Bucs WR Vincent Jackson - Photo by: Getty Images
Which Buccaneers will emerge as star performers in Tampa Bay this year? Who are the Most Improved Offensive and Defensive Players? Which rookie will get the honor as the Best Rookie? Pewter Report makes its annual pewter predictions and provides the analysis to back it up.
BUCS 2014 OFFENSIVE MVP – WR Vincent Jackson
Running back Doug Martin and quarterback Josh McCown are also candidates, but Martin will split carries with Bobby Rainey and Mike James, and McCown is more of a point guard in this offense by distributing the ball to playmakers than a high-scoring shooting guard. The real driver of the Jeff Tedford-led offense will be Jackson, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound giant of a receiver.
All he’s done in his first two years in Tampa Bay is record a career-high 78 catches (2013) and 1,384 yards (2012), including 15 total touchdowns. And that was with the erratic Josh Freeman at the helm in 2012 and a rookie in Mike Glennon as the starter last year. Imagine the numbers Jackson could put up with a veteran starter throwing him the football in 2014.
Now that the Buccaneers have more weapons in tight ends Brandon Myers and Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Mike Evans, Jackson won’t be double-teamed as easily this year as he was in 2013. Despite extra attention last year, Jackson still had over 1,200 yards receiving. Look for Jackson to once again catch at least 70 balls for more than 1,200 yards and close to a dozen touchdowns as he’s a prime red zone target en route to winning Bucs’ Offensive MVP honors.
BUCS 2014 DEFENSIVE MVP – LB Lavonte David
While two-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy is the engine of the Tampa 2 defense, David, who plays the weakside linebacker position made famous by the legendary Derrick Brooks, is the gasoline. David set an NFL record last year by being the first linebacker to record at least seven sacks and five interceptions. He also forced two fumbles, recovered one and notched his first career safety while leading the Bucs in tackling with a career-high 145 tackles en route to making the NFL All-Pro team.
As good as McCoy is, the Tampa 2 scheme is designed for David to be the chief playmaker. Once again, he will be positioned to lead the team in tackles, and with his coverage prowess, David could also lead Tampa Bay in interceptions for a second-straight year. The only statistical achievement that David has yet to accomplish is getting a pick-six, which could be coming in 2014.
David’s speed and athleticism is unmatched on the Bucs’ roster, and with his penchant for racking up tackles and creating takeaways, there is no reason why David shouldn’t be the Bucs’ Defensive MVP. After being snubbed for the Pro Bowl last year, David is set for national stardom in 2014.
BUCS 2014 SPECIAL TEAMS MVP – P Michael Koenen
With an unproven kicker in Patrick Murray, untested return specialists handling kicks and punts and not many returning special teams standouts, Koenen essentially wins the Bucs’ Special Teams MVP by default. With the Bucs having a new kicker and a long snapper, Koenen is the only returning experienced veteran in the team’s special teams battery.
Koenen, who was named the Bucs’ special teams captain for the first time in his career, will need to slightly improve his statistics in 2014 to help the team on fourth down. Koenen averaged 44.2 yards per punt in 2013, which was down from the 45.3-yard mark he had in 2012. Perhaps more importantly, Koenen needs to improve his punts-downed-inside-the-20 percentage. In 2011, he averaged 35.8 percent of his punts downed inside the 20 (24 punts). That number shrank last year to 19 punts downed inside the 20, at a disappointing 21.8 percent, which was the lowest of his career.
Koenen also handles the holding duties on PAT and field goal tries, and has a strong enough leg to produce touchbacks on kickoffs. His experience and versatility are assets to the Buccaneers’ special teams.
MOST IMPROVED OFFENSIVE PLAYER – RB Doug Martin
Martin had an impressive rookie season in 2012 in which he rushed for 1,454 yards and a franchise-record 11 touchdowns. He also added 49 catches for 472 yards and a score that allowed Martin to produce just under 2,000 total yards in his debut NFL season.
While Martin’s numbers dwindled to just 456 yards rushing and one touchdown last year, it wasn’t just due to a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the final 10 games of the 2013 season. Martin danced around too much and didn’t always hit the holes with authority. He also had sub-par hands, catching just 12 passes and dropping five in the first seven games of last season.
Now fully recovered from shoulder surgery, Martin is running with a more aggressive style akin to his rookie campaign. Perhaps more importantly, Martin has improved his hands and is expected to play a larger role in the passing game this season, especially with rookie Charles Sims sidelined with an ankle injury.
MOST IMPROVED DEFENSIVE PLAYER – FS Dashon Goldson
Goldson was a prized free agent signing in 2013, but was viewed as more of a disappointment as he was suspended for two games due to multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties stemming from high hits. The free safety known as “the Hawk” also missed a game due to injury and recorded just 72 tackles with one interception and one forced fumble.
The Bucs are expecting more takeaways from Goldson in 2014, and he should be a major interceptor in the Tampa 2 scheme where it’s not uncommon for free safeties to lead teams in picks. Goldson has 15 career picks, including a career-high six in 2011, and is capable of producing such numbers again.
The key to a great season for Goldson is to get his target area under control and staying away from unsportsmanlike conduct flags and suspensions. If he can stay in the lineup for 16 games, Goldson has the hunger and talent to produce over 100 tackles and force several takeaways while winning Bucs’ Most Improved Defensive Player honors.
LEADING SACKER – DT Gerald McCoy
McCoy has upped his sack total in each of the last two seasons, and is poised to do that once again in 2014. In his first full season as a starter in 2012, McCoy notched five sacks, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery en route to his first Pro Bowl appearance. Last year, McCoy had a career-high 9.5 sacks to lead the Buccaneers and made the All-Pro team in addition to his second Pro Bowl.
McCoy had a dominating preseason and is poised to pick up where he left off. He had a sack-fumble of Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill in August and is entering a contract year in which he has all the motivation in the world to capture as many QBs as possible in 2014.
The Bucs have surrounded McCoy with more capable pass rushers in defensive end Michael Johnson and nose tackle Clinton McDonald that will free him from the constant double teams he faced in 2013. McCoy, who was Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 2010, is in his prime and will once again lead Tampa Bay in sacks.
LEADING INTERCEPTOR – CB Alterraun Verner
Verner has great ball skills, evidenced by his career-high five interceptions in 2013, which keyed his initial Pro Bowl berth. Verner has recorded 11 interceptions in his five-year NFL career, including at least one in every season.
As a rookie, Verner recorded three picks for Tennessee, and scored a touchdown on a pick-six in 2013, which was his last year with the Titans. Verner was picked on quite a bit last year, evidenced by the fact that he broke up a career-high 22 passes.
Verner will be the most accomplished Bucs cornerback on the field, which could cause some quarterbacks to target the opposite side of the field. Conversely, Verner will likely be covering opposing teams’ top receivers, so QBs will want to find their favorite targets, which will create opportunities for Verner to lead Tampa Bay in interceptions in 2014.
BEST ROOKIE – WR Mike Evans
With Sims sidelined by an ankle injury and Seferian-Jenkins splitting reps with Myers at tight end, Evans is poised to be the Buccaneers’ best rookie in 2014. The team’s first-round draft pick this year is poised to see plenty of action right from the start of the season.
Evans recorded five catches for a team-high 96 yards and a touchdown during the preseason. His 19.2-yard receiving average was eye-opening and a product of his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame that allows Evans to out-muscle opponents and break tackles for yards after catch.
With veteran Louis Murphy suffering a back injury in the preseason game and possibly missing the season opener, Evans will start in Week 1 and get plenty of opportunities to make plays. The fact that he will be playing opposite a seasoned veteran in Jackson means that Evans will likely draw opposing team’s No. 2 cornerback and exploit that matchup. Expecting 40 catches for 700 yards and five touchdowns in 2014 from Evans wouldn’t be a stretch given his talent.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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