had success as a pass catcher in the last four NFL seasons.

The defense is returning to it’s Tampa-2 roots this season, but there’s not a whole lot of upside to support a return to dominance.  The best player is weakside linebacker Geno Hayes — so young that he won’t turn 23 until midway through training camp — who burst into the starting lineup as a second year player.   He’s a raw, rangy, but ultimately unpolished linebacker from Florida State who dropped in the draft from a third round projection due to size concerns.  He replaced Derrick Brooks in the starting lineup, who was pretty much in the same boat 15 years earlier.  Hayes will support Barrett Ruud, who is a prototype cover two middle linebacker who had a down year in a pressure oriented defensive scheme last year.  Ruud should re-emerge as an above average defensive linebacker.

The rest of the upside is tied up in high draft picks from the last three drafts.  The team gave up on DE Gaines Adams (RIP) last season, and traded him to Chicago for a second round pick.  He was replaced in the lineup by Tim Crowder, who was a pick in the same draft that the Broncos gave up on.  Crowder isn’t a prospect, he’s a situational package player.  Now, Gerald McCoy, formerly of Oklahoma…that man is a prospect.  His physical quickness and very refined technique gives him a great shot of competing with Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh and Houston’s Amobi Okoye (just as young, but with three years of NFL experience) for the ability of succeeding Kevin Williams and Albert Haynesworth as the next great interior players in the NFL.  The Bucs used the pick received for Adams on UCLA’s Brian Price, who seems like more of an insurance policy if McCoy ends up disappointing even the mildest projections for his rising star.  Price will be asked to be a jack of all trades on a line that features McCoy.

The unsung hero in the rise of the Bucs as a young team is that they ended up not signing Albert Haynesworth.  Adding Haynesworth may have added up to two wins last season in the pressure scheme they ran on defense, but a 5-11 finish would have merely made rebuilding the line through the draft more difficult (McCoy likely ends up in Oakland or somewhere), as well as a move to the Tampa-2 less conducive to improving personnel: Ruud probably wouldn’t have disappeared with Haynesworth in front of him, but the Bucs’ cornerback situation would have resulted in even more free agent pickups this offseason.

Aqib Talib’s star is a lot brighter after a thorough Week 4 domination of Redskins receiver (and 2008 2nd round pick) Malcolm Kelly, a performance which saw Talib intercept Jason Campbell three times on passes intended for Kelly.  He finished with 5 picks on the year, but his production is inconsistent.  At worst, his floor appears to be at the level of a no. 2 NFL corner, but without a better no. 1 corner on the roster, Talib will be asked to develop into a shutdown player.  Hes not there yet, but 2010 might be the year.  The Bucs are weaker at the safety level than anywhere else though, so the defense appears to be fairly generous in the total points expectation.  Tanard Jackson can still wind up being a good player back there for the Bucs, but Sabby Piscatelli gave away the Redskins game after Talib did all he could to win it, and Jackson is often a non-factor in deep coverage.

Fighting for a spot on the roster

G Keydrick Vincent (Carolina) just signed with the Bucs, which perhaps means that Jeremy Trueblood could hit the waiver wire with more mistakes in camp.  Vincent isn’t certain to make the team, but if the team can successfully move Zuttah to RT (as they should), Vincent is the front runner to plug the hole at LG.

The Bucs should be happy with Xavier Fulton as the first and only backup OT on the roster.  Fulton can be equally marginal at either OT position, and should develop into something more by 2011.

There’s little reason to hold onto both John Gilmore and Jerramy Stevens at TE.  The third TE will likely be one of: Ryan Purvis or Jeron Mastrud, and the loser of Gilmore/Stevens might be at the end of their NFL career.  Each has lasted ten years.

The only two real position crunches on the Bucs roster will come at wide receiver and safety.  LiveBall Sports projects the following players at receiver: Clayton, Stovall, Stroughter, Brown, Benn, and North Alabama receiver Preston Parker to beat out Mike Williams.  At safety, Cody Grimm (son of Russ) should slide into the role of the 5th safety and special teams ace.  Jackson, Sean Jones, and Piscatelli all make the roster for defense, and Corey Lynch rounds out the active roster as a backup free safety.

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