Last season, Mike Williams caught 11 touchdown passes, which was a unique accomplishment in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history in two ways.
For one thing, no receiver in franchise history had ever snared that many scoring passes in a single campaign; Williams broke Joey Galloway's record of 10, set in 2005.
And for another, no rookie in the team's 35-year history had ever found the end zone that many times in any manner – rushing, receiving or otherwise. The previous Buccaneer rookie record was eight, set by running back Lars Tate in 1988.
That's a fine start for Williams, to put it mildly, and the Buccaneers hope they are just the beginning of his assault on the team's record book. Perhaps he will one day challenge Keyshawn Johnson's single-season mark of 106 receptions, set in 2001 or Mark Carrier's long-lasting standard of 1,422 receiving yards, set in 1989. (What the Bucs would really like, of course, is for Williams to take a run at Warrick Dunn's career playoff record of 26 catches!)
Either number, however, would be a major leap from Williams' outstanding rookie-season totals of 65 catches and 964 yards. Williams might go straight for those numbers in 2011, but they would require a 63% jump in receptions and a 48% increase in yards, and that's a lot to ask in a single year, especially from such a young player. Should Williams challenge either of those marks, it's likely to be a little farther along in his career…and in the career of the team's young and very promising quarterback, Josh Freeman.
There are some other significant entries in the Buccaneers' record book, however, that might be in more immediate danger, if the results of 2010 are taken as evidence. The team's offense took a big step forward in '10 behind Freeman, and the young passer remains surrounded by a gifted group of skill-position players, from Williams to Kellen Winslow to Arrelious Benn to LeGarrette Blount. And it doesn't end with the team's new-look offense; there are players on defense and special teams who could be poised to make a run at various records.
All of this is speculative, of course, and secondary to the primary goal of winning games. Still, when Freeman throws 25 touchdown passes at the ripe old age of 22, it's hard not to wonder how long Brad Johnson's Buccaneer record of 26 (set in 2003) will stand. Individual Buccaneer players broke only a few of the team's standards last year, but here's a handful of others we'll be watching closely in 2011 and the next few seasons. At the end of each note, we'll assign a completely arbitrary number to the chance that the record falls in 2011, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being most likely.
- 26 touchdown passes, Brad Johnson, 2003
We might as well start with our example from above.
When Johnson threw those 26 touchdowns in 2003, it was a pretty big jump from the previous record of 22, which he had set the year before. Prior to that, the mark was just 21, which Trent Dilfer had reached in both 1997 and 1998. Compared to the rest of the NFL, that's not an extraordinarily high bar; only Houston (24) and Jacksonville (23) have lower passing-touchdown records, both coincidentally set last year. That's not an indictment of the team's fortunes in and of itself; Denver's record is only 27, and they certainly have had no lack of success overall or at the quarterback position. Still, it's fair to say that the Buccaneers' passing game has not often been prolific throughout team history.
That could very well be changing, however. When Johnson set the record in 2003, it was one year after the team had won the Super Bowl, and he was still operating at a very high level. However, the team's offense as a whole had become very unbalanced, as the running game struggled (truth be told, it was unbalanced in the same way in the Super Bowl year of 2002). The Bucs dropped back to throw on almost 60% of its plays that year.
The current team does not want to operate in the same way. The ground game became a force with LeGarrette Blount's emergence last fall, and Raheem Morris has made no secret of his desire to build around a power running attack. The Bucs dropped back to pass on just 54.8% of their plays last year, and that included a first month in which the running game was stalled. It would be no surprise to see that number inch a little closer to even in 2011.
Still, Freeman was so efficient with his chances in 2010 that it's entirely reasonable to believe he could add just two more touchdowns to his total in 2011 and overtake Johnson's mark. Freeman threw a touchdown pass on 5.3% of his attempts last year, which was tied for the 10th-best mark in the NFL. In comparison, Johnson tallied a touchdown on just 4.6% of his throws in 2003.
There is, too, the matter of Freeman's youthful cast of targets. In 2003, Johnson had the very prolific Keenan McCardell as his main target, but Keyshawn Johnson was benched for the last six weeks of the season and the third receiver was the less-than-immortal Charles Lee. In addition to Williams, Freeman has the equally promising Arrelious Benn to work with, as well as one of the league's most prolific pass-catching tight ends in Winslow. Sammie Stroughter, Micheal Spurlock and Dezmon Briscoe might also be able to provide more in 2011.
Chances the Bucs' passing touchdowns record falls in 2011: 7.
- 1,544 rushing yards, James Wilder, 1984
- 6 100-yard rushing games, Cadillac Williams, 2005
James Wilder rushed for 1,544 yards in 1984 and another 1,300 in 1985…and no Buccaneer back has reached either mark since. Part of the reason for that is apparent in the team's record table for most carries in a single season. Wilder set the mark at 407 in 1984 (that was, for a time, also the NFL single-season record) and put up the second-highest mark, 365, the next year. No other Tampa Bay runner has even carried the ball 300 times in a season since Errict Rhett in 1995.
And no Buccaneer back is likely to do so in 2011, either. While Blount is clearly the team's lead back, Buccaneer coaches are talking about a wear-'em-down attack that blasts the opposition with a bevy of big runners, from Blount to rookie Allen Bradford to, potentially, Earnest Graham and Kregg Lumpkin. Cadillac Williams, if he returns, isn't exactly small, either. The Bucs are likely to split the carries much more next year than the team did in 1984 and 1985, when Wilder was the offense.
That's what makes the first record above appear unlikely. Readers who follow fantasy football, however, have undoubtedly noticed some analysts predicting a 1,500-yard season, or close, for Blount. It is worth noting, of course, that Blount reached the 1,000-yard plateau last year despite entering Game Six with only 30 yards. Over the last 11 weeks, he averaged 88.8 yards per game, which would produced 1,421 yards over a full 16-game season. Even that doesn't quite get him to Wilder's record, though it would easily be the second-best total in franchise history. Blount averaged a team-record 5.01 yards per carry last year; he would have to sustain that and get a few more handoffs per game in order to beat Wilder's outstanding mark.
On the other hand, Blount had over 100 yards in four games, and he only had seven starts (though he was clearly the primary ballcarrier in another three or four). He narrowly missed another 100-yard game against Carolina at midseason. Williams set the record at six in 2005, breaking a four-way tie at five that had been shared by Dunn, Wilder (twice) and Ricky Bell. Given the sometimes up-and-down nature of a running back's individual-game yardage totals – it can vary greatly, for instance, depending upon how far up or down his team is on the scoreboard – it wouldn't be a surprise to see Blount at least match Williams' total even if he doesn't get Wilder's overall yardage mark.
Chances the Bucs' rushing yardage record falls in 2011: 1.
Chances the Bucs' 100-yard rushing game record falls in 2011: 5.
- 131 points scored, Matt Bryant, 2008
The top five marks in this category have all occurred since 1999. Martin Gramatica was the first player in team history to break the 100-point barrier, getting 106 as a rookie. He shot well past that in the next few years, with 126 in 2000 and then 128 in 2002. That mark withstood Matt Bryant's 118 points in 2007 but fell the next year when Bryant got to 131.
Barring an incredible touchdown-scoring barrage a la Ladainian Tomlinson or Randy Moss, this record is always going to belong to a kicker. It would take 22 touchdowns to surpass 131 points.
And the kicker's ability to challenge that mark is always going to be a combination of two factors: opportunity and accuracy. Steve Christie still holds the Buccaneers' single-season field goal percentage record with a mark of 85.2%. However, Christie topped out at 96 points that season (1990) because he had only 27 field goal attempts and 27 extra point attempts. Tampa Bay's offense ranked 24th in the league that year and was plagued by 43 turnovers.
Martin Gramatica holds the Tampa Bay record for most field goal attempts in a season, with 39 in 2002, but that is no longer the highest-scoring season in team history, either. Gramatica made 32 of those attempts, the same number that Bryant made in 2008 when he broke the record. Bryant did it in one fewer attempt, however. Had Gramatica made one more field goal with his extra attempt, he would still share the mark with Bryant. Also, Bryant got to try four more extra points (36 to 32) and even though he missed one that still gave him the three-point margin that put him on the top.
So, will Buccaneer kicker Connor Barth have the opportunity in 2011? The first thing he has to have is the job, from beginning to end, as he would have no shot at the mark if he plays significantly fewer than 16 games. Barring injury and a surprising downturn in his efforts, that appears to be no problem for Barth, who has gained the team's confidence with a very strong season-and-a-half as the kicker after the team struggled at the position for the first half of 2009.
Beyond that, will the Buccaneers' offense provide him with enough field goal and extra point tries to get to 132 points? That's a delicate balancing act, because field goals obviously spike Barth's personal total much more quickly but extra points are a better indication of a proficient offense. The Buccaneers would surely like to see Barth get plenty of both opportunities, but don't want to settle for too many field goals.
Last year, the Buccaneers' attack was on the rise but still not in the top half of the league in scoring or yards when it was all said and done. Tampa Bay's attack generated 39 touchdowns and 28 field goal attempts, all of which led to 341 points, the fourth-best mark in team history (there were only one-point PAT attempts after 36 of the 39 TDs). It is reasonable to project that those totals will go up as Freeman and company continue to mature. That touchdown total is already one better than the team had in 2008, when Bryant set the record, but the field goal mark is 10 lower. The Bucs would likely need both totals to go up next year for Barth to have a shot.
And how about Barth's accuracy? In 25 games with the Buccaneers, he has hit 37 of 47 attempts for a success rate of 78.7%. Last year, he was stronger, connecting on 82.1% of his tries (23 of 28). That's just slightly under what Bryant's mark was in 2008, and it was almost exactly league-average last year.
If Barth maintains that same average and gets five more field goal attempts in 2011, he would be expected to add 12 points to his 2010 total of 105. That won't get him there, either, nor would that plus another 10 extra point tries. Thus, the team's field goal situations are going to have to go up more significantly for Barth to attack Bryant's mark.
Chances the Bucs' points-scored record falls in 2011: 4.
- 10 interceptions, Ronde Barber, 2001
This one will almost surely depend on Aqib Talib's status.
Interceptions are a fickle statistic – witness Ronde Barber, the Bucs' all-time leader in the category, picking off two passes in 2000, a team-record 10 in 2001 and then two again in 2002. Not only are some of the best interceptors avoided by quarterbacks when possible, but a player in the secondary can play a near-perfect game without necessarily getting any real opportunities to pick off a pass.
Still, there are clearly some players who are natural ballhawks. Donnie Abraham came in as a third-round pick in 1996 and immediately picked off five passes, then proceeded to at least match that total in four of his next five seasons. Around the NFL you'll find a handful of players who are more likely than not going to be among the league's INT leaders from year to year – Ed Reed, Charles Woodson, Asante Samuel.
In three NFL seasons, Talib appears to have established himself as that sort of player. He had four picks as a rookie despite not being a starter, then five in 2009 followed by six in just 11 games last year. Clearly, he has the instincts and athleticism of a true NFL ballhawk.
So if Talib is in the lineup in 2011 and available for somewhere close to 16 games, could he see his interception total go up for a third straight year, and would it be enough to challenge Barber's record? Well, it's worth noting that no player in the NFL has hit double-digits in interceptions in the last three years. However, five have gotten to nine picks in a season in that span, and from 2005-07, five were able to snare 10 in a year. Since 2000, the only years in which the annual leader had fewer than nine picks were 2002 and 2010, and in both cases the top mark was eight.
So it's not unusual for somebody in the league to make a run at 10, and it's usually somebody from among a small group of players you would readily identify ahead of time as prime candidates. Since 2005, the NFL leaders or co-leaders in interceptions each year form a very recognizable bunch: Reed, Darren Sharper, Woodson, Samuel, Jairus Byrd, Reed again, Antonio Cromartie, Samuel again, Champ Bailey, Deltha O'Neal and Ty Law.
Would Aqib Talib be among the half-dozen defensive backs one might predict having a shot at the league lead in interceptions heading into 2011? We say yes.
Of course, 10 picks would just tie Barber's record. Could he get to 11? Well, the last player to do so was Everson Walls in 1981. History says the odds are slim.
Chances the Bucs' interceptions record falls in 2011: 1.
- 1,147 kickoff return yards, Bobby Joe Edmonds, 1995
This one almost fell last year.
Micheal Spurlock's 1,129 kickoff return yards in 2010 missed Edmonds' mark by just 18 yards and qualified as the second-highest total in franchise annals. It was the most by any Buc since Reidel Anthony had 1,118 in 1998.
Could Spurlock make another run at Edmonds' record this year? Heck, he's not even the only player on the roster for whom we would say yes. Sammie Stroughter, who set the team record with a 29.5-yard kickoff return average in 2009, is still around and is obviously a viable option to return kicks. That was admittedly on just 11 returns (the Bucs' standard for qualifying for this season record is 10 returns), but he had a 26.3-yard average on another three runbacks last year, so it seems as if he has an innate talent for the job.
But we'll start with Spurlock, as he seems likely to get the first crack at the job if he returns in 2011. Spurlock averaged 25.7 yards per return last year, helped by an 89-yard touchdown ramble that made him the first player in team history with two scores of that type. (There are only four overall in Buc annals; Stroughter also has one).
Note that Edmonds averaged just 19.8 yards per kickoff return in his record-setting year of 1995, but he had 58 chances. Spurlock had "only" 44 last year; had he had even one more, he likely would have past Edmonds on the list. Spurlock has a career average of 25.6 yards per kickoff return as a Buccaneer.
However, this is not exactly a category you want to see higher numbers in. More kickoff returns for Spurlock might mean more kickoffs for the opposing team, which would mean more times the Bucs' opponents have scored overall. That is surely not the goal, and the Buccaneers believe their defense will be stronger in 2011 with the additions of defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers.
On the other hand, Spurlock could add a nice bump to his overall return total simply by taking full control of the job. Last year, Preston Parker got into the action for 10 returns and Stroughter had the aforementioned three. Had those returns gone to Spurlock, he obviously would have broken Edmonds' record.
There's no guarantee, however, that Spurlock will get that sort of one-man job. Parker and Stroughter are still around and the Bucs might want to find out what they can do from time to time. In the end, the distribution of kickoff return chances could end up very much like it was in 2010.
Chances the Bucs' kickoff return yards record falls in 2011: 5.