There was an interesting note going around after the Atlanta Falcons (reportedly) signed running back Todd Gurley and (definitely) signed wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. If one were to project Atlanta's starting offense in 2020, using a three-receiver/one-back set, it would currently consist entirely of player's picked in the first round of various NFL drafts.
Your mileage may vary on how impressive that is, because it's hard to collect all those first-round picks without some of them becoming available in less than ideal ways. Treadwell never really lived up to his draft status in Minnesota and Gurley was released by the Rams just a couple years after signing a lucrative new contract. The Falcons got projected starting tight end Hayden Hurst from the Ravens for, essentially, a second-round pick because Hurst was squeezed out in Baltimore by Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle.
Still, it's an interesting collection of talent and the Falcons look like they will be hard to handle on offense once again in 2020.
Anyway, that note made me want to look up how the Buccaneers' projected starting lineups for 2020 were formed, in terms of how each player originally entered the NFL. So I did, and now I'll share it with you.
A couple notes: 1. I went with 12 players on both offense and defense since the slot receiver and nickel corner are essentially starters. 2. I went with two tight ends and one running back, since that's what the Bucs listed as their starting group last season. 3. For now, I'll project Joe Haeg as the starting right tackle and Scotty Miller as the third receiver. 4. On defense, I'll start with the base package of three down linemen and two outside linebackers, then add that nickel back. 5. At safety, I'll start with Jordan Whitehead and Andrew Adams, since they made the most starts at those two positions last year.
Finally, in terms of projecting the starting lineups, I went with last year's starters unless there was a glaring reason to make a change, which was essentially only at right tackle and third receiver. Obviously, there will be other players competing to crack the starting lineup but this is the projection for now. You may have heard – the Bucs' new quarterback was once a sixth-round pick.
• 2 first-round picks: WR Mike Evans, TE O.J. Howard
• 3 second-round picks: RB Ronald Jones, LG Ali Marpet, LT Donovan Smith
• 2 third-round picks: RG Alex Cappa, WR Chris Godwin
• 1 fifth-round pick: RT Joe Haeg
• 2 sixth-round picks: QB Tom Brady, C Ryan Jensen, WR Scotty Miller
• 1 undrafted free agents: TE Cameron Brate
• 4 first-round picks: OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, DL Ndamukong Suh, DL Vita Vea, LB Devin White
• 3 second-round picks: LB Lavonte David, CB Carlton Davis, CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
• 1 third-round pick: CB Jamel Dean
• 2 fourth-round picks: DL Will Gholston, S Jordan Whitehead
• 2 undrafted free agents: S Andrew Adams, OLB Shaq Barrett
So every Buccaneers' offensive snap will start with an all-sixth-round exchange of the football between Jensen and Brady. Now that's interesting.
Now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bringing back Blaine Gabbert makes sense and I do think there's a chance that will happen. The Buccaneers have already done a good job of re-signing many of the free agents they wanted to retain from 2019 and Gabbert could be one of the next ones on the list.
The main selling points for Gabbert a year ago, when the Bucs signed him to a one-year deal to compete with Ryan Griffin to be Jameis Winston's primary backup, was that he had a good amount of NFL starting experience and specifically experience in Bruce Arians' offense. While Arians and his staff did seem to be as high on Griffin as the previous staff, it was clear from the beginning that Gabbert had the inside track on the job due to that experience.
Of course, it became a moot point when the veteran passer suffered a shoulder injury in the third preseason game. It was his left, non-throwing shoulder but it proved to be a significant enough injury that he had to go on injured reserve four weeks into the regular season. Griffin became the number-two quarterback and even threw the first four regular-season passes of his career in a late-season cameo.
Griffin is still around, too, which means we get to run that competition back to see who will be the number-two, this time behind the G.O.A.T, Tom Brady. The tweaked roster-limit rules from the new CBA might be good news for both Gabbert and Griffin as it could make teams more likely to keep three quarterbacks on the active roster. That regular-season limit is still 53 players but it can expand to 55 on game days with temporary promotions from the practice squad, giving teams a little more flexibility to cover injuries and have specialized roles.
The reason I think a Gabbert return is a good idea is that the factors that made him attractive to Arians a year ago are compounded by our current national situation. No one knows when the players will be able to get back on the field, and it's looking likely that there will be no OTAs or offseason mini-camps. Hopefully there will be a training camp, but that's no guarantee. Assuming the 2020 season still happens, it's going to start with the last amount of preparation for players since at least 2011, when the last CBA negotiations wiped out the offseason. In that case, having a quarterback who already knows the offense is a big-time plus. And that's Gabbert…or Griffin, if he wins the battle.
Donovan has been a good left tackle, but not elite. Would it make more sense for the Bucs to acquire a left tackle via free agency or (more likely) the draft and then shift Donovan to the right side of the line? Take a good LT and make him a good RT or even a great RT, and hope the drafted player can ascend to be an elite LT. I know players are often pegged as a LT or RT for the life of their career, but the move would make sense to me.
- Jason Lake (via email to email@example.com)
The first thing we have to acknowledge when discussing Donovan Smith is that the opinion of his play has always been higher inside the AdventHealth Training Center than outside. Arians recently said that Smith had his best season in 2019, which means he's confident in the now-sixth-year veteran protecting Tom Brady's blind side in 2020. There's also the matter of Smith's durability, as he has only missed one start in five years, and hardly any other offensive snaps outside of that one game last December. That's a real plus in a left tackle, reminiscent of Ring of Honor member Paul Gruber.
So I could quibble with your assessment of Smith, but I guess I can live with it. It's fair to say at this point that he's technically "not elite" since he has yet to make a Pro Bowl or get any All-Pro recognition. But even if I accept the label of Smith as "good," I think we're underselling how valuable a "good left tackle" is. Ask fans of the Chargers or Jets or Giants or Bengals how much they would have enjoyed having a good left tackle last year. The Panthers recently traded a Pro Bowl guard to get Russell Okung, who would probably best described as a "good left tackle."
I do agree with your idea that there are probably plenty of linemen who could handle playing either right or left tackle but get slotted in one side and never move. I don't think it's completely out of the question that Smith could at some point move to right tackle, but I don't see that happening anytime soon. For one thing, while left tackle is definitely considered one of the NFL's premier positions, I think the league is trending towards valuing the two tackle spots more evenly. Look at the big-time contracts that right tackles Jack Conklin and Bryan Bulaga just got.
The majority of mock drafters now think the Buccaneers will use their first-round pick on one of the top offensive tackle prospects, noting the team's opening at right tackle with Demar Dotson an unsigned free agent. It certainly makes sense to me. But I expect if that happens the new Buccaneer will be considered a candidate to take over at right tackle, with Smith staying put on the left side. Smith has two years left on his current contract. If you want to project that this hypothetical 2020 draftee will start his career on the right side but eventually move over to left tackle as a long-term replacement, there's some logic there. That being said, I wouldn't write off the possibility of Smith getting a third contract and holding down that position beyond 2021.
What happened to the MJ Stewart experiment to move him to Saftey last year? It was talked about all offseason but once the preseason rolled around, he was back at Corner. Will Arians try moving home to Saftey again this year?
JC (via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
It just didn't pan out, JC. By the preseason, the coaching staff had seen enough to know that Stewart's best spot in the defense was as a nickel corner. It's not the first time such an experiment was attempted only to be reversed. The Buccaneers (albeit with a previous coaching staff) drafted cornerback Ryan Smith in 2016 with the belief that he would be better suited at safety. Smith worked there for much of his rookie season but by the end of that year was back at corner, where he has remained since.
I don't think that the Bucs will try to move Stewart to safety again this offseason. They already got their answer on that idea. Arians has mentioned several times this offseason that the safety position is one that is still unsettled, but when he ticks off the names of the candidates for starting spots he never mentions Stewart. He does mention Justin Evans, who is obviously a bit of an unknown quantity given all the time he has missed due to his foot injuries, and D'Cota Dixon, who was an undrafted free agent last year and spent all of 2019 on injured reserve. I think if Stewart was also a candidate he would have come up in that same breath.
The Bucs did re-sign Andrew Adams recently, so there's another candidate to get snaps at safety in 2020. If there is an addition to that position group, I would expect it to come from the upcoming draft, and not from Stewart switching positions.
As a proud bleeder of NE Patriot blood, I'm sad to see TB go, but at the same time happy to see him go to a team I have been a fan of since they wore feathers in their caps. The offense in TB relies from what I've seen, on a lot of 5 to 7 step drops and down field looks. A great plan if you have a top 3 O-line and a mobile gunslinger. But Brady flourishes in a West Coast style of play. In a quick 3 step drop offense with multiple receivers lined up across the field, making 2 second read/releases are where he's best. I'm worried that the offense there isn't set up for a guy like Tom, but very easily could be. Also, if receivers don't "know what Toms thinking", it will be a very depressing season. How are they going to be able to mesh with a short pre-preseason? Thanks for your time boys and good luck this season.
Donnie B All Day (via email to email@example.com)
Man, a Patriots and Buccaneers fan! That really worked out well for you, Donnie. I expect we're going to enjoy Tom Brady down here as much as you and countless Patriots fans did up there. I wish we could have had him for 20 years, but we're thrilled to have him aboard now.
This idea that Brady is some sort of square peg the Bucs are going to force into a round hole that is Bruce Arians' offense has been voiced by many fans and analysts since before Brady even signed on. I get how one can connect those dots but Arians and General Manager Jason Licht believe Brady is a perfect fit for their offense. Of course, it's likely that Brady could flourish in any scheme.
Arians recently said that one reason he's had great relationships (and, often, great results) with so many quarterbacks is that he always collaborates with them while constructing the offense. Think of that now: the great offensive minds of Bruce Arians and Tom Brady collaborating. That sounds pretty awesome to me. As you say the offense "very easily could be" set up to get the most out of Brady's considerable talents. The two systems probably aren't as disparate as you might think.
"[It's about] just finding out the likes and dislikes of a quarterback," said Arians. "We've watched all of [the Patriots'] film and they're so similar, in a lot of ways, to what we do. It's just how you call it. Obviously, the people are going to be doing their jobs differently and that's the hardest part. Julian Edelman runs certain routes and Chris Godwin runs certain routes and they're very similar, but they are different people. That part is going to be the harder part – getting them together and letting them throw. As soon as it's safe to do all that, I'm sure they're going to do it on their own."
That doesn't mean that Arians is going to lose his trademark aggressiveness. He and Licht think that Brady still throws a very good deep ball, and the numbers from last season support that. Brady's passer rating on balls thrown deep to the left and to the right last year were both well above league average, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
"I think the perception [of a bad fit] is just wrong," said Arians. "I thought his deep ball was outstanding last year. Through their play-action game, they hit a lot of deep balls. I thought [Brady] put it as good as anybody [when he said], 'Throw it to the guy that's open.' We do have reads that start deep and come short. I've had a couple quarterbacks that they just keep looking deep, they won't throw the check-down. Tom Moore has the best saying in the world: 'You never go broke putting money in the bank. Take the damn check-down.' I don't think you have to teach Tom that. I think the freedom of looking downfield on certain routes and in certain situations when the matchup is perfect – take it. Don't be afraid to take it. Some quarterbacks are afraid to take it. I'm not looking for a 'Check-down-Charlie'-type quarterback."
Arians thinks it's a great fit. Brady obviously feels that way, too, as he reportedly told Jason Licht when they first had the opportunity to speak directly on March 18. I will concede one concern, and it's the one that Arians voiced above: With the possibility of a very abbreviated time to work together before the season, it will be more difficult for Brady and his new receivers to get on the same page. But the coronavirus pandemic is creating serious challenges for everyone; this is just one the Buccaneers and Brady will have to overcome.