Take a look at the best photos from the Buccaneers' 2016 offseason.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 90 players have exited the building, scattering out from One Buccaneer Place for their final break before training camp. We won't see them again for six weeks, so what should we do in their absence?
Let's talk about them behind their backs!
Oh, don't worry, we'll only be spreading positive rumors. Or, to be more precise, prognostications. Joe Kania, Andrew Norton and I are going to engage in a few rounds of Bold Predictions™, wherein we envision what some Buccaneers could accomplish during the 2016 season if everything goes right. Doug Martin rushing for 1,200 yards? Not a bold prediction given that he surpassed 1,400 last year. Doug Martin winning the rushing title? Now, that is a bold prediction.
Joe, Andrew and I will make two predictions each for offense, defense and special teams, and attempt to explain why each one could really come to pass. We'll start with offense today and then move on to the other two phases of the game later in the week. I'll go first, since I'm feeling particularly bold, and fortune favors the bold.
Scott Smith Prediction #1: Mike Evans Returns to the Land of Double-Digit Touchdowns
In his 2014 debut campaign, Mike Evans set a franchise single-season record – for all players, not just rookies – with 12 touchdown receptions. Last year, that number fell to three. That's one reason why his 2015 season was widely viewed as unsatisfying, even as he upped both his yards per game (70.1 in 2014 to 80.4 in 2015) and yards per catch (15.5 to 16.3) figures in his second go-around.
Touchdown reception season totals, much like interceptions for defensive backs, can be fickle, so Evans really shouldn't be dinged too hard for that drop from 12 to three. The great Calvin Johnson caught 16 touchdown passes for Detroit in 2011, then just five in 2012, then another 12 in 2013. In his first four NFL seasons, Johnson's TD totals yo-yoed from four to 12 to five to 12. Randy Moss, one of the greatest deep threats ever, totaled 11 touchdowns in 2005 and 2006, then had 23 in 2007. It happens.
What's unusual about Evans' two TD totals is that he played on a much better offense in his three-score season than in his 12-score campaign. Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston threw 22 touchdown passes, but he found Charles Sims, Vincent Jackson, Cameron Brate and Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the end zone at least as many times as he found Evans. Winston also leeched away six potential touchdown passes with scoring scrambles of his own.
I say things work out differently in 2016, and Evans is the primary TD-maker in the Bucs' passing game. Winston and Evans didn't hook up well on the long ball in 2015, which was odd given that it was considered a strength in each of their individual games. They have talked this offseason about building better chemistry together, and I think they will succeed. I also think the Bucs' offense will be more efficient overall, creating more red zone opportunities and capitalizing on more of them by utilizing such big targets as Evans, Jackson and Seferian-Jenkins. In the end, Evans will fall one short of his own record with 11 TD catches in 2016.
Before you say anything, Joe or Andrew, this is a bold prediction. The Buccaneers have had exactly three double-digit TD-catch seasons in four decades of play, and no single player has more than one. Evans will be the first.
Andrew Norton Prediction #1: Winston rewrites the record books
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' single-season record for passing yards is 4,065, set by Josh Freeman in 2012. Winston came oh-so-close last year with 4,042, just 23 yards shy. Winston also completed 312 passes in his rookie year. Three Bucs QBs are ahead of him for that single-season stat, led by Brad Johnson in 2003 with 354 completions.
Bold Prediction: Winston breaks both.
Consider that he threw 535 passes last season, for a completion percentage of 58.3%. Thirteen quarterbacks threw more passes last year, so let's assume that Winston's number goes up to, say, 550, which would likely be in the top 12 QB totals of passes thrown. And let's assume that with a full season under his belt, his completion percentage jumps to 65%, which again would put him in the NFL's top 12. If both of those reasonable adjustments come true, Winston will complete 358 passes, putting him atop the Buccaneers all-time list.
That is certainly manageable and probably doesn't fall in the guidelines of "bold," BUT, coupled with setting that yardage mark, for a second-year QB, I think it qualifies.
Joe Kania Prediction #1: Doug Martin passes Warrick Dunn on the Bucs' all-time rushing list.
Despite playing for just four seasons in Tampa Bay, Martin has established himself as one of the most accomplished runners in team history. He currently has 3,806 yards, which are the fourth-most in Buccaneer history. But Martin's been either hot or cold in his first four seasons; he's picked up 1,000+ yards in two seasons but finished below 500 in the other two.
In terms of boldness, my prediction isn't the most outlandish given the 1,402-yard season Martin put together in 2015. I'm going to say that he hits the 1,000-yard mark again, notching more than 1,180 yards and passing former Buccaneer great Warrick Dunn for No. 3 spot on the team's all-time rushing list.
Martin already has the edge on Dunn in terms of yards per carry, averaging 4.4 compared to 4. Based on his production throughout his career, Martin will need 268 carries to pass Dunn. He had 319 a year ago.
Scott Smith Prediction #2: Charles Sims, Doug Martin and Danny Vitale will combine for 120 receptions
Before I get to the justification of my prediction here, I've got to note: That was a little light on the boldness there, Joe. Passing Warrick Dunn on our all-time is definitely noteworthy and a great accomplishment, but as you point out, it doesn't even take 1,200 yards to get there. I should point out that right above Dunn is his Thunder & Lightning partner, Mike Alstott, at 5,088 yards. Martin would need 1,283 yards to pass them both, and that would certainly be notable.
I'm expecting something a little crazier with your next prediction, Joseph.
Now, as for mine. Basically, what I'm saying here is that the running backs will have a big place in the Bucs' passing attack. Yeah, yeah, I know that Vitale is listed as a tight end, but he was drafted as a fullback and he might really be more of an H-back, and you get the point. These are the three primary guys who will be "coming out of the backfield" to catch passes.
Sims, as we know, was touted as a great pass-catching back when he was drafted in 2014, and he showed that last year with 51 receptions for 561 yards and four touchdowns. I think he's still refining his game and will get even better. Let's give him 60 grabs this year. Martin added another 33 receptions of his own, and he has looked very good running routes and catching passes on the practice field this spring. Remember, he had 45 catches as a rookie. So let's give him 40, which is reasonable, and now you're at 1,000. That leaves 20 for Danny Vitale, and while I think it's possible he gets more than that, I don't want to overstate it. There are only so many passes to go around.
So, 120 catches by a trio of "running backs"…is that a bold prediction? Well, again, you have to grant me the inclusion of Vitale in that group for it to work, but the last time three was near that mark was in 2003, when Michael Pittman (75), Thomas Jones (24) and Jameel Cook (20) combined for 119.
Andrew Norton Prediction #2: We all get to watch another Bucs big man touchdown celebration
More specifically, I boldly predict an offensive lineman will record a touchdown pass in 2016.
After it's success last year under Dirk Koetter's offensive coordination (fifth in the NFL in total yards and Doug Martin just short of the rushing title), I can't see the Buccaneers abandoning the use of a sixth lineman multiple times per game as the situation warrants. When this happens, the additional offensive lineman must declare as an eligible receiver. And that, my friends, is where things can get interesting!
Last year, it was primarily OL Kevin Pamphile coming in as the sixth lineman, anywhere from 5-15 times per game. Unfortunately for the potential accuracy of my prediction, he did not see any targets. But you never know!
In Buccaneers history, only three offensive linemen have caught a touchdown pass: Ron Heller hauled in the first one back in 1986, Randall McDaniel came next in 2000 and Donald Penn caught two TD passes in his time with the Buccaneers. This year, I say we add another Buccaneer to the list. Here's hoping it's a home game.
Joe Kania Prediction #2: Austin Seferian-Jenkins will lead the Buccaneers in touchdown receptions.
Although he's been with the Bucs for two years, we still haven't seen what Seferian-Jenkins is capable of in a full, 16-game season. He missed seven games with injuries during his rookie season in 2014 and was sidelined for nine games this past year. Despite appearing in just seven games last fall, he hauled in four touchdown passes, which were tied for the most of any Buccaneer. Based on that performance, I believe he is capable of leading the team in touchdown catches in 2016.
Part of my prediction is based on what I've seen from Seferian-Jenkins on the field, but another part of it is the system he plays in and the teammates he plays with. Jameis Winston was very successful connecting with his tight ends during his rookie season, whether it was Seferian-Jenkins, Cameron Brate, Luke Stocker or Brandon Myers. Those four combined for 65 catches. To get a better feeling for the significance of those numbers, Mike Evans had 74 catches to lead the team while Vincent Jackson was second with 51. The fact that defenses are required to spend so much effort focusing on Evans and Jackson will help free up Seferian-Jenkins as well.
But again, the key for him is to stay healthy.