In this two-part series, Bucs Nation’s Evan Winter looks ahead to the Buccaneers 2018 season. He starts with optimistic reasons why they’ll be playoff bound. You can read his pessimistic views here.
The NFL is all about numbers and anyone who follows the sport can tell you that. Unfortunately for Bucs fans, there is one number that is widely known - 10.
Last year, expectations were high after the Bucs made some flashy moves in the offseason and appeared on HBO’s Hard Knocks. Fans everywhere were disappointed afterward as the team stumbled to a 5-11 record.
But this offseason is different. The Bucs will make the playoffs in 2018 and there are a few reasons why.
Vita Vea will play like the No. 12 pick in the draft.
One of the bigger questions surrounding the Bucs’ first round pick is how much playing time will he actually get?
Regardless of how much Vea sees the field, he will make an immediate impact come week one. His combination of size, speed, agility, and strength puts him at an instant advantage with the rotation around him.
Vea’s biggest impact won’t be in the stat line. His presence will require teams to give help for his defensive assignments, thus freeing up Jason Pierre-Paul, Gerald McCoy, Vinny Curry, Lavonte David - you name it - to make impact plays against opposing offenses.
It’s also exciting to think about how Vea’s presence will help the second level of the defense. David and Mike linebacker Kwon Alexander are excellent at rushing the quarterback, evidenced by their combined 24 career sacks in a combined ten years on the field. Having Vea in front of them will allow both players, along with Kendell Beckwith - after he returns from injury - to fly around and make plays for the entirety of the game.
As he grows into his role and improves his technique, Vea will only get better as the season wears on. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s the starter by the back half of 2018.
The Bucs’ running game will show up in 2018.
There are two factors here: Ronald Jones II and the offensive line.
Tampa returns three of their backs from last season, but the addition of Jones II gives them a more complete back, whereas Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, and Peyton Barber all thrive in their own areas.
For those unfamiliar with Jones II, here is a perfect example of the power, speed, agility, and vision that he brings:
Tampa hasn’t had a back who could do all of these things at this level in quite some time.
The offensive line will benefit greatly from the addition of Ryan Jensen and Donovan Smith will have a bounce-back type season. Ali Marpet moving back to guard will give the Bucs one of the best interior duos they’ve ever had, while Evan Smith or J.R. Sweezy - depending on his injury - would fill in at the other guard spot.
Demar Dotson is returning from injury and approaching his 10th season in the league, but has been very serviceable over the years. He should be ready come training camp and his presence will help bolster the offensive line even more.
The up-and-coming run game will be crucial to Tampa’s playoff appearance. Five out of the six seeds in the NFC playoffs in 2017 were teams that didn’t make the postseason in 2016. And what did they all have in common? They all dramatically improved their running game to round out their offenses.
- New Orleans Saints - 2016: 16th in rushing offense / 2017: 5th in rushing offense.
- Los Angeles Rams - 2016: 31st in rushing offense / 2017: 8th in rushing offense.
- Philadelphia Eagles - 2016: 11th in rushing offense / 2017: 3rd in rushing offense.
- Carolina Panthers - 2016: 10th in rushing offense / 2017: 4th in rushing offense.
- Minnesota Vikings - 2016: 32nd in rushing offense / 2017: 7th in rushing offense.
The Vikings, Saints, and Panthers used the draft and/or free agency to find difference-makers at running back and to beef up their offensive lines, while the Rams and Eagles found ways to bolster their line in order to improve their running game.
The Bucs will be next in this line of success.
This year’s crop of free agents will make an impact.
Tampa was considered by many to be one of the teams that “won” free agency during the 2017 offseason. That fell through pretty quickly once the season began.
DeSean Jackson, Nick Folk, Chris Baker, and T.J. Ward all highlight an extremely disappointing signing class that never lived up to expectations last year. Jackson is currently the only player left on the roster out of the four mentioned.
The Bucs rolled the dice again with some free agents in 2018 - most noticeably JPP - but also signed players that are a much better fit than the ones brought in last season.
Curry and Beau Allen will aid the defensive line in more ways than one, while Jensen well help anchor the offensive line.
They did re-sign two former players in Keith Tandy and Brent Grimes. Both players played well for the Bucs in their given roles - lending the team some much needed familiarity and consistency. After learning from their mistakes last season, this team will get the production they expect from these players this time around.
The coaching staff is fighting for their lives.
Am I encountering a sense of urgency in the Bay for upper management and the coaching staff? It seems pretty naïve to think otherwise and the combination of Dirk Koetter/Mike Smith knows this.
Jason Licht looks to be on solid ground for now, but if this team faceplants en route to another 5-11 season, it’s a safe bet that the entire front office will be cleaned out.
When someone’s back is against the wall, more often than not, they find a way to flip the script. These coaches have been doing this for their entire lives and you would think that they would know when a system or philosophy isn’t working.
Koetter has had much more success - albeit still limited success - than Smith. That is a no-brainer. It’s even possible that if the Bucs make the playoffs despite Smith’s defense, then he could be let go after the season.
If that doesn’t get the fire burning, then I don’t know what will.
How will Tampa’s 2018 season turn out?
This poll is closed
Winning record, but no playoffs
Faceplant into another losing season