A look at the Buccaneers' complete rookie class.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2014 and 2015 draft classes made an immediate impact on the field, generating such productive starters as Mike Evans, Jameis Winston, Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet and Kwon Alexander. Those players even made an impact on the team's record book, including Evans' 12 touchdown catches in 2014 and Winston's 4,042 passing yards last fall. Both were the most ever for a Tampa Bay rookie.
The Buccaneers are hoping good things come in threes in regards to their recent drafts, expecting big contributions in 2016 from such rookies as cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, defensive end Noah Spence and kicker Roberto Aguayo. If things go well enough, those young players could put their names besides those of Evans and Winston on the Bucs' records pages.
How likely are those three, or any of Tampa Bay's other young newcomers, to break rookie standards in 2016. Let's take a look at the records these players would be chasing in their respective stat categories; we'll gauge their chances as either "High," "Medium" or "Low."
Bucs Rookie Record: 5 by Donnie Abraham in 1996 and David Greenwood in 1985
Record Chaser(s): Vernon Hargreaves, Ryan Smith
Hargreaves has a more obvious path to a starting job in the Bucs' defense than Smith, who is in the process of converting from cornerback to safety. In addition, cornerbacks have tended to put up better interception numbers than safeties for the Buccaneers; over the last 20 years, a cornerback has led or tied for the team lead in that category 15 times, while a safety has only done so four times, and one of those was converted cornerback Ronde Barber in his last year.
Thus, we're splitting this grade, giving Hargreaves a medium chance but believing Smith's chances are lower. For Hargreaves, the good news is that the bar isn't set too high. David Greenwood, a one-year wonder acquired via trade after he had spent three years in the USFL, set the mark at five in 1985. It hasn't been topped since, although Donnie Abraham matched it in 1996, starting a run in which he hit or exceeded that mark in five of six campaigns.
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Hargreaves had at least three interceptions in each of his three seasons at Florida and certainly has the reputation of a ballhawk. He'll get every opportunity to earn a starting job, probably opposite Brent Grimes. Given that Grimes has been one of the league's leading interceptors over the past three seasons combined, it wouldn't be surprising to see opposing quarterbacks try to exploit the rookie on the other side of the field. That would give Hargreaves plenty of opportunities to make plays on the ball.
Ultimately, this may come down to the next player on this list and his fellow pass-rushers. The Buccaneers' secondary tallied just six interceptions last year (linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander combined for five more), and that was partly due to an underwhelming pass rush. With several players added to the defensive front, the Buccaneers hope to pressure more passers into errant throws in 2016.
It's worth noting that a rookie cornerback tied for the league lead in picks last year, with Kansas City's Marcus Peters matching the eight secured by former Bengals safety Reggie Nelson. Big INT totals for NFL newcomers aren't that unusual; 29 different rookies have recorded at least five interceptions in a season over the last 20 years. Twenty of those 29 were cornerbacks.
Bucs Rookie Record: 10 by Santana Dotson in 1992
Record Chaser(s): Noah Spence
This is not an indictment of Spence, who figures to play a lot and may challenge for the team's sack lead. It's simply an acknowledgement that the bar is set pretty high here. When Santana Dotson set the team record at 10 sacks in 1992, he was just the 12th NFL rookie to hit double digits. The list has grown since, but it still just numbers just 31 players in the 34 years since the sack became an official statistic.
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As a fifth-round pick and a defensive tackle, Dotson came out of nowhere to claim the Bucs' record, and though he would continue on to have a very good NFL career in Tampa and Green Bay, he would never surpass six sacks in a season again. In 1992, he racked up six of his 10 sacks in his first four NFL games, which was remarkable but proved unsustainable.
Spence has been described by many as the "best pure pass-rusher" available in this year's draft, and that's exactly what the Buccaneers are going to ask him to do. They are likely to move him around the front, occasionally standing up, in an effort to create rush lanes for him. If the Bucs' 2016 offseason additions of Spence and former Giant Robert Ayers work out, opponents will be forced to hit Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy with fewer double teams, giving him a chance to get over the 10-sack hump he has gotten so close to for three years running. It's McCoy who is the best bet to crack 10 for the Buccaneers this year, and predicting two double-digit sack artists in the same season when the Bucs haven't had a single one since 2005 would be a little aggressive.
Category: Points Scored
Bucs Rookie Record: 106 by Martin Gramatica in 1999
Record Chaser(s): Roberto Aguayo
Essentially, this is a bet on the Buccaneers' offense, which showed a lot of promise in 2015, being even better in Winston's second year. In particular, it's a guess that the team will get better in the red zone and cut down on penalties and turnovers, which will help it better convert yards into points. Tampa Bay ranked fifth in the NFL total net yards of offense last year but just 20th in points scored.
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Between Kyle Brindza and Connor Barth, Buccaneer kickers attempted 40 field goals last year, making 72.5% of them to rank 30th in the NFL. The Bucs thought enough of Aguayo to draft him late in the second round of the 2016 draft, so they're obviously expecting a better success rate. If Aguayo were to make 85% of his tries, which was roughly the NFL team mean last year, that would translate into 34 field goals in the same number of attempts as last year. That alone would give him 102 points, before any extra points were even factored in.
Of course, if the Buccaneers' offense is better at scoring in 2016, that will mean more touchdowns and, potentially, fewer field goals. When the Buccaneers scored a team-record 389 points in 2012, it came on 44 touchdowns and 33 field goals. That led to 123 points that season for kicker Connor Barth, who made 28 of his 33 three-point tries and all 39 of his extra point attempts. That's a reasonable goal for Aguayo, and even if he falls 13% short of it he'll still finish with a rookie record 107 points. When Gramatica set the standard in 1999, he played on a defense-driven team that ranked just 27th in the NFL in scoring. The 2016 offense is likely to be significantly better than that.
Bucs Rookie Record:80 by Michael Clayton in 2004 **Record Chaser(s):Dan Vitale Chances: Low
Had we given ourselves a wider range of options for describing the players' odds of hitting these records, we would have chosen something below "low." Dan Vitale could be an extremely interesting part of the Buccaneers' offense in 2016, but there's almost no way he gets to 80 receptions. There are simply too many other mouths for Winston to feed.
Assuming he meets the Bucs' expectations, the sixth-round pick out of Northwestern will play a versatile role akin to an H-back, sometimes providing lead-blocking, sometimes lining up in a tight end spot and sometimes going out into the slot. He isn't likely to log many (if any) carries, but he should have some passes thrown his way. Just not nearly enough for this discussion. Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Charles Sims, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and whoever wins the battle for the slot-receiver job would all be expected to get more targets. In addition, Clayton set this bar really high, with what was then the fifth-highest catch total for a rookie in NFL history. It now stands ninth on the list, but it's still out of reach. Evans had a better shot two years ago finished with 68 receptions.
Bucs Rookie Record:112 by Lavonte David in 2012 **Record Chaser(s):Devante Bond Chances: Low
Bond was the fourth defensive player drafted by the Buccaneers this year, but as a sixth-rounder and with three clear starters in front of him in the linebacking corps, he's a longshot to get regular playing time right away. If Bond is impressive enough to overcome those odds, his most likely landing spot would be on the strongside, and he wouldn't be on the field for nickel packages. The SAM linebacker generally has the lowest tackle total of the three, so there doesn't seem to be much of an opportunity here.