The Buccaneers Franchise
The sun is shining a little bit brighter in Tampa Bay right now, and their stock looks similarly bright. After an off-season of being mocked in the wake of Jameis Winston’s suspension, the Buccaneers are the talk of the league through two weeks of football. Turn on any football program and the first topic you’ll see is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s a remarkable turnaround that proves no matter how ugly an off-season you have, hope can be found in good old fashioned wins.
The most impressive thing about this beginning to the season is how much room for growth there is. The Bucs will have cornerback Brent Grimes and first round defensive tackle Vita Vea returning from injury in the next few weeks, and their second round running back Ronald Jones still hasn’t seen the field to prove what he can (or can’t) do. They’ll also get free agent defensive tackle Mitch Unrein back from designated injured reserve.
If the team can stay healthy elsewhere, there’s little reason to believe they won’t continue boosting their stock as a franchise as the season continues.
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Few players on the Buccaneers have been beat up on by fans and opposing receivers more over the last two years than cornerback Ryan Smith.
The Buccaneers coaching staff never relented in their belief in Smith though, and through two games this season he’s proving them right.
Smith has been thrust into the spotlight with Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves both injured, starting alongside rookie Carlton Davis. We first began to see signs of growth from Smith in the preseason, when he forced a fumble and intercepted a pass.
Smith’s strong play carried over into week one against the New Orleans Saints, and then again at home this week against Philadelphia. Pro Football Focus named Smith to their “team of the week” and credited him with three pass breakups and just one reception allowed.
On top of his success in coverage, Smith has been an ace on special teams replacing departed corner Josh Robinson. Needless to say, Ryan Smith’s stock is getting interesting.
This week he faces the toughest match-ups that he’ll get all year in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Smith will be targeted early and often – if he holds up, expect to see him back on this list.
Buccaneer Pass Protection
My biggest concern heading into week two against the Eagles was born out of a lack of faith in the Buccaneer offensive line.
Sure, they played well against the Saints and superstar defensive end Cameron Jordan, but the Philadelphia Eagles were and are a totally different beast. Top to bottom, Philly likely has the best front seven defenders (linebackers and defensive line) in all of football. More than Nick Foles catching fire, they won their Super Bowl on the backs of superstars like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Timmy Jernigan and Derick Barnett. After losing Vinny Curry and Beau Allen, the team reloaded with Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata.
Without question, the Buccaneer offensive line stood up to the test. I specified pass protection in the title simply because the Buccaneer run game is stuck in the mud. But their success protecting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is enough to boost their stock as a unit significantly; it’s directly leading to these explosive afternoons by the Buccaneer offense. Fitzpatrick has been sacked just twice on the season, and if that keeps up then so too will the high scores.