The 2016 NFL Combine gets going next week, and we are less than three weeks away from the start of free agency. Since news is going to start picking up shortly, I thought it was a good time to begin our annual review of the San Francisco 49ers upcoming opponents.
We will be providing three breakdowns. This first one will review the previous season for each team. It will also include a list of each team's free agents, and a look at some potential needs heading into free agency and the draft. The second one will come in April, providing a look at where teams are at following free agency, and what the draft means for each team. The third set will come in July, providing a recap of the offseason and a look ahead to training camp for each team.
Today, we move on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs finished the 2015 season in last place in the NFC South, marking the fifth straight such finish. The Bucs started poorly (1-3 the first four weeks) and finished poorly (0-4 the final four weeks), but in between they showed some serious signs of life. The defense started to improve for a stretch, and the Bucs went 5-3 in the middle eight weeks.
The big story this past season was the emergence of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. There's always pressure when a QB is the first pick of the draft, but WInston lived up to the pressure. He threw for more than 4,000 yards, and finished with a TD/INT ratio of 22/15. Football Outsiders ranked him No. 15 in DYAR and No. 16 in DVOA. He has plenty of room for improvement, but it was a strong rookie year on which to build.
The Bucs 2015 draft was a big hit on the picks that needed to hit. Winston did well, but so did offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. Outside linebacker Kwon Alexander finished second on the team in tackles, and would have done even better had he not been suspended for the final four games due to a PED violation.
Speaking of linebackers, LaVonte David had a strong season, leading the team with 147 total tackles, three sacks and three interceptions. The defense has to improve against the pass, but they have some strong building blocks in run defense.
Of course, the whole season finished in an odd manner when the team elected to fire Lovie Smith. The season certainly could have gone better than 6-10, but it was still kind of surprising that the Bucs moved on like that. They eventually promoted offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter into the head coach role. There was speculation they fired Smith because of concern that Koetter would go elsewhere. The whole thing was weird, but they do retain the guy who spent a lot of time with Jameis Winston last year.
Unrestricted free agents: DT Henry Melton, RB Doug Martin, RB Bobby Rainey, CB Sterling Moore, DT Tony McDaniel, S Chris Conte, CB Mike Jenkins, S Keith Tandy, OLB Larry English,, FB Jorvorskie Lane, DT Da'Quan Bowers
Restricted free agents: ILB Danny Lansanah, S Bradley McDougald, WR Russell Shepard,
Exclusive rights free agents: OLB Jeremiah George, LS Andrew DePaola, DE T.J. Fatinikun, DE Jacquies Smith
The Bucs most notable unrestricted free agent is running back Doug Martin. He burst on the scene as a rookie with 1,454 yards in 2012. However, in 2013 and 2014, he missed 15 games and finished with 950 total rushing yards. Last season, he got back on track in a big way, rushing for 1,402 yards and averaging 4.9 yards per carry. It was rather timely as he hits free agency.
Cornerback Sterling Moore is coming off a solid enough season, and Bucs Nation thinks he can be brought back at a fairly reasonable price. The other notable defensive free agent is defensive end Jacquies Smith. He is an exclusive rights free agent, so the pass rusher is just about guaranteed to be back in 2016.
The Bucs need more pass rushers. They got 20.5 sacks combined between Gerald McCoy (8.5), Jacquies Smith (7.0), and Howard Jones (5.0), but they need a No. 1 pass rusher to really take this thing to the next level, and more depth would not hurt. The defense could also use a cornerback, so look for them to potentially invest a high draft pick in that position.
On offense, the Bucs need to find Winston another pass catcher. Mike Evans had more yards and receptions, but nine fewer touchdowns, and led the league with 12 drops. He should be able to bounce back, but with Vincent Jackson getting older, they need more than running back Charles Sims as their No. 2 pass catcher.