The Buccaneers need big things from Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith for the offense to take off in 2017.
The Buccaneers have spent a lot of time this off-season improving the offense. It was already a solid group with players like Mike Evans and Cameron Brate, but now they bring even more firepower to the table. Between free agency and the draft, Jameis Winston is going to have so many options this year he won’t know what to do with himself. Let it sink in, Bucs fans. The offense has the potential to be absolutely scary.
But it could all go the other way very quickly if they aren’t careful. For a long time, I have lived by the mantra that the offense begins and ends with the offensive line. A good offensive line takes a good offense to a great one and can mask a lot of problems for sub par offenses. If the offensive line isn’t any good, it doesn’t matter who is under center or on the outside. If the offensive line is bad, the offense will be bad.
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Last year, if the Bucs had an Achilles heal, it was the offensive line, and I’m not just talking about Gosder Cherilus getting beaten like a drum in the Dallas game. The rushing offense was ranked 24th in the league and averaged 3.6 yards per rush. Some of that was on Doug Martin and company, but not all of it. Some of that is on the offensive line.
Football Outsiders ranked the offensive line at 21st in the league. They only averaged 3.17 yards per carry around left end, which gets into the realm of one of the subjects of this article. The group was ranked 15th in pass protection. Obviously better but not where they want to be.
Some thought the Bucs should address the offensive line during the draft, and I was one of them. They didn’t choose a single offensive linemen. Here is what Jason Licht had to say about it (team press release):
"“We are confident with what we have here and once again, it was just two years ago that we were a fifth-leading rushing team and gave up whatever it was, not very many sacks. It’s really just, [former Buccaneers guard] Logan Mankins is a great player, but we have the same group. In fact, we added, hopefully [guard] J.R. [Sweezy] stays on track where he is right now. We’re very excited about this group. Not to say that there wasn’t a point when we thought about bringing in some depth or we might here tomorrow, but we are happy. Part of the exercise you do on the draft board is you try to rank your guys into the draft of where they would fall. You have to take that into account too.”"
Clearly that puts a lot of faith in J.R. Sweezy, a player that hasn’t been on the field for one snap in a Bucs uniform yet. However, it also puts pressure on two other guys. Third year players Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet are going to have to come up big in 2017. If they don’t, our big Bucs dreams may just stall in their tracks.
As we have talked about on these pages, the team is looking to move Marpet to center. He actually didn’t have a bad year in 2016, as Pro Football Focus ranked him tied for 13th best at the guard position with a grade of 84.5. His draft profile does suggest that he has the body and movement skills to be a center, but those are still different from playing guard. The positioning is different, the footwork is different, and the mindset is different. He would be responsible for the calls at the line.
They could go into the season that way and have it all fall apart. He might make it. He has to make it. That transition could make or break the Bucs on offense.
Personally, I felt a left tackle would have been a good choice in the NFL draft. That way, Donovan Smith could have moved to right tackle. That was not to be, so Smith remains entrenched as the blind side blocker.
Smith was not good last year. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 66th best tackle in the league in 2016 with a grade of 42.0, and his pass blocking grade was lower than that at 38.7. As we mentioned earlier, the Bucs only gained 3.17 yards per carry on the ground around left end. These numbers leave a lot to be desired.
By not drafting a player, they truly believe Smith will rebound and have a better year. If he doesn’t Winston might spend the better part of it running for his life.
Do you guys have faith in this offensive line, or were you expecting them to build on it in the draft? Sound off in the comments.