Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Projecting Bucs' Starting Lineup Pre-2014 NFL Draft
The Bucs will have plenty of fresh faces in the starting lineup in 2014, with a couple of them likely to come from the 2014 NFL draft. With needs at guard and wide receiver still present, it's a strong possibility that high draft picks at those two positions could come in and start immediately.
With the draft now just a week away, let's take an early look at what the Bucs' starting lineup should look like when they suit up against the Carolina Panthers for the first game of the 2014 season.
Starter: Josh McCown
The Bucs signed McCown to a two-year deal in the offseason, and head coach Lovie Smith quickly made it clear that he was brought in to be the starter. The 34-year-old Texas native threw 13 touchdowns and just one interception for the Chicago Bears last season after taking over for the injured Jay Cutler.
Mike Glennon had a respectable rookie season in 2013, especially considering that he was a third-round pick thrust into the starting role after just three games. Though Glennon threw 19 touchdowns and only nine interceptions last year, the Bucs' new decision-makers might want to hand pick their own franchise quarterback in this year's draft.
Starter: Doug Martin
After a sensational rookie season, Martin struggled to find daylight in 2013. Martin managed just 456 yards rushing in seven games last season before missing the rest of the year with a shoulder injury. But following a successful surgery, the Boise State product has been cleared to play and will return as the Bucs' featured back.
In Martin's stead, rookie sixth-round pick Mike James and waiver-wire pickup Bobby Rainey each gave impressive performances during the second half of the season. James suffered a broken ankle the week after rushing for 158 yards against the Seattle Seahawks, and Rainey carried the torch the rest of the way with 566 yards and five touchdowns on the year.
Both should help provide valuable depth behind Martin.
Starters: Vincent Jackson & Draft Pick
The Bucs were thin at receiver even before trading Mike Williams, but now it's imperative they they address the position early in the draft. After Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay's depth chart at the position includes Chris Owusu, Lavelle Hawkins and Louis Murphy, none of whom should be counted on as the team's No. 2 target.
Tampa has been linked to the top receivers in this year's draft in Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans, but this year's class at the position is deep enough for the Bucs to grab a starter in the second or third round.
No matter whom it is, if a receiver is grabbed by the Bucs early in the draft, expect him to start opposite Jackson from Day 1.
Starter: Brandon Myers
Even though North Carolina's Eric Ebron has been linked to the Bucs with the seventh overall pick, getting a tight end just isn't a huge need for the team.
Tampa Bay has two capable deckhands at the position, Brandon Myers and Tim Wright, who both bring different strengths to the table. Myers, who was brought in as part of the Bucs' flurry of first-day free-agent signings, is a good all-around player who can perform at a high level as both a blocker and a receiver.
Wright was one of the bright spots last year on Tampa's struggling offense. He is a converted receiver who can create mismatches in the passing game and consistently move the chains.
Both will play plenty of snaps, but given Myers' edge in the blocking department, we should see him start in most of the base packages.
Starters: Anthony Collins (LT), Draft Pick (LG), Evan Dietrich-Smith (C), Jamon Meredith (RG), Demar Dotson (RT)
The most disappointing unit on the entire team last year, the Bucs struggled both to protect the passer and generate consistent production in the running game. This led to quite a few changes in the offseason.
Free-agent acquisition Evan Dietrich-Smith will replace the departed Jeremy Zuttah, while Anthony Collins was brought in to take Donald Penn's spot at left tackle. Demar Dotson, easily the brightest spot on the unit in 2013, returns at right tackle.
Guard is where things get interesting. Carl Nicks expects to be back for training camp, Oniel Cousins was brought in from Cleveland and Jamon Meredith was re-signed. Meredith was solid last season, but Cousins should be expected to provide depth rather than being counted on to start.
The Bucs should use one of their first three picks on a guard such as UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo, North Dakota State's Billy Turner or Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson. Should Nicks not be ready to go when the season begins, I expect a rookie to be starting in his place.
Starters: Michael Johnson and Adrian Clayborn (DE), Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald (DT)
Improving the pass rush has been a struggle for the Bucs for too long now.
To that end, the team spent big money on free agent DE Michael Johnson and also brought in DT Clinton McDonald from the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Johnson should give Tampa Bay a much-needed threat off the edge, while McDonald should improve the push up the middle.
The returning starters on the defensive line will be Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy at defensive tackle and Adrian Clayborn at defensive end. McCoy was as disruptive in 2013 as he's ever been in his career, but Clayborn managed only 5.5 sacks and the team has already announced that they're not picking up his option for next season.
Clayborn will be pushed by Da'Quan Bowers and William Gholston at end, while Akeem Spence will hope to build on a fairly strong rookie campaign as a rotational player on the inside.
Starters: Lavonte David (WLB), Mason Foster (MLB), Jonathan Casillas (SLB)
Explosive playmaker Lavonte David will hold the fort down at weak-side linebacker, as he continues to prove himself to be one of the best young defenders in the NFL. Mason Foster will stay in the middle and will now be the one calling the plays, and he's looking forward to what Lovie Smiths' defensive scheme brings.
Things will likely be a little less settled at the strongside position. Jonathan Casillas was re-signed in the off-season, but he's coming off a season-ending knee injury. Free-agent acquisition Dane Fletcher could also get some snaps there, but I expect the Bucs to find a rookie in the later rounds of the draft to compete for playing time at the position.
LSU's Lamin Barrow is a versatile, athletic defender whom the Bucs have met with multiple times and would make sense if he's still there in the fifth round
Given Casillas' previous starting experience last season, he should get the first crack at the starting job.
Starters: Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks
The Bucs' brief stay aboard "Revis Island" has ended, but things still look bright at cornerback. Free agent Alterraun Verner replaces Revis at one starting spot, while second-year corner Johnthan Banks will man the spot across the field. Verner looks to be a perfect fit for what Lovie Smith's defense, and Banks hopes to build on the success of his rookie season and learn from some of his mistakes.
Keep an eye on Mike Jenkins, the former USF Bull who signed a free-agent deal with the Bucs. If he stays healthy, he should give the Bucs a solid third corner, which is vital in a division that boasts Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan.
Starters: Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron
Arguably the strength of the defense, the Bucs' starting safety tandem can pack a serious punch. For Dashon Goldson, the key will be delivering that punch a little more wisely, as he looks to avoid the fines and penalties he endured in 2013.
Mark Barron continues to make strides since being chosen with the seventh overall pick in 2012, as he enjoyed a quietly impressive 2013 season. Barron made 88 tackles and snagged a pair of interceptions in his second NFL season, while adding two sacks and six passes defensed.
It will be interesting to see how these two heavy hitters adapt to Lovie Smith's Cover 2 scheme.