2015 Fantasy Football Outlook: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
June 9, 2015 | Chet
The Buccaneers were the league’s worst team in 2014, finishing 2-14 in year one under Lovie Smith. It was their fourth consecutive losing season and third time in four years that they’ve won four games or fewer. Despite their ineptitude overall, they still gave us a top 15 receiver in Mike Evans. Besides him, should there be any other Tampa Bay players on your radar heading into 2015?
2015 Buccaneers Schedule
Insert the token disclaimer to not go crazy over analysis of schedules early on here. Now that we have, let’s look at it a bit. Tampa Bay draws a fairly light schedule overall, getting the AFC South to go with their own lackluster division. Other than a week 10-12 stretch in which they may have potential to see a ton of negative game script, there’s nothing here to make you pause when looking at any of their offensive options.
Of course, there may not be many to choose from in the first place. The Buccaneers didn’t win two games on accident. They were miserable in all capacities of football. On offense, they mustered up an average of just 25.1 yards per possession, which ranked 30th in the league above only Jacksonville and Oakland. On defense, they were just as bad to go along with their putrid offense across the board.
With Jeff Tedford never returning from an indefinite leave of absence from the team last year, Tampa Bay went out and hired former divisional rival Dirk Koetter to run their offense. Koetter has an intriguing resume regarding his play calling as he was attached to pass heavy offense paired with a lousy defense in Atlanta after calling plays for a throwback, defensive minded head coach for five seasons in Jacksonville.
2015 should be an intriguing case study on Koetter’s versatility and adaptation of an offense around what is in place as he’ll be working under a similar old school coach in Lovie Smith. But the strengths of his skill players lie in the passing game and Tampa Bay still projects to be middling defensively. I definitely believe Tampa will pass more than those early Jacksonville teams, but will it be by a significant amount?
Jame-is he the Answer?
The Bucs selected quarterback Jameis Winston with the first overall selection as he’ll take the reins from incumbents Josh McCown and Mike Glennon immediately. His increased turnover rate from 2013 to 2014 is well documented, but now he goes from throwing to physically limited athletes such as Rashad Greene and Nick O’Leary to a team of sycamore trees. I’ve already stated that I believe Winston projects out to be a long-term fantasy QB2 that can flirt with QB1 production in a given year. I definitely believe he’s an upgrade over what the Bucs had in house, but is it fair to expect those results right away from a fantasy stance?
Winston is pro ready out of the packaging, but so have other quarterbacks that have come before him. There have been just five quarterbacks to ever thrown for 3,500 yards or more in their rookie season, just two that have thrown for 25 touchdowns or more (Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson), and the highest completion percentage a rookie signal caller has ever posted on 500 or more attempts is just 60.0 percent flat by Sam Bradford in 2010. Most importantly for us, just seven rookie quarterbacks have posted over 200 fantasy points to kick off their careers, but with the bulk coming very recently.
|Player||Year||Age||Draft||GS||FF Pts||FF Rank||Cmp||Att||Yds||TD||Int||RuAtt||RuYD||RuTD|
Newton, Wilson and Griffin all did heavy damage on the ground to anchor their initial fantasy relevancy and even Luck added 55 points on the ground to begin his career. Winston is unlikely to make headway in that department, so he’ll need the obscene passing volume that Luck and Manning had if he’s going to crack the top 10 in scoring as a rookie. Mr. Fantasy Douche paints a picture on just how that can happen for Winston if all things fall into place and based on Koetter’s resume, it’s in his range of outcomes if the Tampa defense acquiesces.
Tampa Bay is a great landing spot for Winston. He’ll have better weapons than most rookies get to start with, volume and what may be a light schedule. Potential weekly volatility will keep him in the secondary grouping at a position for me entering the season and I’m someone who inherently plays the position in fantasy from the floor up. Still, at the very least, Winston should be on your radar in favorable matchups as a streamer or DFS play because he’s an arbitrage on a receiver being selected in the top-12 in Mike Evans and is a favorable situation overall as a rookie quarterback.
Plunder and Pillage the Passing Game?
The big ticket here is second year receiver Mike Evans, who is coming off of a standout rookie season. In 2014, Evans posted what was the best 21-year old season in NFL history for a receiver since Randy Moss in 1998 as he became just the third receiver ever to post 1,000 yards receiving at that young of an age. He had 12 scores on the season to match Odell Beckham Jr. for the rookie lead as they were the first rookies to catch that many touchdowns since Moss’ 17 as a rookie.
The one thing the fantasy offseason promotes to a degree is looking back on previous seasons and forward on the upcoming one as a whole. Not entirely how they are built. While Evans’ overall inaugural campaign deserves praise, he wasn’t a high level fantasy option overall last season. Evans went nuclear during weeks 9-11 last season, torching Cleveland, Washington and Atlanta for a 21/498/5 line that accounted for 39.5 percent of his season long fantasy output. It’s not uncommon to have high end receivers stack production over small stretches, but the weekly floor here is what is concerning. Outside of those weeks he hit 70 yards just once and five or more receptions just twice. Those three games were also the only three top-12 scoring weeks he had on the season, fewer than guys like Anquan Boldin and Brandon LaFell, and he had just five top-24 scoring weeks, tied for 27th at the position and that number was the same amount that his teammate and now seventh round selection, Vincent Jackson had.
I don’t want to throw complete shade at him stacking his only usable output in largely one cluster, because it shows the ceiling that he is capable of, but he’s currently priced in a week to week WR1 and I’m hesitant to say he’s there yet. C.D. Carter can alleviate some of your pain if you feel similarly as Evans does show that high end ceiling in his range of outcomes, but the other factor here is playing with a rookie quarterback. Since the merger, there have been just four rookie quarterbacks that have supported a fantasy WR1 for the season.
The running theme with these guys is that they were all target vacuums for their respective offenses and in the case of Wayne and White, were also receivers with a wealth of underneath coverage acumen. As truly special of a talent I believe Evans is, we don’t have to go far back to see how a similar situation played out with another unicorn. In 2008, Calvin Johnson was coming off a WR3 campaign in which he posted similar totals to what Evans had this past season. Detroit picked first overall and took Matt Stafford (who did happen to show up in these Winston comps) and the following season Johnson took a slight step back for fantasy and failed to meet return investment in his elevated price tag by playing the bulk of his time with a rookie quarterback.
Johnson would’ve finished at WR17 overall if we extrapolated his per game output over 16 games. Stafford started 10 games in his rookie season, yet still targeted Johnson 93 times for a meager 5.4 adjusted yards per target. The big target areas you’re looking for a decline to come from is touchdown production that is tethered to a rookie quarterback. As bad as they were, McCown and Glennon still threw for 3,623 yards and 21 scores last season, how much higher are you going to go on those numbers for a rookie quarterback?
Am I saying you’ll light a pick on fire by taking Evans at the back end of the second round this summer? Of course not. He’s going to be an effective player. If buying at that price point, you’re looking for Evans to develop more consistency weekly while posting a similar overall line. What I am saying is that unless Winston really is a top 15 player right away, that I believe Evans has more of a WR15-20 season in his immediate future than a top five to 10 one. As an inherently risk averse drafter in the premium capital rounds, I’m willing to let someone pay the immediate price on his ceiling. Even if Winston is a big time upgrade in the ilk of Newton or Luck right away, how far does he elevate Evans in the terms of return investment? He’s already expensive at WR12 overall. When making a play on Winston hitting his ceiling, I prefer to do that by targeting the cheaper parts of this passing game.
I don’t believe a bounceback for Vincent Jackson hinders any potential elevation for Evans, but I’m interested in the much cheaper Jackson as a fantasy option this season. Last season, I was hell bent on avoiding Jackson a this cost, but I’m nibbling on the crust of his deflated price in 2015. This is still despite Jackson being a 32-year old receiving option who has been a fountain of inefficiency over the past two seasons.
The reason why I’m staying interested in Jackson is despite his consistent declining efficiency that also lines up with him being well past the age apex curve, is he still is seeing heavy volume. Now that his floor has finally begun to seep into his sticker price, you can play on not only that target share, but also some positive regression that is in store for him. In 2014, Jackson became just the fifth player to ever score two or fewer touchdowns on 140 or more looks, with just 6.7 percent of his fantasy output stemming from touchdown production. This is from a player who never posted a season with less than 17 percent of his points from scores. His opportunities didn’t change, either as he had 25.9 percent of the Tampa red zone targets. I still prefer that Jackson isn’t in my week to week lineup from the starting blocks, but I like him as my WR4 in the seventh round as a bye week, injury plug in, or matchup play that can still post a high scoring week.
Chad Scott profiled Kenny Bell here prior to the draft, who was selected in the fifth round by the Bucs. Bell will have to contend with Louis Murphy in carving out a role, but whoever the slot receiver is in Tampa Bay should have prime real estate available playing next two all of the trees on this offense. Neither has much re-draft relevancy, but Murphy did put up some usable weeks in spots if looking for a deep dig DFS play or if an injury occurs outside.
The final piece going to go in drafts from this passing game is sophomore tight end Austin-Seferian Jenkins. I was a big fan of ASJ coming out of Washington and he posted similar stats for what you’d anticipate a rookie end to post, catching 21 passes for 221 yards and two scores. Before suffering a season ending back injury in week 12, Seferian-Jenkins had a seven game stretch in which Tampa Bay just threw him into the fire. During weeks 4-11, he played 91.8 percent of the offensive snaps and garnered 13 percent of the team targets.
The first reason I like Seferian-Jenkins is that Winston used tight end Nick O’Leary often in college. O’Leary was a John Mackey award (college football’s best tight end) finalist each of the past seasons and won the award in 2014. He’s also a supremely limited athlete and player as reflected in his late sixth round draft investment by the Buffalo Bills. If Winston was able to lean on and elevate a player of his limitations, throwing to Seferian-Jenkins is going to be like going from a bicycle to your first car.
The biggest allure to rostering ASJ though is his touchdown potential. He converted a hefty 50 percent (19 of 38) of his red zone targets into scores at Washington and one new offensive Dirk Koetter has successfully utilized the tight end near the paint off and on with Marcedes Lewis and Tony Gonzalez.
|Player||Year||RZ Tgt||Tm%||Rec||TD||TD %|
Seferian-Jenkins did miss multiple games with an ankle injury and then was placed on IR for the final three games with a back injury. His health is a potential concern as he entered the league with a foot injury and for the type of player he is on the field, the types of injuries he is chronically having could be centered on his weight and size. It’s nothing to run away from yet, but it is something I am keeping an eye on him overcoming. I still like him at streaming tight end prices in hopes that he can be a viable week to week starter with a jump in year two due to a potential volume bump and buying in on Winston being the player some think he can be out of the blocks at the cheapest price.
The Porous Pewter Ground Game
Charles Sims versus Doug Martin is already a training camp battle many will be watching this summer, and early reports are the franchise is set to give Sims the early advantage over the once fantasy darling. It is fair to acknowledge that Martin also has had some positive reviews early on as well. It’s easy to want to follow the organization’s lead on this one as this regime did draft Sims and not Martin, but is it a decision that is supported by on field performance and one that we can invest in?
Martin has now rushed for 70 or more yards just four times over his past 17 games played in the past two seasons and has looked like a shell of the athlete that was displayed as a rookie when he was able to hang a few huge performances that fantasy owners will never forget. Once Sims returned last season, rushing attempts were split in favor of Martin, 77 to 66, but then went 48 to 34 over the final four weeks when Martin did regain some of that burst, posting 5.1 yards per carry, which was anchored by runs of 63 and 45 yards.
Sims missed the first eight games of the season after ankle surgery in July, and the effects of that injury showed in his on field ability, which for a lack of better words, was hideous. Sims returned to carry the ball 66 times and post a lowly 2.8 yards per tote. It was the 10th time since 2000 that a rookie back posted a yards per carry mark at 3.0 yards or less on 50 plus carries.
The one player that sticks out here in terms of comparable seasons is Tim Hightower. Sims sports a very similar skill set to that of Hightower and in his sophomore season, Hightower seen his YPC jump to a respectable 4.2 yards per carry and was also the RB14 the following season when he caught 63 passes. Shawn Siegele highlighted Sim’s athletic profile and skills as being underrated last draft season, so if he regains full agility back with an entire offseason under his belt, he may be a value in drafts if his RB35 price tag stays in the same area.
I should mention that there’s a non-zero chance that neither Martin nor Sims is even the best back on this roster. Bobby Rainey is still hanging around and outperformed both last season. Rainey had five top-24 scoring weeks with his opportunity last season, the same number as Martin (three) and Sims (two) had combined. In terms of success rates per level of run, he also bested both while being in the ballpark of league average on each type of run.
|Player||Team||Att||2 Yds or Less||%||5+ Yds||%||10+ Yds||%|
The other question many will ask themselves is do they even want a piece of this backfield at all given the ambiguity today and the overall outlook that Tampa Bay could face as a floor for their team. It will be hard for the Bucs to be as bad as they were last season, and as mentioned, Tampa Bay backs still posted 10 fantasy weeks as top-24 scoring options. The offensive line is still subpar, but I anticipate that number to go up given how much Koetter has used his backs in the passing game every season.
Under the majority of circumstances, I’m likely to let another owner deal with sorting out this backfield unless we get supreme clarity over the summer. Not to completely hedge and give you a blanket statement like that, the way I would play this today is that Sims has the immediate edge to work the majority of the passing downs and possibly inherit more touches beyond that if Martin doesn’t regain form immediately. He’s also very fairly priced to take a shot on today as well. At worst, he becomes a Shane Vereen-like option in a worse situation, which is still usable in a pinch or at a flex spot.
If Martin’s price down is near the double digit rounds, he becomes an intriguing option for those going with a Zero RB approach. Tampa Bay failed to pick up the fifth-year option on him, placing his back against the wall in a “show us” situation, so you’re playing on potential motivation as well as his presumed talent. That new found motivation may already be showing itself from early camp reports. He’s not just a solid late round target for those who believe in the talent that got him selected in the first round three years ago, and also not just for those who are banking on Sims not being able to take and/or hold the job full time, but especially if Winston does reach Luck-levels of rookie performance. If by a long shot that Martin is somehow released or traded this summer (only $845K of his salary would be dead money) and Rainey is once again elevated to the RB2 spot, I still don’t find Rainey draftable, but I’m keeping a firm pulse on Sims’ effectiveness early in the season if that were to occur.