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NFC South Preview 2015: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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

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In 2014, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended the season with a 2-14 record and a 4th place finish in the NFC South.  Tampa was 0-6 in division games including an 0-2 record vs. the New Orleans Saints.  The Buccaneers had the 30th ranked offense and 25th ranked defense (both in yards) in 2014.  Head Coach Lovie Smith enters his second season and first overall pick, quarterback Jameis Winston enters his first season in Tampa.

Key player acquisitions

LB - Bruce Carter

CB - Sterling Moore

DT - Henry Melton

S - Chris Conte

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Key players lost / not re-signed

DE - Michael Johnson

DE - Adrian Clayborn

QB - Josh McCown

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Draft selections

QB - Jameis Winston - Florida State (Round 1)

OT - Donovan Smith - Penn State (Round 2)

G - Ali Marpet - Hobart (Round 2)

LB - Kwon Alexander - LSU (Round 4)

WR - Kenny Bell - Nebraska (Round 5)

WR - Kaelin Clay - Utah (Round 6)

FB - Joey Iosefa - Hawaii (Round 7)

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

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last Year: 2-14)

NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: We all know by now that the Buccaneers plan on drafting Jameis Winston. With that in mind, their goal is simple: Build around by Winston by upgrading the offensive line and running back positions. Adding some better players on the defensive side of the ball, including a pass-rusher, is a must as well.


2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Buccaneers nearly accomplished everything they needed to. They drafted a quarterback, added two offensive linemen to protect their franchise signal-caller and then found some weapons for him. Tampa couldn't block whatsoever last year, but that shouldn't be the case this upcoming season.

I like the actual players that the Buccaneers drafted, for the most part. In fact, my lowest grade, save for the seventh-rounder, came on the first selection, but you can read about my thoughts on Jameis Winston in my individual NFL Draft Grades page.

Tampa's sole omission came in terms of finding a pass-rusher. They neglected to obtain someone who can get heat on the quarterback, which will hurt, given the types of signal-callers they have to go up against twice per season. However, this is more than just a 1-year rebuilding project, as I have the Buccaneers picking a defensive end in my 2016 NFL Mock Draft.

Here's how DraftPhantom of Bucs Nation viewed Tampa's draft:

All in all I think history will reflect this as a good draft for Tampa Bay.  It comes down to Winston staying on the straight and narrow while improving at the endeavor of being an NFL quarterback. We probably get one solid starter out of the offensive line, no matter how much you or I love one player injury and failure to thrive always play risk factors.  We get a linebacker who should be no worse than a scheme reserve and some possibilities, but certainly not probabilities from role players later on. Two starters and a role player is an ok draft, it’s just not a championship caliber draft.

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How this affects the Saints in 2015

The Buccaneers were the worst team in the worst division the NFL may have ever fielded in 2014.  As bad as the Saints, Falcons, and even the Panthers were in 2014, the Bucs throne in the NFC South cellar was hardly threatened.  The new coaching staff inherited a 4-win franchise in 2014 and managed to shave two wins off of that record.  What should have been a season of renewed expectations became one of expecting the worst, again.

As bad as Tampa was, they gave the Saints every thing they possibly could have wanted and more last season.  It took overtime, at home, for the Saints to get past the 1-3 Bucs in Week 5 last season, and if Tampa actually wanted to win the season finale at home, and attempted more than one pass in the second half, they likely would have won.  Tampa was an absolute dumpster fire, but the Saints played to their level in both matchups.

There's a reason the Bucs had the 30th ranked offense in the league and the first overall pick in the draft, the main one being that their quarterback play was horrendous.  That being said, it was a no-brainer that they were compelled to use the top pick in the draft on a quarterback.  Whether Jameis Winston is the answer to their problems remains to be seen, but they would be hard pressed to find themselves much worse at QB now then they were in 2014.

Tampa will need Doug Martin to return to his rookie season form in order to help Winston and the offense this season.  Without a viable running game, the Bucs' big, athletic receivers will be wasted on offense once again.  Of course, much of this will come down to their offensive line figuring things out in a hurry.  This is why Tampa used both of their second round picks on offensive lineman after using their first rounder on a quarterback that will desperately require better protection than was provided in 2014.

The defense has potential, but severely underperformed a year ago, especially in the first half of the season where they suffered two losses surrendering 40+ points.  Lovie Smith has built his reputation on defense, but reputation alone will not fix this situation in Tampa.  The Bucs will be hoping that their defensive free agent acquisitions out of Dallas will pay off in a big way, considering the fact that the team largely ignored defense in the draft, outside of the Kwon Alexander pick in the 4th round.

Although the Saints played at a level that easily could have seen the team end 2014 with an 0-2 record against Tampa last year, they squeaked by in both games to go 2-0 instead.  The Saints should be able to handle the rookie quarterback in his first career road start in Week 2 in the Superdome, while the Week 14 game in Tampa should prove to be a tougher contest.  After the alarming nature of the 2014 Saints season, it's very difficult to take anything for granted, but the Saints should go 2-0 vs the Bucs again this season.  With a rookie quarterback at the helm and offensive and defensive units both coming off of a season in the bottom fourth of the league, Tampa will likely find themselves fourth in the NFC South in 2015.