Peter King writes his multi-part Football Morning in America column on Pro Football Talk each week and although King is on vacation, the column isn’t. This week featured the guys from Pro Football Focus breaking down various topics as a collective.
Among those topics was a list from Sam Monson of five players who could end up on their PFF 50 list for 2019. Two of the five players were Buccaneers. Monson named both Vita Vea and O.J. Howard as those who could make the grade this coming season.
“Vita Vea, DL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: At the other end of the scale, you’ve got Vea, a player who went in the first round in 2018 but fell off the radar a little because he began the season injured, then took a little while to get going and ultimately didn’t produce the box score production people want to see. Vea ended up with only three sacks, but had 23 additional pressures as a pass-rusher, 17 of which came in the final six weeks of the season. Over that stretch of play, his overall PFF grade was 86.4, and he had a top-20 grade at his position, hinting at what’s to come.”
Vea will also be aided by veteran Ndamukong Suh, who the team signed this offseason. Suh is an interior lineman who creates opportunities not only for himself with his power, but for those around him – especially on the line. If blockers are entangled with Suh at the line of scrimmage, that makes it less likely Vea will be double-teamed at the same time. It means Vea should get more one-on-one opportunities and therefore see increased production from his position, making the likelihood of landing on PFF’s list even greater.
Vea wasn’t the only Buccaneer Monson mentioned, either.
“O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Another former first-round pick, Howard has yet to top 600 receiving yards or 35 receptions in a season, even while tight ends are breaking receiving records across the NFL. Dive deeper into the numbers, however, and Howard looks primed for a huge season with an uptick in opportunity. His overall PFF grade last season was 89.4, higher than any other tight end outside of San Francisco standout George Kittle. And on a yards per route basis, he was third behind only Kittle and Kansas City star Travis Kelce. His average depth of target was 11.3 yards downfield, a top-five mark in the league, and now the vertical threat he brings is being linked up with new Bucs coach Bruce Arians and an offense that lives down the field.”
Howard’s season was also cut short in 2019 by six games. Prior to his injury, he was on pace for close to 1,000 yards if he had finished out the season. Monson makes a point in saying that Arians loves to go downfield in the passing game and that should include Howard this season, too. What’s also improved about Howard is his blocking ability – which admittedly, doesn’t show up on a stat sheet but should when grading out tight ends using advanced metrics like PFF does. If Howard stays healthy, he should be a shoo-in to crack the Top 50.
That’s not the only place the Bucs showed up in this week’s column. It seems the guys at Pro Football Focus weren’t done showing Bucs players some love because in the column’s "I think I think" section, the guys collectively decided they thought quarterback Jameis Winston could be the league’s best passer in 2019.
“6. We think Jameis Winston will challenge for the passing yardage title in 2019. Last year he trailed only Josh Allen in average depth of target. These throws put Winston in a position to do great things at times (he was second among quarterbacks in the percentage of throws we grade as 'positive'), as well as bad things (he was 21st in limiting negatively-graded throws). New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has a track record of succeeding with high-variance quarterbacks like Winston. In 2015 Carson Palmer had an MVP-caliber season under Arians, posting roughly the same average depth of target as Winston in 2018 and leading the league in percentage of positively graded throws. With Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard a very capable trio of pass catchers, look for Winston to either make good on his 2015 draft position or give the Bucs no other option but to find his replacement the following year.”
Last year, the Bucs had the No. 1 passing offense in the league, led by Winston for most of the year. Now, Winston starts the year knowing where he stands, and coach Arians is known as the "Quarterback Whisperer" for a reason. It could mean a very big year for his quarterback, Jameis Winston, and subsequently the Bucs as a whole in 2019.
View the top photos from the Bucs offseason practices.