Grading Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Final 53-Man Roster
The preseason has come to a close, bringing about one of the toughest times of the NFL season: final roster cuts.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made the necessary moves to get their roster under the 53-man limit and have already begun adding players to their practice squad.
The Bucs have gone heavy in the trenches, keeping 10 linemen on offense and nine on defense, while going with just five linebackers and a pair of quarterbacks. The final roster holds 10 defensive backs, six receivers, three tight ends and five total running backs.
More moves could come any time, but here's my breakdown of the Bucs' current roster and how I think each unit stacks up to their counterparts across the rest of the league.
Josh McCown, Mike Glennon
The Bucs took four quarterbacks into training camp, but will keep just two on the final 53-man roster. YouTube trick-shot artist Alex Tanney was released earlier in the preseason, while Mike Kafka was waived and signed to the practice squad.
That leaves the veteran McCown, who signed with the Bucs on a two-year deal this offseason and was immediately named the starter by new head coach Lovie Smith.
McCown struggled early in the preseason behind a shaky offensive line, but he found a rhythm and eventually looked more comfortable. The addition of Logan Mankins to shore up the left guard spot should help him even more.
Despite starting most of his rookie season in 2013, Glennon will take a backseat to McCown and prepare to be the club's quarterback of the future. The North Carolina State product tossed 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a rookie, performing admirably for a third-round pick who was thrust into a starting role so quickly.
Glennon's starting experience last season makes him a valuable backup, should something happen to McCown.
That kind of insurance is helpful, but this unit has the look of a low-risk, low-ceiling situation. McCown needs to prove he can repeat last year's success if this group wants to be better than average.
Doug Martin, Bobby Rainey, Mike James, Charles Sims, Jorvorskie Lane (FB)
Considered to be the team's deepest unit heading into the preseason, injuries have already proven how vital depth is at running back.
Doug Martin returns after missing the second half of 2013 with a torn labrum. The Bucs hope Martin can return to his rookie form, when he totaled nearly 2,000 total yards and made the Pro Bowl.
Rookie third-round pick Sims will be on the shelf for the majority of the regular season thanks to an ankle injury, and Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com suggests he's a prime candidate to start the year on injured reserve with the designation to return after Week 9.
Second-year pro Mike James is currently nursing a shoulder injury, and his return is key to maintaining quality depth for this group.
Rainey still sits at No. 2 on the depth chart after starting the final six games for the Bucs last year, averaging nearly 100 yards per game and proving he has big-play ability. He's struggled to find running room behind a weak offensive line this preseason but still looks to be Tampa Bay's first option to spell Martin.
Lane is a versatile fullback who looked impressive in camp, particularly as a receiver out of the backfield. He's dealing with a hand injury at the moment but should be ready to go Week 1.
While speedster Jeff Demps was left off the final roster, he has already been brought back as a member of the practice squad.
Martin is a stud if he can stay at full health, but this unit is full of question marks otherwise. Lane is solid, while Rainey and James showed positive signs last season. This group is definitely above average and could be even better if everyone stays healthy and plays up to their potential.
Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, Chris Owusu, Louis Murphy, Robert Herron, Russell Shepard
With wide receiver as one of their biggest areas of need heading into the offseason, the Bucs spent the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft on Mike Evans, a near carbon copy of their top returning pass-catcher, Vincent Jackson.
The tandem will give Josh McCown a pair of 6'5" targets on the outside, which should help the Bucs improve their anemic red-zone offense from a year ago.
The veteran Murphy was signed as a free agent and should give the Bucs some solid depth on the outside behind Jackson and Evans. Owusu looks to be the front-runner to start in the slot for now, but don't be surprised if he's pushed by Herron as the rookie sixth-rounder continues to develop.
Shepard making the roster over Solomon Patton—who looked to have locked up the return job and has since been added to the practice squad—came as a surprise to many fans.
However, the former LSU Tiger made his mark with consistent play on special teams and a strong work ethic, staying late after every training camp practice to catch extra passes.
This unit has a little bit of everything: the size necessary to be effective on the outside and in the red zone, the speed and quickness in the slot, and a balance between veteran leadership and fresh legs. There's a lot of unknowns outside of Jackson and Murphy but plenty of potential for this group.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brandon Myers, Luke Stocker
Much like the Bucs' roster as a whole, this unit has undergone a complete facelift, with only one returning member from last year's lineup.
Despite spending their first-rounder in 2014 on a massive target in the passing game, Tampa Bay decided to add another with its very next pick, taking Austin Seferian-Jenkins No. 38 overall.
An extended class schedule at Washington and recovery from offseason foot surgery set him back a bit from the outset, but the former Husky should create serious matchup problems for opposing defenses from the first snap.
Brandon Myers was brought in as a free agent on a two-year deal and will provide some veteran experience and leadership. Luke Stocker has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career in Tampa Bay, but the team obviously felt comfortable enough with his performance in camp to trade Tim Wright to New England.
Again, it's hard to know what to expect with a unit that's seen so much overhaul.
But if Seferian-Jenkins can develop quickly, Myers can provide quality snaps in two-tight sets and Stocker can stay healthy, this group should be above the league average by season's end.
Anthony Collins (T), Demar Dotson (T), Logan Mankins (G), Patrick Omameh (G), Evan Dietrich-Smith (C), Kadeem Edwards (G), Kevin Pamphile (T), Oniel Cousins (G), Rishaw Johnson (G), Garrett Gilkey (T)
The most maligned unit on the entire team, Tampa Bay's offensive line has struggled mightily this preseason despite being completely overhauled by the new regime.
Right tackle Dotson is the only returning starter from last year's group, and with good reason, as he remains the most consistent performer on the line. Free-agent acquisition Collins replaces Donald Penn at left tackle, while another veteran free agent in Dietrich-Smith takes over for the departed Jeremy Zuttah at center.
Guard is where the Bucs have struggled the most this preseason, but help is on the way following a trade with New England that brought six-time Pro Bowler Mankins to Tampa Bay.
He'll lock down the left guard spot vacated by the retired Carl Nicks, while Omameh looks to be the current favorite to start at right guard.
Cousins started at left guard during the preseason, but his play obviously made the Bucs look for help elsewhere. He'll provide depth on the inside along with Rishaw Johnson, who was a late addition to the roster in a trade with Kansas City.
Both rookies selected in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, Edwards and Pamphile, are raw prospects who need time to develop.
Gilkey is the most recent addition to the roster, having been added on Sunday. The Bucs waived Josh Allen to make room on the roster, which was interesting considering that the undrafted free agent from Louisiana-Monroe was the only other center listed on the roster outside of Dietrich-Smith.
This group still has a lot of progress to make, but getting Mankins should make a huge impact. Still, based on its performance in the preseason, I'll have to see it to believe it.
Gerald McCoy (DT), Clinton McDonald (DT), Michael Johnson (DE), Adrian Clayborn (DE), Akeem Spence (DT), William Gholston (DE), Steven Means (DE), Da'Quan Bowers (DE), Scott Solomon (DE)
The Bucs went into the offseason looking to improve their pass rush, which will be even more vital in Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 scheme.
The team attacked the issue quickly in free agency, paying big money to bring in Michael Johnson to help create pressure off the edge.
Combined with the presence of two-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy—who has been completely unblockable for the entire preseason—at defensive tackle, Tampa Bay hopes to have a pair of dynamic rushers who will feed off each other.
Adrian Clayborn returns as the starter at the other end spot and should benefit from not having to be the primary source of edge pressure on the unit.
Another free agent, Clinton McDonald, comes to Tampa after a successful 2013 season in a rotation role for the Seahawks and will line up at nose tackle next to McCoy.
There's plenty of youth behind the starters, but also versatility and athleticism. The Bucs will use the size of William Gholston and Da'Quan Bowers to slide them inside on passing downs, while Steven Means flashed exceptional speed off the edge during training camp despite being plagued with a groin injury.
A fourth-round pick in 2013, Akeem Spence started 14 games as a rookie and will provide solid depth behind McDonald at nose tackle. Solomon turned a strong training camp and preseason into locking down one of the final roster spots.
The starters are strong in this group, but depth will be important as defensive line coach Joe Cullen rotates fresh bodies in and out.
With McCoy and Johnson setting the tone, the potential is there for this to be a very disruptive unit.
Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Dane Fletcher, Jonathan Casillas, Danny Lansanah
The Bucs boast arguably the best young linebacker in the NFL, as David is already hearing comparisons to former Tampa Bay great and recent Hall of Fame inductee Derrick Brooks. There are plenty of similarities between the two, for sure, and David should be in prime position to make plenty of plays in the Tampa 2.
Foster returns in the middle and will take over play-calling duties, which were handled by David last season. The former Washington Husky had a strong training camp and preseason, proving he has the athleticism to be effective in coverage.
Fletcher and Casillas will continue to fight for snaps on the strong side, with Fletcher likely holding the edge for now.
Eric Horchy of PewterReport.com notes Lansanah was impressive in training camp and should be a valuable asset on special teams, in addition to pushing for snaps when the defense is on the field.
When you have one of the league's best in a position group, it's tough to get a bad grade. With that said, Foster is no slouch either and the rest of the group should provide a healthy competition for starting time while strengthening the team's depth.
Alterraun Verner (CB), Johnthan Banks (CB), Mark Barron (S), Dashon Goldson (S), Mike Jenkins (CB), Leonard Johnson (CB), Quinton Pointer (CB), Rashaan Melvin (CB), Bradley McDougald (S), Keith Tandy (S)
Rarely can a team lose arguably the best player at a given position and end up with a better unit in the long run, but that's exactly what the Bucs did this offseason.
Gone is Darrelle Revis after just one season in Tampa Bay, replaced by the younger, cheaper Alterraun Verner, who is a much better fit for the Tampa 2 scheme and a Pro Bowler in his own right. Second-year pro Johnthan Banks will start across from Verner after being chosen in the second round of the 2013 draft.
Free agent Mike Jenkins was brought in to give the Bucs a veteran presence and depth on the outside, while Rashaan Melvin continues to recover from a foot injury that kept him out of most of training camp.
Leonard Johnson will start as the nickel corner, with Quinton Pointer backing him up. The Bucs have devoted a specific coach to the nickel spot, bringing in Larry Marmie to teach the nuances of one of the more important roles in this defense.
At safety, the Bucs will trot out one of the better starting pairs in the league. Dashon Goldson hopes an offseason spent learning a new tackling technique will help him avoid penalties and fines this year, while Mark Barron should thrive in a John Lynch-type role in the Tampa 2.
Backing up those two will be Keith Tandy, who had some up-and-down performances in relief of Goldson last year, and Bradley McDougald, who had a strong training camp despite dealing with a knee injury.
On paper, this is one of the best secondaries in the NFL. If the foundation of this group can stay healthy and pick up the scheme quickly, Bucs fans should see a vast improvement over last year's pass defense.
Patrick Murray (K), Michael Koenen (P), Andrew DePaola (LS)
No job is safe when there's a new sheriff in town, and no group knows this better than the Bucs' specialists after fans saw the team part ways with veteran kicker Connor Barth in favor of Murray.
Barth missed all of 2013 with a torn Achilles but was expected to return to shore up a kicking position that struggled in his absence. Tampa Bay ended up going with Murray, though, who gives the Bucs a cheaper, younger kicker with punting experience as well.
Speaking of punting, Koenen returns in that role and is coming off an impressive preseason. Many Bucs fans thought the team would be looking for a cheaper option at this spot, but no real competition was ever brought in, and Koenen proved he's worth his salary.
DePaola beat out Jeremy Cain for the long-snapping duties, despite Cain having previous experience playing under Lovie Smith in Chicago.
Koenen is the only known commodity in this group, which makes grading a bit difficult. Barth's departure gives way to an unknown in the kicking game, but the Bucs obviously have plenty of confidence in Murray.
Still, until I see the same consistency out of Murray as I did from the most accurate kicker in Bucs history, I'll temper my expectations.