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Key fantasy storyline
Everything is in place for the Buccaneers to have one of the better offenses in the NFL. Doug Martin had a monster rookie year, and he looks like he'll be one of the best backs in the league this season, until he is ground into dust like every running back, of course. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are big, physical receivers who can both take the top off the defense. The offensive line, which was without Davin Joseph for all of 2012 and Carl Nicks for the second half of the season, is healthy again, and could be a strength. All that's left is for Josh Freeman to prove he's worthy of leading such an offense.
Freeman's 2012 stat line looks ugly, but it really didn't take a negative turn until the last three weeks of the year. Through 14 games, Freeman had thrown 25 touchdowns against just eight interceptions, and was just shy of 7.6 yards per attempt. He imploded in back-to-back games against the Saints and Rams, though, getting picked eight times while tossing one touchdown and completing 55.4 percent of his passes. Over the final three games, his YPA fell by 0.3 yards, and his sparkling TD/INT ratio was ruined. There's reason to believe Freeman can avoid a similar disaster this season.
It all starts with that healthy offensive line. The Buccaneers planed on Joseph and Nicks being their starting guards during the preseason. Once both of them were on the shelf, the entire line fell apart. Few quarterbacks can succeed when under siege as often as Freeman was last year. If that line is indeed a strength, we'll see the version of Freeman who had the Bucs competing for a playoff spot through the first 11 weeks last year.
Not only would an improved line better protect Freeman, it would allow the Buccaneers receivers to do what they do best: get open on deep routes. While the Bucs don't really have a strong possession receiver, they have two who can really stretch the field in Jackson and Williams. Of course, for them to stretch the field, they need to have enough time to run their routes. And the only way they can get that time is if the line gives Freeman a clean pocket.
The pieces are all where they need to be for Freeman to prove 2010 was not a fluke. If he does so, Tampa Bay will end the season with one of the most prolific fantasy offenses in the league. If he doesn't, he could undermine the season for three guys who will all be fantasy starters. While Freeman himself isn't worth starting in standard leagues, he's worth taking a flier on as a backup, and could end up being a huge bargain in two-QB leagues.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2013 schedule|
|Including a look at how the Buccaneers' upcoming foes fared defensively in fantasy last season|
Stats via FFToday.com
The NFC South shouldn't present too serious a challenge. The Saints had arguably the worst defense in NFL history last year, and they didn't do much to address it in the offseason. The Falcons and Panthers both fielded average defenses, with the Panthers creeping toward above average in some respects. The Bucs get the teams of the NFC West, and that could be a challenge. While the 49ers and Seahawks hog the spotlight, the Cardinals had a great pass defense last year, and the Rams were solidly average. Those could be the four toughest games on the schedule, at least from the standpoint of opposing defenses for fantasy players. Add to that the AFC East, Eagles and Lions, and this is a relatively friendly schedule. The Niners and Rams could complicate matters for the Bucs during the fantasy playoffs.
QB: Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon, Dan Orlovsky
RB: Doug Martin, Brian Leonard, Mike James
WR: Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood, Chris Owusu, David Douglas
TE: Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree, Nate Byham
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2012 defensive rankings|
The Buccaneers had statistically the worst pass defense in the league last year, surrendering nearly 300 passing yards per game and 7.9 yards per attempt. So what did they do? They went out and traded for Darelle Revis, signed safety Dashon Goldson and drafted corner Jonathan Banks in the second round out of Mississippi State. The secondary really couldn't get any worse, but if Revis can bounce back after ACL surgery, it can get a whole lot better.
Unfortunately, the gains they made in the secondary could be offset by losses on the line. The Buccaneers had just 27 sacks last year, third worst in the league. They lost defensive end Michael Bennett, who picked up nine of those sacks, leaving Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn to fill that void. Gerald McCoy has been a disruptive tackle in his three years in the league, and set a new career high with five sacks last season.
The linebacker corps is a largely no-name group, though weak-side backer Lavonte David racked up 139 tackles, 112 of which were solo. He'd be the only one for owners in IDP leagues to consider.
Even with the additions in the secondary -- most notably, Revis, who should still garner plenty of IDP attention -- this is a team defense fantasy owners will want to avoid.