FAB 2. 5 Bucs Who Need To Break Out
After previewing five Bucs who need to bounce back from less than stellar years, it’s time to take a look at some Bucs who need to break out in 2018. These are players that have shown glimpses of promise over the last year or two, but really need to step up and take the next step in their development. What better time to do that than this season?
G Caleb Benenoch
Benenoch is one of the best athletes along the offensive line, and at 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, he has the frame and skill set to play both right tackle and right guard. His learning curve accelerated by filling in down the stretch for Demar Dotson at right tackle last year where he was one of the highest graded run blockers on the team.
With Dotson out for the offseason following knee surgery it would make sense that Benenoch would see action at right tackle during the OTAs, but that duty will fall on Leonard Wester and Brad Seaton instead. The reason is because the Bucs believe Benenoch can be a starting-caliber right guard and want him to focus at that position and master it this offseason.
So look for Benenoch to be in a three-way battle for the right guard spot with current starter J.R. Sweezy, who is coming off a broken leg, along with Alex Cappa, the team’s third-round pick. The guess here is that Sweezy, who played poorly last year after missing the 2016 season due to a back injury, is the odd man out as Benenoch wins the starting job with Cappa serving as his backup during his rookie season.
LT Donovan Smith
Smith has been solid as a starting left tackle in the league for three years, not missing a start since entering the league as a second-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Smith gives the Bucs a strong, powerful blocker on the perimeter on the left side of the field and he’s becoming better as a pass protector each year.
The Bucs are trying to lock up Smith prior to the start of his fourth season, which may be a smart move if he continues to ascend, or it could backfire if he doesn’t take the next step in his develop and either plateaus or regresses. Smith’s biggest problem is not playing hard on every snap. When he takes a snap off or relaxes is when he’s more susceptible to giving up an untimely sack. Those are the types of plays he needs to eliminate from his game.
Smith has a big believer in offensive line coach George Warhop, who correctly points out that he was the best offensive tackle in the 2015 draft class, and that he’s among the top 10 left tackles in the league despite not playing at a Pro Bowl level yet. Smith is naturally a big man, but could work a bit harder on his conditioning to become a tick quicker in his pass sets, especially against ultra-fast defensive ends that do a good job of timing the snap.
WR Chris Godwin
Although Adam Humphries served in the traditional third receiver role last year in the slot, in reality Godwin was also considered a third receiver – just on the outside, filling in for Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Godwin started for Evans when he was suspended for the Jets game, and also for Jackson for the final two games of the season. That extra playing time helped him produce 34 catches for 525 yards and one touchdown, a 39-yarder, which came on the Bucs’ last offensive play of the Saints game, and proved to be a game-winner.
At 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, Godwin has good size to go along with his 4.44 speed and a work ethic to match. Godwin was called “a starter” by offensive coordinator Todd Monken during a press conference, and he’ll have an opportunity to beat out DeSean Jackson for the right to start opposite Mike Evans with another strong training camp. Godwin quickly learned the playbook as a rookie, so he can spend this offseason just honing his fundamentals.
Godwin’s 15.4-yard receiving average was the best among Tampa Bay wide receivers last year, even beating out Evans (14.1 avg.) and the speedy Jackson (13.4 avg.) in that category. His 70-yard catch-and-run against Carolina was the team’s longest play from scrimmage and showcased his ability to slip tackles and get yards after the catch. Godwin needs to do that more often in 2018 and find the end zone more often too, as he only produced one touchdown as a rookie.
RB Peyton Barber
Barber already had a breakout year in 2017 by taking over for an ineffective Doug Martin and leading the Bucs in rushing with 423 yards and three touchdowns on 108 carries (3.9 avg.), which were all career highs. But with more carries and opportunities in the passing game Tampa Bay believes Barber can record more than the 788 all-purpose yards that he posted in 2017, which was his second year in the league.
Barber gives the Bucs a big, 5-foot-11, 225-pound banger that can turn a 2-yard gain into a 4-yard gain and a 6-yard gain into an 8-yard gain. He’s expected to split carries with rookie Ronald Jones II, who was the team’s first of three picks in the second round, and be featured in short-yardage and in goal line situations.
The team has a great deal of confidence in Barber and his no-nonsense running style, and believes that if he received 250 carries he could be a 1,000-yard running back. But if he splits the carries with Jones as expected, hitting 700 yards and scoring seven touchdowns might be more realistic goals. Barber hasn’t hit his ceiling yet as a player and should arrive for the 2018 season with a good deal of confidence from his strong finish last year.
FS Justin Evans
Evans, last year’s second-round pick, emerged as a starter at free safety early in his rookie season against New England on Thursday Night Football where he scored his first NFL interception against Tom Brady. Evans had a solid rookie season and showed off his range and athleticism with 66 tackles, six passes defensed and three interceptions, which was tied for the team lead.
While Evans recorded a touchdown-saving interception in the end zone at Miami, he did give up more touchdowns than he had takeaways. The key for Evans’ development as a second-year player will to become more sound in pass coverage in limiting big plays, especially scoring passes, and recording more interceptions, which he is fully capable of.
Evans saw most of his snaps as a single high safety in Cover 3 or as a deep safety in Quarters coverage. He was known as a big hitter at Texas A&M and may play more snaps in the box in 2018, especially if undersized rookie Jordan Whitehead emerges as a starting-caliber. Evans is capable of forcing fumbles with his hard-hitting ways, but didn’t log a forced fumble as a rookie.