Ladies and gentlemen, Buccaneers fans of all ages, and especially those among you who are already drawing up draft charts and downloading fantasy football apps to you smart phones, we are pleased to announce that "Buccaneers Fantasy Corner" is back.
We have less than three short weeks until the official kickoff of the 2013 preseason and fantasy football drafting season follows right behind. So prepare yourself for training camp, brace yourself for an influx of draft rankings, strategies and "Who's Hot, Who's Not" articles, and get ready for what could well be the most exciting fantasy year ever for, specifically, your Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As always, the approaching fantasy football year comes with a load of questions on a number of different topics for your favorite players. To start things off on the Fantasy Corner, let's take a look at some of the most pressing of those questions surrounding the Bucs this season.
In 2012, we saw RB Doug Martin burst onto the scene and draw some much deserved attention to the Bay. We watched first-year Buccaneer WR Vincent Jackson and incumbent pass-catcher Mike Williams eclipse 2,300 combine receiving yards. QB Josh Freeman put himself on the Buccaneer record books with the most career touchdown passes and as the only Buccaneer in history to break the 4,000-yard barrier in a single season. As for 2013, don't even get us started on a defense that sports a dramatically overhauled secondary.
So, let's dive into the questions that this group will be facing this season. How are the Buccaneers going to fare on the fantasy front in 2013? And, perhaps more importantly, how are they going to help you on your way to drafting a team that will secure you another fantasy football trophy by New Year's.
1. Can Doug Martin really do it again?
1,454 rushing yards – fifth most in the NFL. Eleven rushing touchdowns – fifth most in the NFL. 1,926 yards from scrimmage – third most in the NFL. In the majority of formats, he was the second-highest scoring running back in fantasy football, behind only Adrian Peterson.
Take a look at any fantasy draft board, and you are guaranteed to find him in the top five. In fact, based on average draft position (ADP) this season, he is generally going in the top three, which is a statistic that gets surprisingly little fanfare.
As a top-five fantasy draft pick, Doug Martin will be the first Buccaneer player to ever have an ADP in the top-10, according to the stat-keepers at myfantasyleague.com. The highest averaged drafted Buc going back to the turn of the millennium was Mr. Cadillac Williams in 2006 with an ADP of 11th.
What does this mean? A few things actually. 1) Doug Martin is really good. 2) Nobody seems to be banking on a sophomore slump for Doug Martin. 3) Doug Martin is expected to have the greatest fantasy football year in Buccaneer history.
And it can be done. The obvious point would be the return of Pro Bowl offensive linemen Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph. For the majority of the 2012 season, Martin was without his two big men paving the way. On top of that, defenses must respect the passing prowess of the offense to not get burned through the air by one of the most explosive passing teams in the NFL.
The naysayer will quickly point out that Martin will be more of a target for opposing defenses this season. Opponents know what he is capable of and will take the extra effort to contain him. That is valid…but was that not being done last season, especially in the second half? Martin had his rookie breakout early, putting up 214 total yards and two scores against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7. One week later, he had the highest-scoring fantasy game of any player in the NFL in 2012 with his 272-yard, four-TD performance in Week 8. I think it is safe to assume that he was on teams' radars after that. And still in the eight remaining weeks, he managed 110.8 yards per game with 4 touchdowns. So, with defenses keying in on him, he still managed more than 14 fantasy points per game. I like his odds to stay strong despite the added pressure.
When all is said and done, we have Doug Martin as the third player to go off the board in fantasy football drafts this year. We respect the consistency of Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster, who we see going 1 and 2. But Martin edges out Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles for us in standard leagues, and is a must to go as the third running back in points per reception (PPR) formats, where he really gets an edge. All of which is to say, if I have the number-three pick in any league this year, I will be a happy camper all season long with Doug Martin in my starting lineup.
2. Will the Buccaneer passing game continue to see good numbers?
The quarterback class of 2012 was very, very deep, and 2013 will be no different. I expect Josh Freeman to come off a few draft boards, but likely not as a fantasy football starter at the beginning of the season.
Freeman ended 2012 with the 13th-most fantasy points for NFL quarterbacks, topping the likes of Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger and Jay Cutler. However, based on ADP, he is currently expected to be the 21st quarterback taken, behind all five aforementioned starters. This doesn't particularly mean a bad season is expected for last season's ninth-highest yardage passer, but it does mean that you can get yourself one heck of a backup sleeper for no cost at all.
Freeman, like Martin, will benefit from the health of his offensive line. In addition, the attention paid to his star running back should open up a few more looks for him. While the tight end and number-three wide receiver behind Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams remain a question mark, Freeman did well without an overwhelming presence from those positions last season.
It is also a good possibility that with another year under his belt and his second straight season with the same offensive coordinator, Mike Sullivan, Freeman should look to sustain his yardage and touchdown numbers and potentially cut down on his interceptions. Why, you ask? The restructured secondary.
With the addition of Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis on the back end of the defense, it seems very unlikely that Tampa Bay will repeat as the 32nd-ranked pass defense. Without the pressure of playing from behind quite as often, a lot of weight is lifted off the shoulders of Freeman, allowing him to make better decisions and take fewer chances. Of course, that also could mean fewer passes overall, which might bring down the overall counting numbers.
Will Freeman step up to be one of the top two or three elite fantasy football passers in the league? It seems unlikely based on the competition. But can he sneak into the top 10 quarterbacks in all of fantasy football this year? That is a far more probable scenario.
As for the two fantasy-worthy Buccaneers receivers, there are far fewer questions floating around.
Vincent Jackson makes the leap to a top-10 drafted receiver. His ADP currently sits around 35, making him available in the fourth round for most. He comes into the season having scored the sixth-most fantasy points at WR last season with 1,384 yards and eight trips to the end zone.
Mike Williams was four yards shy of breaking 1,000 yards last season, and he led the team in receiving touchdowns with nine. And despite finishing the season with the 18th most fantasy points of all receivers, he is again regarded as a big-time sleeper candidate with an ADP of 100, the 37th receiver drafted.
Last season, this trio surprised a lot of people with their big-play ability, ending the season with 36 passing plays of 25 or more yards, fourth most in the league. There are no indications of any of this slowing down, in fact, it would make sense to see the group improve with this being their second season together. Your 2013 draft is a prime time to take advantage of the sleeper status of these Buccaneer players and pad your lineup with proven statistics for a very low cost.
3. How does the new-look secondary affect Buccaneers IDP?
As fantasy football grows, so do that massive number of opportunities in the type of league you play. Standard fantasy football adds a dimension when you throw in points per reception, changing the game. Even drafts give you the option of your regular serpentine format or the exciting alternate of holding an auction. Another way to spice up your league is the addition of individual defensive players, or IDP.
Rather than drafting a team defense, you draft a specific player at the DB, LB and DL positions. And with two massive offseason pickups for the Buccaneers, what better position to focus on than the DB IDP slot?
There are really five standout options for the Buccaneers here, and all of them can actually be great plays at the DB position. Darrelle Revis is notorious for quarterbacks simply choosing not to throw in his direction, but when they do, he is a sure bet for a solid tackle and a great number of interceptions, both stat-builders in IDP formats. Because of his shutdown skills, more balls will be thrown toward CBs Eric Wright and rookie Johnthan Banks, who are thus both immense sleepers in the DB IDP category. More throws their way leads to more tackles, passes defended and interception opportunities.
Rounding out the backfield is the duo that many are excited to see perform together, the safety tandem of Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron. Both exhibit great ball skills, and that combined with their tackling prowess makes them solid plays in both the run and pass defensive game, which translates to IDP gold.
My winner of the five, and the best candidate to finish among the top of the NFL in fantasy points would be Mark Barron. Last year, Barron ended the season with 72 tackles and 17 assisted tackles, which was good enough to land him in the top 20 scoring safeties. This year, expect his number to take a leap.
With two new Pro Bowlers roaming the backfield, Barron will be able to step up and play the run far more than he did last season, and because of this, it would not be a surprise to see his total tackle number eclipse 100, which could put him in the top 10 at his position in fantasy points.
And, in the case that your IDP league is deep enough, pay close attention to the preseason and training camp to see who emerges as the starting second cornerback. With Revis Island forcing a quarterback's hand, whoever wins that position battle could be in good position to be a high-flying sleeper at cornerback.