The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have added a lot of new talent this offseason, both through the draft and free agency, but the biggest improvement may come through players finally experiencing a breakout season. Well, not really, Jameis Winston is likely to represent the team's biggest improvement -- but still, finding quality players among the back end of the roster is always necessary. So lets look at a few breakout candidates for the Bucs this season.
We've talked about Seferian-Jenkins before, and he certainly fits the breakout bill: young, talented, hampered by injuries and a lack of familiarity but healthy now and ready to learn. Also, he's in a new offense that has seen tight ends put up big numbers year after year. Seeing Seferian-Jenkins put up something in the neighborhood of 700 receiving yards would not be a surprise, and that's not mentioning the work he could do as a blocker.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons why this may not happen. Maybe he doesn't work hard enough. Maybe he's just not ready for the NFL. Maybe injuries stop him again. Who knows? But I'm optimistic.
Picking second-year players is always easy, but Sims is perfectly positioned to break out this season. It looks like he'll be the number two back behind Doug Martin, which means lots and lots of playing time -- and a likely starting role if Martin falters. The coaching staff really likes Sims, as Lovie Smith has compared him to Matt Forte, and Sims has shown he can be productive in a third-down role.
The one thing stopping Sims breaking out this season is his lack of skill as a runner. Sims goes down on first contact a lot, and he hasn't been consistently decisive in his decisions, either. Last year, he ran for just 185 yards on 66 carries -- and abysmal 2.8 yards per carry. That's going to have to improve a lot this year if he's to actually break out.
McDougald jumped onto the scene late last year, when he got extensive playing time in place of Mark Barron at strong safety. It's not entirely clear whether McDougald will play free or strong safety this season, but he's going to be one the team's two starters this year, which automatically qualifies him as a potential breakout player.
McDougald was originally an undrafted free agent out of Kansas in 2013, joining Tampa Bay by midseason of that year, but he didn't get any real playing time until last year. Picking up 50 total tackles, seven passes defensed and an interception in just five starts is pretty impressive, and there's a good chance that with a second year in the system, McDougald will look even better this season.
The Bucs have been looking for a steady edge rusher ever since Simeon Rice ended his career, or rather, the Bucs ended Rice's career. They may have finally found one in Jacquies Smith, who put up a whopping 6.5 sacks in just seven starts last year. The undersized (6'2", 260 lbs) defensive end entered the NFL in 2012 as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri and didn't put up a single sack until he joined the Bucs last year, but he certainly jumped off the tape when he got on the field in 2014.
Smith should get a lot of playing time this season. He and George Johnson are the likely starters at defensive end, though the team is also going to use a heavy rotation to bring in fresh bodies. Smith will have every opportunity to rush the passer and being next to Gerald McCoy, Henry Melton and Clinton McDonald can only help him there. He's set up for a real breakout season.