The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have one of the best groups of young talent in the NFL again. That’s the conclusion Football Outsiders reaches for ESPN, ranking the Bucs’ under-25 talent fourth in the entire NFL. That’s the biggest year-to-year jump among all 32 teams: the Bucs were ranked just 22nd last year. Drafting Jameis Winston goes a long way toward explaining this jump, as does the Bucs’ successful rookie class.
Left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard Ali Marpet struggled as rookies, but the offense managed to move the ball. If the Bucs improve and Winston works more high-percentage passes into his game, then scoring should go up for Dirk Koetter's offense.
Tampa Bay went heavy on the offense in the 2014-15 drafts, but linebacker Kwon Alexander was a good find in the fourth round last year. This year, the Buccaneers added cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, an instant starter, and defensive end Noah Spence, who should be part of pass-rushing rotation.
This all sounds good, but the Bucs were in this kind of position before: they had a ton of young talent between 2010 and 2013 as well. But many of these young talents disappointed, and those that didn’t were stuck on teams that didn’t have enough other talent to actually win some games. All those young players don’t mean much if you don’t actually cash in on their talent.
This time, the Bucs are slightly better situated to actually take that next step. They have a franchise quarterback (though they thought they had one after the 2010 season, too), the talent they have is of a higher level than most of the talent they had back then, and they’ve done a better job of balancing the young talent with experienced, quality veterans.
The future once again looks bright in Tampa. Now we’re going to see whether they can live up to that brightness.