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Preseason Enemy Profile: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A familiar foe comes to Nashville tomorrow to face the Titans.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the other quarterback needy team in the 2015 NFL Draft, selected Jameis Winston first overall in that year’s draft, and since then he and Marcus Mariota have been compared nonstop. Now that Winston is missing the first three games of the season to suspension for groping an Uber driver, Ryan Fitzpatrick will start the first three games of the season.

With that in mind, we’re going to do things a little differently today. Instead of previewing one specific player ahead of tomorrow night’s matchup, I’m gonna preview the 2018 Buccaneers as a whole.

Jameis Winston has been a fascinating player on the field to say the least. He has the ability to make outstanding plays outside of the structure and is often creative when running out of the pocket. His pocket movement is also really good, and he is capable of great stretches of play, as we saw in the last quarter of the season. He’s also capable of poor stretches of play, however, seen in his inconsistency as a decision making, and as a downfield passer he leaves too many plays on the field (though from my understanding, his downfield accuracy improved in the last 4 games of 2017).

The Buccaneers picked up the fifth-year option in Winston’s contract, but when he returns from suspension, he’s going to need to prove that he can stay on the field and be the Buccaneers’ franchise quarterback. His errant accuracy spoils not just his potential, but also the potential of the weapons around him.

Tampa Bay arguably has the best receiving corps in the league. Mike Evans is a phenomenal player with fantastic 1 on 1 ball skills. The issue is, along with DeSean Jackson, Winston was constantly missing him last year. Jackson has been one of the league’s premier vertical receivers for a long time, but reports out of Tampa are suggesting that second-year receiver Chris Godwin will take his spot outside by the start of the season. Godwin is an electrifying route runner with great toughness as the catch point, so this isn’t surprising.

This makes Adam Humphries’ role an unknown, but he enjoyed a career year in 2017. Then there’s the tight end duo of Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Brate has developed into a fantastic receiving tight end while Howard flashed who he could become in his rookie season. In the backfield, Peyton Barber is reportedly the starter. I don’t know much about Barber, other than he has surprisingly really good patience as a runner. Ronald Jones II looks like he could be the future in Tampa, though, and Charles Sims is a decent third-down back.

The Buccaneers’ vertical heavy passing game isn’t made better by the offensive line. While this isn’t a bottom tier unit, it’s not particularly good either. Left Guard Ali Marpet is certainly a bright spot, and Donavan Smith at left tackle isn’t horrendous, but this unit needs to be better schemed in order to protect longer when the quarterback is required to hold the ball, and that’s been an issue with Dirk Koetter.

On the opposite side of the ball, Buccaneers fans have been hyping up the improved defense, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near a top 10 defense. The defensive line was atrocious last year, and did get better with the signings of Jason-Pierre Paul, Vinny Curry and the drafting of Vita Vea, but these guys that work more as depth pieces instead of explosive starters, with Vea likely needing a while to develop. Still, Gerald McCoy remains one of the league’s top defensive tackles, and could very well be on his way to Canton.

The secondary isn’t inspiring. Vernon Hargreaves is at his best as a slot corner, but has largely been a disappointment in his first two seasons. Brent Grimes is getting up there in age and isn’t the same player he once was earlier in his career (comes with the age). Justin Evans, a 2nd rounder in 2017, is expected to start in 2018, but Chris Conte should not be starting. I’d also like to see what corners Carlton Davis and MJ Stewart can do in their rookie seasons too.

Overall, the offense is loaded with receiver talent and should see a better run game, but I don’t think the defense will be good. And with Winston missing the first three games of the season, Tampa Bay could very well be penciled in for an 0-3 start. That’s not good when you consider the other three NFC South teams have more talented rosters and better quarterbacks.

The Buccaneers and Titans play Saturday night at 7 p.m. Central Time.