This article is part of our Team Previews series.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Plenty of attention has been heaped on Bruce Arians' potential influence, but defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' work will be equally important. The Buccaneers will need to be significantly better at slowing down the opposition than in recent seasons for any adjustment to have an impact.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
CAN WINSTON MASTER THE NEW OFFENSE?
There were questions last offseason regarding the Buccaneers' willingness to pick up Jameis Winston's fifth-year option after he was suspended for violating the league's personal conduct policy. He put together a mixed bag of a final season in coach Dirk Koetter's offense, throwing for 2,992 yards and posting a 19:14 TD:INT across 11 games. Winston ceded six starts to Ryan Fitzpatrick as a result of both the ban and poor play. On a positive note, Winston posted 300-yard efforts in nearly half (five) of his outings, while recording a career-best 64.6 completion percentage, equaling a career high with 7.9 yards per attempt and rushing for 281 yards, also a new high-water mark. He now will have a chance to toil in new head man Bruce Arians' attack, one that helped Carson Palmer produce the three most prolific yardage totals of his career. The losses of veteran speed merchant DeSean Jackson and trusted slot option Adam Humphries reduce the overall weaponry at Winston's disposal, which likely will result in increased target shares for Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard and potentially roles for newcomer Breshad Perriman, 2018 fifth-round pick Justin Watson and/or 2019 sixth-rounder Scott Miller. Winston's gun-slinging style and strong arm seem an ideal fit for Arians' scheme, and a short learning curve would help maximize his upside.
WILL THE DEPARTURES AT WIDEOUT BE OVERCOME?
When DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries left town this offseason via trade and free agency, respectively, so did a combined 117 catches, 1,590 yards and nine touchdowns from the offense's 2018 tally. Both exits were orchestrated by the Buccaneers, as the relationship with Jackson was sufficiently frayed to warrant a divorce, and Humphries' $36 million offer from the Titans was deemed too rich to match. The organization snagged the underachieving Breshad Perriman in free agency to give the offense another vertical threat. Plus, Justin Watson can help in the short-to-intermediate passing attack, while rookie wideout Scott Miller impressed during the offseason program. Despite the possibility of any of the trio to make an impact, this unit will rely heavily on Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard to serve as the primary receivers for Jameis Winston. Under the Winston-Bruce Arians combo, Evans seems poised to shatter his per-16 game marks of 82 receptions (on 149 targets) for 1,268 yards and eight TDs. Meanwhile, Godwin will take on the majority of slot snaps handled by the departed Humphries. With an uptick in his 5.9 targets per contest from 2018 all but guaranteed, Godwin has the opportunity in front of him for his first 1,000-yard season. As for Howard, a true breakout may be in the offing for a tight end that's averaged 16.6 YPC for his career.
BOWLES ATTEMPTS TO TURN AROUND DEFENSE
Six weeks of subpar defensive play to open the 2018 season got coordinator Mike Smith the boot, and replacement Mark Duffner couldn't produce much better results from a short-handed group. The Buccaneers ultimately allowed the sixth-most yards per game (383.4) and an NFC-high 29.0 points per contest. They were particularly porous through the air, yielding 259 passing yards per game and an NFL-worst 110.9 quarterback rating. By the end of the year, the rush defense also saw a notable drop in quality of play, with Tampa giving up 4.7 yards per carry. The shortcomings undercut the offense's efforts, and new coordinator Todd Bowles will be charged with avoiding a repeat. Due to Bowles' usage of a hybrid 3-4 alignment, old Bucs Gerald McCoy and Kwon Alexander were jettisoned in favor of scheme-appropriate players Ndamukong Suh, 2019 fifth overall pick Devin White, Shaquil Barrett and Deone Bucannon in the front seven. On the back end, the young cornerback duo of Carlton Davis and Vernon Hargreaves will play a press-coverage-heavy approach in which they both thrived in college. The ability of fresh and existing faces to acclimate to new roles and responsibilities figures to be integral to how quickly the defense takes, and, in turn, how far the team can go in the coming season.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Mike Evans
Evans' career-high 1,524 receiving yards in 2018 notably came with DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries (both offseason departees) still on the team. In new coach Bruce Arians' downfield-centric attack, Evans is a virtual lock for triple-digit targets while potentially seeing the average depth of those looks bump up a significant margin.
RISING: Chris Godwin
Set for a breakout with DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries off the roster and Bruce Arians on his sideline, Godwin will have a chance to build on the 59-842-7 line he produced in his sophomore campaign.
FALLING: Cameron Brate
Brate sits behind the ultra-talented O.J. Howard and completed his rehab from offseason hip surgery. With plenty of mouths to feed, and Bruce Arians' recent offenses deemphasizing the tight end, modest production appears likely.
SLEEPER: Ronald Jones
Jones gets a fresh start with a new regime and brings a more dynamic skill set than incumbent Peyton Barber. Within an aggressive offense that should keep defenses on their collective heels, Jones could thrive.
KEY JOB BATTLE – STARTING RUNNING BACK
Peyton Barber continues to beat the odds and not just hang on to a roster spot, but also enter training camp as the top back for the second consecutive campaign. Granted, the fourth-year pro has yet to do anything spectacular – he hasn't exceeded 871 rushing yards or 3.9 YPC in any season. However, 2018 second-round pick Ronald Jones was so thoroughly ineffective as a rookie that he never came close to mounting a challenge to Barber's spot. Barber doesn't do anything especially well, but he's proven a durable, reliable power runner that sported an impressive 14.1 percent broken-tackle rate last year.
The stage is set for that to change heading into training camp, however. New head man Bruce Arians made sure to single out Jones early in the offseason, even invoking his former Cardinals charge David Johnson when speculating on the different ways he might be able to exploit Jones' skill set. The compliments continued, with Jones at one point labeled as the most impressive player of the offseason by the coaching staff and then demonstrating further improvement in OTAs. The most recent reports indicate Jones added over 10 pounds of muscle this offseason as well, leaving him with no shortage of promise.
DEVIN WHITE – LB (Rd. 1, No. 5 – LSU)
A diverse skill set should help him fill Kwon Alexander's shoes.
BRESHAD PERRIMAN – WR (from Browns)
Veteran brings a downfield component to the new offensive scheme.
MATT GAY – K (Rd. 5, No. 145 – Utah)
Drilled 73 percent of his 50-plus-yard field-goal attempts in college.
DEONE BUCANNON – LB (from Cardinals)
The starting free safety is a good source of tackles.
DeSEAN JACKSON – WR (to Eagles)
Speed and experience will be missed, despite spotty Buccaneers tenure.
ADAM HUMPHRIES – WR (to Titans)
The slot receiver had sure hands and a rapport with Jameis Winston.
GERALD McCOY – DT (to Panthers)
Six-time Pro Bowler was replaced by a scheme fit in Ndamukong Suh.
KWON ALEXANDER – LB (to 49ers)
Loss of leadership, speed and tackling will be missed.
THE INJURY FRONT
O.J. Howard, TE – For the second consecutive year, Howard finished his season on injured reserve. Lower-leg issues once again were at fault, with the tight end suffering ankle and foot injuries in a Week 11 game against the Giants. The good news is that the third-year pro still had enough of a platform to take a significant step forward from his rookie campaign, posting a 16.6 YPC figure that ranked tops at his position and establishing new career highs in receptions (34) and receiving yards (565) while recording five touchdowns. Although new coach Bruce Arians' offenses typically haven't featured prolific tight ends, a now-healthy Howard has the unique skill set to serve as an exception to that rule.
Cameron Brate, TE – Brate actually played in all 16 games last season, but the offseason brought news that he'd actually done so with torn labrums in both hips. Subsequently, he underwent surgery in January and missed the offseason program, but he was given a clean bill of health in time for training camp. Brate remains the No. 2 TE behind Howard when the latter is healthy, but there's no denying the former's appeal in the red zone. Brate has no fewer than six touchdowns in any of the last three seasons, even as he's seen his catches and receiving yardage drop for two consecutive campaigns. While it remains to be seen how much fantasy utility a backup tight end will have in Arians' offense, Brate remains a key complementary figure that is another Howard injury away from a more prominent role.
Vernon Hargreaves, CB – Hargreaves has opened his career with injury-shortened campaigns in two of his first three seasons. The 2016 first-round pick couldn't even finish the opener last year, exiting with a shoulder issue that ultimately ended his season. This offseason started off on a positive note for Hargreaves, who received a vote of confidence from Arians. The corner declared himself at full health by mid-April and participated in the offseason program, though he was held out of a May practice by Arians for what was reportedly poor preparation.