Tag Archives: Bucs

2016 NFC South Preview

1. Carolina Panthers – It almost seems to easy to pick the Panthers to win this division.  How can you bet against a team that’s the reigning NFC Champs and return with the reigning MVP?  Cam Newton made the leap many of us have been waiting for and was a force all on his own last year.  Cam finished the season with 45 total touchdowns and he will need to continue this dominance for the Panthers to repeat as division champs this year.  Last year Cam was without wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and it was a blessing in disguise.  Cam was able to spread the ball around and make decent players out of dumpster fires like Ted Ginn Jr.  Expect former Michigan Wolverine, Devin Funchess to take over as the number one wide-out.  Tight-end Greg Olson, when it’s all said and done, is the most consistent and reliable target. . . Jonathan Stewart was eleven yards short of a thousand and was better than expected.  To expect anything more than eight-hundred yards out of Stewart would be lofty.  Head coach Ron Rivera’s bread and butter is the defense.   The Panthers could not agree on a contract with corner-back Josh Norman so he’ll be gone and there is a definite lack of support in that secondary.  Roman Harper took his leadership and salt and pepper hair back to New Orleans but it’s the front seven that is still the most athletic and dominant in football.  Teams will still struggle to run the ball against them, as they did last year as this defense yielded less than four yards a carry.  It will be a tougher road, but this is literally a black and blue team, who can take it as well as they can dish it out.

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Prediction: 10-6

2. Atlanta Falcons – The story here is that Atlanta actually has better talent on their roster than most of the teams they play this season.  Matt Ryan wasn’t as sharp as we’re used to seeing him, but let’s just put it on learning a new system.  Ryan is a bright and dedicated player, he will only get better a year into this system.  The Falcons were able to run the ball last year with Davonta Freeman and the funny thing about that is he wasn’t even supposed to be the starter.  Tevin Coleman had beat him out as the starter but got hurt.  The running game and offensive line as a whole should get a lot better with the free agent acquisition of center Alex Mack who decided to not waste away his talents in Cleveland anymore. . .Defensively the Falcons should see some improvements.  Vic Beasley struggled during the year, but that’s mostly because the defense around him was pretty shaky.  Courtney Upshaw and Sean Witherspoon are some nice additions to the squad.  Ra’Shede Hageman was  dominant player in 2013 playing in the Big 10 conference and he needs to be more consistent with his play.  Hageman plays with a chip on his shoulder and fits the mold of a Dan Quinn defense.  The Falcons drafted Keanu Neal, the safety out of Florida, in the first round and that will turn out to be a nice pick for them as he plays behind one of the leagues best corners in Desmond Trufant.   Atlanta has the tools to become more dominant in this division than Carolina – but their time is not now.

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Prediction: 9-7

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Okay everyone, you no longer need to hold your breath.  Jameis Winston seems to have taken life at the NFL seriously and is washing away the troubled image that followed him in college (somebody tell Johnny Manziel that it is possible to shape up . . .).  Tampa decided to part ways with head coach Lovie Smith, but didn’t want to shake things up too much and they promoted offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to the position.  The Bucs must have all the faith in the world in Winston because they did little  in the off season to upgrade this offense.  Although the “little” they did was add J.R. Sweezy to an offensive line that is young and on the come up thanks to the likes of Hastings, New York product Ali Marpet who was taken in the second round of last year’s draft as a Division Three standout at guard.  Doug Martin proved that when healthy he is a top five back in the league as he finished last year with over 1400 rushing yards.  Vincent Jackson is still the veteran wide out on the team that generally goes un-noticed and forgotten in the league and if Mike Evans can stay healthy and produce, it may be Jackson’s last year in Tampa.  The Bucs drafted corner Vernon Hargreaves in the first round and he is a cover guy, always looking to force turnovers – he should show immediate impact from week one as he’s paired up with Brent Grimes in the secondary.  As long as Grimes keeps his wife off of twitter things should be okay.  Hard to have a lot of faith in the back end of that secondary when the horrible Chris Conte is there and amazingly still finds himself employed in the league.  The Bucs will have a losing record but fight until the final possession in a hand full of these games.

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Prediction: 6-10

4. New Orleans Saints – Expect a lot of 35-32 losses by this team.  They can sling it with the best of them, but they’re defense is just horrendous.  The Saints are the NFL’s version of what a Big 12 conference team is.  Sheldin Rankins, the defensive tackle out of Louisville, was a smart pick in the first round of the draft but outside of him and defensive end Cameron Jenkins, there really isn’t much to see in this front seven.  Dannell Ellerbee keeps tricking people into paying him for his “athleticism” and Nick Fairley has a good motor but zero in-game focus. Drew Brees has lost a little bit of the zip on his passes but he’ll have some nice young targets to fling the rock to.  Rookie Micheal Thomas and the game-breaker Brandin Cooks figure to be the one and two – but Willie Snead had a nice breakout season last year and gelled well with the veteran QB.   The Saints are a great team to collect guys for your fantasy football team but to see them as a contender is just a “fantasy.”

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Prediction: 5-11

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

NFC South Team Needs

New Orleans Saints: DE, LB, TE, WR

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It seems that the Saints are going to continue to milk this head coach/quarterback combo of Sean Payton and Drew Brees for at least another year but it won’t matter, because this duo is a far cry from what it once was.  While the offense does need help, it’s the 27th ranked defense that will get most of the attention.  The secondary was flamed last year, but mostly because the pass rush was pitiful.  With the number 12 draft pick in the first round this year, the Saints will probably have to choose between the likes of Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson and Clemson’s Kevin Dodd.  Robinson is the bigger of the two and has some range being able to play defensive tackle and defensive end.  Having that kind of versatility might be key for them, and if not, they can get Dodd, who is a “straight up” edge rusher.  Due to his character issues, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Ole Miss, may be available to them in the second round.  Sure, he’s a head case, but he’s also an amazing athlete, and if he can keep his head on straight, Nkemdiche can be an All-Pro in the NFL.   Keeping this focus in the first two rounds is a step in the right direction for the Saints defense.  New Orleans lost tight end Ben Watson in free agency to the Ravens, but they signed a younger tighter end in Coby Fleener.  Fleener, surprisingly didn’t max out his potential playing with his college quarterback Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and maybe a fresh start in a tight end friendly system is what he needs.  The Saints have two good, young receivers in Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks, but neither of them are “big” receivers.  The Saints can look to get some bigger, veteran wide-outs at a cheap price like Nate Washinton or a Hakeem Nicks.  The Saints needs a viable red-zone target at that position – even a late round gamble on Tennessee’s Marquez North (6’2″, 223) might be worth the risk.

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Atlanta Falcons: LB, DE, S, TE

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The Atlanta Falcons were pretty much in the middle of the pack on defense and slightly below average offensively.  Put that together and you get a collective “shrug” from NFL fans who barely noticed the Falcons all year.  Head coach Dan Quinn is a defensive minded coach who knows he has mainstays at the quarterback, wide receiver and running back spots, which may be enough for him to go big on defense in free agency and in the draft.  Many were surprised to see former Seahawk  Bruce Irvin not sign with Quinn and the Falcons but since he didn’t, this means Alabama linebacker, Reggie Ragland – could be the seventeenth pick of the draft.  Emmanuel Ogbah, defensive end of Oklahoma State, could slide into Atlanta’s favor as well, but Ogbah might need time to develop where Ragland is more good to go, now.   If the Falcons get lucky they can use their second round pick on Ohio State safety Vonn Bell, who plays well against the run and good-enough in the secondary.  Free agent safties James Ihedigbo and Bacarri Rambo just sound like less than stellar signings were used to the Falcons making, but let’s just hope this is a new regime/new method under Dan Quinn. . . The Falcons have had a void in that tight end position since the retirement of Tony Gonzalez and with what’s left in free agency and late round picks – it looks like it might be another year to struggle at that spot.  Western Kentucky tight end Tyler Higbee might be a sneaky fifth round selection for Altanta – Higbee had 563 yards and 8 touchdowns for the Hilltoppers last season and offers some nice size at 6’6″, 250 pounds.
Carolina Panthers:  WR, RB,

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If Cam Newton is truly Super-Man, than the Super Bowl proved that Super-Man needs a Justice League.  Sure the Panthers defense was tremendous this season, but the offense went as far as Cam Newton could carry them.  Enough is enough already – give the league’s MVP some help out there!   The Panthers had the built in excuse at the start of last season that their number one wide out – sophomore receiver Kelvin Benjamin – was out due to injury.  Be cautious of Benjamin though.  It seemed that by the second half of his rookie season, defenses in the league started making life difficult for him.  The problem is, the Panthers have the next to last pick in the first round and might miss out on the stud receivers in this draft.  If the football gods favor the Panthers, TCU’s Josh Doctson will be there, but with the Vikings, Steelers and Packers all drafting before the Panthers, it’s highly doubtful.  In truth, they may find some value in signing veteran wide outs like Marques Colston or Anquan Boldin – even if just on one year deals.  A nice sleeper pick for the Panthers could be the wide receiver out of UMass, Tajae Sharpe.  Sharpe provides nice size at 6’2″, 194 – but more importantly has impressed scouts with his route running and his good hands (aren’t we all tired of Tedd Ginn getting wide open and dropping perfectly placed passes from Cam Newton?).   Jonathan Stewart had a nice season, but to expect that kind of production from him again is almost insane.  There are more than enough free agent veteran backs that can fit into the mix – Tim Hightower, Ronnie Hillman and LeGarrette Blount to name a few.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB, DE, WR, OT

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Dirk Koetter (who?) has taken the place of former head coach Lovie Smith to lead a team that, for the most part doesn’t look terrible on paper but on the field – different story.   With the ninth pick in the first round of the draft, the Bucs have a good shot at fulfilling any of their team needs immediately.  Florida’s cornerback Vernon Hargreaves is the  popular “can’t miss” prospect and it would help shore up a secondary that desperately needs it.  Yes, it’s understood that Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes are there. . . it’s understood so much in fact that drafting Hargreaves at this spot is a must if he is available.  They might want to address this position again later in the draft by taking Oklahoma’s Zack Sanchez or Mississippi State’s Will Redmond.  Aside from the corner spot, the defensive end needs an upgrade as well.  Acquiring Robert Ayers in free agency was a nice move and it also might have included a little bit of brain washing on the part of the Bucs. . . Corey Wooten has been on Chicago and Detroit and has been pretty average at best, but he might serve well as a rotational piece if just for his size and athletic combination.  Quarterback Jameis Winston is going to need more around him and they should just toss a veteran receiver and a few late round picks for him to work with.  Former Green Bay Packer James Jones might be worth a look.  After being cut by the Giants last season, he was instantly signed by the Packers and had a surprisingly productive season.   Stamford wide receiver Devon Cajuste, can be a nice fifth or sixth round pick for Tampa.  He adds more size to this receiving core at 6’3″, 233 and is a smart route running wide out.  Even a late round pick in Baylor’s Jay Lee might be a nice investment.  Remember this is a receiving core that will have wide out Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to grow with, it could work out nice for the Bucs.

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2015 Preview

Last year there was a lot of hype around the Buccaneers.  That hype was quickly killed.   This year the hype is back – but expectations are realistic.  The hype is more about the “future” and less about the “now” which is exactly where it should be after a 2-14 season.

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The “future” lies in the hands of the number one over-all pick in this year’s draft: Jameis Winston.  Winston came into the league with character issues upon character issues, but the Florida State quarterback has been none-the-less been handed the reigns of the Buccaneers franchise.  He has innate leadership abilities on the field and is a polished enough passer at this early stage, to have the confidence of the coaching staff.  Pairing up Winston with head coach Lovie Smith, should benefit for Winston early.  Smith is a tough-old-school coach, who believes in players on his rosters.  Smith will do everything in his ability to not put a lot of stress on the young quarterback, although Winston seemed to look his best in pressure situations while in Florida State.  The scariest thing about Winston becoming a pro, has nothing to do with his character though – it has more to do with the last two Florida State quarterbacks who were taking in the first-round: Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel.  Yuck.

Behind Winston is an unsteady group at running back.  Doug Martin is looking more and more like a one year wonder and Charles Sims appears to be a guy who is more of a receiving back than a bell-cow.   It seems that the Bucs only go to Bobby Rainey when there is no where else to go which makes no sense.  Rainey isn’t a world-beater but he’s the best they have at the position.

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The lack of success in the running game can’t be all attributed to the ball carriers though.   This offensive line was atrocious last season and it seemed that they made a steal in an early trade last season with New England when they acquired guard Logan Mankins, but it was obvious New England gave them damaged goods.  The Bucs are depending on two rookies to start right away.  Penn State tackle Donovan Smith is a strong lineman who played in a “black and blue” style, but he will have growing pains in trying to protect Winston’s blind side as a rookie.  Ali Marpet was drafted out of division three in college and played at Hobart University.  Marpet is a product out of Hastings, New York who is being cheered on throughout the nation as the kid from the small school to make the NFL leap.  Marpet was a beast in Division III football, but the level of competition he faced was below average.  A good Senior Bowl and combine showing, gave his supporters some confidence.  He will get his chance early.

The Bucs were happy with their 2014 first-round pick, Mike Evans.  Evans became the team’s number-one wide out surpassing 1000 yards and accumulating 12 touchdowns in his rookie season.  There was talk the Bucs might cut ties with wide receiver Vincent Jackson, but the veteran (who pulled in 1000 yard season as well) is still here and it’s a good thing.  Jackson has been underrated his whole career and he is actually a perfect compliment to Evans.  Jackson isn’t afraid of contact and is actually a strong outside blocker as well – Evans can still learn from the veteran.

On the defensive line, Gerald McCoy continues to be a handful against anybody and this year he is joined on the line by Henry Melton who is still young enough to believe that he can resurrect his career hear and get back into Pro Bowl form.   The Bucs signed defensive end George Johnson, who may have looked better than he actually was in Detroit, while playing with a great defensive line.   Clinton McDonald was acquired from Seattle and pretty much, anybody from that Seattle squad is considered a positive get for any defensive unit.

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The Bucs figured they’d better extend the contract of linebacker Lavonte David before it’s too late, and that’s just what they did on August 10th.  David signed for $50.25 million in his extension and the Bucs.  Last year David totaled 146 combined tackles.  Bruce Carter is a Tampa 2 style middle line backer who was signed less for his tackling abilities but more for his zone coverage skills.

The secondary may still be an issue in Tampa as Alterraun Verner is still they’re number one and although is far from washed up, he was not the player they thought they were getting in free agency last year.  Johnathan Banks is okay, but at times gets too over confident and jumps routes often.  Lovie Smith’s loyalty to former players may be his undoing at the safety spot with former Chicago Bears Major Wright and Chris Conte.

Predicted Record: 6-10

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Gerald McCoy, Mike Evans, Bobby Rainey

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

 

Cam and Carolina: It’s Complicated

When the Carolina Panthers announced last week that they signed Cam Newton to a five year, $103 million extension ($60 million guaranteed) the predictable question came up of : “Is he worth it?”

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Cam Newton is an odd individual to really assess.  Cam is a legit duel threat back so when looking at his passing stats, one has to also look at his rushing stats.  With that being said, in his four years as a starter he has accounted for 115 touchdowns and 66 turnovers.  Last season his completion rating and completion percentage drop a few digits from his previous year and at times still looked like a rookie trying to figure out pro defenses.   But maybe those times when he was trying to “figure things out” – it was really him waiting on someone to give him an option downfield.

While most of the world was in awe of rookie wideout Kelvin Benjamin last year, film would show more times than not, a rookie wide receiver who did not run his routes out at 100% each time and when he did run his route with a play still going on, he would more likely just stand around instead of looking for a soft spot in the defenses zone.  Jerricho Cotchery is a decent piece but nothing that will make opposing defenses worry about and this makes double covering tight end Greg  Olsen, a norm in defensive practices throughout the NFL.

The Panthers said this year they would go and get him weapons.  Their idea of “weapons” were giving the Panthers fans the reunion nobody asked for by giving Cam one of his former targets back, Tedd Ginn.  The also went out and signed 2012 draft bust Stephen Hill, who was so bad that the Jets didn’t even want him.   In this year’s draft the Panthers supplied Cam with Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess who is another big wide out ( “6’4” 230 lbs) but in a lot of ways may turn out to be more Stephen Hill than Kelvin Benjamin.  Funchess has the physical gifts to do something but is lazier than Benjamin and will have to work on technique a lot more (tends to “push off” defenders).

The running game has been a mess since the Panthers thought it was 1978 and they could just over pay three running backs to ground and pound their way to the NFL’s promised land.  Rookie Cameron Artis Payne is the favorite to win the job and he is to run behind one of the sorriest offensive lines in football.

So why give Cam this extension if the Panthers seemingly can’t get offense right?  Because he’s the only reason why this offense is being kept afloat.  Even if barely.

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This is a franchise that seemingly has head coach Ron Rivera on the hot seat after the month of September and somehow, someway – Ron Ron pulls a rabbit out of a hat and keeps his job.  If there was ever a time to break the bank it is now for the Panthers.   The Saints are a shell of themselves, the Bucs look decent on paper but never live up to anything and the Falcons have somehow found a way to play “negative defense” in the NFL.

Signing Cam Newton is smart, but the way NFL franchises go about giving money at quarterbacks is idiotic.  Now they put a huge price-tag on a quarterback who played most of last year beat up due to poor protection in front of him and a lame running game behind him.  While people are asking “Is he worth it?,” Cam Newton should be asking himself “Why would I want to be here?”

It wasn’t too long ago that this franchise was questioning the potential of Newton in terms of being a “franchise quarterback.”  This was an instance of them knowing he would get signed in a second if he was to hit the market for the same or even more money.  If Cam is lucky, maybe an organization that knows a thing or two about putting together an offense will make a call and pay the king’s ransom for him.

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There is another reason why the Panthers front office decided to keep Cam Newton.   He will get the blame for all of the front office failures.  Let’s face it, Cam Newton has made it easy for the media to come down on him.  Sometimes, it’s fabricated nonsensical stories about maturity and other times it’s his general demeanor that rubs people the wrong way : When things are good he’s a cocky showboat who can’t stop smiling / When things are bad, he pouts alone on the bench with a towel over his head.  The general public has been luke-warm at best with Cam.   If the Panthers fail this season, even with a bad offensive line and offensive talent around him – it is Cam who will surely take the blame.  All fingers will be pointing at number 1.  Wrongly, at that.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio