This article is part of our Team Previews series.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
With the reigning NFC champs in the division, asking for anything more than a wild-card berth out of the Bucs is likely unrealistic. However, significant steps forward from some of the offense's key pieces, as well as improved secondary play, could pave the way for a reversal of last season's 6-10 record.
THREE KEY STORY LINES
WINSTON IN THE SPOTLIGHT IN SOPHOMORE CAMPAIGN
Rookie franchise records of 4,042 passing yards and 28 total touchdowns have served to boost expectations surrounding Jameis Winston. The 2015 first overall pick reportedly upgraded his physical conditioning in the offseason, prompting an 18-pound weight loss. If he starts to exhibit more mobility, the Florida State product should build upon his first-year mark of 3.9 yards per carry. Nonetheless, Winston's continued maturation will be primarily dependent on fine-tuning his rapport with WR Mike Evans, who hauled in exactly half of his 148 targets and led the NFL with 11 drops last season. A return to full health by Austin Seferian-Jenkins would likewise provide Winston with another towering option downfield, but the tight end must prove his durability after ankle, back and shoulder injuries limited him to active status a mere 16 times in his first two campaigns with the Buccaneers. To round out Winston's arsenal, RB Doug Martin returns on a considerable contract, joining with pass-catching back Charles Sims to steer defensive attention away from the sophomore signal-caller.
CAN MARTIN AVOID ANOTHER DIP IN PERFORMANCE?
As was the case after his standout rookie year in 2012, RB Doug Martin heads into the upcoming campaign looking to build on the previous season's Pro Bowl-caliber production. Before reaching that lofty threshold, he entered a contract year with lingering doubts about his future, considering he generated 950 yards on 261 combined carries across back-to-back injury-shortened seasons. However, Martin embraced the focus bestowed upon him in new coordinator (and current coach) Dirk Koetter's offense and racked up 1,402 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, both of which served as the running back's best since bursting onto the scene. The resurgence helped Martin earn a five-year, $35 million contract that prevented his exit, and the 27-year-old will be expected to validate the Bucs' faith in him by avoiding a repeat of the precipitous drop in output from earlier in his career. The retirement of stalwart O-lineman Logan Mankins will presumably make the task a bit more daunting, but Tampa Bay attempted to salvage the situation with the acquisition of free-agent G J.R. Sweezy from the Seahawks.
WILL SEFERIAN-JENKINS DELIVER ON POTENTIAL?
A 6-5, 260-pound tight end with 4.5 speed rightfully should be expected to torment opposing defenses, but Austin Seferian-Jenkins has instead done just that to the Bucs and fantasy owners alike in his first two seasons. Kicking off 2015 with a shoulder injury, what was expected to cost the imposing TE minimal time lingered and instead turned into a nine-game absence. After returning in Week 13, he was unable to secure more than three receptions in any game, leaving his five-catch, 110-yard performance in the opener as the apex of last year's slate. The abbreviated campaign resulted in Seferian-Jenkins simply matching the 21 catches produced during a similarly injury-plagued rookie season. With 33-year-old WR Vincent Jackson on the downside of his career, Seferian-Jenkins is the prime in-house candidate to develop into Jameis Winston's second-favorite target after WR Mike Evans, advancing his standing in PPR formats. In any case, Seferian-Jenkins' presence for all 16 contests will be a critical component in Winston (and the offense as a whole) taking meaningful steps forward in the fall.
KEY JOB BATTLE
An ACL tear suffered in Week 6 by Louis Murphy opened the door for two rookie receivers, the undrafted Adam Humphries and Donteea Dye, to receive extended playing time. While Humphries displayed surer hands and proved quite effective at moving the chains, Dye, a former track and field star at Division III Heidelberg, brought more down-the-field explosiveness. The sophomore duo will face off against the returning Murphy, who'll have an eye on reclaiming the role of third wide receiver, and fellow second-year receiver Kenny Bell, who missed all of his rookie campaign with a hamstring injury but whose potential openly excites Bucs coaches. Even wild-card candidates Evan Spencer and speedster Bernard Reedy have to be accounted for, with the latter also notably having a history with Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter from their mutual tenures with the Falcons.
The Bucs' fortunes depend on Winston. The ascension of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to head coach ensures that Winston will work in the system that produced his franchise rookie passing record. Both the continuity and experience Winston gained after 16 starts as a rookie figure to pay off for his owners in the coming season.
RISING: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Seferian-Jenkins' second season was largely hampered by a shoulder injury that robbed him of nine games. Full health and an impressive size/speed combination may elevate his pass-catching viability in 2016.
FALLING: Vincent Jackson
Enduring two separate knee injuries, Jackson totaled 33 catches in 10 games last season, or his lowest marks since 2010. Moreover, he has only five touchdowns among 103 receptions in the past two seasons.
SLEEPER: Charles Sims
Sims' leap forward last season should carry over to 2016. Entering his second year in coach Dirk Koetter's system, the dual threat could garner additional opportunities in both phases of the offense.
THE INJURY FRONT
Vincent Jackson, WR – The 33-year-old wideout experienced an injury-marred 2015, enduring two separate MCL sprains that caused him to miss a total of six games and finish the season on IR. However, the resurgent Jackson was back on the field for minicamp in late April and practicing without restriction. He was held out of the Bucs' mandatory minicamp in June for what appeared to be precautionary measures but is currently slotted to resume his role as the No. 2 receiver for Jameis Winston in 2016.
Louis Murphy, WR – The veteran receiver's 2015 campaign ended in Week 6 against the Redskins when he suffered a torn ACL, and Murphy had yet to resume on-field work by the time June minicamp wrapped up for the Bucs. However, all reports have him returning either at the start of or shortly into training camp, and he'll jump into the midst of what should be a heated, multi-contender battle for the third receiver role he held last season before injury.
Kenny Bell, WR – The "redshirt rookie", as he's been termed by head coach Dirk Koetter, spent all of his first pro season on IR after suffering a hamstring injury in training camp but was at full health by the time the offseason began. Consistently impressive throughout both OTAs and minicamp, Bell was notably one of several players seen auditioning for the Bucs' open kick returner job this spring as well. His 4.38 speed appeared to be fully intact on several long catches in on-field work, which could play a pivotal factor in his push for Tampa's No. 3 WR job this summer.
Kwon Alexander, LB – Alexander hit the ground running last offseason and never looked back, winning the middle linebacker job in training camp and then excelling through the Bucs' first 12 games before serving a four-game PED suspension to finish out the season. He averaged just under eight tackles per game while also making plenty of impact plays, totaling seven tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and nine passes defensed. With a full NFL offseason program under his belt and an aggressive defensive scheme instituted by new coordinator Mike Smith, Alexander looks primed for a breakout IDP campaign.
Daryl Smith, LB – The 34-year-old offseason acquisition appears to be an ideal fit, given his impressive productivity over the last three seasons and experience in new defensive coordinator Mike Smith's scheme from their time together in Jacksonville. Smith topped 120 tackles in all three of his Baltimore campaigns, while also posting nine sacks and snagging five interceptions. Given his still-viable skills and expertise, Smith could be in line for solid numbers as he works alongside Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David.
Robert Ayers, DE – The nine-year veteran free agent signee enjoyed a breakout 2015 with the Giants, totaling 41 tackles, 9.5 sacks, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles. Ayers' sack total last season would have paced what was a generally weak Bucs pass rush, and he's expected to have plenty of opportunity to get after the quarterback once again in new defensive coordinator Mike Smith's attacking scheme. Ayers may even get some additional time inside next to Gerald McCoy in order to accommodate talented second-round pick Noah Spence at DE, which could result in additional opportunity for tackles and sacks as a result of the attention typically bestowed on the perennial All-Pro tackle.
BRENT GRIMES – CB (from Dolphins)
Veteran brings desperately needed, ball-hawking presence to secondary.
Daryl Smith – LB (from Ravens)
Tackle machine had nine sacks, five picks in the last three years.
Robert Ayers – DE (from Giants)
Versatile lineman can provide both outside and interior pass rush.
VERNON HARGREAVES III – CB (Rd. 1, No. 11 – Florida)
First-round pick brings infusion of youth and talent to defense.
ROBERTO AGUAYO – K (Rd. 2, No. 59 – Florida State)
Surprise second-round pick will be squarely in spotlight from Week 1.
Logan Mankins – G (retired)
Consummate pro's leadership on offensive line will be missed.
CONNOR BARTH – K (to Saints)
Team's all-time most accurate placekicker will be replaced by rookie.
BRUCE CARTER – LB (to Jets)
Young vet supplied experience and depth to linebacker corps.