As a team, the 2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a major disappointment. The season started with back-to-back wins over the Saints and Eagles, but things quickly went downhill from there. By the end of week 17, the Bucs were 5-11 and in possession of the No. 5 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Head coach Dirk Koetter was fired after three seasons, giving way to a pretty quick coaching search that culminated with the hiring of two-time NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians.
In addition to getting his staff to fix one of the worst defenses in the NFL, Arians will be tasked with continuing the development of Jameis Winston and the rest of the talented Tampa Bay offense. He should feel good about the existing personnel, at least at the “skill” positions. The 2018 version of the Buccaneer offense set franchise records for total yards and passing yards while averaging 24.8 points per game (12th in the NFL). Some guys on the offense saw improvements in their numbers when compared to career averages, while others took dips or showed some inconsistencies. Let’s look at the player breakdowns.
QB Jameis Winston
Career Averages (2015-2017): 313-for-515 (60.8 percent), 3,879 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 10 fumbles (5 lost)... 47 rushes, 171 yards, 3.6 yards per carry, 3 touchdowns
2018 Stats: 244-for-378 (64.6 percent), 2,992 passing yards, 19 passing touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 7 fumbles (3 lost)... 49 rushes, 281 yards, 5.7 yards per carry, 1 touchdown
Thoughts: Considering his career averages before 2018 were affected by the three games he missed in 2017 and his stats this year were impacted by the five games he missed, there’s some unevenness in comparisons. Despite that, there’s still some notable improvements and trends here. His completion percentage in 2018 was a career-best, ending up almost four full percentage points higher than his career average. The fact that his touchdown total was near his career average even with the five missed games is significant, but so is the fact that his interception total came close to matching up. He cut down on his fumbles a bit, though the missed time could be part of the reason for that. As far as his rushing stats are concerned, he was much more effective as a runner in 2018 than he had been in the past. Overall, 2018 Jameis Winston felt a lot like 2015-2017 Jameis Winston, only with more efficiency as a passer and stronger running abilities.
RB Peyton Barber
Career Averages (2016-2017): 82 carries, 323 yards (3.9 yards per carry), 2 rushing touchdowns... 11 catches on 13 targets, 71 yards (6.5 yards per catch), 0 touchdowns
2018 Stats: 234 carries, 871 yards (3.7 yards per carry), 5 rushing touchdowns... 20 catches on 29 targets, 92 yards (4.6 yards per catch), 1 touchdown
Thoughts: Barber handled his increased workload very well in 2018. Considering the circumstances, he performed about as well as anyone could have hoped heading into the year. The offensive line was inconsistent, there was no help from any other backs and the offensive scheme itself was geared more toward the passing game than anything else. Barber never got more than 19 carries in a game, but with the carries he did get, he ran hard and fought for yards even when his offensive linemen didn’t open holes for him. The obvious takeaway in the stat comparison is the major difference in carries, as he became a No. 1 back for the first time in his NFL career. With those carries came increased production, even if his yards per carry dipped a tiny bit. Overall, 2018 was a successful year for Barber, one that should make this offseason pretty interesting for both his future and the future of the Tampa Bay backfield.
WR Mike Evans
Career Averages (2014-2017): 77 catches on 145 targets, 1,145 yards (14.8 yards per catch), 8 touchdowns
2018 Stats: 86 catches on 139 targets, 1,524 yards (17.7 yards per catch), 8 touchdowns
Thoughts: Evans was undoubtedly Tampa Bay’s offensive MVP this year, setting new franchise records left and right. He improved on his career averages in nearly every category, further proving his case to be considered a top-five receiver in the league. Where he saw the largest jump was in yards per catch, beating his career average by almost three full yards. Entering the season, Evans felt like a guy that couldn’t possibly elevate any more due to how high of a level he had performed at in the first four seasons of his career. He proved that thought to be wholly wrong, providing the Bucs with a No. 1 receiver that defenses had to account for. When they focused so much attention on him, it certainly opened up opportunities for the other highly-talented pass-catchers that the team has on its roster. There’s no point in doubting Evans’ ability to elevate his game once again in 2019. He has proven by now that he can find ways to improve year in and year out.
WR DeSean Jackson
Career Averages (2008-2017): 55 catches on 98 targets, 949 yards (17.3 yards per catch), 5 touchdowns
2018 Stats: 41 catches on 74 targets, 774 yards (18.9 yards per catch), 4 touchdowns
Thoughts: It’s not surprising that Jackson’s numbers trended downward in 2018. He didn’t exactly live up to his standard of play in 2017 either, putting up the second-lowest yardage total of his career (the lowest came in 2015, when he played just 10 games). So, compared to 2017, Jackson blew by his yardage and yards per catch numbers. He also finished with one more touchdown. But compared to what he has averaged in his career, Jackson’s 2018 was another letdown. He had some chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick and virtually none with Jameis Winston, then an injury sidelined him for a few games. With his time in Tampa seemingly over, it’s fairly safe to say that his legacy with the organization will be looked at as a disappointing one.
WR Chris Godwin
2017 Stats: 34 catches on 56 targets, 525 yards (15.4 yards per catch), 1 touchdown
2018 Stats: 59 catches on 95 targets, 842 yards (14.3 yards per catch), 7 touchdowns
Thoughts: While Jackson struggled, Godwin often reaped the benefits. The 2017 third-round pick has proven to be a steal in his first two years in the league, setting himself up for a bright future as Tampa Bay’s No. 2 receiver. With expanded opportunities this year, the Penn State alum shined. He saw an increase in targets, which led to a major increase in catches. Without a couple of down games toward the end of the year, he may have been a threat to break the 1,000-yard mark. Even still, he ended up with 842 yards and while he saw a slight decrease in yards per catch, he found the end zone six more times than he did as a rookie. There’s a ton of momentum for Godwin to build on this offseason as he heads into year three in the league.
WR Adam Humphries
Career Averages (2015-2017): 48 catches on 69 targets, 504 yards (10.6 yards per catch), 1 touchdown
2018 Stats: 76 catches on 105 targets, 816 yards (10.7 yards per catch), 5 touchdowns
Thoughts: Humphries has long been an underrated part of the Buccaneer offense, but it felt like 2018 was a breakout year for the former undrafted free agent. His role stayed somewhat the same this year, though it was turned up a bit. He had career-highs in targets, catches, yards and touchdowns. His yards per catch average stayed consistent, which reflected his role a key guy in situations that called for short-to-intermediate passes. Humphries’ value is at an all-time high, which makes this offseason intriguing for him personally. The Bucs would be smart to bring him back, but there will definitely be interest elsewhere. His connection with Jameis Winston is a strong one, so it really should be a priority for Tampa Bay to keep him around.
TE Cameron Brate
Career Averages (2014-2017): 32 catches on 47 targets, 389 yards (12.1 yards per catch), 4 touchdowns
2018 Stats: 30 catches on 49 targets, 289 yards (9.6 yards per catch), 6 touchdowns
Thoughts: Surprisingly, Brate kind of got lost in the shuffle this year. From earning a contract extension in the offseason to being on one of the four player murals outside of Raymond James Stadium this year, it seemed like he would be a major part of Tampa Bay’s future. Now, there are questions as to whether or not he’ll even be around for 2019. His averages for catches and targets match up to his 2018 totals on the surface, but those averages for his career do include a 2014 season that saw him finish with one catch on one target. The fact of the matter is, Brate saw numbers go down everywhere except targets and touchdowns. That’s not to say he’s not a good player or that he performed poorly this year. It seemed more like he just didn’t factor into the team’s plans as much as he did in 2016 and 2017. One thing did stay consistent though, as he remained one of the offense’s top targets in the red zone.
TE O.J. Howard
2017 Stats: 26 catches on 39 targets, 432 yards (16.6 yards per catch), 6 touchdowns
2018 Stats: 34 catches on 48 targets, 565 yards (16.6 yards per catch), 5 touchdowns
Thoughts: Howard was impressive as a rookie, but he was well on his way to crushing the numbers he put up in year one before he suffered a season-ending injury. He only played in 10 games this season, but still beat his rookie numbers in every category except touchdowns. It’s almost a sure thing that he would’ve passed the six scores he had in 2017 if he was healthy all year, but his season came to an unfortunate end with more than a month left to play. Regardless, 2018 saw Howard’s development continue in a big way. He remained a big-play threat, matching his yards per catch average of 16.6, and ended up more than halfway to 1,000 yards despite missing the final six games of the season. By now, it’s been made clear that Howard, if he can stay healthy, will be a major force for the Bucs for years to come.