Head coach Lovie Smith was brought to Tampa in 2014 in large part to fix a Buccaneers defense that had fallen toward the bottom of the NFL. However, despite getting the Bucs to 10th in the NFL defensively and making a four-win improvement over the previous season, Smith was let go — replaced by offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
Koetter brought in former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith to run his defense. That will mean a similar scheme for Tampa in 2016, and Smith has more than a little talent to work with — especially in the front seven.
Talent that should interest IDP owners.
Numbers in parentheses denote 2015 positional finish in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
The Tampa defensive line is anchored by tackle Gerald McCoy (DL33), who has wasted no time in making an impression on his new head coach according to Scott Smith of the team’s website. “Gerald McCoy could not be setting a better practice pace than he is,” said Koetter. “That guy is dominating in practice every day. When your best players are also your best practice players, it sets a great example for your team.”
Prior to the Buccaneers’ Week 6 bye last year, a healthy McCoy piled up 4.5 sacks and ranked twice among defensive tackles in fantasy points. Durability has been an issue with the seventh-year veteran, but if you’re looking for a sneaky DL2 play or a weekly starter in DT-required formats with elite upside at a less than elite price McCoy’s worth a long look.
Coming off a career year with the New York Giants in 2015, the Buccaneers signed veteran end Robert Ayers (DL15) to goose the pass rush. He told ESPN’s Jenna Laine that he’s already in regular season form on the practice field. “If something happens tomorrow,” Ayers said, “if I get beasted, I’m gonna get mad and I’m gonna try to respond. If I beast them, they’re gonna get mad and try to respond. That’s what I like about this unit — there’s a bunch of guys going at each other’s neck. That’s a good thing.”
The problem is that Ayers is coming off easily the best season of his career, and while the former first-round pick may just be a (very) late bloomer IDP owners need to be leery of chasing last year’s numbers. The same can be said for third-year pro Jacquies Smith (DL32). Smith got off to a white-hot start in 2015 and finished the year with seven sacks, but with youngster William Gholston (DL28) and rookie Noah Spence also vying for playing time opposite/behind Ayers the rotation and snap counts for the Tampa ends have the makings of a season-long headache for IDP owners.
2015 was an excellent example of why patience is sometimes a virtue for IDP owners. Over the first month of the 2015 season, linebacker Lavonte David (LB1) managed only 13 solos and barely ranked inside the top 30 at his position in fantasy points. From there, however, David went on a rampage — by season’s end he had outscored the next-closest linebacker by an average of nearly a fantasy point per game.
David told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he’s aware of his status as a leader of the Tampa defense.”As I go into my fifth year, I’m getting comfortable with being in the NFL, taking over the role of being a leader, knowing how the guys look at me as a leader and stuff like that,” David added. So I have to carry myself in a certain way. I noticed that if I’m down, certain guys might be down. If I’m up, everybody’s up. I look at things like that, just try to stay positive as much as I can and keep my energy level high.”
David wasn’t the only Tampa linebacker who performed well for IDP owners in 2015, but a suspension to close the year robbed some of the luster from the rookie campaign of Kwon Alexander (LB24). Wide receiver Mike Evans told ESPN’s Jenna Laine it was no coincidence that suspension coincided with a four-game losing streak. “I learned that we needed [middle linebacker] Kwon Alexander a lot,” Evans said. “He’s a great player. When he got suspended, we lost every game after that. He was a big piece.”
Both young linebackers are all but assured every-down roles in 2016. Both have substantial fantasy value. David is arguably the most valuable IDP not named J.J. Watt, while Alexander is worth a look as a second fantasy linebacker who can often be drafted in LB3 territory.
The offseason talk regarding the Tampa secondary revolved around their additions at cornerback. The team added Brent Grimes (DB69) in free agency, and selected Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves (DNP) with the 11th overall pick. Mike Mayock of the NFL network liked the pick, writing that, “Hargreaves has the best corner feet I’ve seen in the draft in the past two or three years. The only knock is that he has poor eye discipline.”
Still, the best bet for a fantasy-relevant cornerback in Tampa this year likely lies with holdover Alterraun Verner (DB130), who has topped 75 total tackles three times in six NFL seasons. He told the team’s website he plans to rebound in 2016 after a down year in 2015. “It’s a blessing to be out here,” he said. “It’s a blessing to go into a seventh year and there are no complaints on my part. I’ve got to just keep on working, no matter the circumstance.”
The safeties in Tampa are much like the cornerbacks — there’s some potential there for fantasy production, but not enough to really get excited about. Veteran Chris Conte (DB41) is far from a worldbeating talent, but it’s Conte who will ostensibly spend more time nearer the line of scrimmage. Youngster Bradley McDougald (DB39), on the other hand, is the better talent, and secondary coach Brett Maxie told Rick Brown of Today’s Pigskin he sees big things in McDougald’s future. “He has a great attitude,” Maxie said. “I think he can be a special player.”
However, it’s unclear if McDougald’s role will translate to any sort of consistent statistical production. In fact, as things stand today there’s really isn’t a defensive back in Tampa worth a draft pick in all but the deepest of IDP leagues.