FAB 3. 5 Bucs Newcomers Who Need To Shine
Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht and his scouting staff have done a very good job of adding immediate impact players in the NFL Draft, in addition to finding some free agents that have come in and made an immediate splash over the years in cornerback Brent Grimes, punter Bryan Anger, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick among others. In order for the the Bucs to rebound and make a playoff push in 2018 they will need some of their new free agents and draft picks to step in right away and make a difference. Here are five newcomers that need to stand and deliver starting in September.
C Ryan Jensen
The Bucs made Jensen the highest-paid center in the NFL after just starting in Baltimore for one season. But Jensen plays with toughness and the edge Tampa Bay needs to move the line of scrimmage in the running game. Jensen is a nasty finisher and he will team with left guard Ali Marpet to give the Bucs significant push upfront.
Getting Jensen was key this offseason because Marpet was a better guard in 2015-16 than he was as a center in 2017. Now Marpet moves over to left guard, which was the weakest position on the offensive line last year with Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith rotating there in each game.
What happens to some unheralded players that cash in on a second contract in free agency is that become complacent, but Tampa Bay doesn’t think that will happen to Jensen, who plays with a chip on his shoulder. As long as Jensen has a good rapport with quarterback Jameis Winston, which is anticipated, his signing should be an impactful one.
RB Ronald Jones II
The Bucs needed to add some speed and explosiveness to their ground game and spent a second-round pick on the USC running back. Jones has the chance to start as a rookie, but even if he doesn’t become the outright starter at the beginning of the season he could grow into that role as the season progresses and he gets more experience.
One of the things that attracted the Bucs to Jones was the fact that he set the Trojans freshman rushing record with nearly 1,000 yards, which showed that he could quickly learn the playbook and contribute early. At the very least, Jones should split carries with Peyton Barber as a rookie and give head coach Dirk Koetter the explosive plays he’s looking for in the running game, but don’t rule out Jones taking control of the starting running back job and rushing for 1,000 yards as a rookie, either.
The Bucs believe that Jones has the skill set to be a three-down back, but he’ll need time to learn how to be a better pass protector and route runner in the passing game. Bucs running back coach Tim Spencer said that Jones is a willing blocker and not afraid, which helps. Yet, look for Tampa Bay to incorporate Jones’ speed into the screen game this season where he has the ability to work the sidelines in space and break long gains as he learns to become a better rout runner over time.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Bucs general manager Jason Licht made one of the best trades of the offseason when he dealt a third-round pick for Pierre-Paul, a proven pass rusher that can get to the quarterback. He’ll be one of the highest-paid Buccaneers with a $12.5 million salary cap hit in 2018 and needs to earn every penny of that contract. Tampa Bay desperately needs more sacks after finishing dead last with 22 last year, and it’s not unreasonable to think that Pierre-Paul can be the team’s first double-digit sacker since Simeon Rice in 2005.
Not only can Pierre-Paul help the Bucs’ sack attack by getting to the quarterback with an outside rush, he can also help Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy by keeping the QB in the pocket and forcing him to step up to throw. McCoy hasn’t had a defensive end with the talent that Pierre-Paul does, and that could prove to be the best inside-outside combo in Tampa Bay since Warren Sapp and Rice played together in the early 2000s.
With the immense depth along the defensive line, Pierre-Paul won’t have to play over 90 percent of the snaps like he did last year in New York. Less snaps should keep him fresher – not just for the fourth quarter, but also for the end of the season when Tampa Bay could be contending for a playoff spot. One added benefit to having Pierre-Paul on the roster is that it will only make young left tackle Donovan Smith better in practice.
CB Carlton Davis
Out of all of Tampa Bay’s 2018 rookies, Davis might be the one that becomes an every down starter for the Bucs. The long, physical defensive back has a presence that no other cornerback on the roster has. At 6-foot-1, Davis has the size to match up with the likes of Atlanta’s Julio Jones, New Orleans’ Michael Thomas and Carolina’s Devon Funchess.
Davis’ strength is as a press cornerback, and if defensive coordinator Mike Smith will allow him to play that style of coverage more often than not, the rookie from Auburn should help Tampa Bay’s pass rush by disrupting the timing between the quarterback and the receiver. Davis has experience playing off coverage, but playing closer to the line of scrimmage where he can jam and re-route receivers is where he’s special.
Davis is battle-tested having played in the SEC, and became a starter as a freshman. That should help his transition to the NFL during his rookie season. Perhaps one of Davis’ best traits is his supreme confidence, which should serve him well this season and early in his career as he’s sure to give up his fair share of catches and touchdowns until he gains experience.
K Chandler Catanzaro
Catanzaro had a remarkable start to his NFL career in Arizona, connecting on 89 percent of his field goals. He slipped a bit during his third season, connecting on just 75 percent of his kicks (21-of-28) and that led to his departure from the Cardinals. He went to New York where he kicked for the Jets and made 83.3 percent of his field goals, often in difficult weather conditions.
The Bucs have certainly had their share of kicking woes over the last couple of years, and general manager Jason Licht is hoping that the team’s kicking problem has been solved with the arrival of Catanzaro. Licht likes his confidence and that’s an element that has been missing in Tampa Bay from its kickers.
Catanzaro came to the Bucs in part due to the great Tampa weather and the field at Raymond James Stadium, which hasn’t been kind to some inferior Bucs kickers, but the team’s opponents haven’t had too many problems. If Catanzaro can be an 85 percent kicker or better in Tampa Bay, the Bucs could be poised to make their first playoff run since 2007 if the offense and defense improve as expected.