FAB 2. 2018 Pewter Predictions
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will begin the 2018 regular season on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans against the reigning NFC South champion Saints. That means it’s time for PewterReport.com to post its 2018 Pewter Predictions when it comes to the Buccaneers players.
Who will be the MVP of Tampa Bay’s offense, defense and special teams? Who will be the Most Improved Players on offense and defense? Continue reading to find out.
2018 BUCCANEERS OFFENSIVE MVP
WR Mike Evans
Tampa Bay made Evans the second-highest paid wide receiver in the offseason with a rich, lucrative contract extension, and the 6-foot-5 wide receiver seems intent on earning every penny. Evans is one of a select few wide receivers to begin his NFL career with four straight 1,000-yard seasons. If he stays healthy for at least 14 games, pencil him in for another one.
Evans has recorded two 12-touchdown seasons in Tampa Bay – one during his rookie season and another one in 2016 when he made his first Pro Bowl appearance. Evans’ end zone production dipped to five last year, and he had 320 fewer yards, too. Look for Evans to be the engine in Dirk Koetter’s passing game, catching 80 passes for 1,250 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns as the Bucs’ best weapon on offense.
2018 BUCCANEERS DEFENSIVE MVP
LB Lavonte David
With apologies to Pro Bowl middle linebacker Kwon Alexander and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, David will wind up taking MVP honors on defense. He just makes too many splash plays to be ignored – even if he continues to get snubbed for the Pro Bowl. Last year, David led the Bucs with five forced fumbles, in addition to an astounding five fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown, which was his third defensive score in his illustrious seven-year career in Tampa Bay.
Alexander made get the nod as the team’s leading tackler this year, but expect David to once again be a takeaway machine with a healthy dose of forced fumbles, fumble recoveries and interceptions, which is something David didn’t have last year, in addition to recording a sack. Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith will be blitzing David and Alexander more this year, and look for David to notch five sacks en route to his second Pro Bowl appearance.
2018 BUCCANEERS SPECIAL TEAMS MVP
K Chandler Catanzaro
Catanzaro needs to be the Bucs’ Special Teams MVP this year as the kicker position has been a huge letdown in Tampa Bay in nearly every season under general manager Jason Licht. Catanzaro, who was given a contract that pays him $3 million annually, has a stronger leg than Patrick Murray, who wound up replacing Nick Folk last year. But the biggest issue for a kicker is accuracy.
Catanzaro began his career in Arizona making 87.9 percent of his kicks as a rookie in 2014 and then 90.3 percent of his field goals the next year. After a disappointing season in which he made just 75 percent in 2016, he was released and latched on to the Jets where he rebounded, making 83.3 percent of his field goals. The Bucs would love him to connect on 85 percent of his kicks or better, and that is an attainable mark.
MOST IMPROVED OFFENSIVE PLAYER
RB Peyton Barber
After leading the team in rushing in 2017 with 423 yards and three touchdowns, Barber hangs on to the rushing crown in 2018 with his first 1,000-yard season. While not flashy, Barber is the type of power rusher that plays ahead and can pick up a solid four yards per carry and move the chains. With more experience and a more svelte physique, Barber is ready to have a breakthrough season with a handful of 100-yard games. At 230 pounds, Barber has shown that he has the size to handle the workload, and with rookie Ronald Jones being a disappointment thus far, he might have to be the bell cow runner in Tampa Bay this year.
MOST IMPROVED DEFENSIVE PLAYER
FS Justin Evans
Evans received some lofty praise from defensive coordinator Mike Smith this week when he said that the second-year safety had Pro Bowl capability. Smith is right, and the reason why is not just because the rangy and athletic safety can pick off passes, as he did last year with a team-high three in just 11 starts. It’s because Evans has improved in pass coverage. Evans gave up as many touchdowns as he prevented a year ago as a rookie, and he’s made big strides in that area this offseason and in the preseason.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy led the Bucs in preseason sacks with two, and he’s led the team in sacks in every year since 2013, but that changes this year. McCoy improves his sack total from six from a year ago to eight this year, but Pierre-Paul edges him out for the team lead with nine. Pierre-Paul had eight in New York last year and improves his sack total by one with his new team in Tampa Bay. The Bucs record 40 sacks, which is an improvement over the 22 they produced last year, but still don’t have a double-digit sacker – something Tampa Bay has not had since Simeon Rice in 2005.
FS Justin Evans
Veteran cornerback Brent Grimes and linebacker Kwon Alexander tied with Evans for the team lead last year with three interceptions. This year, a more experienced and confident Evans goes out and gets five interceptions to lead Tampa Bay in this category all by himself. The Bucs will play a good deal of Cover 1 and Cover 3 this year as defensive coordinator Mike Smith will play more press man coverage. That allows Evans to be the single high safety, read the quarterback’s eyes from centerfield and use his speed to go get the ball.
CB Carlton Davis
Davis, one of the team’s second-round picks, doesn’t look like a rookie cornerback. The physical, 6-foot-1, perimeter defensive back has the size that has been lacking at the cornerback position in Tampa Bay since the days Aqib Talib roamed the secondary. Davis will be tested a lot as rookie and will lead the Bucs in pass breakups, which is something he has a knack for doing with his long arms. Davis will only record two interceptions, as he needs to work on his hands and focus on coming up with a takeaway rather than settling for a pass breakup.
BEST FREE AGENT ACQUISITION
C Ryan Jensen
Pierre-Paul arrived in Tampa Bay via a trade, so he technically doesn’t qualify for this category. Jensen edges defensive end Vinny Curry because of the importance of the center position and the fact that Jensen won’t come off the field unless he’s injured. Tampa Bay made Jensen the highest-paid center in the league due to his run blocking prowess and nasty demeanor. Look for Jensen and left guard Ali Marpet to power the Bucs’ interior ground game. Jensen is also a better pass protector than he’s given credit for.
PRO BOWL BUCCANEERS
The Bucs will show improvement from last year’s disappointing 5-11 record and will be in the playoff race into December. That means they will be more of a high profile team than they were a year ago, and that means more media exposure for the Bucs players. Tampa Bay only had two Pro Bowlers in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander. Both of them will return to the Pro Bowl this year along with linebacker Lavonte David, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and wide receiver Mike Evans. Free safety Justin Evans has a Pro Bowl-caliber year, but gets snubbed in favor of incumbents like Seattle’s Earl Thomas, Philadelphia’s Malcolm Jenkins and the New York Giants’ Landon Collins.