Specifically, D’Andrea wrote,
“Bucs, your running backs. Woof.”
That’s some first class analysis right there. But perhaps this is what should be expected when talking about a running back group which produced the league’s 29th ranked rushing attack in 2018 and has only improved by bringing in a veteran who’s expected to be more of an extra coach than he is a contributor (Andre Ellington).
However, perhaps it’s also unexpected considering the benefit other running back stables got for projected production. For example, the Cleveland Browns came in with the fourth-best group in the NFL despite the fact two of the four backs considered are question marks.
Duke Johnson has been the center of trade rumors all off-season, and Kareem Hunt will be out for half of the year, so who knows just how much and how quickly he’ll impact the team during the back half of the season.
Ranking the Browns fourth with only Nick Chubb and Dontrell Hilliard as expected contributors for all of 2019 means the writer gave credit for what could be if the team’s running back situation develops as planned.
Likewise, the Arizona Cardinals finished with the 32nd-ranked rushing attack in the NFL in 2018 and return with the same top-two backs on a team who’s third leading rusher was quarterback, Josh Rosen.
While I’m a big David Johnson fan, the only way a running back group bringing back it’s top two performers from a worse rushing attack should outrank the Bucs’ own in the pre-season is if the writer is making assumptions about improved performance primarily from Johnson himself.
So, if I may take these same liberties with Tampa Bay’s running back group, Peyton Barber will likely not only get better opportunities when running the ball but is likely to also get involved in the passing game as well.
Second-year back Ronald Jones has been getting rave reviews for his performances up to this point in team OTAs, and if we’re being honest, this reflects more on his scheme awareness than it likely does on his physical performance.
There are no pads and there is no hitting, so really the only area Rojo can impress is with his hands in pass catching, his effort, and in knowing his assignments and roles in the various calls and adjustments being brought up in the scenarios during workouts.
Regardless of pads, this is very encouraging considering the issue with Jones last year is widely thought of to be one of ability to execute rather than physical capabilities. If Jones is catching on to this scheme and what these coaches need from him, then it projects well onto the second-rounder looking to prove his value to the franchise.
Another assumption which could be made about the 2019 Buccaneers running back group is that they’ll likely be more involved in the passing game. A feature many of the top-ranked groups on this list possessed.
Buccaneers staff writer Carmen Vitali highlighted some of the work being done in this department in a recent OTA recap piece posted on the team’s website.
In it, she mentioned how “fluid” undrafted free-agent Bruce Anderson appeared while catching the ball in passing drills. Add to this previous observations by Vitali and other media members attending workouts and what we know is this year’s running back group will get opportunities to contribute through the air where as last year’s group essentially relied on Jacquizz Rodgers as their primary pass catcher.
Pre-season rankings are nothing to get overly fired up about necessarily. They are however, interesting insight into what media members on the national stage or just outside of the inner circle of Buccaneers coverage think of the team.
While other team’s are getting pre-performance value on new team additions like Hunt and Tevin Coleman with the San Francisco 49ers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are being denied the same benefit adding a whole new coaching staff with a proven history of getting solid performance from their players.
If those assumptions about the Bucs come true, it’ll be fun to re-visit how pre-season expectations matched or missed with actual performance.
No team ever won a Super Bowl based on pre-season rankings, but seeing where the team is expected to be can serve as a fun measuring stick for when we see where they actually land.