There is little more useless than guessing an NFL team's starting line up before free agency has begun, never mind the draft. That, however, hasn't stopped ProFootballFocus from doing exactly that.
PFF are going through all 32 teams in draft order, identifying not 11 but 12 starters, no doubt in deference to the fact that teams increasingly start a game in three-wide or nickel D sets, rather than with a traditional 12 (or 21) personnel, or having a genuine front 7. They then grade each starter in one of seven categories:
- Elite Starter
- High Quality Starter
- Solid Starter/Valuable Role Player
- Adequate Starter/Solid Role Player
- Below Average Starter/Adequate Role Player
- Poor Starter/Gamble
Some players are also identified as being in one of these categories, but are on the cusp of being recategorised either up or down.
With both Erik Lorig and Spencer Larsen free agents, PFF have gone the 12 personnel route with the Bucs; their projected Buccaneer starting lineup looks like this:
Mike Glennon - Below Average Starter/Adequate Role Player; on cusp of being Adequate Starter/Solid Role Player
Doug Martin - Adequate Starter/Solid Role Player; on cusp of being Solid Starter/Valuable Role Player
Vincent Jackson - High Quality Starter
Mike Williams - Adequate Starter/Solid Role Player; on cusp of being Solid Starter/Valuable Role Player
Chris Owusu (three-wide) - Unknown
Timothy Wright - Below Average Starter/Adequate Role Player; on cusp of being Solid Starter/Valuable Role Player
Tom Crabtree (12 personnel) - Poor Starter/Gamble
Donald Penn - Solid Starter/Valuable Role Player
Carl Nicks - High Quality Starter; on cusp of being Elite Starter
Jeremy Zuttah - Adequate Starter/Solid Role Player
Davin Joseph - Poor Starter/Gamble
Demar Dotson - Solid Starter/Valuable Role Player; on cusp of being High Quality Starter
Adrian Clayborn - Below Average Starter/Adequate Role Player
Akeem Spence - Poor Starter/Gamble; on cusp of being Below Average/Adequate Role Player
Gerald McCoy - Elite Starter
William Gholston - Adequate Starter/Solid Role Player; on cusp of being Solid Starter/Valuable Role Player
Lavonte David - Elite Starter
Mason Foster - Below Average Starter/Adequate Role Player
Ka'lial Glaud (base defense) - Unknown
Johnthan Banks - Below Average Starter/Adequate Role Player; on cusp of being Solid Starter/Valuable Role Player
Leonard Johnson (nickel) - Below Average Starter/Adequate Role Player
Darrelle Revis - Elite Starter
Dashon Goldson - Below Average Starter/Adequate Role Player; on cusp of being Adequate Starter/Solid Role Player
Mark Barron - Adequate Starter/Solid Role Player; on cusp of being Solid Starter/Valuable Role Player
Those 24 starters, therefore, break down into these categories:
Elite Starters - 3 (McCoy, David, Revis)
High Quality Starters - 2 (Jackson, Nicks)
Solid Starter/Valuable Role Player - 2 (Penn, Dotson)
Adequate Starter/Solid Role Player - 5 (Martin, Williams, Zuttah, Gholston, Barron)
Below Average Starter/Adequate Role Player - 7 (Glennon, Wright, Clayborn, Foster, Banks, Johnson, Goldson)
Poor Starter/Gamble - 3 (Crabtree, Joseph, Spence)
Unknown - 2 (Owusu, Glaud)
PFF themselves point out that one of the more surprising categorisations is Goldson as a below average starter, a fact they attribute to his having the 17th-worst missed tackle rate in the league, and was the 81st-ranked safety last year by their metrics. You can read the whole article here.
In terms of their projections, I can't really disagree with their choice of personnel based on what is on the roster right now. That, however, highlights the hamstrung these projections have to be - for example, based on this Cal playbook Jeff Tedford wrote, I'd be pretty shocked if the Bucs don't remain one of the league's most frequent deployers of a fullback. Owusu was no doubt chosen as he played the third-most snaps of any receiver still on the Bucs roster (fourth in 2013 behind Jackson, Williams and current free agent Tiquan Underwood), while Glaud's five snaps in 2013 similarly marks him out as the third most-played linebacker on the roster, narrowly beating out Danny Lansanah's four snaps. Yes, the Bucs currently have just four linebackers on the roster. In either case, once free agency and the draft are done, I'll be very surprised if either player is still projected to be in the Bucs' starting lineup.
Some of PFF's categorisations do come across a bit strange, but seem to make a little more sense when you take into account the various "role player" designations in some of the categories. For example, take Tim Wright, who is a "Below Average Starter/Adequate Role Player", yet is on the cusp of being two category bands above, that of "Solid Starter/Valuable Role Player". It might seem a bit of a head scratcher, until you readdress it like this: because of his deficiencies in run blocking (though he did improve as the season went on), as an every down player, "below average" is not necessarily an unfair assessment; however, as a pure role player - receiving tight end only - then marking him on the cusp of being a "valuable role player" is, in my eyes, pretty accurate, as I'd say that, exclusively in terms of the passing game, he's probably already more than just a solid role player, responsible for probably the best tight end play the Bucs have seen since Kellen Winslow's 2009 & 2010 campaigns.
Similarly, look at Akeem Spence. He had an up-and-down rookie season, but just labelling him as a "poor starter" seems a bit harsh. Still, he's not an every-down player - he was drafted to be a run-stuffer on the first two downs, and rotated out on third down. As a run stuffer, bearing in mind the inconsistency he showed in 2013 (though not unexpectedly, being a fourth-round rookie), calling him on the cusp of being an adequate role player first & second downs is completely understandable.
There are three players that, to me, only make sense if PFF took their 2013 injuries into account - Doug Martin, Mike Williams and Carl Nicks. Martin may have had an unimpressive campaign before he got hurt (though the offensive line was particularly struggling in the early part of the season), but was still on track for over 1200 rushing yards when he got hurt; how 1200 rushing yards can ever be considered anything less than a 'solid starter' is beyond me. Likewise, Williams might not have had his greatest season, but I don't see how his play warranted being categorised just an "adequate" starter, off-field door-smashing and cave-man-ganging aside. I hope, therefore, that these slights are more a result of coming back from injury than for pre-injury play. Likewise, the idea that a fully, 100% healthy Carl Nicks is anything less than elite - hell, anything less than the best interior lineman playing the game today - is laughable. Nicks is, however, the only player who PFF specifically mark out as a continuing injury risk, so I have no choice but to assume that Nicks' non-elite status, even while being on the cusp, is borne out of fears that he will never be his pre-injury self again.
Anyway, that's my take on PFF's projection for the 2014 Buccaneers starting lineup. Do you agree with their choice of personnel, or into which categories they've put the Bucs' players?