Offseason Power Rankings for Every Player on the Buccaneers
Any coach will tell you this is where champions are made: in the long, hot and humid summer afternoons, when very few are watching.
As for the Bucs, they're hopeful that the additions they've made this offseason will be enough to get them over the proverbial hump and back into the playoffs come next January, which would snap a five-season playoff drought.
For the sake of this article, I fast-forwarded past training camp and preseason, "cutting" the roster down to the league-mandated 53-player limit and compiled a Bucs player power ranking from the resulting roster.
Yes, injuries will happen, and two months from now this ranking could look completely different, but we'll plow ahead as if nothing has happened from an injury perspective.
The first two slides are the non-starters lumped into two larger groups, with the (projected) starters each getting a dedicated slide to analyze why I ranked them where I did.
53. G Cody Wallace
52. LB Jacob Cutrera
51. T Mike Remmers
50. G Desmond Wynn
49. T Jamon Meredith
48. MLB Najee Goode
47. TE Zach Miller
46. WR Eric Page
45. DT Derek Landri
44. DE William Gholston
43. C Ted Larsen
42. CB Anthony Gaitor
41. S Keith Tandy
40. DT Gary Gibson
39. RB Jeff Demps
38. S Ahmad Black (pictured above)
This group consists of mainly second-tier players and backups, particularly along both sides of the offensive and defensive line, as well as third and fourth options at skill positions such as receiver and running back.
Notable players are: Gaitor, Demps and Black, who could all see considerable playing time this season.
37. WR Kevin Ogletree
36. LS Andrew Economos
35. CB Leonard Johnson
34. DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim
33. LB Dekoda Watson
32. QB Mike Glennon
31. WR Tiquan Underwood
30. RB Brian Leonard
29. P Michael Koenen
28. TE Luke Stocker
27. RB Mike James
26. CB Eric Wright
25. DE Steven Means (pictured above)
24. K Connor Barth
23. LB Adam Hayward
This group of players should see their fair share of game action this season, as they are the main backups to the starters. For those who are curious, I have Economos rated this high because of how quietly efficient he is. Long snappers don't get a lot of praise and are often the forgotten player unless they mess something up, but Economos has been a very good LS for several years.
Underwood and Stocker are likely to haul in 40-60 passes combined, while James could find himself spelling Doug Martin and carrying the rock a handful of times per game.
Means is the wild card of the group because the Bucs need their pass rush to step up this season, and he was drafted specifically for his abilities to get after the quarterback. Both starting defensive ends have some injury concerns, and Means' abilities could be put to the test frequently this season.
22. TE Tom Crabtree
Crabtree (6'4", 245 lbs) has the size and athleticism the Bucs need from their tight end, and he should be a nice addition to the offense, despite the fact he failed to see significant playing time in Green Bay.
Tight end Dallas Clark hauled in 47 passes last season for the Bucs, so Crabtree will get more looks than he is accustomed to, having tallied just 18 total receptions to this point in his career.
With that said, the presence of receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams should do wonders to alleviate any anxiety Crabtree may have in regard to feeling pressured to produce.
21. FB Erik Lorig
While Doug Martin garnered much of the attention last season during his breakout rookie campaign, Lorig was the driving force behind much of his success, especially after the Bucs lost both of their starting guards to injury.
The funny thing is, Lorig was drafted as a defensive end and has made the transition to fullback with relative ease, even to the point where he has flashed an ability as a reliable pass-catcher, having caught 12 passes in 2012.
No, he doesn't play a sexy position and no, he isn't Mike Alstott, but Lorig's importance to the success of the Bucs offense is without question.
20. DT Akeem Spence
With the loss of defensive tackle Roy Miller to free agency, the Bucs needed to find someone to play alongside Gerald McCoy, and Akeem Spence is just that player.
Known as a workhorse and renowned for his impressive weight-room strength, Spence (6'1", 307 lbs) is expected to not only fill in for the departed Miller but also help alleviate the Bucs pass-rush woes.
On tape, Spence has shown he is capable of being a disruptive, nasty force along the line. How quickly he can translate that to the NFL remains to be seen.
19. LB Jonathan Casillas
The Bucs signed Casillas (6'1", 227 lbs) away from division rival New Orleans, hoping that he can provide a spark on the field and help them to get past the Saints in the standings.
Casillas should edge out Dekoda Watson for the starting spot, if for no other reason than because of the experience gap between the two. That said, it won't be easy. Watson is bigger (6'2", 240 lbs) and faster, and will have a slight edge in terms of knowing the terminology as well.
At worst, I could see Casillas and Watson splitting time, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.
18. C Jeremy Zuttah
Zuttah has proven himself to be Mr. Reliable, having started 30 of the last 32 games for the Bucs. His play last season stood out amongst a patchwork offensive line that saw both Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph lost to season-ending injuries.
Athletic and versatile, Zuttah has 60 career starts, but is entering just his second season as the starting center. Better yet, at 26 years of age, he is getting ready to enter the prime of his career, which is great news for the Bucs and bad news for teams lining up across from him.
17. RT Demar Dotson
Dotson, a monster of a man at right tackle (6'9", 315 lbs), started 15 games last season after supplanting the inconsistent Jeremy Trueblood.
Originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Dotson has proven himself to be a tough, reliable tackle and someone the Bucs are clearly comfortable with, having recently re-signed him to a four-year contract extension.
The scary thing is, Dotson is still truly learning how to play the position, as he played just one season of college football (Southern Miss.) and has just 17 career NFL starts under his belt.
16. LB Mason Foster
Foster, a third-round pick in 2011, is slowly becoming the dominant force the Bucs were hopeful of when they selected him out of the University of Washington.
Quick, instinctive and a sound-tackler, Foster and fellow linebacker Lavonte David have all of the potential to become the next generation of great Bucs linebacking tandems, much like Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles before them.
Though he is still a liability in pass coverage, Foster has shown himself capable of being a physical, run-stuffing defender, and someone who truly complements the pieces around him. All told, the Bucs did very well for themselves by landing him with a third-round selection.
15. CB Johnthan Banks
When the Bucs traded away their 13th overall pick in April's draft to the New York Jets for cornerback Darrelle Revis, the need to draft a cornerback became that much less urgent.
Although, apparently not enough to convince the Bucs to look elsewhere, as they selected the reigning Thorpe Award-winning defensive back in the second round (No. 43 overall) anyway. Banks, when paired with Revis, gives the Bucs the added luxury of having two defensive backs who have thrived in press coverage.
Though he may not be the fastest, his combination of size (6'2", 190 lbs) and ball skills should translate just fine at this level, and at the very least, he gives the Bucs an upgrade over their previous options.
14. WR Mike Williams
Since being drafted in the fourth round in 2010, Williams has proven many of the skeptics and naysayers wrong by posting some very respectable numbers for the Bucs. In his first three seasons, Williams has caught 193 passes for 2,731 yards and 23 touchdowns, all while playing in 47 of a possible 48 games.
Williams isn't fast, like say, Mike Wallace, but he is shifty and has incredible body control, which has enabled him to make numerous acrobatic catches. He has shown great hands and leaping ability and has quickly become a reliable target for quarterback Josh Freeman.
The best part, however, has been his ability to stay focused on football and out of the trouble some had expected him to get into following his unceremonious departure from Syracuse.
13. G Davin Joseph
The Bucs lost Joseph to a knee injury last preseason before they or the fans ever really got a glimpse at how potentially potent their offensive line could be with everyone healthy.
While the Bucs went on to finish in the top 15 in rushing yards last season, it left many wondering—myself included—how much better the unit could have been if both Joseph and free-agent signee Carl Nicks had avoided injury and played the entire season together.
Joseph is big, agile and nasty, and, prior to his injury, had started 83 games since being drafted in the first round in 2006. The good news for Bucs fans is Joseph should be fully healed and ready to go once the season starts in September.
12. S Mark Barron
During his rookie season in 2012, Barron showed flashes of how good he can become with a little seasoning and coaching. All told, Barron registered 88 tackles, a forced fumble and one interception while supplying the defense with an impact safety.
Yes, he was beaten on multiple deep passes and long touchdowns in the process, but again, that was kind of expected given it was his first season and the defense as a whole struggled against the pass.
The addition of fellow safety Dashon Goldson, along with the invaluable game experience from last season should help Barron as he enters his second season.
Oh yeah, and Darrelle Revis should help, too.
11. G Carl Nicks
When the Bucs signed Nicks last offseason, their intentions were clear: They were tired of being pushed around and wanted to be the ones doing the pushing.
Nicks is equally adept at pass protection as he is at opening running lanes, which fans got a brief glimpse of prior to Nicks going down for the season with a toe injury in late October.
With the emergence of running back Doug Martin, coupled with the Bucs wanting to establish the run, it is pivotal that both Joseph and Nicks stay healthy for the offense to begin firing on all cylinders this season.
10. T Donald Penn
Though questions about his weight continue to dog him, Penn has demonstrated an ability to stay healthy, having started 92 consecutive games at left tackle coming into this season.
And while he is far from an elite tackle, his skill set is certainly on par with some of the better tackles in the league, so much so that the Bucs felt comfortable enough to sign him to a six-year, $48 million contract a few seasons ago.
Further, he is the only left tackle Josh Freeman has ever had protecting his blind side, so the comfort level for Tampa Bay's franchise quarterback certainly plays into why Penn is so important to this team.
9. LB Lavonte David
Lavonte David "fell" to the Bucs with the 58th overall selection in 2012, and the Bucs are sure glad everyone else passed on him.
David started all 16 games last season and racked up a team-leading 139 tackles, two sacks and an interception, which led to some drawing comparisons to former Bucs great Derrick Brooks.
David is quick, instinctive, takes great angles, shows a knack for finding the football and is seldom out of position to make a play once he arrives at the ball-carrier. While Darrelle Revis may be the "face" of the defense, David has established himself as its heart and soul.
8. DE Adrian Clayborn
Heading into last season, the expectations were pretty high for Adrian Clayborn and the rest of the young, highly talented defensive line that he was a member of.
After all, Clayborn had a very respectable rookie campaign in 2011 when he tallied 42 tackles, 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Lined up alongside the likes of Gerald McCoy, Da'Quan Bowers and Roy Miller, Clayborn was expected to build on his modest rookie success and help solidify the Bucs as a team to be reckoned with.
That changed in Week 3 against the Dallas Cowboys, however, as Clayborn was lost for the season with a torn ACL. That didn't bode well for the Bucs as they went on to finish with just 27 team sacks in 2012, which was the third-fewest in the NFL.
Clayborn is said to be on track for a full recovery and should be fine once the season begins, which would go a long way toward improving their disappointing sack totals from a year ago.
7. WR Vincent Jackson
In his first season with the Bucs in 2012, Vincent Jackson lived up to the hype and, perhaps more importantly, the paychecks he was cashing in.
Jackson led the team with 72 receptions for 1,384 yards, including a 95-yard reception against the New Orleans Saints in October. Both marks were also career bests, topping his previous bests of 68 catches for 1,167 yards set in 2009.
His eight touchdown receptions last season were second-most on the team, trailing only fellow receiver Mike Williams, who had nine.
Jackson is big, fast and has incredible hands, which helped facilitate several franchise passing marks set by quarterback Josh Freeman in the process.
6. Dashon Goldson
All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson was plucked away from the San Francisco 49ers during free agency, coming to the Bucs after agreeing to a five-year, $41.25 million contract.
Having played with one of the best defensive units in the entire NFL the last few seasons, Goldson is expected to not only lend his expertise, but also help fellow safety Mark Barron become a better all-around player.
Further, the additions of Goldson and cornerback Darrelle Revis are expected to greatly improve what was the worst pass defense in all of the NFL last season, as the Bucs allowed 297.4 yards per game.
Goldson is a tough, physical, ball-hawking safety who has played at a very high level for multiple seasons and is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl selections. Paired with Barron, Revis and rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks, the Bucs pass defense should be drastically improved from a year ago.
5. DE Da'Quan Bowers
Da'Quan Bowers was once considered a top overall prospect of the 2011 NFL draft, only to have concerns over his knee cause his stock to drop far enough where the Bucs were able to land him with the 51st overall pick in the second round.
Bowers has battled through a few injuries since being drafted, enough so that it has largely kept him from reaching his full potential thus far. That said, Bowers is entering the 2013 campaign without the need to rehab from an injury, which is a first for his young career.
So, how good can Bowers potentially be?
In limited action last season, Bowers recorded 13 tackles and three sacks after rehabbing his way back from a torn Achilles last offseason. The Bucs will need Bowers and Adrian Clayborn, along with the rest of the defensive line, to step up their collective effort in order to see their 27 team sacks improve this season.
4. DT Gerald McCoy
Gerald McCoy played his first full season in 2012, after having missed parts of each of his first two seasons due to season-ending injuries.
It's no coincidence, then, that McCoy played the best football of his young career either, racking up 30 tackles and five sacks on his way to his first Pro Bowl selection.
With the recent retirement of safety Ronde Barber, McCoy has been anointed the defensive leader of a very young, yet equally talented Bucs team that is itching to get back on the winning side, having missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons.
It's easy to like McCoy; he's loud, charismatic and has a larger-than-life personality, which should suit him well as he begins his journey as the next defensive leader for an organization that has seen some very good defensive leaders walk down their hallways.
And if the Bucs are to return to their once-dominant ways defensively, it will all hinge on the efforts of No. 93 up front.
3. RB Doug Martin
Doug Martin is to the offense what Lavonte David is to the defense: its heart and soul.
Martin slashed and dashed his way to nearly 2,000 total yards of offense last season, including 1,454 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He had five 100-plus-yard games, including his breakout performance against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9 when he rushed for 251 yards and four touchdowns.
All told, the rookie from Boise State racked up 368 total touches and finished inside the top five in rushing yards for the league, trailing only Jamaal Charles (1,509), Marshawn Lynch (1,590), Alfred Morris (1,613) and Adrian Peterson (2,097).
The Bucs will continue to look to Martin to serve as the offensive catalyst this season and beyond, and for that reason he is No. 3 on my player power rankings.
2. CB Darrelle Revis
The Bucs were so set on landing Darrelle Revis that they were willing to mortgage free agency and the plethora of cornerbacks available to do so.
The decision to stand pat, even while their anxious fanbase watched as one free agent after another signed deals around the league, was a methodical choice to wither down the New York Jets' asking price of multiple high-round draft choices as compensation for the All-Pro cornerback.
In the end, the Bucs gave up just two picks: their first-round choice this year (No. 13 overall) and a conditional fourth-round selection next year that could turn into a third-round pick if Revis is on the roster at the start of the next league year.
All things considered, it is a relative bargain for a player many consider to be the top overall cornerback in the NFL.
Revis is the ideal player for the system that the Bucs deploy. He is a shutdown press corner unlike anyone they've ever employed and instantly provides them with someone capable of eliminating an entire side of a football field.
And when you're the Bucs, who allowed nearly 300 passing yards per game last season, that is a sight for sore eyes.
1. QB Josh Freeman
For better or worse, the Bucs will only go as far as their enigmatic quarterback will take them. When Josh Freeman is on his game, there are few quarterbacks who look as good as he does. But when he's off, he's about as bad as it gets.
Case in point: through 13 games last season, Freeman had thrown for 3,192 yards and 25 TDs, with just eight interceptions. However, in Weeks 15 and 16, Freeman combined to throw just one TD with eight interceptions, and the Bucs lost both contests by a combined score of 69-13.
It is those types of head-scratching performances that have left many in the Tampa Bay area screaming at their televisions during Freeman's tenure as starting quarterback with the Bucs.
For all of the great things he has accomplished—namely setting franchise marks in touchdown passes for a career (78) and a single season (27), as well as passing yards in a single season with 4,065 last year—he has chipped away at any sort of talk of being a "franchise" quarterback with numerous inconsistent games.
Simply put, that has to change this year.
Freeman is entering the final year of his rookie deal and will become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. If he has any hopes of landing the big, "franchise" quarterback-type contract, he must not only put together another season comparable to 2012, but he must eliminate the three or four bad games that he posts every year.
Oh, and a playoff berth would certainly help, too.