With the 2016 season wrapped up following a 9-7 record, PewterReport.com takes a look at each individual unit and offers up our grades. Take a look and see if you agree, and comment the story to share your thoughts.
2016 FINAL OFFENSIVE RANKINGS
TOTAL OFFENSE: 18th, 364.4 per game
PASSING OFFENSE: 16th, 245.4 yards per game
RUSHING OFFENSE: 24th, 101.0 yards per game
THIRD DOWN: 6th, 43.72 conversion rate
SCORING: 18th, 22.1 points per game
SACKS: 17th, 35 sacks allowed
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston followed up his Bucs rookie record-setting performance with some NFL history, becoming the first quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. His 4,090 pass yards and 28 touchdowns also bested Josh Freeman in the team’s record books, and led the Bucs to their first winning record (9-7) since the 2010 season when Tampa Bay won 10 games.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Despite the accolades and improvements in some areas, Winston also saw his turnovers rise, with 18 interceptions and 10 fumbles, six of which were lost. In his defense, some of the interceptions were desperation throws, (Hail Mary, last second throws etc) but there were plenty that fell directly on him, mainly because of poor decision making. The organization, and Winston himself, knows that he must improve if he wants to see his game rise from good to great.
Inaccuracy was also an issue during games this season, something that also needs to be corrected before he makes the jump, but Winston has pledged to work on these things in the offseason.
With that said, Winston’s value to the team can’t be understated. From his leadership, work ethic, ability to help teammates raise their play and other intangibles, Winston is already head and shoulders above where even the most die-hard Winston fans thought he would be after just two seasons. Winston was tough and durable this season, avoided injury, and his uncanny ability to make plays while the pocket broke down bodes well for the future. He certainly can be better, and most likely will be in the future, but for now Bucs fans should rejoice in what appears to be the Bucs finding that elusive franchise quarterback the team has sought since 1976.
What was expected to be a major strength of the 2016 Buccaneers offense turned out to be an utter disaster marred by injury and after injury, and then capped off with starter Doug Martin being suspended for the final game and the first three of the 2017 season for violating the NFL’s drug policy.
The duo of Martin and Sims led the NFL in 2015 with combined yards from scrimmage but never came close to replicating their prior success. Martin was injured in Week 2 agains the Cardinals and missed a large chunk of the season, appearing in just eight games and managing just 421 yards (2.9 avg.) on the ground and 134 as a receiver with only three touchdowns.
Bucs RBs Doug Martin and Charles Sims – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Sims was given the opportunity to be the featured back, but also struggled to find his footing, and missed nine games to injury, finishing with just 149 yards rushing, 190 receiving yards and two scores.
Tampa Bay then turned to Jacquizz Rodgers who played the best of all the backs, but Rodgers was also injured by mid-season and Tampa Bay brought in former Falcons running back Antone Smith, who, you guess it, was also injured.
Undrafted rookie Peyton Barber managed to stay relatively healthy all season for Tampa Bay, but finished with only 223 yards on 51 carries.
The Bucs M*A*S*H unit of running backs ended up averaging 101 yards on the ground through 16 games in 2016, but the uncertainty of Martin’s return means the Bucs will likely look to add talent at that position this offseason. While some of the struggles can be traced to inconstant line play, the backs themselves played a part in the inability to have an impact as well.
For Tampa Bay Bucs wide receivers, 2016 was defined by Mike Evans, injuries and lesser-known names trying to fill voids. The Week 5 injury to Vincent Jackson exposed the team’s depth issues at the position further.
Evans solidified himself as one of the NFL’s top receivers and he turned in a huge year despite opposing secondaries keying in on him throughout the season. Evans posted career-highs in receptions (96) and yards (1,321) and tied his franchise-record mark of 12 touchdown catches originally set as a rookie in 2014. Knowing he possessed a limited number of quality targets to work with, Winston sometimes forced passes to Evans to try and get his playmaker’s hands on the ball as much as possible. This led to Evans receiving an NFL-high 173 targets but owning a low 55.5 percent catch rate.
WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Getty Images
When Jackson was lost to injury, slot receiver Adam Humphries became Winston’s second-best option at the position. The second-year pro doesn’t have the size or skillset necessary to be much of a field-stretching threat, but he is reliable and shifty enough to pick up a few extra yards on catches made in space. Humphries caught 55 of his 83 targets (66.3 percent catch rate) for 622 yards and two touchdowns. He saved his best for last when he snagged a career-high 10 receptions for 94 yards Week 17 against the Carolina Panthers.
Winton’s other receivers throughout the year were Russell Shepard (23 catches for 341 yards and two touchdowns), Cecil Shorts (11 for 152), Freddie Martino (eight for 142, one score), and Josh Huff (three for 41). Despite missing the last 11 games, Jackson finished fourth on the team among receivers with 15 catches for 173 yards.
Speed will be the theme most likely this offseason when the Bucs look to upgrade their receiving corps. Fortunately for Tampa Bay and GM Jason Licht, this draft appears to be deep for playmakers who can burn.
The tight end position got a big, early shakeup when Austin Seferian-Jenkins burned his final bridge in Tampa Bay and got the boot after playing sparingly in the first two games. Although Cameron Brate was already beginning to settle in atop the depth chart prior to Seferian-Jenkins’ unceremonious departure, the cut made it imperative for Brate to step up.
Head coach Dirk Koetter preferred Brate to begin with and the Harvard grad rewarded him with a borderline Pro Bowl-worthy effort. Brate finished tied with San Diego rookie Hunter Henry for the NFL lead in touchdowns by a tight end, with eight, and his 57 receptions for 660 yards ranked him second behind Mike Evans among Buccaneers pass catchers.
TE Cameron Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Coming into camp with a bulked up physique, Brate also made positive strides improving his run- and pass-blocking abilities. Those stat-less responsibilities were primarily tasked to Brandon Myers and Luke Stocker again. Myers played all 16 games and Stocker suited up for 13. Considering the Bucs rushing attack fell to 24th in the NFL (101 yards per game, 3.6 yards per attempt) and Winston was hit 108 times (fifth-most) and sacked 35 times, everyone tasked with blocking deserves a little bit of blame in that regard. In the passing game, Myers finished with eight catches for 59 yards and one touchdown, and Stocker caught five passes for 23 yards.
The Bucs also received a spirited effort from undrafted rookie Alan Cross. The tight end/fullback started the year on the practice squad but played sporadically throughout the final 14 games. Cross ended up with six receptions for 38 yards and caught his first NFL touchdown during Tampa Bay’s Week 11 win in Kansas City.
Inconsistent would be the word that best described the Bucs offensive line in 2016. At times they could be dominate, then a series later have two penalties, a tackle for loss on a running play, and then a third down sack. And it wasn’t just one player, all the linemen seemed to take turns making technique and mental errors, and a lot of the time, at the worst possible time.
Bucs RG Ali Marpet – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The inconsistency can somewhat be blamed on some injuries this season, starting with free agent J.R. Sweezy who never saw the field for the Bucs after coming over from the Seahawks. Tampa Bay had planned on Sweezy taking over for a retired Logan Mankins, but a back injury kept him sidelined all season. Kevin Pamphile filled in surprisingly well by most accounts, and while he was part of the inconsistency issues at times, his development in 2016 should pay dividends down the road. Pamphile was injured with a concussion and missed two games this season, along with Demar Dotson who was also knocked out for action for three games. Center Joe Hawley was banged up for most of the season, missing one game, along with backup center Evan Smith who missed time with a knee injury.
As noted above, the Bucs running game took a step back last season, partly because of the shuffled lineup due to injuries and the up and down play of the offensive line. Pass protection wise, it was much of the same, with some very good games followed up by games where Winston was running for his life.
It is easy to lay all the blame on the offensive line, and there is no question that some is due their way. But if you ask Dirk Koetter, and Winston, they both will tell you, they like the personnel currently, especially with younger players like Ben Gottschalk and Caleb Benenoch gaining experience this season.
Addressing the line, as some fans are clamoring for, is easier said then done. The draft isn’t top heavy with top caliber talent, and the free agent maker most likely will be thin, which means the few players that make it that far will get paid big time most likely. The Bucs most likely star pat and hope Sweezy can return and provide some stability and more importantly, more leadership lost when Mankins retired.