P Michael Koenen.
Early Draft Picks:
DE Adrian Clayborn, DE Da'Quan Bowers, ILB Mason Foster, TE Luke Stocker, SS Ahmad Black.
RB Cadillac Williams, WR Maurice Stovall, ILB Barrett Ruud.
2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offense:
Josh Freeman was the last of the three quarterbacks chosen in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, but he's been the best thus far. Freeman hasn't led his team to two AFC Championship appearances, but he hasn't had the supporting cast that Mark Sanchez has enjoyed in New York.
However, Freeman's been better both on and off the field. He threw 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions last year to go along with 364 rushing yards. During the lockout, Freeman organized team workouts since March, writing up practice scripts and possessing multiple playbooks. He's exactly what teams are looking for in a young franchise signal-caller, and it'll be a shock if he doesn't continue to improve. He showed signs that he can take the next step late in the year, going 78-of-109 for 1,009 yards, nine touchdowns and no picks in his final four contests. That's an eye-popping completion percentage of 71.6 and a YPA of 9.3.
Freeman will be more comfortable with his weapons, especially since his starting two receivers are no longer rookies. Mike Williams, who slipped in the 2010 NFL Draft because of character concerns, generated 965 yards and 11 touchdowns. Second-rounder Arrelious Benn, meanwhile, is coming off ACL surgery but figures to be ready for the season opener, though it remains to be seen how effective he'll be.
A target of Freeman's who is flying under the radar is tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. Winslow hasn't played up to his ability in recent seasons because of various injuries. However, he is now fully healthy, as he avoided offseason surgery for the first time in more than five years.
Tampa's passing attack is great, but its ground game is nearly just as potent. LeGarrette Blount was a huge surprise last year despite going undrafted as a result of his punching antics in the infamous Boise State brawl. Blount rushed for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns on only 201 carries; he wasn't the team's full-time starter until a Week 8 tilt at Arizona. Blount had a major impact on the offense. The Buccaneers averaged only 16.3 points per game without Blount, and 24.3 with him.
The Buccaneers' offensive line didn't play very well last year, but should be better in 2011 because the entire unit returns intact, which is extremely important in this shortened offseason. It's also encouraging that the young linemen, left guard Ted Larsen and right tackle James Lee, both showed improvement as the 2010 campaign went on.
With left tackle Donald Penn and left guard Jeremy Zuttah good enough, the only concern is center Jeff Faine's health; Faine missed eight games with a torn triceps muscle last year. In total, Faine has missed 12 contests in the past two seasons.
2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense:
The Buccaneers dodged a huge bullet with Aqib Talib. For now, anyway. Talib, a stud corner who picked off six passes and allowed a decent completion percentage of 59.3, was arrested for felony assault and could be headed to prison eventually. However, his trial isn't until March, so he'll be able to play for at least one more season.
Talib's 2011 availability is one of two pieces of good news for Tampa's secondary. The other is the return of talented free safety Tanard Jackson, who was suspended for a whole year because he violated the league's substance abuse policy. Jackson will be available in Week 3, and will join Talib, 36-year-old Ronde Barber and mediocre strong safety Sean Jones in what should be a very good secondary. Even without Jackson, the Buccaneers ranked seventh against the pass in 2010 (6.7 YPA).
Tampa's two issues on its stop unit last year were its pass rush (25 sacks; 31st in NFL) and run defense (5.0 YPC; 32nd in NFL). With rookies Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers now at the end positions, and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy entering his second season, both areas will improve. McCoy's rookie campaign paled in comparison to Ndamukong Suh's, but he definitely held his own. He struggled early on, but improved as the year progressed. Unfortunately, he tore his biceps muscle in early December and missed the final three games. The good news is that he's fine now.
As for the two rookies, they'll probably be raw and will take some time to adjust, but they'll still be upgrades over what the Buccaneers had at defensive end last season. Bowers, once projected to go No. 1 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, fell into the middle of the second round because of knee concerns. Despite this, he's looked great in training camp, as reports indicate that he's been very explosive.
The fourth piece of the puzzle in Tampa's defensive line should be 2010 second-rounder Brian Price, but he showed up to training camp overweight coming off pelvic surgery. Until Price slims down, his job will be held by Roy Miller, who isn't very good.
With the front pretty much shored up, the Buccaneers' greatest defensive concern has to be the middle linebacker position. Third-round rookie Mason Foster is currently slated to start there. While Foster was a solid Day 2 prospect coming out of Washington, he's had very little time to adjust to the NFL because of the brief offseason, so it'll be shocking if he doesn't struggle right off the bat.
Flanking Foster are a pair of quality linebackers, Geno Hayes and Quincy Black. The latter received a 5-year, $29 million contract this offseason. General manager Mark Dominik overpaid just a bit, but with plenty of cap room available, he simply didn't want to risk losing a key cog of his defense.
2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Schedule and Intangibles:
Speaking of overpaying, here are five words to describe punter Michael Koenen's new contract with the Buccaneers: Millen on Millen Man Sex. Koenen's 6-year, $19.5 million contract is the equivalent of an average person spending $25,000 on a pack of gum. And crappy gum to boot - Koenen averaged a horrendous 40.7 yards per punt attempt in 2010.
Kicker Connor Barth isn't very good either. He managed to go 23-of-28, which doesn't sound that bad, but he was a pedestrian 6-of-10 from 40-49.
Return specialist Michael Sprulock struggled on punts last year, but excelled in the kickoff area, averaging 25.7 yards per attempt and scoring one touchdown. The Buccaneers allowed a score there themselves, but limited the opposition to a solid 20.7 yards per attempt.
Prior to the 2009 season, the Buccaneers were 68-36 at home. However, they were a shameful 1-6 at the New Sombrero in 2009 and a mediocre 4-4 last year compared to 6-2 in away contests. Their ability to win on the road could come in handy though if they have to play at Lambeau, Philly, the Georgia Dome or the Superdome come playoff time.
Tampa should have six easy wins this year: Minnesota, San Francisco, Tennessee, Jacksonville and Carolina twice. More difficult contests, unfortunately, come against the Colts, Packers, improved Lions, Bears, Falcons twice and Saints twice.
2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Analysis: The Buccaneers have to be considered one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. That may sound strange to those who haven't been paying attention to this team, but Tampa Bay is no joke. Josh Freeman is emerging as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL; the offense as a whole has improved ever since LeGarrette Blount became the starting running back; and the defense will be better with Gerald McCoy having more experience and Tanard Jackson returning to the lineup.
Tampa went 10-6 last year, but even with a more difficult schedule this time around, it'll be shocking if the Bucs don't at least match that mark or even improve upon it. They are under heavy consideration to make it to the Super Bowl in the playoff preview, which will be posted after all of the NFC East Season Previews are up.
This Buccaneers regime really knows what it's doing. They addressed needs with some great values, including Da'Quan Bowers at No. 51. Bowers was too risky as a first-round prospect, but getting him at No. 51 was unbelievably fortunate.
Two things prevent this overall grade from being an A. First, the top two selections have medical issues. I know I just praised the Bowers pick, but what if his degenerative knee is as bad as some teams speculate? And as far as Adrian Clayborn is concerned, who knows what'll happen with his Erb's Palsy?
Second, I don't like that Tampa dealt a fourth-rounder in 2012 to move up just 12 spots for Luke Stocker. I'm a fan of the Stocker selection in a vacuum, but I don't like it when teams trade away future picks. It's a quick way to deplete depth.
Overall 2011 NFL Draft Grade given on 5/1/11: B
2011 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
20. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
I knew the Buccaneers loved Adrian Clayborn, but I thought they'd go with Cameron Jordan at this spot. Regardless, the Buccaneers are filling their greatest need with a talented prospect. I worry about the Erb's Palsy, which makes this a B. (Pick Grade: B)
51. Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
The Buccaneers were scared of taking Da'Quan Bowers at No. 20 because of the Gaines Adams comparisons and the knee injury. But at No. 51? Why not. Bowers, once projected No. 1 overall, is well worth the risk in the middle of the second round. (Pick Grade: A)
84. Mason Foster, OLB, Washington
Mason Foster was a late Round 2, early Round 3 prospect, so the Buccaneers are getting good value while filling a huge need in a weak linebacking corps. The Buccaneers are once again putting together a great draft. (Pick Grade: B)
104. Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
The Buccaneers really wanted a tight end because they have nothing behind the fragile Kellen Winslow Jr. Luke Stocker could have been a second-round pick, so this is a value selection. However, I don't like the fact that Tampa surrendered a fourth in 2012 to jump up 12 spots. (Pick Grade: C)
151. Ahmad Black, SS, Florida
Ahmad Black, who provides solid value in the middle of Round 5, helps the Buccaneers with some secondary depth. However, I feel like the Buccaneers could have filled a bigger need here. (Pick Grade: B)
187. Allen Bradford, RB, USC
This is a bit of a reach, but it fills a need. The Buccaneers had to find a change-of-pace back behind LeGarrette Blount. (Pick Grade: C)
222. Anthony Gaitor, CB, Florida International
No surprise that Tampa just drafted its second corner. I projected Anthony Gaitor to go in the seventh round, so it's the right range. (Pick Grade: B)
238. Daniel Hardy, TE, Idaho
Another tight end? I'm not crazy about this. That said, Daniel Hardy could have gone a round earlier, so this is solid value. (Pick Grade: B)
Perhaps a year of schedule, the Buccaneers reeled off numerous victories against terrible opponents early in the season. As the 2010 campaign progressed, however, Tampa Bay really improved and knocked off the Saints in New Orleans despite missing several key defenders. Now a year older, the Buccaneers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, though they have a couple of things to take care of this offseason...
Buccaneers re-sign DE Tim Crowder
Rams sign RB Cadillac Williams
Steelers sign TE John Gilmore
Lions sign WR Maurice Stovall
Buccaneers re-sign OLB Adam Hayward
Titans sign ILB Barrett Ruud
Buccaneers re-sign G Davin Joseph
Buccaneers sign P Michael Koenen
Buccaneers re-sign OT Jeremy Trueblood
Buccaneers re-sign OLB Quincy Black
Buccaneers tender K Connor Barth
Buccaneers cut OLB Jon Alston
Buccaneers re-sign CB Ronde Barber
Two Defensive Ends: Tampa Bay desperately needs upgrades at both defensive end positions. The team loves Adrian Clayborn and won't hesitate to pick him at No. 20 in the 2011 NFL Draft. Drafted Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers
Inside Linebacker: Barrett Ruud is a free agent asking for too much money, so he's all but gone. The Buccaneers will have to spend a Day 2 selection on a substitute. Drafted Mason Foster
Right Tackle: The ugly rotation of Jeremy Trueblood and James Lee isn't cutting it. The Buccaneers need to upgrade the right tackle position.
Left Guard: Unless Tampa Bay believes Ted Larsen can improve and permanently man the left guard slot, it'll spend a mid-round pick on an upgrade.
Strongside Linebacker: Quincy Black just had a solid year, but he's a free agent. The Bucs may look at someone like Bruce Carter in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft if they can't re-sign him. Re-signed Quincy Black
Third-Down Running Back: Cadillac Williams is a free agent. If he's not retained, the Buccaneers will need a new third-down back to complement LeGarrette Blount. Drafted Allen Bradford
Center: Jeff Faine has missed 12 games in the past two seasons. Owed $4.6 million in 2011, Tampa may opt to find a cheaper alternative.
Cornerback: It appears as though Ronde Barber will be back for another year. The Buccaneers will have to find a successor soon though. Re-signed Ronde Barber; drafted Anthony Gaitor
2011 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Michael Koenen, P, Falcons. Age: 29. Signed with Buccaneers (6 years)
Michael Koenen has a strong leg, so you have to wonder why his punting average was just 40.9 yards in 2010, with only 29 of his 74 attempts placed inside the 20.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Free Agents:
Salary Cap: No cap.
Quincy Black, OLB, Buccaneers. Age: 27. Re-signed with Buccaneers (5 years, $29 million; $11.5 million guaranteed)
Quincy Black did a great job as Tampa Bay's two-down strongside linebacker in 2010. He missed the final few weeks with a fractured forearm, which is no big deal.
Connor Barth nailed 23-of-28 field goals in 2010, including 11 of his final 12 tries.
Davin Joseph, G, Buccaneers. Age: 27. Re-signed with Buccaneers (7 years, $53 million)
A quality run-blocking guard, Davin Joseph had his season cut short because of a fractured foot.
Barrett Ruud, ILB, Buccaneers. Age: 28. Signed with Titans (1 year)
I'm not sure what happened to Barrett Ruud, because he had an awful 2010 campaign after a couple of phenomenal seasons as Tampa Bay's middle linebacker. Ruud might be able to bounce back elsewhere - or he could be done.
Divisional Rival History: Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan is 5-1 against the Buccaneers. Something tells me that Tampa Bay will beat him soon. Carolina Panthers: After losing 11 of 14 meetings to Carolina, the Buccaneers swept the Panthers in 2010. New Orleans Saints: A road-dominated series. The visitor has won 12 of the past 18 meetings.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2011 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)