The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of the more interesting teams of the offseason.
After finishing with a 9-7 record in 2016 under new head coach Dirk Koetter, greater expectations have been placed on the team, who has been busy this offseason. The signing of DeSean Jackson for three years, and the selection of Alabama tight end O.J. Howard in the draft highlighted this stretch.
Adding these two players to a team that already has Mike Evans and Cameron Brate has made Tampa Bay’s receiving corps one of the league’s deadliest, if not the deadliest. 3rd round receiver Chris Godwin also has the potential to step up at the WR3 position, which would even boost a loaded unit even further.
It’s safe to say that Jameis Winston, entering his third season, has plenty of toys to throw to. Known as one of the league’s most aggressive passers, Winston’s downfield accuracy was surprisingly low in 2016, ranking near the bottom in the 2016-17 Deep Ball Project. Even in an offense with a loaded cast of receivers, his accuracy likely won’t be masked due to the aggressive, vertical passing attack Koetter employs. And behind a sub-par offensive line, Winston will need to take big steps in his accuracy by himself to take Tampa Bay to the next level.
If he does, the Buccaneers are easy playoff contenders and will employ a top 5 passing offense at the very least.
This article will take a look at the Buccaneers’ passing offense as a whole, not just Winston. Key players that will be discussed will include Winston, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, and Chris Godwin.
So let’s get things started.
Winston is a very talented quarterback that when at his peak can do things very few quarterbacks are able to accomplish in the NFL. He generally reacts to pressure very well, and is a consistent anticipation passer. Winston is also the first quarterback to pass for 4,000+ yards in his first 2 seasons, mainly due to his aggressive style of QB play.
Winston’s movement in the pocket is magnificent. He reacts well to pressure and will keep his eyes up to find any open receivers. On this play, Winston makes subtle movement in the pocket, then shifts his body right, where he fires a beautifully placed pass over a defender and into the hands of Mike Evans. His vision and arm strength allow him to deliver a smooth throw with smooth processing.
Where Winston really thrives however is outside the pocket. Through 2 seasons, he has proven he is extremely comfortable with making movement and escaping defenders on unstructured plays. Few quarterbacks in the league do it as well.
Since Winston is a quarterback that keeps his eyes downfield, he has been a red zone threat outside the pocket. The two plays above are excellent examples of how Winston combines aggressiveness with patience and anticipation, never giving up on the play and firing at the last minute to the open receiver.
The 2nd play might be the most impressive I’ve seen from the third year starter. He rolls out of the pocket and hops backward, and launches it to Evans after noticing him turn away from a defender. It’s perfect awareness and it’s a play very few quarterbacks would attempt. Most would give up on the play and throw the ball out of bounds.
Winston’s body also makes him tough to take down on the run. This play provides the best instance, where the quarterback breaks a tackle, buying him even more time. He uses it to his advantage, jump cutting at the right time and throwing to an open receiver. Like the rest, it’s a fantastic play from the quarterback.
When Winston is on, he’s on fire. We’ll get to his accuracy later in the article, but let’s move on to the other role players in the Bucs offense.
Mike Evans is a borderline top 5 wide receiver. At 6 ft. 5, he not only provides height, but a wide frame, making him a favorable target for Winston. His ball skills are transcendental, capable of making adjustments on the dot and making his quarterback’s accuracy look better. His 12 touchdowns in 2014 and 2016 are both franchise records, and his 96 catches from 2016 are the most from any Bucs receiver since Keyshawn Johnson back in 2001. (Fun fact: Johnson only caught one touchdown from that season.)
Evans provides value everywhere on the field, and is deadly on vertical routes and on inaccurate passes. These two plays are difficult for the receiver to make. Evans’ box out ability allows him to make an fantastic touchdown catch in the first GIF, and in the 2nd he bails out Winston’s accuracy, something he’s been doing the last 2 years.
Evans’ size, speed and hands make for one of the league’s most exciting receivers, and then the Buccaneers went out and paired him with another one of the league’s top downfield monsters.
Former legendary WR Reggie Wayne recently provided a great insight on DeSean Jackson’s value, calling him “a fast deep threat with rare home-run ability.”
Jackson is a sensational vertical receiver, capable of getting downfield quickly and creating massive separation. This has rarely been realized because of the quality of quarterbacks he’s played with, but he gets his best quarterback since Michael Vick in 2010, as well as standing alongside Mike Evans.
With the Redskins, Jackson provided a massive security blanket for Kirk Cousins in an offense that was already loaded with security blankets. His value to the team is huge and will be in future years for both Washington and Tampa Bay.
On this play, Cousins’ accuracy is terrible. The pass is position behind and wide of Jackson. It would be impressive enough to dive and make the catch. Not many receivers are able to make a play on it and keep going.
Jackson makes an outstanding adjustment on the pass like it was nothing and makes it look easy. He breaks a tackle and jogs to the end zone for a miraculous touchdown.
Jackson’s ability isn’t just limited to being a downfield threat though. He is as much of a threat on short/intermediate routes, and provides yards after the catch, impressive routes, and refined footwork.
This play is another instance of Jackson bailing out his quarterback’s accuracy. The decision by Cousins is good, but the accuracy is way too low. Jackson’s approach to the ball, concentration, and footwork are all impossible. To get a handle on this pass without letting hit the ground while keeping his feet in makes this one of the best catches I’ve seen from 2016.
Alone, the Evans and Jackson duo is perhaps the most terrifying in the league, but the Buccaneers added a few tricks with a few more receivers of note.
Cameron Brate proved to be one of the best tight ends when he broke out in 2016. Undrafted out of Harvard, Brate took the starting job from Austin Sefarian-Jenkins for good, and became one of Winston’s most valuable targets in the process.
Like Evans and Jackson, Brate is an excellent route runner with a strong catch radius and frame. The technique he displays in his ball skills, routes, and adjustments on inaccurate passes make it hard for me to believe this guy was undrafted. This is the work of a guy that looks like a 5-year veteran.
The first GIF provides an impressive route and adjustment from Brate. He is very explosive in Koetter’s vertical offense, and as shown in the 2nd GIF, provides a big cushion to be thrown to. Brate’s advanced techniques allowed him to catch 8 touchdown passes in his first season as the starting tight end.
Another explosive tight end in the Bucs offense, Howard was drafted out of Alabama in the first round. He is a very talented receiving tight end and an excellent blocker, which will expand his reliability in Tampa Bay.
Howard didn’t make as many outstanding adjustments on throws in college like fellow rookies Evan Engram and David Njoku, but he is still a dangerous YAC option. The play above displays his shiftiness, as he is able to make a move and cut to the outside corner, where he is easily able to get the first down.
Another factor Howard will bring to the Bucs offense is power. Or more power. Either way, his toughness plays a role in his ability to get yards after the catch, as shown in the play above. Pairing him up with Brate will give the Bucs two really talented tight ends to throw the ball to in 2017.
A third round pick out of Penn State, Chris Godwin provides the Buccaneers with another talented young receiver. As well as having an amazing last name, Godwin has the potential to be a dangerous WR3 for the team.
Godwin provided good routes in college, but it’s his ball skills that are the most impressive. He makes an outrageous one handed catch on a pass behind him. It’s one thing to catch the ball with one hand, and it’s another to do it while adjusting your body when the throw is behind.
The big thing I need to see more of from Godwin is better consistency on contested catches. He had a few plays last year where he failed to win on tough plays at the catch point. The above play is an example of when he won. Granted, the pass was tipped, but his concentration allows him to catch the ball and sprint for the end zone without breaking a sweat. As a whole, Godwin’s explosiveness downfield makes perfect sense in Koetter’s offense,
The offense is already stacked at this point, and the Bucs have a few more skill players worth mentioning.
Doug Martin is obviously the big one, but he’s suspended for the first three games of the season, so we could see rookie Jeremy McNichols get some valuable playing time.
McNichols is a very talented back who combines powerful bursts with explosive running ability in space. If he makes the team, he could provide these assets.
Charles Sims missed a lot of time last season, but is a speedy receiving back, and one that could help what was an injured run game from 2016.
Adam Humphries is a decent slot receiver with good speed, but he’ll likely compete for the WR3 spot along with Godwin at the most.
Concerns With Winston
We come back to Winston, this time discussing a major flaw of his, which is his accuracy. For as many things as he does right, Winston’s accuracy is downright horrible at times, often not being in the same area as the intended receiver. This is what stalled the Bucs offense at times in 2016, and if it’s not improved, it could continue to stall them this year.
There’s plenty of examples of Winston completely missing receivers, but for this article we’ll focus on two great examples. The first throw, above, is an atrocious miss. To overthrow a 6 ft 5 freak in Mike Evans is an achievement in of itself, and it’s something Winston has done way too much in his career. As productive as Evans has been, he would benefit much more from far more precise accuracy on downfield throws.
Anyway, you’ll notice that Winston’s release is a bit high on this throw. The mechanics on the release look unnatural, the footwork is sloppy, and it’s no surprise that the pass itself is wobbly. The entire process is uncomfortable to look at.
The 2nd throw, above, is as much of a disaster for different reasons. Winston’s inaccuracy left too many downfield plays on the field, and several touchdowns as well. He performed much better later on in the game, but this was a sign of how awful his accuracy can be. Outside the pocket, his mechanics look much more comfortable. Outside, while he’s able to step up in the pocket, his accuracy isn’t clear-cut.
While Winston’s aggressive style of play is a blessing, it can also be a curse. His ability to process reads as a result is madly inconsistent. The play above is more of a terrible decision than anything else. Winston misreads the coverage completely, firing an interception straight to the safety.
As good as Winston is outside of the pocket, he can also be too aggressive for his own good. I’m all for quarterbacks being aggressive, but there also has to be a perfect balance of aggression and awareness. This play illustrates the wrong way to do it. Winston does a great job of buying time, but the play is pretty much dead. He should’ve thrown the ball away to set up a field goal.
Instead, the pass is nearly picked (the defender didn’t have possession in bounds), almost costing the Buccaneers valuable points. Winston was very fortunate to escape with just an incomplete pass.
While Jameis Winston has accuracy and decision making issues, he does do a lot of things right. His pocket movement, play outside the pocket, and patience are all terrific. Winston gives the offense many chances for success, but as previously stated, it’s his job to improve his accuracy in an offense that stresses vertical routes behind an offensive line that creates stress.
At this point I’m repeating myself. The Buccaneers’ opportunity for success is tremendous, ask anyone. The passing game is unbelievably loaded, with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, and Chris Godwin offering tons of potential on paper, and the offense as a whole is one of the most exciting units in football.
We should anticipate great things from the Buccaneers offense in 2017. If Winston takes the next step, we should anticipate even greater.
Featured image via defpen.com