The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.
This week’s topic: What Depth Chart Move Should The Bucs Make?
Scott Reynolds: Treat TE Howard Like A Starter
The Buccaneers list tight end O.J. Howard as a starter and he runs out of the tunnel with the starters before the games, but once the ball is kicked off, he’s become an afterthought in Bruce Arians’ offense so far this season. And that’s a shame given Howard’s talent. So the depth chart move I would make with Howard, who already starts, is simply moving him up Byron Leftwich’s target totem pole to take advantage of Howard’s 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame and 4.51 speed and receiving ability.
Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin leads the team with 33 catches on 43 targets, followed by Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans, who has 18 receptions on 38 targets. I get it. This offense goes through Godwin, who is playing the Larry Fitzgerald role in Arians’ scheme. Third down running back Dare Ogunbowale is next with 13 catches for 108 yards on 16 targets, which is understandable because he’s often the check down receiver on third downs.
But what’s criminal is the fact that Howard has just 11 catches on 14 targets for 141 yards. A player of Howard’s caliber with his potential should have more than 14 targets through five games, which are less than three targets per game. Backup tight end Cameron Brate is next on the target list, catching all 10 of his targets for 72 yards and a touchdown. But the fact that Howard, who had only one catch for 10 yards in New Orleans last Sunday, has just four more targets than Brate and just two more targets than Breshad Perriman, who has three receptions for 16 yards on 12 targets, just isn’t smart play-calling.
Can’t Arian and Byron Leftwich look to try to create mismatches with Howard’s size and speed? Last year, Howard had 15 catches on 21 targets for 284 yards (13.5 avg.) and two touchdowns through the first five games and finished the year with a career high in catches (34) and yards (565) along with five TDs through 10 games before he was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. This year, the former 2017 first-round pick is on pace to average 35 receptions for 451 yards with zero TDs. The Bucs offense needs to be better on third downs and in the red zone, and are all but ignoring a weapon like Howard, who could certainly help. It’s time to treat Howard like a starter.
Mark Cook: It’s Time For RoJo To Start At RB
The kid has earned it.
Against most people’s thinking heading into 2019, Ronald Jones II has not only completely turned a 180 after dismal rookie season, but the former USC star is the better choice to start and get the most carries. And not just one or two more carries than current starter Peyton Barber per game, but RoJo needs to stay on the field every snap until he needs a breather.
PewterReport.com featured Jones in its Training Camp Diary feature as a rookie in 2018, and each time we interviewed him there was a little less spark in his eyes. Being drafted as a 20-year old and moving from Los Angeles to Tampa was a big shock. But perhaps the biggest jolt was learning to become a professional in the NFL. Jones had always gotten by with being the best player on the field from a sheer talent standpoint. From Pee Wee to high school and often in college, Jones could just let his athleticism take over and have plenty of success. It doesn’t work that way in the NFL. The worst player on an NFL football team was one of the Top 3 players on his college team.
To Jones’ credit he set out to change everything about his game in the offseason. From running hills in the heat, to catching a 100 passes a day in the offseason, and also bulking up his physique to 220 pounds, Jones heard the whispers of him being bust and decided that wasn’t how it was going to go this season.
And the results of his offseason work are remarkable. Through five games, Jones leads the Bucs in rushing with 269 yards (4.7 avg.), and is also averaging 18.4 yards per reception. Jones also had 79 more rushing yards called back due to penalties in Tampa Bay’s 55-40 win in Los Angeles three weeks ago, including a 54-yard jaunt.
The Buccaneers gave Barber a one-year deal in the offseason worth $3 million, partly because they had no idea what they would have in Jones in 2019. Barber has been solid and dependable throughout his career, but Jones has proven he is a different player – and person – in 2019 and deserves to take on the running back load on a full-time basis.
Trevor Sikkema: Start Jamel Dean At CB
I’m not sure how ready rookie cornerback Jamel Dean is right now, but if he is healthy, he should now be considered for some starting cornerback play.
I think last week’s poor outing in New Orleans put the current starting cornerbacks on notice, and Dean should now be closer than ever to contributing. As I explained in this week’s Cover 3 column, it just seems like the Bucs are trying to make former first-round draft pick Vernon Hargreaves III a CB1 when he’s really a CB2. Second-year cornerback Carlton Davis doesn’t have the eye for turnovers, rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting doesn’t look read, and second-year slot cornerback M.J. Stewart is limited athletically. Yet all of these players are being asked to play in positions that expose their deficiencies.
Despite being a rookie, Dean has the blueprint to be a potential starting cornerback for this team. At 6-foot-1, 206 pounds, he does not have size limitations. And with 4.3 speed, he does not have speed limitations, either. Long-term outlook with health is the reason why Dean fell to the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. But as long as he is healthy, he might be the Bucs’ best prototype as an outside cornerback. Dean also had good tape and production during the preseason. It’s time to give him a shot – likely at the expense of Hargreaves, who has underwhelmed over the past three games.
I’m not trying to super overreact to last Sunday, as playing the Saints in New Orleans is always tough. But Tampa Bay’s secondary is the weakest part of the team, and the Bucs have a guy who might be able to change that. I’d rather them make the move than stick with guys who might not be able to hang in coverage.
Matt Matera: Replace Perriman As The No. 3 WR
The Bucs should move Breshad Perriman out of the third receiver spot and get more looks at Justin Watson, Bobo Wilson and Scotty Miller. Perriman missed the Bucs’ last game with a hamstring injury, and even when he’s played, Perriman has provided very little impact for the Bucs offense. In four games played, he has just three catches for 16 yards. The Bucs have some great talent above him on the depth chart with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, but those pedestrian numbers still can’t be had for Tampa Bay’s third receiver.
Perriman has also had a history of dropping passes and injury issues, and both have flared up so far this season. Hamstring injuries are typically ones that tend to linger around, which is a bad sign for a player that has already missed a game because of it.
Speed was a huge reason why the Bucs brought in Perriman to this new offense. He ran a 4.25 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine back in 2015, but despite that, he has not been a threat to the opposing defense in the way the Bucs would have liked him to be. Also, on a one-year deal, this could likely be Perriman’s first and last season with the Bucs. By giving an opportunity to Watson, Wilson, or Miller, Tampa Bay will get more looks at players that the team figures will be around longer.
Watson only has two career catches in two seasons, but he has good size at 6-foot-3 and has improved as a receiver heading into this year. Wilson has the most experience as an NFL receiver, and has been a solid deep ball threat that the Bucs are looking for. He also has chemistry with Jameis Winston from their playing days together at Florida State.
Miller, the Bucs’ sixth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, is still a work in progress. But he is by far the fastest of the trio with a 4.39 40-yard dash. Each of these players are viable options that bring an aspect to the receiving game that would help improve the Bucs offense over Perriman, who has been a disappointment thus far.
Taylor Jenkins: Make A Change At RT
Right tackle Demar Dotson is expected to miss the Bucs’ Week 6 match-up against the Carolina Panthers with a hamstring injury, leaving newly acquired reserve Josh Wells to start in his absence. Wells was never a consistent starter during his time in Jacksonville, but the veteran lineman played in 41 games, making nine starts, over his four seasons with the Jaguars. Now with the Bucs he may have a shot at taking over the lead role in 2019 and beyond.
In his 11th season, Dotson is coming to the tail end of his career. The long-time right tackle for Tampa Bay has had a history of injuries and his play has seemed to quickly decline this season, while that may be related to the calf injury he’s been playing through.
Now with a chance to start, the 28-year-old Wells could very well be the man to roll with if he can prove to be a serviceable starter at the position. Significant playing time would also afford him an opportunity to show Bruce Arians and his staff that he may be worth considering as a potential starting right tackle for more than just the remainder of the 2019 season.
Dotson’s playing days are likely coming to an end after this season at age 34 – at least with the Bucs as he is set to become a free agent in 2020. So if Wells can prove to be a worthy replacement against Carolina and down the stretch it may be time to make the move.