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.

Bucs LT Donovan Smith - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Bucs RB Peyton Barber - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs RB Peyton Barber – Photo by: Getty Images

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.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

15 COMMENTS

  1. The only one of those five who will bounce back is Winston. His decline– which wasn’t all that bad to start– really was injury based anyway.
    Three of those four remaining probably won’t be on the team in a year. Hargreaves will be here, but in a less prominent role.
    Bucs just need to wash their hands with DJAX. He’s never going to have the work ethic and several young receivers show much more promise. My money’s on Watson.

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    • Agree Pete, and with mesean not showing for voluntary workouts again, I’d love to see Godwin take his spot. Jackson will be gone after this year anyways so why wait? We get a solid run game and this offense could be explosive. James has had a good run game for one year as a pro, that’s horrible.
      While James had a down year ,this article shows how awful the team was around him.
      Hes just got to get those fumbles cut way down.
      http://www.footballperspective.com/jameis-winston-had-an-unusual-2017-season/

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    • Agreed as far as Godwin. He fits our scheme better, is a better WR fit for Jameis (an elite intermediate passer), fits our culture change better with his work ethic.

      Would love to see him and Evans start outside. Let Djax compete in the slot with Hump, and then we can dump his contract after the season.

      I think Hargreaves can be a top 10 NICKEL CB, so in a wayyy thats a bounceback, just not the ideal for a top 15 draft pick.

      I do think N.Spence can bounceback as well playing in relief of Curry and JPP or potentially as a blitzing LB. Bucs cant continue to afford all this talent, so I see Noah being successful as a rotational player before taking over fulltime in 2019 or 2020 as JPP/Curry decline or are moved.

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  2. I think 3 of the 5 will have a bounce back year in Jameis, Gholston and Spence. Gholston(from reports)has already approached Buckner and said he wants to improve his game, losing and extra 15lbs at his height has helped with that 1st step.

    Spences surgery from what I’ve read has taken this time round and SHOULD be good to go so I’m expecting him to be a terror especially since rumors have him being a rush specialist and not an every down back any longer.

    JW, I’m expecting big things because this is his “show me” year, especially now that we’ve added more help to the line and backfield. Besides, he has to feel it and know that there are absolutely no excuses this year, there’s far too much talent for him to flop.

    I didn’t add VHIII because he just seems like his confidence has been shaken while Gholston, Spence and JW seem to exude confidence. I want VHIII to succeed, I don’t hate the guy but, he just seems to play with this childish demeanor which makes me think the kid’s self-contious.

    Djax is who I was hoping to make our offense blow up! I understand JW has fault in that but not as much as Djax IMO. I was happy to see them training off-season but there’s no way they fixed what they needed to in those few days that they spent together. Djax had the chance to change that by showing up to OTA’s and respond with a physical presence. I know he’s in Cali doing his typical training but why not have your trainer come here? There are inside track facilities in the area AND he could still get time in with Jameis. I hope he and JW prove me wrong but it’s valuable time lost either way you look at it.

    Scott, I’m curious as to which teammates were harping on VHIII’s lack of work ethic?

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  3. Great post Pete. I would give you a thumbs up if the site let us still.

    When Jamies finally started to get healthy he was the #1 QB in the league in fantasy points per ProFootballFocus over the last four weeks of the season.

    He also was their top rated QB that is under 25: ‘Winston has flashed the potential that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2015. including this past season, he was more productive than any quarterback not named Tom Brady while under pressure, producing a passer rating of 84.4.”

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  4. Meant to say “every down DE” when referring to Spence, not an every down back lol!

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  5. Great Fab Five Scott. I think 4 of 5 have a shot to come back. DJAX is collecting a paycheck and will show flashes, but will take a dive going over the middle and trot out of bounds on the sidelines. My guess is the WR will come around where we’ll trade him to the Chargers so we can let him go back home, develop our guys and maybe pick-up a low draft pick for next year.

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  6. I think the one person, of everyone in this organization, that needs to shine the most is coach Koetter. All of the pieces are there. No more excuses.

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    • Agreed…and Mike Smith…

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  7. So… basically… almost every one needs to play well this season.

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  8. Donovan Smith? I don’t know what to say…that write-up must be under the wrong player profile.

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  9. Another good article Scott. My thinking on this team right now is ” a lot of maybes”?

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  10. Great Fab 4-1/2 Scott. Can’t give full credit to Fab 5 since it’s a lot of pimping sponsors and yourselves.

    Since there are so many folks on this site believing the team is destined for a season in which it won’t win a single game; I’m thinking the Pewter Reporters might want to update their resumes’.

    Folks sure were surprised when that 5-11 1978 team went to the NFC title game after so many were predicting another losing season with a QB who couldn’t even hit 50% of his passes, a running back who should have been Tony Dorsett and a defensive lineman who was too polite. Maybe we should change the old 1979 fight song.

    Hey Hey Tampa Bay the Bucs are going to suck.
    Hey Hey Tampa Bay look out for more bad luck.
    When we’re in trouble that’s the norm, we’re still down and out.
    Because we know we are the worst, when we sit down, sit down and pout.

    Or how about the other one.

    Ho hum ho hum we’re the Buccaneers.
    Ho hum ho hum we’re the Buccaneers
    No offense, no defense, now we’re here to say.
    Our ship has sunk so there’s no plank.
    We’re floating in Tampa Bay.

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  11. As always, thanks SR. Watched all the position coach interviews & got to read a Fab5 this week. A great week. Amped for football in May. (Damn you) You highlighted some key players/positions that must step up. But, don’t we All think that our coaching is the real suspect? I’m not asking you to burn any bridges, but I’m curious as to your take on the current staff. Wouldn’t the best way to develop some of this talent be with better coaching?

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  12. Another great SR, Scott. You are the best. I just have a different view of D. Smith. I like his durability and his size but he is not great at pass protection as his leading the Bucs in holding on passing downs proves. If he does not improve markedly his pass protection I don’t see us being over .500 at our week off. They then need to give Cappa a shot at LT. If not they will be risking getting Jameis injured and out again. It would be nice if Benenoch can step up this year and win the starting RT position early so they can cut Sweezy and train Cappa as a LT or at least as a RT. Tackle is his best position and he played LT in college. I do think D. Smith has a lot of potential at LG
    and I would prefer they move him there and put Marpet back at RT.

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