Over at Fox Sports, Vincent Frank of Sportsnaut went to work to project NFL defenses in the upcoming season using "advanced statistics and projecting how certain players will fit into new schemes." I'm not sure how they did this, because they don't even hint at their methods -- for all I know they just pulled it all out of thin air. I mean, I'm fairly sure they didn't, but there's no way to know.
Shockingly, they came to the conclusion that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have one of the six worst defenses in the NFL. In fact, they say they'll have the third-worst defense.
This pretty much goes without saying. Instead of addressing weaknesses on defense following the selection of Jameis Winston No. 1 overall in the 2015 NFL draft, Tampa Bay decided to double down on offense by adding linemen with the next two picks. The team actually didn't address defense until it selected former LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander in the fourth round. In fact, Tampa Bay lost a couple starters from a season ago in defensive end Adrian Clayborn and safety Dashon Goldson.
Despite Frank's insistence that the Bucs being awful on defense "goes without saying," that's actually not what you're going to see this year. And yes, I'm being very definitive about that: the Buccaneers will not have one of the worst six defenses in the NFL this year, by any reasonable measure.
For one, the Bucs didn't even have one of the six worst defenses in the NFL last year. They were ranked 18th by DVOA, 25th in both points and yards allowed, 26th in net yards per attempt allowed, and 23rd in yards per play allowed. None of those rankings are what you'd call good, but they're not exactly bottom-of-the-league, either.
Now keep in mind that all of those statistics were over the course of the entire year, including the start of the season when the team was still adjusting to a new scheme. That's not just speculation: it was visible on the field, and in the statistics. The Bucs were one of the most-improved defenses in the NFL over the second half of the season by DVOA, and 13th in defensive yards per play allowed over the final eight weeks of the season. That's good, though not dominant.
We can expect the Bucs to improve further this year. For one, Lovie Smith has almost always put up top 10 and usually even top 5 defenses, wherever he's coached. More than that, though, the Bucs did get better on defense this offseason. Michael Johnson was replaced by George Johnson, and Dashon Goldson by Chris Conte. That may not seem like much, but both of those new players are much better scheme fits -- something that's extremely important under Lovie Smith.
More than that, the Bucs brought in some quality depth at several positions, including defensive tackle Henry Melton, linebacker Bruce Carter and cornerback Sterling Moore. The team's starters aren't much better than last year, but the depth is -- which should help the team cope with injuries and maintain a fresh rotation consistently. The Bucs got in trouble a lot last year when the had to bring in third- and fourth-string players off the street. That shouldn't happen as often this year.
Overall, I'd be dumbfounded if the Bucs had one of the worst defenses in the NFL this year. I'd even be surprised if they had anything worse than a top 10 defense.