Buccaneers: 4 Bold (and 4 Slightly Less Bold) Predictions for the 2014 Bucs
Last year's 4-12 record led to quite the housecleaning, from the general manager and head coach all the way down through the roster. Add those changes to an enhanced logo and completely new uniform, and the Bucs will look different in pretty much every way possible this season.
Here are my bold (and slightly less bold) predictions for the new-look Bucs in 2014.
(Slightly Less) Bold: Bucs Will Trade Mike James or Bobby Rainey
The Bucs had impressive depth at running back even before drafting Charles Sims at the top of the third round last month.
Both backs performed admirably when called upon last season in the wake of injuries, gaining valuable starting experience during the second half of the 2013 season. They're also very young and have plenty of tread on their tires. All these factors could make either player a prime candidate to be traded at some point in 2014, perhaps even before the season begins.
If another team suffers an injury at the position and is in need of a young back with starting experience, the Bucs should gladly oblige by dealing some of their young depth for a draft pick or to improve a weaker area on the roster.
Bold: Charles Sims Will Be a Better Fantasy Value Than Doug Martin
Doug Martin will still be the starter and get the majority of the carries in 2014, but third-round pick Charles Sims should be heavily involved in the offense.
Currently on Yahoo Fantasy Sports, Martin's average draft position is 17.8, making him a second-round pick in most drafts. Sims, on the other hand, is barely being drafted at all and doesn't even show up on Yahoo's list.
Again, Martin will still get the lion's share of the carries, but Sims will get first crack at giving him a breather. As an added value in point-per-reception leagues, the rookie is likely to be very involved in the passing game.
Martin will probably end up with better overall fantasy numbers in 2014, but for the value, I'd rather have Sims in the later rounds than spend a second-rounder on Martin.
(Slightly Less) Bold: Gerald McCoy Will Get Double-Digit Sacks
Former third overall draft pick Gerald McCoy's natural ability has never been in question. His durability was an issue early in his career, but he has made great strides over the past two seasons to reach his lofty potential.
That trend should only continue in Lovie Smith's defense, which already has the two-time Pro Bowler excited, per Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com: "I love it. It's just up the field penetrating front, cover to coverage and it really just depends on the defensive line to take care of the pass game...It's a great defense to play in and once everybody figures it out and have the ins and outs of it, it's going to be scary."
The Oklahoma product tallied a career-high nine sacks last season, and he should flourish in the 3-technique spot in Smith's Tampa 2 scheme. Ten or more sacks should be a lock as McCoy makes yet another Pro Bowl.
Bold: William Gholston Will Have More Sacks Than Adrian Clayborn/Da'Quan Bowers
The new regime in Tampa Bay has already put Adrian Clayborn on notice, both with words and by not picking up his fifth-year option. Da'Quan Bowers has also been called out by new head coach Lovie Smith.
With both of those young veterans struggling to play up to expectations, the door has been left wide open for another young pass-rusher to make an impact this year, and William Gholston is a prime candidate.
The second-year end out of Michigan State showed marked improvement over his rookie season, especially down the stretch. He also has the frame and length that Smith covets in his defensive ends.
According to The Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings, new defensive line coach Joe Cullen understands the importance of getting after the opposing quarterback on third downs and is going to give those snaps to the most deserving players:
On third down, you want your best pass rushers on the field, and I’ve told the guys, That’s earned — no matter who it is. If that means an end goes inside and a nose tackle or an under tackle goes to the bench, then so be it. That’s the money down, and we have to get off the field there.
Gholston has the size to be an effective rusher from the inside and could end up wrestling away the starting job across from Michael Johnson. No matter what, don't be shocked if he ends up with better numbers than either Clayborn or Bowers in 2014.
(Slightly Less) Bold: Kadeem Edwards Makes More Starts Than Carl Nicks
Early in the offseason, there was plenty of optimism regarding the chances of Carl Nicks being ready to return to the starting lineup come training camp. But those glimmers of hope have slowly begun to fade over the last few weeks.
Since signing a lucrative free-agent deal to join the Bucs, the former Pro Bowl guard has started just nine games in two seasons. He has already admitted that he'll likely have to deal with his toe injury for the rest of his life.
Now that Nicks has been a no-show for the voluntary OTAs so far, and with the news that he won't be practicing during the team's three-day minicamp this week, it's becoming clearer that the optimism from earlier in the year might never materialize into reality.
Don't be surprised if he never returns to full strength. Instead, he'll be replaced by rookie fifth-round pick Kadeem Edwards, who should have a good shot to beat out free-agent acquisition Oniel Cousins for the starting left guard spot.
Bold: Josh McCown Will Throw for 4,000 Yards, 30 TDs
Many outside One Buc Place see the quarterback position as a weak link in the offense. Inside the team's headquarters, however, nothing could be farther from the truth.
According to the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman, head coach Lovie Smith is very confident in his new veteran starter:
He won't get the credit for being the athlete that he is. He brings mobility to the position. He makes good decisions. As I looked at (free agents), I said, 'Who is available that I think can help us win football games?' What Josh displayed last year was that. I know a lot has been said about his leadership, but I'm talking about his play on the football field. I feel pretty good — confident — about the type of play we're going to get from him.
The Bucs have spent plenty of resources this offseason to surround McCown with everything he needs to succeed, from a rebuilt offensive line to big, physical playmakers in the passing game. Throw in a defensive scheme that is built to create turnovers and get the ball back in the quarterback's hands, and McCown should have a recipe for big success in 2014.
(Slightly Less) Bold: Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans Each Get 1,000 Yards, 7 TDs
The passing game will look plenty different in 2014, and that should only mean good things for a team that finished dead-last offensively in the NFL last season.
Two (literally) big reasons for that improvement should stand on either end of the formation, as Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans hope to give Josh McCown the same type of big, physical weapons he enjoyed in Chicago last year when he was throwing to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Alongside an overhauled offensive line, a deep backfield and other playmakers like rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jackson and Evans should be able to give opposing defenses matchup nightmares on a regular basis.
One thousand yards and seven touchdowns would normally be expected of Jackson, but his presence should allow Evans the space to put up similar numbers despite being just a rookie.
Bold: Bucs Go 9-7, Finish 2nd in NFC South
After bringing in a new head coach who has proved he can win consistently at the NFL level and a veteran quarterback who can take care of the football, Tampa Bay has the chance to make a run much like the Chiefs enjoyed with Andy Reid and Alex Smith last season.
The Bucs don't have the friendliest schedule on paper, so the playoffs don't look likely for at least another year. But with Smith at the helm and multiple additions and upgrades at key positions, the Bucs have every reason to end up with a winning season in 2014.