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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

4 Buc Records That Could Fall in 2015

Few would have predicted that Mike Evans would break Tampa Bay's standard for touchdown catches in his first NFL season, but every year there are some records that are primed to fall.

Photos of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston at Buccaneers OTAs.

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Last year, wide receiver Mike Evans hauled in 12 touchdown passes, setting a new Tampa Bay Buccaneers single-season record, not only for rookies but for all players. This season, with a potentially much-improved offense around him, Evans could set his sight on the team's long-standing record for receiving yards. Mark Carrier set the bar at 1,422 yards more than a quarter-century ago, in 1989.

I'm not quite bold enough to make that prediction, given that Evans would have to increase his output from Year One to Year Two by an aggressive 35% to surpass Carrier's mark, and that only five players in the entire NFL topped 1,400 yards last year. It's possible, of course, but there are other marks in the Buccaneers' record book that appear to be in far more jeopardy in 2015 than Carrier's claim to fame. Here are four Buc records that could definitely fall this fall.

1. 2,068: Passing Yards, Single Season, Rookie

We may have a good idea that this record is going to go down on opening day of the regular season, and if it does it will have only had a two-year run.

Mike Glennon set that mark in 2013 while starting 13 of the Bucs' 16 games. It was an impressive achievement, but they was simply being on the field long enough to put up those numbers. Those 13 starts were the most ever for a Buccaneer rookie quarterback. Doug Williams started nine in 1978, held back by injuries. Vinny Testaverde started just four times in 1987. Trent Dilfer just twice in 1994. Josh Freeman started nine games in 2009 and recorded 1,855 passing yards, which was the team record for a rookie until Glennon came along.

If Jameis Winston does indeed win the Bucs' job right from the jump, he would be the first rookie quarterback to start the team's season opener since Williams. And if he stayed in the lineup for 16 games, he would be the first rookie passer to do that in Tampa. That's probably all it would take for Winston to take down Glennon's record. Simply averaging 129 passing yards per game would get it done, and the Buccaneers surely expect quite a bit more than that out of the first-overall draft pick.
2. 216: Receiving Yards, Single Game

Predicting the achievement of a single-game record is a lot riskier than predicting a full-season record. As with the possibility discussed above, the pursuit of full-season records can survive an out-of-character performance here or there. We can reasonably assume that Winston will average 130 passing yards a game because he'll have some 300-yard outings to balance any duds.

No matter how good a player is, however, he's not going to hit 200 yards in rushing or receiving very often. Adrian Peterson, for all of his consistent excellence, has only done it five times. Vincent Jackson has just one 200-yard receiving game in his very successful career. So why do I think this record – which happens to be that one VJax outing I just mentioned – could be in danger, specifically, in 2015?

Two reasons: Proven talent and changes in the game.

The Buccaneers have four 200-yard receiving games in their four-decade history, and three of them have occurred during the last seven seasons. Carrier had the first one, a 212-yard performance, as a rookie in 1987. Antonio Bryant hit 200 on the nose at Carolina in 2008. Jackson's 216-yard game came against the Saints in 2012, and Mike Evans nearly caught him with 209 at Washington last year.

Bryant is out of the game but Jackson and Evans return as the twin centerpieces of the Bucs' passing game, and passing becomes more and more important every year. When Carrier topped 200 in 1987 that was one of only three 200-yard games in the entire league that season. Evans' big game at Washington was one of eight 200-yard games in 2014. There were seven such performances in 2013, including one 300-yard game.

Last year, NFL teams combined to produce 503.5 passing yards per game. That was only the second time the league average surpassed 500 yards, after a record 504.6 in 2013. In 1987, it was 447.1. There are simply more passing yards to go around. The Buccaneers didn't exactly share in that windfall last  year, ranking 23rd in the NFL in gross passing yards, but that could change in 2014. If Jameis Winston gets the starting job and provides a spark for the aerial attack, there could be some prolific afternoons for the Bucs' offense in 2014. Given that both Jackson and Evans have already proved capable of putting up 200, there's no reason to believe they can't do it again. And once you pass 200, it's just a quick slant from there to 217.

3. 5,456: Most Yards Total Offense, Team, Single Season

The theory here is simple: The bar just isn't set very high.

The Buccaneers put up a franchise-best 5,456 yards of offense in 2008, which wasn't even a playoff season (thanks to four straight December losses). The offensive cast wasn't exactly star-studded, with Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese splitting starts under center and Warrick Dunn, in his last season, leading the team with 786 rushing yards. Antonio Bryant was the surprise star, though he would never again recapture his 1,200-yard form from that season. The only Pro Bowler on that offense was guard Davin Joseph.

Three of the top four single-season yardage totals in franchise history have occurred since 2010, which says more about the way the game of football has evolved than any offensive surge by the team. Indeed, while there have been several lofty peaks for the defense over the last four decades, the offense has only ranked among the NFL's top 10 once, in 2012.

Doesn't that have to change at some point? With the right cast, the first truly elite offense in franchise history will eventually emerge. Maybe that cast is taking shape right now, with the team believing it has found its franchise quarterback in Jameis Winston.

Really, it wouldn't take much. The Bucs don't have to turn into the 2013 Broncos in order to put up their best yardage total ever. Last year, in a dismal season for the offense, the team fell just under 5,000 yards. Twenty-two of the 32 teams had more than 5,400 yards last year. Because league rules have gradually changed to favor offense more and more, it would really take only an average attack for the Buccaneers to break their own record.
4. 17.6: Opponent Kickoff Return Average, Team, Single Season

The Buccaneers have been sneakily good in this category for a while now…not good enough to beat the record they set in 1999 when Shelton Quarles, Don Davis and Jeff Gooch were tackling every return man in sight, but in the vicinity.

Last year, the Bucs were just okay in stopping opposing kickoff returners, giving up 23.5 yards per runback. The season before, that average was 18.8, which was the second-best mark in the league. Tampa Bay was among the league leaders in that statistic in 2009, 2010 and 2011, as well.

Now, it's a fair point that the roster has changed over the course of those seasons, and that there is a new Special Teams Coordinator in town in Kevin O'Dea. But O'Dea is an experienced tutor in the kick-and-return game and a meticulously-prepared coach. He's got some aces on special teams as well in Russell Shepard, Jason Williams, Leonard Johnson and a couple others. If some of the newcomers – maybe Kwon Alexander or Larry Dean – contribute good things in that phase of the game, the coverage unit could once again be very strong. And we know that Lovie Smith puts a significant emphasis on special teams.

Last year, the Chicago Bears led the NFL with an opponent kickoff return average of 17.5 yards. There's no reason the Buccaneers can't do the same, with a little luck, in 2015.

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