The Bucs retained general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris, despite a rather underwhelming first year. The rookie duo made many poor decisions in 2009, from firing offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski prior to the season, to relieving defensive coordinator Jim Bates ten games into the season. However, the Bucs salvaged a bit of respectability by winning two of their final three games to finish 3-13 on the season.
In 2010, the rebuilding project continues. Gone are veterans Antonio Bryant, Byron Leftwich, Will Allen, and Arron Sears. The most significant veteran acquisition has been wide receiver Reggie Brown, picked up in a trade with the Eagles. However, Brown was benched in Philadelphia and is coming off the worst year of his career.
Clearly, the Bucs are relying heavily on the draft. It remains to be seen whether the club will risk the future of second-year quarterback Josh Freeman by not providing him with a veteran, top-tier wide receiver to work with.
Tight end Kellen Winslow is a solid receiver, but his long-term future is a question mark given the numerous knee surgeries he has undergone. The depth chart at wide receiver features a pair of talented rookies in Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams, veteran underachievers in Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall, and Reggie Brown, as well as Sammie Stroughter, whose future may be in the slot.
Given the questions marks in the passing game, look for offensive coordinator Greg Olson to run a ball-control offense featuring a heavy dose of running plays. Cadillac Williams had a compelling comeback season in 2009, but he lacked explosiveness, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. Derrick Ward was a bust in his first season in Tampa Bay but will be given an opportunity to earn more playing time in 2010.
While the Bucs have added some talented youngsters on the offensive side of the ball, they lack proven play-makers on offense and will struggle to move the ball on a consistent basis. Unless they get some major contributions from Williams and Ward, look for them to be among the league’s worst offensive teams in 2010.
The Bucs love Freeman’s potential and he is coming off a reasonably solid rookie season that was marked by some inconsistent play. Over his nine starts, he had three multi-touchdown games that were offset by five games with multiple interceptions, including a game in which he threw five picks against Carolina.
He showed he has a strong arm, an ability to escape the rush, and the resourcefulness to take off running when plays break down. In 2010, he gains a pair of rookie wide receivers in Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams but loses Antonio Bryant.
Quarterbacks generally need reliable receivers to be productive, and that’s not likely to happen for Freeman this year. He has the potential to be a fantasy starter in 2011. This year, not so much. Consider him as a prospect for dynasty leagues, but he isn’t worth drafting in most re-draft leagues
Williams was surprisingly healthy in 2009, displaying a solid burst in many games. However, the Bucs were not able to generate much rushing offense against the league’s better run defenses.
While Williams’ comeback story was a compelling one, there is likely little hope of him reaching the potential he showed early in his career given his injury issues. Despite his lengthy injury history, he managed to rank 28th among running backs last year, which is a solid accomplishment given the Bucs struggles on offense.
However, while the Bucs offense can’t be as bad as it was last year and the young offensive line should improve, it is doubtful the improvement will be strong enough to propel Williams into fantasy starter status. Consider him as a potential low-end RB2, though he really should be drafted as a backup running back considering the Bucs prospects on offense.
Ward was a big flop last year after coming over from the Giants. In New York, he looked like a solid back with an ability to make tacklers miss and gain tough yards running inside. In Tampa Bay, he looked tentative and was brought down too easily by defenders.
Ward finished the year with 559 total yards and three touchdowns, a far cry from his production in New York as a backup. Ward is now clearly stuck behind Cadillac Williams, although he is only a Williams injury away from significant playing time. And we all know Cadillac’s injury history well.
Unless he gets consistent touches (which didn’t happen last year), he has little fantasy use, and handcuffing Williams may not be worthwhile given the Bucs anemic offense.
The Bucs second round pick has the size, speed, and run-after-the-catch ability to be a number one wide receiver in the league. However, he is a little raw and needs time to refine his game.
In 2010, given the Bucs lack of wide receiver depth, he is virtually guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup on opening day. He’s also virtually guaranteed to be average, with Josh Freeman leading a Bucs offense that relies on young talent.
With Freeman entering his second year, Benn won’t be a starting caliber fantasy receiver this year; but does have upside next year. Check back in 2011.
Stroughter played well as a rookie in 2009, notching 31 receptions for 334 yards and a touchdown before breaking his foot late in the season. He played mostly out of the slot last year but is competing for a starting spot outside in 2010.
Given the Bucs lack of proven play-makers at the position, it’s possible he could start outside and work out of the slot in multiple receiver sets. While he may end up starting, his future will likely be as a slot receiver and a returner.
He’s worth keeping your eye on in the preseason but is likely waiver wire material in 2010.
WR Mike Williams
Talent-wise, the Bucs got a steal in the fourth round of this year’s draft when Williams was on the board when they selected. However, there is a reason first-round talent is available in the fourth round, and it has everything to do with maturity.
If the light goes on for Williams, he could have a solid career in the league. Given his off-the-field problems, the odds of Williams showing the maturity and dedication to produce during his rookie season are pretty low although reports indicate that he is having a very strong preseason.
At 6’1” and 220 pounds, Williams has excellent size to go along with excellent speed, and that makes him worth taking a flier on in dynasty leagues. Barring an excellent preseason, he isn’t worth drafting in re-draft leagues.
Remarkably, the Buccaneers signed Clayton to a five-year, $25 million contract prior to the 2009 season—this for a player coming off a 38-reception, 484-yard, one-touchdown season. In return, Clayton gave the Bucs the worst year of his career, producing 16 receptions for 230 yards and a score.
With the team having used its first and fourth round draft picks on Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams, and having acquired former Eagle Reggie Brown in a trade, there are clear signs that the Bucs plan on revamping their wide receiver corps.
Holdovers Sammie Stroughter and Maurice Stovall also remain on the roster. With Benn, Williams, and Stroughter guaranteed roster spots, and Stovall showing some promise last year as a receiver and also as a strong special teams contributor, Clayton’s roster spot is clearly in jeopardy.
Winslow had a solid season in 2009, maintaining his status as a starting tight end for his fantasy owners. However, his off-season has been hit-and-miss with the departure of Antonio Bryant to the Bengals and another knee surgery, the fifth of his six-year career.
Bryant’s loss means Winslow is clearly at the top of the pecking order among the team’s wide receivers, but that advantage may be offset by the extra attention he will receive from opposing defenses, given the Bucs’ weak group of wide receivers.
Winslow racks up the yardage totals when healthy but has never topped five touchdown receptions in a year. Which begs the question: Why should anyone bank on that happening in 2010, considering the team’s young, raw talent on offense? They shouldn’t, and neither should you.
Winslow will remain a starting caliber tight end, but it would be a total shock if he were to somehow sneak into the top five.