Tampa Bay were supposed to be a contender in 2017. They spent heavily in free agency and hosted Hard Knocks in training camp. But the same old problems together with injuries to Jameis Winston hampered the team all season.
In a normal year they might have still made the playoffs, but the NFC South was the most competitive and complete division in football, sending three teams to the playoffs. Not having a weak divisional foe to boost their schedule left the Bucs with a 5-11 record and cut adrift in the race for the postseason.
Heading into 2018 there is a lot of pressure building on head coach Dirk Koetter to pull the Bucs into a competitive position, but he needs the roster to do it with. General manager Jason Licht has all seven draft picks and a massive $74.8 million in cap space. So where should he focus his efforts this offseason?
The Buccaneers have struggled to get to the quarterback for years. They were dead last in sacks in 2017 with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy leading the way at six. While McCoy is a great player, he is not Aaron Donald when it comes to getting to the quarterback, and the lack of edge pressure has consistently exposed the rest of the defense. So how can they fix it?
Reliable pass rushers are few and far between in free agency. The best is Ezekiel Ansah, but between his 14.5 and 12 sack seasons was a horrible two sack year. His inconsistencies are not nearly as bad as those of Tampa’s current defensive ends, but they should scare any team away from paying top dollar for him.
If Licht decides that they are better off not overpaying for Ansah then the answer to their pass rush problems will have to come from the draft. With the #7 pick they stand a good chance of getting top prospect Bradley Chubb, but that is no guarantee. They may have to settle for a more raw talent like Marcus Davenport or Harold Landry.
After another poor year from Doug Martin the Buccaneers finally decided to move on from the former first-round pick. The decision leaves them with just Jacquizz Rodgers on their depth chart, which means they are set to sign at least two backs this offseason.
The combination a veteran free agent and a rookie would make a lot of sense, but the question is how they allocate their assets. Do they try and tempt Le’Veon Bell down to Florida or go safe with an Alfred Morris and invest draft stock in one of the elite RB prospects?
My personal preference would be to go middle of the road and invest a second round pick on a running back and try to sign a Dion Lewis or Carlos Hyde in free agency.
The Bucs have three safeties on their roster as things stand, and the most recognizable player is Chris Conte who is the definition of “not good at football”.
While they did use a second round pick on Justin Evans last year and he played 67% of snaps, he graded out as below average on Pro Football Focus. There is plenty of improvement to come from him, but you need more at the position than just the hope of a second year bump from a player.
With all their money they could chase after Lamarcus Joyner, who had the best coverage grade of any safety last year and didn’t miss a single tackle all season. Barring that the Bucs could easily be in position to pick Minkah Fitzpatrick who is far and away the best safety prospect in the draft.
Either way it is a position the Bucs need both depth and star power in, and should be a focus for Licht this offseason.
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