Although the last couple of weeks have been rough (losses to the Rams and Bears come to mind), the future is bright for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Their six wins are equal to their combined win totals from the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Another strong draft this coming April will set them up for what could be a potential playoff push this coming fall.
There are plenty of areas that a 6-9 team can improve. Yet here are the four position groups where Lovie Smith’s squad is the strongest heading into the 2016 season.
Naturally, we lead off at quarterback, where 2015 No.1 overall pick Jameis Winston has given the Bucs leadership and their fans the biggest reason for optimism. His continued development has impressed thoroughly, and his charisma and leadership has given a largely listless franchise a much needed shot in the arm.
Let’s not forget to mention everything he has achieved on the field. As mentioned above, the Bucs are currently 6-9 on the season, and he is a large reason why. Although he has had his share of mistakes during a 1-3 start, Winston has constantly impressed with his growing command of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s system. His high football IQ is truly an awesome sight to behold.
Furthermore, comparisons to Pittsburgh signal caller Ben Roethlisberger are not unwarranted. Jameis has an uncanny knack to extend plays when his protection falls apart, not to mention a severely underrated scrambling ability. Combine that with a strong arm that can make all the throws, and great pocket presence, and its easy to see why so many people were high on the Heisman winner coming out of college, and why even more people are higher on him now. The future of the Buccaneers is very bright with him at the helm of the pirate ship.
Backup Mike Glennon is young, well versed in Koetter’s offense and has the ability to start and win if needed. He’s an invaluable resource behind Winston, and is one of the better backups in the league. At the rate in which we have seen starting quarterbacks get injured this season, the Bucs are lucky to have him.
Another reason why the Bucs have largely improved from the past two seasons was the resurgence of fourth year tailback Doug Martin. According to the Tampa Tribune’s Roy Cummings, the two sides couldn’t wait till the end of the season to hammer out an extension, and preliminary talks have begun. All I have to say about that is its about time.
Martin has shown the burst, vision, explosiveness and power that he has lost the past couple seasons due to multiple injuries. However, he’s finally healthy, and he has shown why he belongs in the discussion of being one of the NFL’s best running backs.
The Dougernaut is currently second in the league in rushing with 1,354 yards on the season, and is only 64 yards behind Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson for the lead. He’s one of two Bucs (the other being star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy) that was elected to the Pro Bowl. At 26 years old, he has the ability to be a franchise cornerstone for many years to come, and brings much needed balance to Koetter’s attack. His contract extension needs to be priority 1A for GM Jason Licht (Priority 1B is coming later on).
Sophomore Charles Sims is also a key part of the Buccaneer offense. Comparisons of him to Bears running back Matt Forte are true, as Sims showcases a lot of traits similar to the longtime Chicago back. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is one of the biggest parts of the Bucs offense, as he is an invaluable security blanket to the rookie quarterback. He also isn’t too bad at running the ball either.
Remember how I mentioned priority 1B earlier? Well that would be an contract extension for outside linebacker Lavonte David, who is the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the league today. He has a total of 135 tackles (81 solo), to go with two sacks, one forced fumble and three interceptions, which includes a pick six that secured the Week 13 win over division rival Atlanta.
The fact that he wasn’t voted into the Pro Bowl outright is outrageous, but an another All Pro nod is definitely within reach. David is one of the franchise’s cornerstones, and is only 25 years old. Much like the rest of the star Buccaneers, his future is very bright. Locking him long term is imperative.
Rookie middle linebacker Kwon Alexander has been the lone defensive selection that Smith and Licht have made in their two drafts, but so far, he has been a home run. Although his season is over due to a four game PED suspension, Alexander made an indelible mark on Smith’s defense, taking over the middle linebacker spot in training camp and never looking back. In 12 games, Alexander had 93 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
He’s fast, rangy, athletic and a playmaker. Ever since David bursted onto the scene during his rookie season of 2012, Bucs leadership have been looking for another linebacker to pair with him. Alexander should help lead the Buccaneer defense for a very long time, and is another impressive young piece selected by the current Bucs brass. Fans are excited to see him return next season.
Finally, late blooming Danny Lansanah has had another strong season as the starting strong side linebacker. Although his stats haven’t been as eye popping as David’s and Alexander’s, he’s a key part of Smith’s unit because of his versatility and ability to make plays. David has been limited at times this season, and Alexander is out for the rest of year, but Lansanah has consistently stepped up. The plan was for Alexander to eventually replace Lansanah, and for Bruce Carter to man the middle this season. However, the starting lineup of Lansanah, Alexander and David is the best unit on the defense, and is yet another reason why the Bucs have improved so much this season.