How the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Became a Fantasy Juggernaut
Last season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn't do anything both on the football field and in terms of fantasy production. They won a total of four games and ranked 27th in the NFL in scoring offense. Tampa Bay ended the 2011 season ranked 21st in total offense and 30th in rushing.
Josh Freeman led a passing attack that accounted for seven more interceptions (24) than touchdowns (17). This came on the heels of a solid 2010 season that saw the quarterback throw a total of six interceptions in 474 passes. One of the primary reasons that Freeman struggled was due to the fact that he didn't have any consistent weapons on the outside.
Mike Williams, who accumulated nearly 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie in 2010, just couldn't get it going last season. He tallied 200 less yards and only three touchdowns during his sophomore campaign. Equally as disturbing for Tampa Bay, Kellen Winslow Jr (who has since been traded) wasn't able to make much of an impact in terms of getting into the end zone.
The running game wasn't going too well either. A lot of this had to do with an ineffective offensive scheme that relied too much on the aforementioned Freeman. That being said, LeGarrette Blount tallied less than 800 yards after surpassing the 1,000-yard mark the previous season.
New head coach Greg Schiano and the front office made a conscious decision to go out there and upgrade what were obvious flaws on the offensive side of the ball.
They signed Vincent Jackson away from the San Diego Chargers and traded back into the first round of April's draft in order to acquire former Boise State running back Doug Martin, who I had pegged as a top 15 pick prior to the draft. Tampa Bay also went out there and signed one of the best guards in the NFL Carl Nicks away from the division-rival New Orleans Saints.
The results couldn't have been any better.
Tampa Bay ranks fourth in the NFL in scoring offense at a bit over 28 points per game. It is 12th in total offense and 10th in rushing offense. Jackson has taken over as the teams' No. 1 wide receiver, enabling Williams to take on lesser cornerbacks as their secondary receiving option. The addition of Martin in the draft has also led to one of the better running backs in the NFC. While Nicks was injured back in October and will miss the rest of the season, Tampa Bay's offensive line has held up a great deal.
A more balanced offense has also helped Freeman limit his mistakes. He has thrown just seven interceptions in 349 attempts, including only two in his last six games (204 attempts.) While Freeman has seen his average attempts per game go up from last season, he isn't under as much pressure to lead the offense.
Martin is one of the primary reasons for that. He ranks fourth in rushing yards and second in total yards from the running back position as a rookie. That is just amazing.
So an offense that was disturbingly bad last season now has three of the top fantasy players at their positions in the NFL through 12 weeks of the 2012 NFL season. This offense also has Tampa Bay at 6-5 and right in the thick of the NFC playoff race.
Let's take a look at where some of their best skill position players stand through 11 games.
Tampa Bay has three starter-caliber fantasy players at its three main offensive positions. Freeman has been a top five fantasy quarterback over the course of the last five weeks, while Martin ranks second among running backs for the entire season, behind only Arian Foster. Meanwhile, Jackson ranks right behind Calvin Johnson at No. 4 among fantasy wide receivers and is averaging over 20 yards per reception.
The Buccaneers did it the right way too. They didn't just go out there and try to find quick fixes in the free agent market. Instead, Tampa Bay hand-picked Jackson, who seemed like a perfect fit for its new offense and made the decision to trade back into the first round to acquire Martin. In fact, Tampa Bay seemingly made the decision to pass up on Trent Richardson early by deciding to accumulate more picks by trading out of the No. 5 slot instead of trading up to acquire the consensus No. 1 running back in the draft. Those extra picks enabled the Buccaneers to, in fact, get Martin.
The end results are obvious. Tampa Bay now boasts one of the most dynamic young offenses in the entire National Football League. It is a unit that will remain viable around the world of fantasy football for quite some time.
Bravo to everyone involved.