Oct 9, 2011; San Francisco, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) is taken off the field after an injury against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-USA TODAY Sports

Kiddie Pool: Are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers As Shallow As Analysts Think?

This week the media and Twitter have been loaded with discussion and speculation about the perceived depth of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Comments like “If the Buccaneers lost (insert good player) next year, they’d be in trouble!”

That’s true for almost every team.

Not every franchise gets Wes Welker as their third wide receiver. Not every team has Ben Tate behind their starting running back. So what defines depth, and do the Buccaneers have it heading into 2013?

Let’s take a look at two positions where the Buccaneers are apparently lacking for depth, and consider their options and their outlook for the 2013 season.

Wide Receiver

September 9, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) catches the ball against the Carolina Panthers in the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers spent big on Vincent Jackson during free agency a year ago, and he proved to be well worth the outlay. The big, strong wideout commanded the football and made huge plays for the Bucs in 2012. But with offering him such a massive contract, the Buccaneers put themselves in a bind when it comes to paying for depth at the position. Mike Williams is a solid number two, and figures to get a contract extension this offseason. But the third wide receiver spot features the returning Tiquan Underwood who seemed lost at times in 2012 and doesn’t have the best hands on the team, and then competition in the form of new additions and practice squad players looking to break out and earn a roster spot.

So is there a lack of depth at wide receiver? Absolutely. In a league where three wide receiver sets are used frequently, it’s good to have at least three receivers who are a threat to make a play with the football. But when the top WR on the team is making a fortune, it’s tough to justify spending big on a third player at the position. But more importantly, with a quarterback like Josh Freeman, and an offense like the one run under Mike Sullivan, it’s not wise to invest in the third receiver spot on the depth chart. Wide receivers not named Vincent or Mike only saw around 65 targets in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus. And with fewer than 100 targets going to the tight ends, it’s obvious that the two top WRs got the lion’s share of targets, which turned out to be a productive decision for the Buccaneers’ record-setting offense.

Kevin Ogletree has promise, and Tiquan Underwood will provide a threat with his athletic ability, so there is more than just practice squad fodder behind Mike and Vincent. But this is an area of the Bucs that would be impacted by a severe injury, which is something most NFL teams can say about major skill positions.

Take the Falcons, for example. They have risen to prominence with their two-headed monster at wide receiver, but Harry Douglas and Drew Davis aren’t going to be able to capably fill in for Roddy White or Julio Jones. The Dirty Birds would see a huge change in their offense should they lose one of these key receivers, even with Tony Gonzalez still in town.  The presence of a strong tight end means the Falcons are better off than the Bucs in the passing game should one of their top wideouts get hurt, but they’re still lacking an option out wide should one of their best players get injured.

December 2, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Aaron Morgan (98) before the first half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 31-23. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line

The loss of Michael Bennett has been a point of contention for many Bucs’s, as the hard-working defensive end would have provided depth on the line heading into 2013. Relying on Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn seems risky considering their injury histories, but there is still depth despite the lack of Bennett in the fold.

Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and Aaron Morgan both return having earned snaps last year thanks to injuries. And they both demonstrated the ability to make plays, even if they’re not going to be starters in the NFL any time soon.  Just ask Morgan’s agent, Greg Linton:

In other words, Aaron Morgan and his agent have set a goal for 8 sacks in 2013 as a situational player in the Bucs’ 4-3 system, which he believes will springboard his player to a bigger deal elsewhere. But besides talking up his player (and paycheck), Linton took a moment to shed some light on the depth the Bucs have at DL:



In other words, he believes that there is a starter’s value hidden within a combination of Morgan, Te’o-Nesheim, and one of the Buccaneers’ rookies, Steven Means and William Gholston. This is the definition of depth. And while this can be seen as an agent talking up “his guy”, it’s also the insight of a man who must study and learn football to make a living, as he tries to work with players to put them in the right positions to get paid.

So it appears that there is some depth to be found in Tampa Bay, but it all comes with questions and caveats, which is what happens when a franchise decides to invest heavily in upper echelon players like Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson, Dashon Goldson, and Darrelle Revis. The Buccaneers are rolling the dice with their stars, hoping they stay on the field in 2013. So like most teams in the NFL, they’re going to need to stay healthy to have the best chance to win. But they’ve built up sneaky depth at a few positions, and while they may lack at other spots on the depth chart, I feel the Buccaneers are built fairly well for a team that has spent so heavily on the top 10% of the team.

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