Photos of the opponents on the Bucs 2016 schedule.
Each week during the remainder of the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from Buccaneer fans. This week, we talk about predictions of varying types, from the best mock draft picks to the Bucs' location in Week One to the second-year player most likely to have a big breakout season in 2016.*
Fans can submit questions for upcoming mailbags via Twitter to @ScottSBucs (#BucsMailbag), through a message on the Buccaneers Official Facebook Page or via email at **email@example.com*. The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.
*1. Mock Agreement? Hey Scott- of all the mock draft picks that are out there for our bucs in the first round, which ones seem most likely and least likely to happen to you? Have any of the picks just made you laugh? I like the**mock draft roundups**on the site, but they change a lot. Thanks if you take my question – Peter S. in Clearwater (via email firstname.lastname@example.org**)
Hey, thanks for sending your question, Peter! It's a good one. And you're right, there are a whole lot of mock drafters out there and they are constantly refining their predictions based on any new information they get. That means a few of my answers to your questions are going to be done from memory. Case in point: I remember seeing one mock draft that had the Buccaneers taken Florida State CB/S Jalen Ramsey at #9, but I am having difficulty locating it now. In any case, I thought that one was pretty funny, not because I would object to the pick but because I think it's highly unlikely that Ramsey falls all the way to #9. We can always hope – I know Jameis Winston would like that.
Oh, I also added that link to our most recent round-up of mock drafts on Buccaneers.com to your question. I don't normally edit your questions, except occasionally for length, but I didn't see any harm in adding that link, since some of your fellow readers might like to make that a weekly click, too. It's a good place to start from to see what all the analysts are thinking about the Buccaneers that week.
In fact, let's start right there when considering this question. Our most recent roundup was just two days ago, on Tuesday, so the predictions should be fresh. That article gives us 14 different predictions to consider, and they break down like this: Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves (4 picks), Clemson DE Shaq Lawson (4), Clemson DE Kevin Dodd (2), Michigan State T Jack Conklin (1), George LB/DE Leonard Floyd (1), Louisville DT Sheldon Rankins (1) and Notre Dame T Ronnie Stanley.
Quite frankly, I find nothing laughable about any of those picks. None of them would surprise me in the least, though I continue to think that offensive tackle isn't as pressing of a need for the Buccaneers as much of the national media believes it to be. I certainly see the wisdom in picking a talented OT high in the draft no matter what your depth chart looks like, but it's not as if the Bucs' cupboard is bare. The starting left tackle, Donovan Smith, was a 2015 second-round pick who played every offensive snap in his rookie season. The starting right tackle is Demar Dotson, who is still only 30 and probably has more of the wear of a 27 or 28-year-old because he didn't play extensively until 2012. He was the team's most consistently effective O-Lineman from 2012 to 2014 before losing much of last year to a knee injury.[
Anyway, it looks like the most popular picks are Hargreaves and Lawson, and of those (remember this is only MY opinion, not Jason Licht's or Dirk Koetter's) Hargreaves seems more likely. Many of these mock drafts point out that this draft is deep in pass-rushers, so it would be a reasonable strategy to grab that (hopefully) elite cover corner at #9, as that is always a tough asset to attain. You could do that and have a good amount of confidence you can still get a pass-rusher in Round Two. The free agent signing of Robert Ayers makes that a more palatable gamble to make.
The actual issue with a proposed Hargreaves selection may have nothing to do with how much the Bucs covet him; the problem is, he could be gone by pick #9. As an example, in the mock draft round-up linked above, we show NFL.com's Charles Davis as giving the Gator corner to the Bucs. However, later on the same day that article was posted on Buccaneers.com, Davis updated his mock and had the Bucs taking Ohio State DE Joey Bosa because Hargreaves was now slotted to the Eagles at #8.
Why do I have this growing feeling that Licht and Koetter are going to surprise us all on April 28? I have absolutely no evidence of that, but this year's pick just seems harder than usual to predict. That said, to circle back to your question, the Hargeaves prediction seems most likely to me, the O-Line picks seem least likely and the Ramsey suggestion is the only one that I've seen so far that seemed too far-fetched to believe.
2. Home or Away?
I like this question, Aaron, because I've already been contemplating that very issue, although in an even more specific fashion than you asked. See, the schedule drop is just around the corner (probably next week), and every spring I join with about a dozen of my office mates to try to predict what the Bucs' first game will be. I actually got it right in 2012 (at home vs. Carolina) but now I'm in the middle of a three-year drought and I want to get back on top.
We write all of our predictions on a grease board in a common area. As you can see in the picture below, I went first. This isn't a draft; people are allowed to make the same prediction as others, but we ended up with a lot of variety.
So my prediction is that the Buccaneers open the season with a division game, specifically at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Now, just randomly guessing from among the 16 possible games as to which one will come first doesn't give you very good odds – about a 6.3% chance of being right, in fact. So I look for ways to improve the odds. For instance, one of those two games is a home contest against Denver. As the defending Super Bowl champs, the Broncos are going to get that first Thursday night game at home, which rules out a trip to Tampa. Maybe the Houston Texans will get that opening Mile High assignment, given the defection of former Denver quarterback Brock Osweiler to Texas. That would be interesting.
READ: UPDATED NFL DRAFT ORDER
Anyway, rule out the Broncos and now we're down to 1 in 15 odds. For similar reasons, I also think it's unlikely that the Buccaneers will start out against the conference-champion Carolina Panthers, either home or away. That's more of a gut feeling than a proven trend. Seattle lost Super Bowl XLIX at the end of the 2014 season and then started last year on the road at a division rival in St. Louis. However, Denver, which lost Super Bowl XLVIII the previous year, opened the 2014 regular season at home against Indy (Manning vs. Luck) in prime time on Sunday night. I see the Panthers getting that kind of draw…heck, maybe we'll even have a Super Bowl 50 rematch, because they're headed to Denver next year, too.
Okay, so we're down to 1 in 13 odds. Still not great. One of the Bucs' other home opponents this fall will be the Rams, no longer of my hometown of St. Louis but now of Los Angeles. The NFL has waited a long time to get a team back to the nation's second-biggest city (by population) and I'm guessing they'll want to let the Rams celebrate with their new fans at home in Week One. How about they send the Arizona Cardinals – the other team that moved away from St. Louis – to L.A. that week and really stick it to the good folks of the Gateway City.
NFL.com breaks down the most underrated defensive prospects in this year's draft class.
Again, we're mostly playing hunches here, so I'm going to eliminate the home games against Seattle and Oakland under the notion that the league won't make either team start the season with a cross-country flight. In Week One of last year there wasn't a single West Coast team that played on the East Coast, or vice versa. So now we're down to 1 of 10. Apply the same logic in reverse and the Bucs' trips to San Francisco and San Diego are out, and Arizona is close enough to include in this concept if we're looking for reasons to eliminate possibilities. At 1 in 7, we've more than doubled our guessing odds to 14.3% at this point.
One more thing: The Buccaneers have been fortunate enough to start six of their last seven seasons with a home game. Seems to me that trend has to break at some point. I used that logic last year, too, and it didn't pay off, but it's time to even things out a bit and put Tampa Bay on the road to start a season. So I'm going to pick off the three remaining home games: Atlanta, Chicago and New Orleans.
Alright, at this point, with just four candidates remaining, I'm going to switch things up from the negative to the positive, looking for reasons to pick an opponent, not eliminate them. Our last four options are at Atlanta, at Dallas, at Kansas City and at New Orleans. It would certainly seem more interesting to pair the Bucs up with a non-division opponent, but I really don't see any obvious connective storyline with either the Chiefs or the Cowboys. Dallas might have made some sense last year after the Bucs' signed three free agents off the 'Boys defense, but Bruce Carter, Henry Melton and Sterling Moore have all since departed.
On the other hand, there are always rivalry issues with division teams, and it's not all that unusual to open a season with such an opponent. The Bucs did it in 2014, 2012 and 2008. When the NFC South was first formed in 2002, Tampa Bay's first-ever regular-season game as a denizen of that division was against New Orleans. On the other hand, the Bucs have never opened a season against Atlanta since the two became division mates (they did so in 1987, however, at Tampa Stadium). The Bucs have never spent Week One in Atlanta. Seems like they're due.
And there are interesting connections. The Bucs are now led on the field by Head Coach Dirk Koetter and Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith, both key parts of the Falcons' most recent run of success. Smith was the head coach in Atlanta from 2008-14, leading the team to five winning campaigns and four playoff berths. Koetter was his offensive coordinator from 2012-14 and got great results from quarterback Matt Ryan. How about those two (plus Brent Grimes) heading back to the Georgia Dome to try to beat their old team in Week One. It works both ways, too: former Bucs Head Coach Raheem Morris is now Atlanta's assistant head coach and wide receivers coach.
Obviously, I'm looking at this whole scheduling issue from just the Buccaneers' perspective. The NFL's schedule-makers have 32 teams, 256 games and myriad conflicting issues to consider, so chances are half of my guesswork above doesn't even come to play. But you have to base your predictions on something, and that was my thought process. My prediction: Tampa Bay at Atlanta to open the season on Sunday, September 11, 2016.
3. Ready to Break Out?
Yeesh. This begs the question of why you would want to know my pick this year. Are you just giving me a little more rope to hang myself?
I do indeed remember tabbing Mark Barron as my pick going into 2013, and I'm pretty sure you're right that I chose Austin Seferian-Jenkins last spring. I'm not going to look that up, nor try to figure out if I made a pick in the spring of 2014 because I don't think it's going to make me look any better.
That said, I don't really regret the ASJ choice of last season. I do think that, logically, it made sense, and he was indeed quite good when he was able to play. Obviously, the shoulder injury that cost him a huge chunk of the season kept him from truly breaking out, but with better luck this year, it may just be that his full emergence was delayed by 12 months. Hopefully my error was in timing, not talent evaluation.
And I'll take the bait here for a shot at beginning the (surely lengthy) process of rehabilitating my image as a prognosticator. If I hit this one, we can all forget about the picks that came before, right?
My choice for 2016 would be guard Ali Marpet, one of the two rookies who started on Tampa Bay's offensive line in 2015. Without a lot of individual stats to fall back on, this one could be tough to evaluate at the end of the year. What would constitute a breakout, statistically? If the Buccaneers' offense gets even better in the twin areas of rushing yardage and QB protection, that will obviously say good things about the front line as a whole, but won't necessarily prove that Marpet himself had a big breakout.
But don't worry, we'll know if he does. The Buccaneers traded up from the third round into the second last spring in order to make sure they got the prospect from D3 Hobart after being hugely impressed by his raw skills at the Senior Bowl and the Scouting Combine. He did not disappoint, overcoming his small-school background to earn an opening day start and showing flashes of brilliance along the way. If you haven't already (or even if you have), watch this Film Session breakdown of several good Marpet plays by Anthony Becht.
I think Marpet has the potential to develop into one of the best interior maulers in the NFL, and if you want to be optimistic about it, maybe that will come as soon as this season. Let's not forget that, as well as he made the transition to the NFL, it was still a big leap and there are surely still things for him to learn and ways for him to adjust to the pro level. Now he'll have an entire offseason with George Warhop and company to move further along in that transition. Marpet just seems like he's in a good position to make one of those fabled "second-year leaps" in the NFL, so he's my choice for 2016. I think it's all uphill for me now!