Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Early Projections for Bucs' Final 53-Man Roster
Now that the draft is over and the scramble to sign undrafted free agents has subsided, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a clearer picture of what their 2014 roster will look like when the regular season rolls around.
The Bucs have undergone plenty of overhaul on both sides of the ball, drafting playmakers and revamping the offensive line through free agency, while adding an elite pass-rusher and replacing their top corner on defense.
Though there's plenty of time for things to change, here's my take on what the Bucs' final roster could look like come Week 1.
Projected Roster Overview
Kirby Van Der Kamp
Despite media rumors pointed out by Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio to the contrary, quarterback seems to be one of the positions that Tampa Bay's new regime is the most comfortable with.
Both actions and words spoke loud from One Buc Place during draft weekend, as the Bucs passed on every quarterback in this year's class and gave a healthy vote of confidence to both Josh McCown and Mike Glennon.
The team is very confident in McCown as the starter for the time being, likely even more so after drafting Mike Evans. Evans and Vincent Jackson give McCown a pair of receivers who closely resemble Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the one-two punch that helped McCown look so good in relief of Jay Cutler in Chicago last season.
The Bucs' decision-makers were adamant that Glennon was never shopped, though they reportedly did decline as many as six trade offers for the second-year quarterback. It might be a bit of an adjustment for Glennon to go back to the bench after starting most of his rookie season, but it will likely benefit him in the long run to sit behind a veteran.
Rookie undrafted free agent Brett Smith is intriguing, but I would expect him to be no more than a practice-squad option by preseason's end. Mike Kafka is also currently on the roster, but I don't see him commanding a roster spot over a position player who can contribute on special teams.
No team was forced to learn the importance of depth at running back last year more than the Bucs.
Doug Martin was lost for the second half of the season thanks to a torn labrum, ending what was already a frustrating sophomore season for the Boise State product who racked up nearly 2,000 total yards as a rookie in 2012.
Enter Mike James, who rushed for 158 yards against the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in his first start after Martin's injury. James was averaging eight yards per carry the following week against the Miami Dolphins when a fractured ankle ended his season, as well.
Waiver-wire pickup Bobby Rainey stepped in as the Bucs' go-to back down the stretch, turning in a pair of 100-yard rushing performances and scoring five times on the ground in eight games with the team.
All three backs return at full strength in 2014, but that didn't stop the team from adding Charles Sims in the third round of the draft. Sims is especially skilled as a receiver, and the new coaching staff is excited about what he brings to the table.
For now, I would expect the Bucs to try to keep all four, meaning they would have to move Jeff Demps to receiver if they want to keep him. Don't rule out a trade for either Rainey or James, though.
Jorvorskie Lane is better suited as a lead blocker than Lonnie Pryor, so I expect him to make the roster as the team's only fullback.
A group that will feature plenty of fresh faces in 2014, the Bucs receiving corps should be much-improved over last year's unit.
Vincent Jackson returns as the team's top target, but he'll be joined by another towering pass-catcher in first-round pick Mike Evans. Veteran free-agent signings Louis Murphy and Lavelle Hawkins shouldn't have much trouble making the final roster and give the Bucs some experienced depth at the position, which is something they lacked in 2013.
Sixth-round pick Robert Herron should be a perfect fit as a slot receiver and should get plenty of snaps despite being such a late pick.
The final spot in the receiving corps could be used by the Bucs to convert speedster Jeff Demps, due to the logjam at running back. Keeping Demps as a fifth back is difficult to envision, but listing him as a receiver and using him as a weapon out of the slot, as well as a return man, might be the Bucs' best bet.
Some were surprised when the Bucs spent the 38th overall pick on Austin Seferian-Jenkins, considering the team had just signed Brandon Myers in free agency and Tim Wright had impressed in his rookie season.
However, no position is set when a new regime takes over, and tight end is just another spot where Tampa Bay's new decision-makers are leaving their own stamp.
Seferian-Jenkins will give the Bucs a three-down player who can be a dynamic weapon in the passing game while also being an effective blocker. Myers and Wright should provide solid depth as tertiary options in the passing game.
Tom Crabtree has already been served his walking papers, and it won't be surprising if Luke Stocker follows suit before the start of the regular season due to his inability to stay healthy.
A unit that struggled with injuries and underwhelming performance in 2013, the Bucs offensive line has gone through quite an overhaul this offseason.
Gone are Donald Penn (LT), Davin Joseph (RG) and Jeremy Zuttah (C), replaced by free-agent acquisitions Anthony Collins (LT) and Evan Dietrich-Smith (C), as well as the re-signing of Jamon Meredith (RG).
Demar Dotson returns as the starting right tackle, and the team expects Carl Nicks to be at full strength at the left guard spot by the start of training camp.
The Bucs spent two of their second-day draft picks on depth for the offensive line, grabbing Tennessee State guard Kadeem Edwards and Purdue tackle Kevin Pamphile, both of whom should make the team without issue. Undrafted free agent Josh Allen is the only other center currently on the roster, so he should have an inside track to making the final cut, barring any further signings at the position.
Oniel Cousins was also brought in during free agency to provide depth at guard, and the team should keep Patrick Omameh as an extra body as well, in case things go south with Nicks' health. At tackle, local product Matt Patchan has the talent to make the squad if he can stay healthy.
The team paid big money to free agent Michael Johnson to do just that. He'll start at one defensive end spot, while Adrian Clayborn will get the first crack on the other side.
Da'Quan Bowers will get another chance to live up to his second-round draft status, while the promising William Gholston should get plenty of action. Steven Means didn't see the field much as a rookie, but the new regime should keep him around long enough to get a good look at his potential.
On the inside, one of the league's best in Gerald McCoy will man the 3-technique spot, while free-agent acquisition Clinton McDonald will start opposite the two-time Pro Bowler. Second-year man Akeem Spence and reserve Matthew Masifilo will provide the team with some youthful depth at the position.
One of the premier young defenders in the NFL resides in the Bucs linebacking corps, but depth will be a concern for this unit heading into the 2014 season.
All-Pro Lavonte David returns as the starter on the weak side, while Mason Foster will man the middle and take over play-calling duties. Much like last season, the strong-side position will likely see a committee approach, with incumbent Jonathan Casillas and newcomer Dane Fletcher challenging for playing time.
Also, keep an eye on undrafted free agent Nate Askew. The converted receiver from Texas A&M is still extremely raw as a defender, but his athleticism and upside could make him stick, especially as a contributor on special teams.
The Bucs will be missing a famous island at cornerback in 2014, but they might just be better off.
Tampa Bay spent a small portion of what they saved by releasing Darrelle Revis on free agent Alterraun Verner, who is a better fit for the team's new scheme. Johnthan Banks had his share of rookie struggles but also showed plenty of promise down the stretch and should start opposite Verner.
A free-agent acquisition who played his college ball in Raymond James Stadium as a member of the USF Bulls, Mike Jenkins gives the Bucs a solid veteran presence as a third corner.
Leonard Johnson has logged plenty of valuable snaps as a starter over the past two seasons, but he'll be much better suited as a dime corner. If the Bucs keep a fifth corner, my money would be on Danny Gorrer at this point.
One of the strongest starting units on the team, the Bucs return two solid performers at safety.
The talented-but-often-fined Dashon Goldson returns at one starting spot, having spent the offseason trying to improve his technique in an effort to avoid penalties. Mark Barron enters his third year as a starter for the Bucs, having shown great improvement last season. Both should thrive under Lovie Smith.
Keith Tandy filled in admirably in Goldson's stead last season, and he should return in a reserve role. Tampa Bay also signed Major Wright, who was drafted by the Bears while Smith was still in town, starting 43 games over the past three seasons. His experience will be useful as depth at the position.
The Bucs' kicking game struggled in 2013 after losing Connor Barth to a torn Achilles tendon before the season even began.
Thankfully, Tampa Bay's all-time leader in field-goal percentage returns at full strength in 2014 and should help stabilize the position.
Michael Koenen carries a hefty price tag for a punter, especially considering the Bucs finished 24th in the league in punting last season. It wouldn't shock me to see undrafted free agent Kirby Van Der Kamp beat him out for the job.
For the first time in seven seasons, the Bucs will have a new face handling the long-snapping duties, as free-agent signing Jeremy Cain replaces the departed Andrew Economos.
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