NFC South Preview 2014: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Brian Blanco

In this series we take a look at the off-season moves made by the Saints' NFC South division rivals. Today we scout the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In 2013, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended the season with a 4-12 record and a 4th place finish in the NFC South.  Tampa was 1-5 in division games including an 0-2 record vs. the New Orleans Saints.  The Buccaneers had the 32nd ranked offense and 17th ranked defense (both in yards) in 2013.  Head Coach Lovie Smith enters his first season and starting quarterback Josh McCown also enters his first season in Tampa.

Key free agent acquisitions

QB - Josh McCown

DE - Michael Johnson

LT - Anthony Collins

CB - Alterraun Verner

C - Evan Dietrich-Smith

DT - Clinton McDonald

TE - Brandon Myers

CB - Mike Jenkins

ILB - Dane Fletcher

***

Key free agents lost / not re-signed

FB - Erik Lorig

CB - Darrelle Revis

LT - Donald Penn

WR - Tiquan Underwood

OLB - Dekoda Watson

WR - Mike Williams (Traded)

***

Draft selections

WR - Mike Evans - Texas A&M (Round 1)

TE - Austin Seferian-Jenkins - Washington (Round 2)

RB - Charlie Sims - West Virginia (Round 3)

G - Kadeem Edwards - Tennessee St. (Round 5)

OT - Kevin Pamphile - Purdue (Round 5)

WR - Robert Herron - Wyoming (Round 6)

***

Here's how walterfootball.com graded Tampa's draft:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: C Grade
Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft: The Buccaneers have made a ton of acquisitions this offseason, but they're still weak in a few areas. They have to find a No. 2 receiving option, upgrade at linebacker and guard, and someone to help Gerald McCoy rush the passer on the interior of the defensive line. They'll also consider a franchise quarterback at No. 7 overall if they can get either Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel.

2014 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Mike Evans is so much like Vincent Jackson that I accidentally tweeted out that Tampa Bay drafted Vincent Jackson No. 7 overall. He and Austin Seferian-Jenkins will provide Josh McCown with some rather large targets, a luxury that McCown enjoyed during his time with the Bears. Robert Herron, a smaller weapon, was a solid choice as well.

Tampa Bay's other picks weren't nearly as good. Kadeem Edwards and Kevin Pamphile were reaches in the fifth round - and the latter didn't provide a need - but the worst choice of all was Charles Sims in the third frame. With Doug Martin, Mike James and Bobby Rainey on the roster, there was absolutely no need to pick Sims, who was a reach at that point anyway. This earned the Buccaneers one of the dreaded "Millen" grades that I handed out over the weekend.

Overall, the Buccaneers didn't have a very good draft. They ignored needs, made reaches and failed to find a possible long-term solution at quarterback.

Here's how Bucs Nation's Leo Howell graded Tampa's draft:

It wasn't a perfect draft, because getting a starting-caliber guard would have been nice, and picking up some extra picks to snag some defensive depth later in the selection meeting would have been fitting. But the final result of the first draft ran by Licht and Lovie is a positive one, with multiple new weapons on offense to compliment a defense that was upgraded via free agency and via coaching changes.

Overall: B+

***

How this affects the Saints in 2014

The Buccaneers will be among the most intriguing teams to follow in the 2014 season as the franchise has cleaned house from one of the most toxic environments in the NFL, both figuratively and literally.  Gone is toolbag head coach Greg Schiano, and in his place is the stoic and weathered Lovie Smith.  Gone is chronic underachiever and new journeyman Josh Freeman, and in is chronic overachiever and longtime journeyman Josh McCown.  Gone are the understated pewter uniforms and in are the bombastic, overstated uniforms with oversized logos and retro futuristic fonts.  Well, not everything has been upgraded.

The Saints won an absolute nail-biter in Tampa early in the 2013 season, and ended the season by decimating the Bucs in the dome to complete the season sweep.  The way the Saints played in the first meeting, they should've had a season split, but they were fortunate that did not happen.  Things may just have gotten a little more difficult in matching up with the Bucs this season.  Few teams have made as many moves as Tampa, and on the surface most of them appear to be for the better.  The Saints may have just found their toughest rival in the NFC South in 2014 in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tampa's size and speed at wide receiver is just what Rob Ryan's defense has been constructed to combat, and this should make for an interesting chess match in their two match-ups this season.  Whether Josh McCown is more than a short term solution or Mike Glennon regains his starting job remains to be seen, but with the weapons at wideout and in the backfield, the Bucs should be able to score points and control the clock when necessary.

The Tampa defense may have a case of addition by subtraction with Darrelle Revis going to New England, and the defense should continue to improve under the tutelage of Lovie Smith.  While the offense has nowhere to go but up, this defense has a strong foundation to build upon.  Tampa will be greatly improved from their 4 win campaign in 2013, and they can improve to a 10 win season in 2014.  Lovie Smith and the new look coaching staff will take this new look team from the NFC South cellar and take aim at the division crown.

While Lovie Smith will be an NFL Coach of the Year candidate in 2014, it is the NFC South's coach of every year in Sean Payton that will take the Saints to the NFC South division title in 2014.  Despite all of the upgrades of the Buccaneers, I think the Saints squeak out another season sweep.  The Saints will defeat the Bucs in the Dome in the early part of the season and win a nail-biter in Tampa to end the season, with homefield advantage in the playoffs available for the Saints to lock up.

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