At this time last year, the national media was enamored with the Buccaneers. One 5-11 season and one three-game suspension for Jameis Winston later, that is no longer the case.
After Sporting News predicted a 1-15 record for Tampa Bay on Thursday, Bleacher Report’s Kyle Newport came out with his current NFL Power Rankings on Friday. Based on the rankings, it’s clear that Newport isn’t expecting too much out of the Bucs either. Out of the league’s 32 teams, he ranked the Bucs at No. 29 to start the month of August. Here’s what was said in the short blurb about the team:
Tampa Bay will face adversity right out of the gate with Jameis Winston being suspended for the first three games. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a serviceable backup, but in a division as loaded as the NFC South, a slow start could put the team in an early hole.
What? Those two sentences barely scratch the surface of where Tampa Bay is right now. Yes, the Bucs will miss Winston for the first three games of the season. They’ll see three very tough opponents in three weeks. But to rank them at No. 29 based on a three-game suspension? That seems awfully short-sighted.
The offseason appeared to be a successful one for general manager Jason Licht. On the offensive side, Ryan Jensen joined the team at center, which allowed Ali Marpet to slide back over to guard. Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson still occupy the tackle positions, while Caleb Benenoch, Leonard Wester and Alex Cappa look for big roles in 2018. Rookie Ronald Jones joins Peyton Barber in the backfield as Tampa Bay looks to revamp the run game. For whoever takes snaps under center, the weapons are still plentiful. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard are all back.
Along the defensive line, the Bucs cut Robert Ayers Jr. and Chris Baker in addition to letting Clinton McDonald walk away after his contract expired. Enter Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein, Vita Vea, Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul. The newcomers join Gerald McCoy, William Gholston, Noah Spence and Will Clarke. The linebackers are as solid as ever, while rookies M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis and Jordan Whitehead join the secondary. Brent Grimes is back on a one-year deal and Vernon Hargreaves III is looking to rebound after a rough 2017. The defense should be much improved, as long as Mike Smith uses the talent in a proper manner.
From top to bottom, the Buccaneers’ roster looks much better than it did a year ago. To ignore the changes in favor of focusing solely on a suspension seems like an odd way to determine a team’s spot in a power rankings list. If Newport isn’t impressed by the changes, he could say so. However, the reasoning behind his ranking implies that the Bucs are a bad team based on a suspension of their quarterback. Based on talent alone, it’s hard to see Tampa Bay deserving such a low position.
Newport ranked the Jets, Bills and Browns immediately ahead of the Bucs. Even with a formidable defense, the Jets are far from a finished product. The Bills made the playoffs a year ago, but ditched quarterback Tyrod Taylor in favor of A.J. McCarron or first round pick Josh Allen. They are bound to take a step back, especially if anything comes out of the allegations against running back LeSean McCoy. Then, there’s the Browns. They had an impressive offseason, but are still less than a year removed from going 0-16. All three of those teams are currently better than the Bucs?
Arguments can be made for the Bucs to be a low-20s type of team at the moment, sure. But to have them ranked above only the Bears, Dolphins and Colts seems like hot take for the sake of having a hot take. Tampa Bay has a lot of doubters right now, but the team seems united and focused on proving everyone wrong. Will they? We’ll find out soon enough.