The 2011 Bucs can be described as the "Put up or Shutup Team" of the year. Long known as a defensive football team, the Bucs had a lot of breakout performances on offense in 2010. Now is the time for those breakout performances to be solidified with a big follow-up performance that the Bucs have had a hard time seeing throughout the years.
Michael Clayton, Earnest Graham, Cadillac Williams, Chris Simms... All seemed to have the tools to be long-term answers in Tampa, and all ended up disappointing.
Since Tampa entered the NFL in 1976, they have finished in the top 10 in scoring just once (when they won the Super Bowl in 2000, and those points can be credited to the defense) and their highest finish in total yards was 10th in 2003.
Fantasy owners are salivating over three young Bucs (pun intended) this season in drafts but will the team be able to improve on their 20th place finish in scoring last season or will they continue to be stuck in limbo and waiting for a true breakout? Let's look at the players...
He was the third quarterback taken in the 2009 draft after Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, but some felt he could be the best of the bunch. So far after 2 seasons, he is far and away the best statistically. There was reason to be skeptical because he was a bit of an unknown and went to non-football-powerhouse Kansas State, plus he was going to Tampa where they (like I mentioned) aren't known for offense. Last season he broke out and led the Bucs to a 10-6 record with 25 TDs against only 6 INTs, 3,451 yards, 61% completions and a 95.9 QB rating.
Freeman is moving up draft boards this season and is seen as one of the top QB options for those who see him as a backup plan if they don't draft a QB in the first four rounds. Could Freeman become an elite NFL QB, a nice and steady option like Matt Cassel, or a bust who just had his peak season? I believe he's worth taking as a QB1 if you want to draft a QB after drafting your RBs and WRs. He should be a solid player, though I don't think he'll be spectacular/elite in 2011. Perhaps a few more TDs but definitely a few more INTs.
If anything happens to Freeman, I believe Johnson is one of the best backups in the NFL. He may not be as accurate as Freeman, but Johnson has big-play and big-point potential as a fantasy QB. I think he'll get his shot somewhere, some day, and I look forward to seeing that.
Some people believed that the last football game Blount would ever play in occurred 2 years ago tomorrow. On Sept. 3, 2009, he sucker-punched a Boise State lineman after an opening season loss in which Blount played terribly in. For many, his career was written off right at that moment. However, he would be reinstated late in the season and he'd get another chance to show off to NFL scouts. Blount was not drafted, but got into training camp with the Titans and was picked up by the Bucs after he was waived. Now we sit here two years later and see what could be the beginning of a very special career.
Blount rushed for 1,006 yards and 6 TDs as a rookie. Almost all of those yards came over an 11-game span, which would put him in the 1,500 yard range over a full season and being a solid RB1. I've seen him drafted as late as the 4th round, which could turn out to look ridiculous. There is one caveat not to be ignored however; the punching incident isn't Blount's only offense. He was suspended earlier in 2009 by Oregon, and then when given an amazing opportunity in the NFL, punched a teammate in Titans training camp. Can he turn off the thug long enough to reach his true potential? I have my doubts, but he's definitely a high-end RB2 otherwise. 1,200 yards and 10 TDs is my prediction. He does take a downgrade in PPR leagues, as he doesn't catch anything. Maybe because Blount has spent his whole life trying not to get caught.
Another thing that Blount has going for him is that the Bucs have no good backups. Lumpkin was rated as the #2 high school running back in his class behind Reggie Bush and went to Georgia where he was injured and unimpressive. Without much competition, Lumpkin might be the backup by default. Earnest Graham and Allen Bradford could also get carries.
In another story of redemption in Tampa, Mike Williams led all rookies in receptions and yards last season with 65 for 964 and a Tampa Bay record 11 TDs. Williams went to Syracuse and was suspended for his junior season for academic reasons, then later quit the team after another possible suspension was upcoming. He was drafted in the fourth round when he could have gone much higher if not for all the off-field issues. So far, things are working out for Williams and Tampa, but how will they continue? Michael Clayton had his own out-of-nowhere breakout season when he had 80 catches for 1193 yards as a rookie in Tampa. He's barely matched that in his 6 seasons since combined. But Williams is not Michael Clayton, so what can you expect? I believe 1,100 yards and 8 scores is within reason, but he might outdo that.. I'm still just worried (and burned previously) about one-year wonders.
In a familiar story about a more highly touted rookie outperforming another, Benn was drafted two rounds before Williams last season. A 2nd round pick out of Illinois, Benn had a more typical rookie season adjusting to the NFL with 25 catches for 395 yards. He had 4 catches for 122 yards against Washington last year, which was by far his best game. He's an interesting sleeper candidate this season and I have seen him drafted once. He's more likely someone to keep an eye on, as the talent is there to be a big play receiver opposite Williams. I'd feel good about listing him as a solid deep sleeper.
Sammie Stroughter, Dezmon Briscoe, and Michael Spurlock will also be competing for catches.
Kellen Winslow Jr
Stop me if you've heard this in the last 10 minutes: Tampa Bay gives player with questionable off-the-field issues and attitude a second chance. Did you stop me?
Winslow believe he is the best tight end in the NFL, but I guess he never stopped to check the numbers. Talented? Yes. Good numbers? Yes. But Winslow is far from elite. He's never topped 5 TDs in a season and in two years in Tampa he's averaged 70 catches and 800 yards. Those numbers are great for a tight end, but they still leave him well short of the Antonio Gates and Jason Wittens of the world. He's a good option to be the 7th or 8th TE off the board and maybe this season he catches more than 5 TDs.
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