Many fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also enjoy the world of fantasy football. Where the two intersect is a territory that can be particularly entertaining for Buccaneer rooters. Later this week, we'll look at the Buccaneers-Panthers season opener and what specific matchups you may be able to exploit. However, there are still some fantasy leagues who have waited until the early days of September to hold their drafts, thus taking into account all the evidence (and injuries) the preseason had to offer.
For those on the verge of their last-minute fantasy drafts, here are a few observations from the last month that could help if you're hoping to get a little Buccaneer flavor on your team:
1. When to Make Your Move
The Buccaneers who will get the most attention in your fantasy draft are quarterback Josh Freeman, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running backs Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount. By holding your draft late, you can get a pretty solid idea where the fantasy world, collectively, has chosen to move on these players.
The biggest value may be Freeman, who at the beginning of the 2011 season was widely seen as a QB about to crack the top 10 in fantasy value. Obviously, the Buccaneers' struggles of that season have moved him down the list for fantasy drafters, but that may make him a pretty serious bargain. Consider that Freeman threw 25 touchdown passes against six interceptions in 2010, and that was before Jackson came to town. Anyway, in Yahoo leagues, Freeman is going at an average draft pick of 126.2, below the likes of Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith, Russell Wilson and, ahem, Tim Tebow. In the NFL's fantasy system, he's at 129.5; in the ESPN game, it's 119.5. In a 10-team league, that's around the 13th round; in a 12-team league, it's midway through the 10th round. If you've already nabbed an elite quarterback early, Freeman offers potentially great value as your alternate. Just don't pair him with Matt Stafford, as the Bucs and Lions have the same bye week (#5).
As for Freemans' top target, Jackson is going at the average positions of 59.0, 63.1 and 54.8 in the Yahoo, NFL and ESPN systems, respectively. Average that to about the 59th pick, and you'll see you need to grab him in the sixth round of a 10-team league and the fifth round of a 12-team league. In the ESPN game, where he is valued the highest among the collected G.M.'s, Jackson is slotted right between New England's Brandon Lloyd and Minnesota's Percy Harvin.
Martin is going before Blount in all three systems, which is unsurprising given that the rookie has been anointed as the Bucs' starter. As with quite a few backfields around the league, the presence of two quality backs tends to hurt the fantasy status of both, though that's hardly the concern of their actual teams.
Interestingly, in contrast to the first two positions, the ESPN crowd is significantly less sold on Martin than the Yahoo and NFL drafters. The Yahoo G.M.'s like the Boise State rookie the most, taking him at an average pick of 50.9, while NFL crew has him at the average spot of 56.2. For ESPN drafters, the average is, weirdly, 65.8. If you agree with the Yahoo G.M.s, you're going to have to take Martin at the end of the fifth or the top of the sixth round in a 10-team league, and bump that up by a round in a 10-team league. You can get Blount much cheaper, at average picks of 123.5, 139.8 and 133.3 on Yahoo, NFL and ESPN, respectively. Again, it's the Yahoo group that seems to like the Bucs' backfield the most.
By the way, while it's apropos of nothing above and won't likely affect your draft much, here's a random pop quiz: Using Yahoo's average draft positions, which NFL team is the first to have a QB, WR and RB drafted this year?
The answer is Philadelphia, with the trio of LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and Michael Vick, in that order.
2. An IDP Sleeper?
Leagues that use individual defensive players (IDPs) rather than team defenses are still very much in the majority, but they have gained some in popularity as fantasy players look for ever more intricate ways to play the game.
If you play in an IDP league, you likely draft a handful of defensive players for specific positions (CB, LB, etc.) just as you would on the offensive side of the ball. Those players then accumulate points for achievements such as tackles, sacks, interceptions, passes defensed, fumble recoveries, touchdowns, and so on. Linebackers who pile up tackles on a consistent basis are very popular because this is the defensive stat most likely to be there every week. Pass-rushers who have a proven track record of getting sacks every year – think DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen – are also coveted. Defensive backs are trickier because interception totals are notoriously fickle; Buccaneer great Ronde Barber once had the following three-season run of interception totals: 2, 10, 2. Thus, safeties are usually valued higher than corners because they are more likely to get consistent tackles.
A fantasy player who stumbles upon an IDP who can help them in multiple categories can really hit the jackpot. Think Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, who in three NFL seasons already has 29.5 sacks, four interceptions, six forced fumbles and 20 passes defensed.
So if you're looking for a sleeper IDP, a player who should at least get you a good number of tackles and might show up in the big-play categories, how about Tampa Bay's rookie linebacker, Lavonte David.
David plays the weakside linebacker position that an active player – such as Derrick Brooks in the prime of the Bucs' defensive dominance – can use to rack up the tackles, making plays sideline to sideline. David is also considered an excellent cover linebacker, and he secured an interception during the preseason. While he didn't have a sack this August, he did have one very memorable pass-rush against New England's Tom Brady where he did deliver a hit that disrupted the throw.
Obviously, you won't have to spend a high pick, even by IDP standards, on David, or most rookies. But he could return very good value for a very low selection.
3. September Matchup Opportunities
If you end up with a Buccaneer or two on your squad but don't necessarily intend to start them every single week, here are some quick tips for the first month:
- The New York Giants gave up 28 touchdown passes the last year, the seventh most by any team in the NFL. Actually, it was tied for seventh most, because the Carolina Panthers also gave up 28 aerial scores. The Bucs play Carolina in Week One and the Giants in Week Two, so it might be a good opportunity for the Freeman-Jackson pairing to get off to a productive start.
- Carolina also gave up 4.6 yards per carry to opposing runners last year, eighth worst in the league. However, keep in mind that the Panthers have seriously reworked their linebacking crew, with rookie Luke Kuechly coming aboard and veterans Jon Beason and Thomas Davis returning from injuries that cost them most of last year. Actually, Freeman may be an interesting play all during the first month of the season. If you rank the NFL's 32 teams by the passer rating they allowed opposing quarterbacks last year, all four of the Bucs' September opponents are in the bottom 12.