STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The 2013 season marked another disappointing effort for the Bucs, as they recorded a 4-12 record for the second time in three years. The tumble resulted in the firing of both coach Greg Schiano and GM Mark Dominik. Heading into 2014, Lovie Smith takes over the team's coaching duties, while Jason Licht will serve as the GM.
Contributing to the team's latest fall was an offense that finished last in total yards and 30th in points per game. Josh Freeman – the 17th overall pick in the 2009 draft – was dreadful in three starts to open the season and benched in favor of rookie Mike Glennon before eventually being released by the team. Starting running back Doug Martin only played six games before succumbing to a season-ending shoulder injury. Martin's replacement, Mike James, followed him to IR. Additionally, No. 2 wideout Mike Williams lasted just six games, thanks to a hamstring issue.
On the plus side, Vincent Jackson had another strong season, with 78 catches for 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns, and tight end Timothy Wright came out of nowhere to catch 54 passes. Though Glennon had a pretty respectable showing in his debut season, all things considered, the Bucs used free agency to sign a new starting signal-caller in Josh McCown. Also inked to help out the attack were left tackle Anthony Collins and tight end Brandon Myers. Meanwhile, all six of the team's draft picks were devoted to players on the offensive side of the ball.
On the defensive side of things, Lavonte David firmly established himself as one of the best young linebackers in the game last year with a gigantic sophomore season (145 tackles) and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy also had a strong season with 50 tackles and 9.5 sacks. The Bucs' defense allowed a middle of the pack 24.3 points per game in 2013, but in terms of yards allowed, at least, the unit saw improvement in 2013. An upswing is hopefully on tap under the defensive-minded Smith, who along with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, seeks to restore the Tampa-2 defense. The unit, which returns starting safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron, was bolstered in free agency by cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins, as well as defensive end Michael Johnson, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and safety Major Wright. Star cornerback Darrelle Revis was a high-profile subtraction, but he had a massive contract and his skill-set wasn't necessarily an ideal fit for the team's defensive scheme.
Meanwhile, the return to health of Martin provides a boost to the offense, and new coordinator Jeff Tedford has an imposing trio of red-zone options at his disposal in Jackson, along with the team's top two draft picks, wideout Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Michael Johnson – DE, Bengals
Could have a big impact on the Bucs' pass rush if he can return to his 2012 form of 11.5 sacks.
Alterraun Verner – CB, Titans
A good young Pro Bowl corner, who should be a great fit for the Tampa-2 scheme.
Anthony Collins – OT, Bengals
Signed a five-year deal worth $30 million to man the left tackle slot.
Mike Evans – WR, Texas A&M (Round 1, 7th Overall)
A big target with sure hands, who possesses immediate upside as a red-zone threat.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – TE, Washington (Round 2, 38th Overall)
Joins the team's big wideout duo to give the Bucs an intriguing trio of red-zone options.
Brandon Myers – TE, Giants
Adds depth at tight end but must compete with Seferian-Jenkins, Timothy Wright and Luke Stocker.
Darrelle Revis – CB, Patriots
Replaced by Verner, who comes at a more reasonable price tag.
Mike Williams – WR, Bills
Gets a fresh start with the Bills after being slowed by injuries last season.
WHICH JOSH MCCOWN WILL WE SEE IN 2014?
For the vast majority of Josh McCown's NFL career, which began in 2002, he's been a journeyman backup who occasionally saw starting work, either because of injury or incompetence in front of him on the depth chart. He displayed flashes of ability here and there, but never enough to cement a long-term starting assignment. Last season, at the age of 34, the veteran signal-caller enjoyed a renaissance over the five games that he started for the Bears in place of the injured Jay Cutler. In the process, McCown completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 1,829 yards, 13 passing touchdowns and only one interception over eight appearances for the team overall. He looked so good that some thought that he should have remained the team's starter even when Cutler returned to health. The Bucs' new brass evidently feels that McCown, who worked for two years under coach Lovie Smith in Chicago, can build off his 2013 success. He was signed by Tampa Bay in March to a two-year, $10 million contract to become the team's starting quarterback, bypassing second-year man Mike Glennon, at least for the time being. Perhaps working in McCown's favor is that he'll once again have an opportunity to throw to a pair of tall and talented wideouts (Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans) after enjoying a good run while throwing to 6-4 Brandon Marshall and 6-3 Alshon Jeffrey while with Chicago last year.
MORE OFFENSE ON BOARD
After the team struggled to put points on the board last season, it's understandable that the Bucs went all-in to improve their offense at the NFL Draft, with all six of the team's draft choices invested in fortifying the unit. While Lovie Smith may be a defensive-minded coach, it's clear that any successful team needs to be competitive on both sides of the ball. With that in mind, the team's top three picks all have a chance to make an immediate splash, in both real and fantasy terms. No. 7 overall pick Mike Evans provides the Bucs with another talented and big-bodied wideout to complement top option Vincent Jackson. Second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins should emerge as the team's starting tight end, while providing the team with another big red-zone target at 6-5, 262 pounds. The third-round selection of Charles Sims was a bit of a surprise, given all the running backs returning to the team's roster, but injuries did hit the Bucs' backfield hard last season. Moreover, Sims brings plenty of pass-catching skill to the table. Rounding out the team's selections were a pair of fifth-rounders (Kadeem Edwards and Kevin Pamphile) tabbed to bolster the team's offensive line depth, and Robert Herron, a speedy sixth-round wideout, who could compete for a role out of the slot.
Rising: After missing 10 games last season, Doug Martin returns to head the team's backfield and hopes to recapture the form he enjoyed as a rookie in 2012.
Declining: Timothy Wright will probably see significantly less targets in 2014 with the team's additions at tight end.
Sleeper: Austin Seferian-Jenkins figures to see enough red-zone opportunities to help out those in TD-heavy formats.
Supersleeper: Given his pass-catching prowess, Charles Sims could provide PPR utility out of the gate.
Lavonte David - LB
The tackling machine and big play defender mans the weak side linebacker slot.
Mason Foster - LB
A candidate to top 100 tackles while handling the team's middle linebacker duties.
Dashon Goldson - S
Bouncing back from offseason foot surgery but a hard-hitter when he's on the field.
RotoWire Rank: 15