The Tampa Bay Bucs have put the future of their franchise in the hands of No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman winner out of Florida State. Smart move? We shall find out. Does Winston give Tampa a shot to win the NFC South this season?
Bucs Got Their Guy
According to Peter King on the MMQB.com, Bucs general manger Jason Lichte was giddy over the possibility of drafting Jameis Winston back in the 2014 season. According to King, Lichte’s brother-in-law asked him via a draft-day text last year whether he preferred Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater in the first round. Lichte's answer: Winston.
Although I'm sure at that time Lichte never thought the Bucs would be in a position to take Winston. After all, the Bucs "won" free agency last year but pretty much all those guys signed turned out to be giant flops and the team won just two games to land the No. 1 overall pick for the first time since taking former Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde at that spot in the 1987. That didn't work out so well. Winston is the first Seminole to go No. 1 overall. He's the third straight Florida State starting quarterback to be drafted in the first round. Things have not worked out well for the previous two: E.J. Manuel, a 2013 choice by Buffalo and Christian Ponder, the 2011 first pick by Minnesota. Frankly, only one FSU quarterback has ever amounted to much in the NFL and that was Brad Johnson. He won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay, but was just a so-so signal-caller.
Nice Duo To Throw To
Winston appears to be landing in a good spot because he has two excellent big receivers in veteran Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, the Bucs' 2014 first-round pick who caught 68 passes for 1,051 yards and 12 scores last season despite horrific quarterback play from Josh McCown and Mike Glennon. It will be Glennon whom Winston will have to beat out, although I'm quite sure that happens and Winston becomes the 37th starting quarterback in team history. Winston was so good as a freshman, when he won the Heisman, because he had a big, gifted receiver in Kelvin Benjamin, who had a very good rookie season in 2014 with the Carolina Panthers.
The receivers are the good news. The offensive line in Tampa was atrocious last season and thus by default so was the running game. The team did draft Penn State tackled Donovan Smith with the No. 34 overall pick last Friday and he has been penciled in as the team's starter at left tackle. The team also traded up at the end of the second round to draft Hobart College guard Ali Marpet. Maybe he starts from Day 1.
As for running back, it looks like the team has all but moved on from former Boise State star Doug Martin, who had a huge rookie year in 2012 but has never come close to matching the production, partly because of injuries. The team declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Martin for the 2016 season. The Bucs reportedly want to feature Charles Sims at tailback this season, at least according to the Pewter Report. "Still think Doug Martin may not play a down in Tampa this year and may get traded prior to the season," the site tweeted out Monday.
The Bucs do have the fourth-easiest schedule next season going by their opponents' 2014 winning percentage. Obviously a big part of that is the six games inside the NFC South, which Carolina won last year with a 7-8-1 record.
NFC South Odds
Currently Tampa is the South long shot on NFL odds, +1200 to win it. The Panthers, Falcons and Saints are all at +180 so clearly it's pretty wide open. I wouldn't say any of those teams got appreciably better this offseason. Carolina still has major receiver needs outside of Benjamin. The Panthers did take Michigan's Devin Funchess in Round 2 on Friday. I'm still not sold on their running backs, either.
New Orleans traded away a bunch of talent, led by Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham. But as long as Drew Brees remains upright the Saints will contend for the South title. The Falcons have an entirely new coaching staff, led by former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in his first head coaching role. I loved Atlanta's third-round pick of Indiana running back Tevin Coleman, by the way.
The Bucs open Week 1 at home vs. Tennessee, which should have No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota starting at quarterback. Mariota's Ducks blasted Winston's Seminoles in the Rose Bowl this past season, a semifinal of the College Football Playoff. Tampa opened as a 3-point favorite on 5Dimes for that game. Season win totals and Offensive Rookie of the Year odds should be released by the sportsbooks soon.
NFL Pick: Bucs don't win the division but improve to around 6-10. They also beat Tennessee in Week 1, so keep that in mind when placing your NFL picks.