SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL:
FAB 1. BREAKING DOWN THE BUCS’ PATH TO 10-6 AND THE PLAYOFFS
Yeah, that’s right.
I said it.
The Buccaneers will go 10-6 and make the playoffs this year.
Do you think I’m dreaming because Dirk Koetter is a rookie head coach?
Am I out of my mind because quarterback Jameis Winston is only in his second year and the Bucs are one of the youngest teams in the NFL?
Have I lost it because of the team’s razor thin depth at defensive tackle, wide receiver and safety among other positions?
Did you care better for the 9-7 predictions from PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook or Zach Shapiro, or think Eric Horchy’s 8-8 mark was more conservative and perhaps more realistic?
Predicting an NFL team’s record at the start of the season is strictly for entertainment purposes because of all of the variables – most notably injuries.
It’s kind of like doing mock drafts right now. It’s just sheer entertainment because we don’t know which underclassmen will declare for the draft, which prospects will suffer major injuries that will impact their draft status, and of course the correct draft order.
Week 1 – at Atlanta
In order to have any chance at a winning season – let alone a double-digit winning season – the Bucs must win their winnable games. Week 1 on the road against the Falcons, Koetter and Mike Smith’s former, and a team that Tampa Bay swept last year, is a winnable game. Matt Ryan has proved to be tough at home, and he knows Smith’s tendencies on defense just like Smith knows Ryan’s tendencies after the ball is snapped. Winston might start slow after being too amped up, but will settle down as the Bucs defense takes control and pulls away in the second half for Koetter’s first win as an NFL head coach. Smith gets a game ball, too.
Bucs Win – 1-0
Week 2 – at Arizona
Winning the winnable games is the first step to avoid underachieving. When Tampa Bay travels to Arizona it faces the first of five playoff teams from 2015, and this is not considered to be a game the Bucs should win. It doesn’t mean they can’t win, but the Cardinals are a veteran team on both sides of the ball with playoff experience. This game could be a real high scoring affair, but Bruce Arians will prevail over his good friend Jason Licht as the Bucs fall to .500 on the season. The good news is that by Week 2 Tampa Bay’s cornerbacks have more interceptions than they had a year ago (two INTs).
Bucs Lose – 1-1
Week 3 – vs. Los Angeles
The Bucs get back on the winning track by being victorious in the 2016 home opener against a pesky Rams team that Tampa Bay hasn’t beaten in years. Stopping Todd Gurley is impossible, but Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David team up to slow him down enough to set up the Bucs’ pass rush on third down. Tampa Bay’s offensive line rises to the occasion to block Los Angeles’ deadly defensive line, which allows Winston to thrive in the play-action passing game. Whether it’s Case Keenum or rookie Jared Goff, Tampa Bay’s defense swarms to produce sacks and interceptions in a big home triumph.
Bucs Win – 2-1
Week 4 – vs. Denver
Tampa Bay may not be favored at home when defending Super Bowl champion Denver comes to town. Who will be under center for the Broncos – Trevor Siemian or rookie Paxton Lynch? The Bucs will have to stop C.J. Anderson and Denver’s ground game first before taking on an inexperienced passer. Von Miller leads a Broncos defense that is loaded with talent from front to back. Nobody has Denver as a favorite to repeat as Super Bowl champions due to the loss of quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, but it is still a formidable opponent. The Bucs score a major upset at home on a Roberto Aguayo field goal and move to 3-1 to start the year.
Bucs Win – 3-1
Week 5 – at Carolina
Tampa Bay’s 3-1 record makes this Monday Night Football contest at Carolina even more interesting as the victor will be in the lead in the NFC South. This young Buccaneers team wants to make a good impression with its first exposure on Monday Night Football, but Cam Newton and Carolina have much more big game experience – and it shows. While Winston has success through the air against the Panthers’ inexperienced cornerbacks, the Bucs struggle to run the ball and find balance on offense. Meanwhile, the Panthers get their ground game going and a few timely scrambles from Newton makes a difference as Carolina pulls away late.
Bucs Lose – 3-2
Week 6 – BYE WEEK
Week 7 – at San Francisco
Ask Tampa Bay fans if they would be happy or content with a 3-2 lead coming out of the bye week and most Bucs fans would take it. In fact, that’s the key to this team posting a winning record in my opinion. The Bucs travel west to take on Chip Kelly’s 49ers, which will either have Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick at the helm. There is more talent in San Francisco that it appears at first glance, especially on a defense that features defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, linebackers Ahmad Brooks and NoVorro Bowman and safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea. The Bucs edge past the 49ers in a close win powered by the 1-2 punch of Martin and Charles Sims.
Bucs Win – 4-2
Week 8 – vs. Oakland
This young Bucs team isn’t going to be perfect at Raymond James Stadium this year, and a home loss to the Raiders stings. Like Tampa Bay, Oakland is a young team on the rise, but probably a year ahead of the Bucs’ development where quarterback Derek Carr is in his third season. Left tackle Donald Penn returns to Tampa for his some vengeance against his former team, and leads an offense that features wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper that Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves have difficulties in covering. Defensive end Khalick Mack and an improved Raiders secondary led Raiders safety Reggie Nelson pose problems to Winston in this Tampa Bay defeat.
Bucs Lose – 4-3
Week 9 – vs. Atlanta
The Bucs get back on track against a fading Falcons team that is racing the Saints to finish last in the NFC South division. Tampa Bay swept Atlanta last year by getting an early season road win and then finishing off the Falcons at home later in the year. Koetter follows that formula again this season as Mike Evans goes off against Atlanta’s secondary in a big win by double-digits as Tampa Bay begins to position itself for a playoff push.
Bucs Win – 5-3
Week 10 – vs. Chicago
Now that Lovie Smith is gone, the Bucs figure out how to beat his former team, which is something it failed to do in both 2014 and 2015. This game is close and heads to overtime due to Jay Cutler carving up the Bucs’ secondary with big wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White, in addition to tight end Zach Miller. Watching McCoy square off against guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton is like watching an epic battle, but the Bucs prevail at home as tight ends Cameron Brate and Austin Seferian-Jenkins team up for a big day to improve Tampa Bay to 6-3.
Bucs Win – 6-3
Week 11 – at Kansas City
Winning at Arrowhead is no easy feat, especially in late November when the weather can be quite nasty. The Bucs aren’t used to playing in cold weather and it shows as the Chiefs ambush their trip to America’s Heartland. Winston and the offense struggle against a defense led by linebackers Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson, and defensive backs Marcus Peters and Eric Berry. Tampa Bay’s defense has a hard time containing tight end Travis Kelce, and Kansas City pulls away after halftime.
Bucs Lose – 6-4
Week 12 – vs. Seattle
The Bucs will face another experienced, playoff team and show their youth and inexperience when the Seahawks come to town. Seattle is right in the thick of the NFC West division title hunt and can’t afford a let down after a cross-country trip to Tampa Bay. Russell Wilson improvises his way through a stingy Bucs defense, but Seattle’s defense is too much for Tampa Bay’s receivers to handle in a narrow defeat for the home team. The fact that the Bucs show they can go toe-to-toe with a Super Bowl contender gives them confidence for down the road.
Bucs Lose – 6-5
Week 13 – at San Diego
The Bucs are one loss away from last year’s 6-6 mark when everything fell apart down the stretch and the team fell to 6-10. Tampa Bay needs another West Coast win to prevent a three-game losing streak late in the season. The Bucs avoid .500 with a big road win, as San Diego is an inferior team. The Chargers just don’t have the talent on both sides of the ball like the Bucs do, and Tampa Bay’s special teams come up big in this victory, which assures the team won’t have six straight years of double-digit losses. At 7-5, Koetter has officially improved the Bucs from their record of a year ago.
Bucs Win – 7-5
Week 14 – vs. New Orleans
It’s crazy to think that the Bucs haven’t played the Saints yet, but New Orleans and Tampa Bay square off for the first time this year in Week 14. With playoff implications on the line, Winston and the Bucs prevail in a shootout against Drew Brees, who always seems to have a big day in Tampa Bay. With this win, the Bucs are guaranteed no worse than a .500 finish in Koetter’s first year as head coach.
Bucs Win – 8-5
Week 15 – at Dallas
Who knows who will be the quarterback in Dallas for this game? Will it be Tony Romo back from a spine injury, or will it be rookie Dak Prescott or journeyman Mark Sanchez? The Bucs narrowly edged the Cowboys last year, but head to “Big D” for a Texas-sized beat-down of Dallas. This inspired road victory pushes the Bucs’ win total to nine on the season and officially makes Tampa Bay a winner. With two games left, the playoffs are in sight.
Bucs Win – 9-5
Week 16 – at New Orleans
Tampa Bay travels to the Big Easy for a Christmas Eve game in New Orleans, but Brees plays Scrooge and fills the Bucs’ stocking with lumps of coal. Beating a division opponent twice is hard enough, but having to do it twice in the span of three weeks is quite a challenge. After stubbing their toe in New Orleans, Winston and Co. have to shake off the holiday blues and focus on beating Carolina next week to get to 10 wins and have a chance at making the playoffs.
Bucs Lose – 9-6
Week 17 – vs. Carolina
After learning a tough lesson last week, the Bucs ring in 2017 with a win over the visiting Panthers with the playoffs on the line. This games means a lot to both teams, but Tampa Bay shows its progress by beating another playoff team – and a Super Bowl participant – to get to 10 wins. Out of the six games the Bucs faced against 2015 playoff teams, Tampa Bay finished 2-4, which shows its youth and lack of experience. But with a gritty, late season win to prevent the Panthers from sweeping the Bucs for a fourth straight year, Koetter’s troops show a tremendous amount of improvement in becoming a more experienced, battle-tested, veteran team during the 2016 campaign. The Bucs sneak into the playoffs with the final wild card spot thanks to a 4-2 record in the NFC South and an 8-4 record in the NFC.
Bucs Win – 10-6
Koetter definitely faces a harder schedule than Smith did the last two years. It’s important for the Bucs to grow and improve from week to week and not stagnate or regress. And perhaps more importantly, Tampa Bay can’t underachieve and lose the games it has no business losing while scoring a couple of upsets.
FAB 2. THE 20 MOST IMPORTANT BUCCANEERS IN 2016
The Buccaneers head into the 2016 campaign a more talented team thanks to Jason Licht’s drafting and free agent acquisitions. Not every pick and signing has been a hit – defensive end George Johnson comes to mind as a bust, and the jury is still out on injured left guard J.R. Sweezy – but the Bucs now have enough players on their roster to compete for the playoffs.
After a rigorous training camp and preseason, it’s time to examine the top 20 most important Buccaneers heading into 2016. Notice I didn’t say the best or the most talented guys in Tampa Bay. These players are the most important to the team’s success due to their ability, the importance of the spot they play or the fact that depth is light at their position.
1. QB Jameis Winston
This should come as no surprise. The NFL is a passing league and Winston has already proven to be a Pro Bowl-caliber franchise player. Perhaps more important than his playmaking ability is Winston’s ability to lead. He is the Bucs’ alpha male and the biggest reason why Tampa Bay is ready to take a big step towards the playoffs in 2016.
2. DT Gerald McCoy
McCoy is the engine of the defense. He is Tampa Bay’s best and most consistent defensive lineman and pass rusher. The defense can survive a game or two without his presence inside, but not more than that without feeling some detrimental effects. McCoy is a leader by example, and the three-technique position is razor thin behind him. Other than Winston, no Bucs player needs to stay healthy more than McCoy.
3. LB Lavonte David
After finally making his first Pro Bowl, David is now recognized around the league as an elite, playmaking linebacker. While Adarius Glanton proved his worth in the preseason as an athletic weakside linebacker, he doesn’t have David’s instincts or experience. David is in his prime and is perhaps the leading playmaker on Tampa Bay’s defense.
4. WR Mike Evans
Why is Evans ranked higher than Doug Martin despite the Bucs being a run-first offense? Because Evans is the lone receiver in Tampa Bay capable of taking a game over and making big plays downfield. Without Evans in the lineup, the Bucs’ passing game becomes pedestrian and Winston loses his most valuable weapon on offense. With better concentration, the talented Evans could be in line for his first Pro Bowl.
5. RB Doug Martin
Martin flourished in Dirk Koetter’s offense last year, finishing as the second-leading rusher in the NFL and making his second Pro Bowl after racking up 1,400 yards on the ground. Martin isn’t ranked higher due to the presence of Charles Sims, who is one of the best backup running backs in the NFL, but he’s still in the top 5 on this list because the Bucs’ play-action passing game is predicated off his ability to run the ball.
6. MLB Kwon Alexander
Alexander wasn’t named as a team captain, but he’s the leader of the defense due to his position and his fiery demeanor. The second-year middle linebacker is the heartbeat of the defense and one of its best, young playmakers. Perhaps the fastest player on Tampa Bay’s defense, Alexander is a star in the making and should develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber player over the next year or two.
7. LT Donovan Smith
Is this kind of high for a second-year offensive lineman that isn’t quite elite yet? Smith isn’t the sixth-best Buccaneer on the team, but due to the fact that he protects Winston’s blind side, his position is of utmost importance. Smith must live up to his potential and build on an okay rookie year and work towards becoming a Pro Bowler. Smith has the potential to be great in time.
8. K Roberto Aguayo
Aguayo, a rookie, has yet to make an extra point or a field goal in a regular season game, but he’ll wind up as Tampa Bay’s leading scorer, and in a league that has its games decided by an average of three points, kickers are important. After struggling early in camp, Aguayo connected on his last 12 kicks in the preseason and begins his NFL career kicking in a domed stadium, which should help him get off to a good start.
9. DE Robert Ayers
As McCoy said this week, Ayers is always angry, and that’s a good thing. He brings a nasty, infectious demeanor to Tampa Bay’s defensive line, as well as the ability to rush the passer from the defensive end in base defense and the defensive tackle position in nickel defense. At age 31, Ayers is about to enter the twilight of his career, but is still playing at a high level, evidenced by a career-high 9.5 sacks last year in New York.
10. WR Vincent Jackson
Forget the fact that Jackson is a 33-year old receiver that has lost a step. He’s smart, physical, and still dangerous enough to hurt defenses if they consistently roll coverage towards Evans. Jackson missed six games last year, including the last four, and the offense sorely missed his presence. Evans is a better, more productive receiver with Jackson on the field.
11. C Joe Hawley
The center is the only player on offense that touches the ball on every snap, and Hawley is a good one. No quarterback likes to have pressure in his face, and Hawley is responsible for giving Winston room to step up and throw, as well as communicate protection across the line. Hawley isn’t an elite center, but he’s smart and tough, and he’s beaten out Evan Smith the last two years for the job.
12. DT Clinton McDonald
McDonald is the vocal leader in the defensive line room, and one of the most fiery and inspirational players on the entire team. McDonald is as professional and business-like as they come, and always sets a great example. As a nose tackle, he does the dirty work in the run game, and draws double teams to free up McCoy for one-on-one pass rush situations on passing downs. McDonald’s role in Tampa Bay cannot be understated.
13. RT Demar Dotson
Dotson was recently rewarded with a nice contract extension, and he’s one of the better right tackles in the NFL. What makes him the 13th most important Buccaneer is the fact that Martin has a lot of success running behind Dotson, and that Winston is a right-handed quarterback that often rolls or scrambles to his right side – right behind Dotson – for rushing yardage or to keep a passing play alive.
14. RB Charles Sims
Sims is one of the most underrated weapons on Tampa Bay. Remember, as a second-year running back, Sims tied for the team-lead in receiving touchdowns with four. Sims’ improvement as a runner allowed Martin to rest periodically, stay healthy all season and make his second Pro Bowl. Sims is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield and creates mismatches with linebackers in the passing game.
15. S Chris Conte
What’s more surprising, the fact that a member of Tampa Bay’s secondary hasn’t appeared yet, or that the first one to make the top 20 list is Conte? As one of the most underappreciated players on the team, Conte is a great striker in the running game and a playmaker in coverage when healthy. He’s the best and most talented safety in Tampa Bay and there is a big drop off behind him at the position, which makes Conte even more important.
16. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Seferian-Jenkins came on strong at the end of the preseason and is now listed as a co-starter with Cameron Brate at the tight end position in Tampa Bay. While Brate may be more reliable, Seferian-Jenkins has better size, more athleticism and more big-play ability. The Bucs will be using a lot of two-tight end sets in 2016, which makes Seferian-Jenkins’ role even more valuable.
17. CB Brent Grimes
The 33-year old Grimes was signed to be playmaking, shutdown cornerback, but was surprisingly picked on quite often in the preseason – and he gave up quite a few plays. Still, Grimes will be counted on to make a handful of momentum-changing interceptions throughout the year and provide leadership to Vernon Hargreaves III, the team’s first-round pick. Grimes needs to stand and deliver, and would be ranked higher if not for the depth at Tampa Bay’s cornerback position.
18. WR Adam Humphries
Why is Humphries so highly regarded? Despite the signing of Cecil Shorts, the Bucs are woefully thin at the receiver position. Humphries is a good third receiver, but if an injury strikes Evans or Jackson and Humphries gets elevated up the depth chart the passing game will suffer. Perhaps more importantly, the drop off in talent behind Humphries is quite noticeable, and he also serves as Tampa Bay’s punt and kickoff return specialist, too.
19. DE Jacquies Smith
Perhaps a surprise entry in the top 20, Smith may be the team’s fastest and most gifted edge rusher when healthy. Smith had 6.5 sacks in 15 games as a rookie in 2014, and posted seven sacks in only 12 games last year. Had he stayed healthy, Smith would have likely posted double digits in sacks, and will have plenty of opportunities as a third down pass rusher opposite rookie Noah Spence this year.
20. CB Vernon Hargreaves
How good is Hargreaves? He’s forced his way into the starting lineup at both right cornerback and nickel cornerback despite Alterraun Verner and Jude Adjei-Barimah having very good training camps and preseason play. Hargreaves has proven to be a quick learner and a ballhawk, and the kid definitely has Pro Bowl potential and confidence for days. All he needs is experience, and he’ll get that from plenty of playing time during his rookie season.
FAB 3. FINAL BUCS’ PRESEASON ANALYSIS
Here are some thoughts about the Buccaneers as they come out of a successful preseason in which not one single starter was injured enough to miss the season opener, which was Dirk Koetter’s main objective.
• The biggest question I have heading into the 2016 regular season opener at Atlanta is whether the Bucs will be able to turn the switch and effectively run the ball after struggling with the ground game in the preseason. Doug Martin had just nine carries for 31 yards (3.4 avg.) with a long of 14 in the preseason, while Charles Sims had nine carries for 33 yards (3.7 avg.) with a long of 12. Tampa Bay had just one rushing touchdown (Storm Johnson’s) in the preseason, and averaged a collective 2.6 yards per carry.
• At the end of the day, it really wasn’t a shock that 2016 sixth-round pick Danny Vitale was beaten for a roster spot at the fullback-tight end positon by Alan Cross, an undrafted free agent from Memphis. Vitale had a lot of buzz heading into training camp, and I thought he would be a real player to watch in August. Yet the receiving ability he displayed at Northwestern didn’t materialize consistently in camp and there were too many dropped passes in practice and in the games where he only caught three passes for 11 yards, while Cross had three receptions for 27 yards and picked up two first downs in the process. Cross was also a much better lead blocker at the point of attack, while Vitale struggled in that area.
• The reason Austin Seferian-Jenkins has pulled even with Cameron Brate on the depth chart at tight end is due to productivity. Despite winning the starting job in OTAs and training camp for consistently catching the ball, Brate was unable to transfer his success in practice to the field on game day. Brate finished the preseason with just one catch for five yards, and had a drop in the end zone while getting smacked against Jacksonville, and a pass that bounced off his hands picked off in the same Jaguars game. Seferian-Jenkins wasn’t spectacular, but he got open, usually caught the ball, and had a team-tying eight catches for 73 yards in the preseason.
• Tampa Bay led the NFL with 16 sacks in the preseason, which was an average of four per game. The Bucs’ leading sacker was third-year defensive end Jacquies Smith, whose four sacks ranked third in the league in the preseason. Smith, who will be a restricted free agent in 2017, had seven tackles, including a team-high five tackles for loss, in the preseason, and showed that he is Tampa Bay’s most dangerous pass rusher when healthy. Smith had a career-high seven sacks in 12 games last year and might have hit double digits had he been healthy for all 16 contests. The Bucs plan on using Will Gholston, who had a sack and three QB pressures in the preseason, as the starter and on run downs at left defensive end and bring in Smith on pass rushing downs only to keep him fresher, healthier and even more productive this year.
• Rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III allowed just one catch to the receivers he was covering in the preseason, but broke up three passes and had a team-high two interceptions. No wonder he’s forcing his way on to the field at both right cornerback and nickel cornerback. The kid is smart, instinctive, physical and makes plays. He’s everything the Bucs expected when they used the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft on the Florida star. The New York Giants, who passed over Hargreaves, whose two interceptions were tied for the NFL preseason lead, to draft Eli Apple at No. 10 overall, will likely regret doing so.
• As good as Hargreaves was in the preseason, the Bucs defensive back that made the most plays on the ball was veteran Johnthan Banks, who had to fight his way on the roster because he lacks the ideal body type at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. But the rangy cornerback broke up a team-high five passes, including two on fourth downs, and also intercepted a pass. With his career in Tampa Bay on the line, Banks rose to the occasion and solidified his spot on the 53-man roster with gutsy preseason play in every game.
• The Bucs are loaded with pass rushers on the right edge of the defensive line this year. Starting right defensive end Robert Ayers had 9.5 sacks last year with the New York Giants, and had half a sack and a forced fumble in the preseason. Rookie Noah Spence, Ayers’ backup, will come in at right end on passing downs as Ayers moves inside to tackle. Spence had one sack and two quarterback pressures in the preseason. Third-string defensive end Howard Jones, who had five sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown last year as a rookie, had two sacks and three QB pressures in the preseason.
• Tampa Bay kept just five linebackers on the roster for a couple of reasons. First, the Bucs will be in nickel defense, which requires just two linebackers, approximately 60-65 percent of the time. Second, the team thought only Adarius Glanton and Devante Bond, the team’s fifth-round pick, warranted a roster spot behind starters Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Daryl Smith. It’s interesting to note that Bond didn’t even record a tackle on defense or special teams in the two games he played in, yet made the team, while Luke Rhodes led Tampa Bay in tackles with 18 and was released. The reason is because Smith will be the backup Mike (middle) linebacker behind Alexander, and Bond has the body type and athletic skills the Bucs are looking for at Sam (strongside) linebacker. Rhodes wasn’t as instinctive or as athletic as the Bucs were hoping he would be when they signed him as an undrafted free agent out of William and Mary.
FAB 4. FIRST LOOK AT WHO THE BUCS TAKE IN 2017 MOCK DRAFTS
The start of the college football season also begins mock draft season for some websites. While I have a close eye on college football due to my draft study for PewterReport.com, I personally think it’s a little too early for mock drafts. PewterReport.com doesn’t come out with our first one until January after the Bucs’ season is over and after most of the draft order has been established.
But they are fun to look at, so here is what some of the more popular mock drafts have the Bucs doing next April.
BleacherReport.com’s Matt Miller has Tampa Bay selecting fourth overall, which means this talented Bucs team will finish with another double-digit losing season. That seems unlikely, yet Miller has Tampa Bay drafting LSU running back Leonard Fournette.
“The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t necessarily need a running back with Doug Martin and Charles Sims on the roster, but it would be difficult to overlook Fournette no matter who is filling out the depth chart,” Miller wrote. “Fournette is an elite, generational talent and not the kind of player you pass on.”
It might not make sense at first glance because of the lucrative contract extension Martin received this offseason, but it’s hard to argue against that pick as Martin will be 28 by the time the 2017 NFL Draft takes place. In case you are wondering who went ahead of Tampa Bay, Miller had Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson, Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer and Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett in his top 3.
Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com on CBSSports.com has Tampa Bay drafting USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster with the sixth overall pick, which seems high for the Bucs. Rang’s CBS colleague Dane Brugler has the Bucs choosing Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell with the sixth selection.
WalterFootball.com showed Tampa Bay the most respect and has the Bucs taking Alabama tight end O.J. Howard with the 19th overall pick, which is a curious move considering Tampa Bay is pleased with both co-starters Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Cameron Brate. WalterFootball.com has the Bucs picking Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes in the second round.
Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com has Tampa Bay selecting LSU safety Jamal Adams with the 12th overall pick, which he projects for the Bucs. Campbell has the Bucs going back to the bayou to select LSU wide receiver Travin Dural in the second round.
Tampa Bay’s two biggest needs as of right now seem to be safety and wide receiver, and Campbell’s projections of Adams and Dural make the most sense, but a lot will depend on how the players on Tampa Bay’s current roster develop, and of course, where the Bucs actually wind up picking in 2017 based on their 2016 finish.
Two weeks ago in a previous edition of SR’s Fab 5, I reported on the 2017 draft class being potentially strong at wide receiver. One of the players I profiled was Eastern Washington senior receiver Cooper Kupp, who set the FCS record for career receiving touchdowns (59) in an upset over Washington State.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Kupp had 12 catches for 206 yards and three touchdowns in the shocking win over the Cougars. Two years ago, Kupp had eight catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns at Washington. Last year, he erupted for 15 catches for 246 yards and three scores at Oregon.
Last year, the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year had 114 catches for 1,642 yards and 19 touchdowns. Kupp now has 323 receptions for 4,970 yards and 59 scores in his remarkable career. Keep an eye on this physical receiver whose draft stock is on the rise into Day 2.
Another potential Day 2 draft prospect at wide receiver is Washington’s John Ross. After a torn ACL in his left knee and a meniscus tear in his right knee limited his production to just 33 catches for 579 yards and five touchdowns in his first two years for the Huskies, Ross exploded for five catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-13 win over Rutgers.
Unlike the big, physical Kupp, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Ross is a speedster in the DeSean Jackson vein. Possessing supposed 4.25 speed, Ross also had a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Scarlet Knights. That was Ross’ fourth kickoff return for a touchdown in his Washington career. His other three kick return scores have covered 96, 100 and 100 yards.
Ross also has touchdown catches covering 75, 86 and 91 yards in his three-year Huskies career. That’s exactly what Tampa Bay needs – a speed receiver to stretch the defense and make electric plays in the kick return game.
One interesting receiver that currently carries a Day 3 grade is Northern Illinois’ Kenny Golladay, who had a sensational 2016 debut in a 40-34 triple overtime loss at Wyoming. After recording 73 catches for 1,159 yards (15.9 avg.) and 10 touchdowns as a junior, Golladay kicked off his senior season with 10 catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to six carries for 82 yards and a 34-yard touchdown run.
Prior to transferring to Northern Illinois, Golladay caught 99 passes for 1,313 yards and nine touchdowns in two years at North Dakota. The 6-foot-3, 213-pound Golladay, who runs a 4.55, will be in Tampa on Saturday when the Huskies travel to Raymond James Stadium to take on the USF Bulls.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• Look for the Bucs to release rookie linebacker Devante Bond on Saturday and sign linebacker Josh Keyes to the active roster from the practice squad. Bond missed the final two preseason games due to a hamstring injury and he’s questionable for Sunday’s season opener. The Bucs only have five linebackers on the roster and need all five healthy on Sunday. If Bond goes unclaimed on waivers as expected, he could be re-signed to the active roster as early as next week and Keyes would return to the practice squad.
• Because running back Mike James and wide receiver Donteea Dye were waived injured they are not eligible to be re-signed – even to the practice squad – until after the third week of the season. Tampa Bay had two former Atlanta running backs that played for Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith with the Falcons – Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith – in for try-outs on Tuesday.
The Bucs may opt to sign one and demote Peyton Barber to the practice squad after Sunday’s season opener. The reason? Rodgers and Smith are vested veterans, and if they are on the Bucs’ roster on Week 1 and released at some point, their entire 2016 base salary would be guaranteed. That’s not the case after Week 1. Rodgers has kickoff return experience, which may make him a more intriguing option.
• Pro Football Focus continues with its typical negative slant against the Buccaneers. The latest slap in the face? Tampa Bay’s offensive line ranked 27 out of 32 teams in its preseason rankings. This despite helping the offense top the 6,000-yard mark for the first time in franchise history, blocking for a 4,000-yard Pro Bowl quarterback in rookie Jameis Winston and leading the way for the league’s second-leading rusher in Doug Martin.
PFF knocks Tampa Bay’s O-line for Winston supposedly getting hit more than any other QB in the league, and pointing out that Martin led the league in getting yards after contact (and thus apparently not needing the offensive line). Keep in mind that Winston was a rookie quarterback, and held on to the ball too long at times, while other times he was asked to hang in the pocket on play-action passes and wait until the last minute to throw the ball for big plays downfield. Dirk Koetter doesn’t run a West Coast offense where the ball gets out of the quarterback’s hands quickly on three-stop drops, and that’s not the fault of the offensive line.
What’s even worse is that Pro Football Focus lists J.R, Sweezy as a projected starter this year at left guard in Tampa Bay. Keep in mind that Sweezy has yet to practice with the Bucs for a single day dating back to OTAs due to a back injury that has landed him on the PUP list. Kevin Pamphile has been the projected starter for months at left guard. What a joke, PFF.
• In case you missed our Pewter Predictions earlier in the week, you’ll want to check out PewterReport.com projecting a 9-7 record for the Bucs (I said 10-6), PewterReport.com’s 2016 Bucs Offensive MVPs and PewterReport.com’s 2016 Bucs Defensive MVP predictions.
• PewterReport.com is once again excited to host our Pewter Watch Parties for Tampa Bay’s away games this season. The majority of the Pewter Watch Parties will take place at Hard Rock Cafe at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, including the 2016 season opener at Atlanta, which starts at noon.
“PewterReport.com is excited to continue our partnership with Hard Rock Cafe Tampa and Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino,” said PewterReport.com publisher Scott Reynolds. “We had a blast hosting Pewter Watch Parties at Hard Rock Cafe last year where Tampa Bay fans could watch their favorite team on a multitude of TVs, including a huge, 18-foot projection screen that brings you close to all the football action. The turnout was great last year and we’re looking forward to doing it again this season.”
Hard Rock Cafe general manager Lanse Bishop is looking forward to welcoming the return of the Tampa Bay fans who came to the Pewter Watch Parties last year, as well as the new fans that will be making the trek in 2016 beginning on Sunday.
“We are thrilled to host another exciting year of PewterReport.com’s Pewter Watch Parties at the Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino,” Bishop said. “Come join us and watch Tampa Bay win on the road on our giant 18-foot TV screen and enjoy Rockin’ Game Day Specials that only the Hard Rock can deliver.
“Scott and the crew at PewterReport.com have been such great partners, and our Hard Rock guests and Tampa Bay fans truly enjoy interacting with the PewterReport.com team, as well as having ice-cold beers and the best burgers in town while they watch their favorite team.”
Arrive at noon for this 1:00 p.m. ET kickoff as Reynolds take the stage at 12:30 p.m. for a Q&A with fans right before kickoff, and there will even be a former Tampa Bay player in attendance as a special guest.
Hard Rock Cafe, which is located at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino at 5223 Orient Road in Tampa, will have food and drink specials and you can watch the Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta game on their giant 18-foot TV screen. Two Henrys Brewing will be on hand with FREE beer and cider samples, and pints of Two Henrys Gilded Age Lager and Two Henrys Belleview Biltmore Vanilla Blueberry Wheat beer will be on sale for $4, along with Bud, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Goose Island IPA, Blue Moon and Yuengling.
“We are excited to be featuring Two Henrys beer – the official beer of PewterReport.com – at the Pewter Watch Parties at Hard Rock Cafe this year,” Reynolds said. “Where else can you get some free beer to sample, get some Bucs knowledge and watch your favorite team play? I’m a big fan of the Two Henrys brand, and both the Gilded Age Lager and Belleview Biltmore are outstanding, flavorful beers.”
Hard Rock Cafe is featuring the Pewter Report Special, which is its famous, original Ol’ Bay Burger and fries, and a pair of Two Henrys pints for just $20.
The signature Ol’ Bay Burger is a house-made 8 oz. burger seasoned with Old Bay seasoning, a crab cake made with jumbo lump crab meat, jack cheese, freshly sliced tomatoes, shredded lettuce and a house made “Davy Jones” sauce served on a fresh bun.
Hard Rock Cafe will also have $5 chilled shots of Jagermiester, Fireball, Tito’s Vodka and Cuervo Gold, in addition to $6 Rocketizers, including Popcorn Chicken Bites, Bang-A-Gong Shrimp, Loaded Fries and $1 Wings ($1 per wing). Or you can get Hard Rock Cafe’s PewterReport.com Special, which is a special Ol’ Bay Burger made with crab meat and hamburger and two Two Henrys beers for only $20.
The Rockin’ Game Day Specials will be specially priced from noon until the conclusion of each Tampa Bay game for afternoon kickoffs, and from 5:00 p.m. until the conclusion of each night game.
PewterReport.com will be handing out FREE schedule magnets for the 2016 season, and Hard Rock Cafe will be handing out FREE swag bags, which include the latest Hard Rock Girls calendar, a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt and more great Hard Rock merchandise.
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is now charging $10 to park, but Pewter Watch Party attendees will be given a parking voucher, so parking is FREE.
Here is the schedule for PewterReport.com’s Pewter Watch Parties this year:
Sunday, Sept. 11 – Tampa Bay at Atlanta – 12:00 pm – Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa
Sunday, Sept. 18 – Tampa Bay at Arizona – 3:00 pm – Sports Legends Bar & Grill in Clearwater
Monday, Oct. 10 – Tampa Bay at Carolina – 7:00 pm – Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa
Sunday, Oct. 23 – Tampa Bay at San Francisco – 3:00 pm – Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa
Sunday, Nov. 20 – Tampa Bay at Kansas City – 12:00 pm – Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa
Sunday, Dec. 4 – Tampa Bay at San Diego – 3:00 pm – Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa
Sunday, Dec. 18 – Tampa Bay at Dallas – 12:00 pm – Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa
“Siege The Rock!” Bishop said. “We are hosting six Pewter Watch Parties at Hard Rock Cafe for some of Tampa Bay’s biggest road games of the year. Enjoy Rockin’ Game Day Specials on food and drink specials, beautiful Hard Rock Girls, classic rock-n-roll memorabilia from the world’s largest music memorabilia collection, as well as a chance to win Tampa Bay memorabilia and a chance to meet some legendary Tampa Bay greats. You can’t do this anywhere else. This is Hard Rock and this is the place to be!”
Planning on attending Sunday’s Pewter Watch Party at Hard Rock Cafe? Please RSVP by clicking here.
• If you can’t make it out to Hard Rock Cafe for our Pewter Watch Party this Sunday please join us next Wednesday at Two Henrys Brewing in Plant City for our first Pewter Report Happy Hour at 6:00 p.m. Come have a beer and talk Bucs football with Mark Cook and myself and get some inside information on your favorite team. Derek “Old School” Fournier from WhatTheBuc.net will be taping a live Bucs podcast with the PewterReport.com crew starting at 7:00 p.m.
Two Henrys Brewing, which is the official beer of PewterReport.com, is owned and operated by the same folks that run Keel & Curley Winery, so feel free to bring your girlfriends and wives for a wine tasting or to drink some tasty hard cider infused with real Florida-grown fruit. Two Henrys will be having drink specials for PewterReport.com fans, and you can stay for dinner with a menu prepared by the Railcar 91 kitchen on premise.
Two Henrys/Keel & Curley is located just two miles off I-4 and 15 minutes away from downtown Tampa at 5202 Thonotosassa Road in Plant City. We look forward to welcoming you to our first Pewter Report Happy Hour and talking Bucs football with you. And I’m buying the beer for the first 10 fans that see me and mention PewterReport.com at 6:00 p.m.