Buccaneers depth chart 2019: Tampa Bay eliminating excuses for Jameis Winston

first_imgMORE: Where Arians ranks among NFL coachesOne thing is certain: For better or worse, the Buccaneers are a team worth watching in 2019. Though they finished last in the NFC South last season with a record of 5-11, they field a handful of returning Pro Bowl-caliber players — think Mike Evans, O.J. Howard, Ali Marpet, Lavonte David, Vita Vea and Vernon Hargreaves — who have been supplemented via free agency and the NFL Draft.Gone from Tampa are familiar names like Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander, Adam Humphries, DeSean Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers. Enter new feature players in Ndamukong Suh, Devin White, Deone Bucannon, Breshad Perriman and Andre Ellington, players hand-picked by Arians and Bowles to fit the schemes they want to implement.The result of all the change is a team that, on paper, should have a chance to compete in its division. Below is a breakdown of the Buccaneers’ depth chart projection for 2019.Buccaneers depth chart: OffensePos.StarterBackupQBJameis WinstonBlaine Gabbert*RBPeyton BarberRonald JonesWRMike EvansJustin WatsonWRChris GodwinBreshad Perriman*WRScotty Miller*Bobo WilsonTEO.J. HowardCameron BrateLTDonovan SmithCaleb BenenochLGAli MarpetZack BaileyCRyan JensenEvan SmithRGEarl Watford*Alex CappaRTDemar DotsonMike Liedtke* New to Buccaneers in 2019QuarterbackYes, Winston still has a chance to earn a lucrative, long-term contract extension in Tampa Bay, as SN contributor and former NFL team executive Jeff Diamond recently explained. But his fate depends on his play this season working with the man whose book is literally titled, “The Quarterback Whisperer.”Arians’ history of success working with quarterbacks obviously plays to Winston’s advantage, as does the coach’s reputation style-wise — “no risk it, no biscuit.” And Winston is not afraid to use his big arm the way Arians will require. According to Pro Football Focus, “since coming into the league in 2015, Winston has maintained the highest average depth of target at 10.8 yards downfield.”The bad news, also via PFF: “Among the 34 qualifying quarterbacks since 2015, Winston ranks 30th in adjusted completion percentage from his deep attempts, 29th in big-time throw rate, 18th in turnover-worthy play rate, 29th in positively graded play rate and 28th in negatively graded play rate.”Winston, now equipped with an aggressive scheme and still armed with big-time deep targets (namely Evans), has no more excuses. And he no longer has to look over his shoulder at Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is now in Miami. Tampa Bay signed Blaine Gabbert, who has experience in Arians’ offense, to help the starter along mentally.MORE: Where Winston ranks among NFL QBs Buccaneers depth chart: DefensePos.StarterBackupDENdamukong Suh*Beau AllenDTVita VeaTerry Beckner*DEWilliam GholstonJeremiah LedbetterEDGEShaquil Barrett*Noah SpenceEDGECarl NassibAnthony Nelson*LBDevin White*Kevin MinterLBLavonte DavidDeone Bucannon*CBVernon HargreavesJamel Dean*CBCarlton DavisSean Bunting*CBRyan SmithM.J. StewartSSJordan WhiteheadKentrell Brice*FSJustin EvansMike Edwards** New to Buccaneers in 2019Defensive lineYes, the Buccaneers are transitioning to a 3-4 base defense, but Bowles has said his defense will be multiple — as it should be — and still feature four-man fronts when necessary. That’s good news for Tampa Bay’s newest defensive lineman.The best position for Suh, who is replacing McCoy, is a three-technique, where he presumably will play when the Bucs deploy a four-man front. Before his one year with the Rams last season, Suh had almost never played nose guard, but he did well in that role for LA. Suh, 32, proved his versatility last year even though his new starting position, 3-4 defensive end, might be his weakest spot. He was a vital addition for the Bucs in the wake of McCoy’s departure.Suh won’t need to play nose as often in Tampa because the Bucs have Vea, who when healthy last season was one of the NFL’s most effective interior pass-rushers. He might be the biggest beneficiary of the team’s move to a base 3-4.Tampa Bay can’t depend on Jason Pierre-Paul, who might not return from his neck injury until December, so William Gholston and Beau Allen will have to play big roles on the defensive line. The Bucs also will need rookie Terry Beckner and Jeremiah Ledbetter to provide quality depth. With a new-look depth chart and a fresh approach from an overhauled coaching staff, one of two things will happen for the Buccaneers in 2019. Either new coach Bruce Arians’ methods will push quarterback Jameis Winston to new heights, and the 25-year-old passer will earn a long-term contract in Tampa Bay as a result, or the mistake-prone nature of Winston’s play will be amplified, ending his tenure with the team that drafted him first overall five years ago.While Winston’s prove-it season is the biggest storyline in Tampa Bay for 2019, it’s only one of many for a team introducing a handful of new players and some scheme changes. Arians hired Todd Bowles to be his defensive coordinator, and the former Jets head coach brings with him a new base 3-4 defense. Byron Leftwich is also on hand as a coordinator to help Arians coach an offense known to push the ball downfield and feature multiple looks. Tight endOnly two things can stop Howard and Cameron Brate from being the NFL’s best tight end duo in 2019. One is injury. (Which, to be fair, we could say for anybody, but both tight ends have a recent history of dings.) The other is Arians’ history of limited tight end usage in terms of receiving. But the coach has never been able to deploy a duo like this, leading us to believe Howard and Brate both will be big-time receiving targets for Winston.When Tampa goes double tight, which Arians likes to do, expect backup Antony Auclair to play in-line since he is the team’s best blocking tight end. That will allow Arians, who again likes to move around players for different looks, to line up Howard and/or Brate in various positions.NFL TIGHT END RANKINGS:Why Howard might be league’s best TE soonOffensive lineMarpet, the left guard, might be the best player on the team. He and center Ryan Jensen, fresh off contract extensions, return as the rocks of the offensive line. Right guard is open for competition, but the favorite to earn the starting job is Earl Watford, who played for Arians in Arizona, assuming Tampa wants him to play guard and not tackle.The extensions for Marpet and Jensen were easy decisions for the Bucs. A new deal for left tackle Donovan Smith and their picking up the option on right tackle Demar Dotson’s contract, though, were tougher calls, as neither starting tackle was graded well by PFF last season despite their durability.The depth chart for the entire line will be in flux through training camp, as the Buccaneers have a handful of players who can play in swing backup roles at both guard and tackle. Running backIf all goes as planned, there won’t be much change at this position. The Buccaneers like what Peyton Barber can give them in short-yardage situations, and they are still hoping 2018 second-round pick Ronald Jones can develop into the playmaker he was at USC. Arians, though, doesn’t seem to be banking on the latter.That’s why Tampa Bay signed Andre Ellington and Kerwynn Williams, both of whom played for Arians in Arizona, in free agency. While Williams is a solid depth player, Ellington might be relied upon often should Jones struggle, especially in the passing game. According to PFF, when Ellington was with the Cardinals from 2013-17, he had the 16th-most targets (210) among RBs in the league and the 12th-most yards per reception (9.1).Arians likes to feature multiple looks on offense. So the Buccaneers’ running backs will not only need to be more involved as receivers, but they also might be asked to line up in the slot or even out wide at times. The backs who show the best ability in that regard will get the most playing time.Wide receiverEven with Humphries and Jackson gone, you’ll have a hard time finding a better group of wide receivers at the top of an NFL depth chart, save for the Rams’ unit in Los Angeles. Evans is the established stud for the “X” position. Chris Godwin likely will record much more than the 59 catches he made last season, as he will spend more time working from the slot in addition to his outside duties. Perriman is an interesting experiment and, if he can stay healthy, a potentially perfect addition to this corps with his straight-line speed.Behind that promising trio is sixth-round pick Scotty Miller, who is built like an ideal slot receiver and will be the favorite to start from that position when Godwin lines up outside. Bobo Wilson, Justin Watson, Anthony Johnson and DaMarkus Lodge will battle for playing time and, later in the summer, spots on the roster. MORE: The NFL’s most indispensable defendersSafetyThe only sure thing for Tampa Bay in its last line of defense is Justin Evans, who returns as a solid strong safety. Either Jordan Whitehead or Kentrell Brice will be listed as the starting free safety, but expect that position to be fluid. The Buccaneers have several hybrid types in Bucannon, Stewart and rookie Mike Edwards who can play in either nickel/safety roles or linebacker/safety roles.We’ll need to see improved defensive back play from Tampa Bay before we believe it, but the team at least has some intriguing new pieces. And we trust Bowles to play to their strengths in an aggressive scheme that will benefit from more pressure generated by the front seven. LinebackerThe Buccaneers desperately needed to improve their pass rush. Bowles, who loves to bring pressure from the second and third levels, will help that cause. As will the additions of edge-rushers Shaquil Barrett in free agency and Anthony Nelson in the fourth round of the draft.Carl Nassib is projected to start opposite Barrett, but Nelson could steal some reps on the edge from either starter. Behind them, Tampa Bay needs Noah Spence to step up his pass-rushing game.The middle of the second level, though, should provide more pass-rushing help this season with the addition of White. The rookie from LSU is a freak athlete who not only will cover a ton of ground laterally and in coverage, but will also be an asset rushing the passer. He and David have the potential to form one of the NFL’s best inside linebacking duos. Backups Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon, the latter a linebacker/safety hybrid, are no slouches, either.Again, Bowles love to blitz, so expect all of these linebackers to get in on the pass-rushing action.CornerbackTampa Bay’s secondary has been overhauled out of necessity after its dreadful 2018 season. And while it might not be “totally fixed” as Arians suggests, the defensive backs do look better.The Buccaneers are set with their starting outside corners in Hargreaves and Carlton Davis. The nickel corner spot is up in the air; M.J. Stewart, who will be in more of a hybrid position this year, played a lot in that role last season, and Arians likes what he has seen from Ryan Smith. Tampa also drafted corners in Sean Bunting and Jamel Dean.Regardless of how playing time is distributed, one thing is certain: These corners will be asked to play a lot of press man coverage, a staple of Bowles’ defense. That’s a big reason why the Bucs targeted Bunting and Dean in the draft, and it’s somewhat of a specialty for Hargreaves.last_img