Football Outsiders is one of my favorite NFL analytics sites, so it's always fun when we get the chance to talk to them. They recently released their annual Football Outsiders Almanac, which you can buy here, and we got a chance to ask them a few questions based on that must-read book. Rivers McCown answers for Outsiders, and discusses the team's defensive strategy, Jameis Winston's likely improvement, Donovan Smith's play and the Bucs' playoff roster.
You note the Bucs defense spent 0% of the time with six defensive backs on the field last year. Obviously, that didn’t really work last year, but have you seen other teams succeed with that approach? And has Mike Smith done so in the past, or will he field more six DB sets?
Sure, other teams have succeeded with that approach -- in 2001. You know, when passing offenses hadn't really begun to have the hold on the league they do today. Smith will use more of the six defensive back sets and be trickier. It should be a welcome change as long as Jason Licht has actually stocked the backfield with guys worth playing. This doesn’t mean they need to play like the Cardinals or Jets though, with DBs all over the place. Three teams used six or more DBs just one percent of the time last year: the Seahawks, Vikings, and Panthers, all of them playoff teams.
Donovan Smith had the most blown blocks in the league, but the Bucs really like him as their starting left tackle of the future. Are they seeing something no one else is, or is this purely a potential over production decision?
Donovan Smith as a left tackle was always going to appeal to traits-based scouts, which is an area I think Licht takes very seriously. But being able to run a 5.2-second 40-yard dash at 338 pounds and having terrific arm length and hand size is secondary to the part of football where you, you know, actually have to play football well. And that was something that Smith never did at Penn State. I do think he'll continue to struggle until he's placed in a role he's better suited for, like right tackle or possibly even guard.
Your model projects Winston to improve very modestly, but you note that you expect his ceiling to be much higher, comparing his rookie season to Andrew Luck’s. What’s the main area you expect him to improve in this year, and how good should he actually be after his first full football offseason?
Because of how cerebral I see Winston on the field, my subjective belief is that he will get better at selecting the right underneath passes this year. I wish I had more confidence in the Tampa receivers to actually catch those passes, because if I did I'd be talking up Winston as a huge fantasy football breakout candidate. I don't think any of us will truly know the ceiling until we see him play this year, but my hunch is it's higher than most major media outlets are thinking it is.
You have the Bucs with a 26% chance of making the playoffs, which is disappointing for a team that just fired a coach and is hoping for a big jump from their six-win total last year. What’s the main reason
The main reason is: this is a bad roster right now. Even the players Tampa wants to count on are coming off bad years, are hurt, are old, or some combination of the three. I don't think Vincent Jackson is going to be on the next great Bucs team. The youngsters outside of Winston and Evans haven't shown much to crow about yet. Ali Marpet showed enough last year to make me think he could eventually become a building block. David and Gerald McCoy are still stars on a good defense. But what's around these guys? A secondary of Vernon Hargreaves and guys nobody else in the NFL wanted. A defensive line that got so little pressure that Robert Ayers could come in and immediately be the best edge presence on it. This team has a lot of star power and potential star power, but NFL rosters are 53 men deep -- this isn't the NBA. And this roster, as a whole, just isn't enough right now.