The 2018 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season and/or beyond. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the final standings.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
The big takeaway from the Buccaneers’ 2018 season was that their passing attack was an absolute wrecking ball. An amalgamation of Winston and Fitzpatrick would have netted a quarterback who generated a whopping 5,358 passing yards and 36 touchdowns (which would have been good for first and third in those respective categories this past season), but also would have led the league by a wide margin with 28 turnovers. Winston began the year serving a three-game suspension as a result of an off-field issue, which thrust everyone’s favorite journeyman Fitzpatrick back into the role of starter that he seems to luck into just about every season dating back to about 2005. During the three games Winston was suspended, Fitzpatrick led the Buccaneers to a 2-1 record while throwing for over 400 passing yards in each of those contests, thus becoming the only quarterback in NFL history to accomplish such a feat. Fitzpatrick’s “Fitz Magic,” as his heroics became known as, resulted in the veteran keeping the starting job in Week 4 even after Winston was reinstated. As has typically been the case with Fitzpatrick his entire career, there’s an inverse relationship between expectations and performance. Fitzpatrick’s Week 4 struggles resulted in a benching, and Winston taking over as the starter mid-game during Tampa Bay’s Week 4 loss to Chicago.
After the Buccaneers’ Week 5 bye, Winston managed to survive until Week 8 before his cavalier attitude towards protecting the football caught up with him (11 turnovers between Weeks 4 and 8), and the Buccaneers pulled the plug and performed another mid-game swap, with Fitzpatrick being reinstalled at the top of the depth chart. The quarterback carousel was not done yet, however, as three games (and eight turnovers) later, Winston replaced Fitzpatrick during the Buccaneers’ Week 11 loss to the New York Giants, and this time the change was permanent. From Week 12 onward, the Buccaneers were Winston’s team, with the fourth-year signal caller seeming to gravitate towards a more judicious approach towards ball security with a 11-to-5 touchdown-to-turnover ratio during that span. Winston’s strong play over the final third of the 2018 season did enough to convince the team to stick with him as the Buccaneers’ starter for 2019, and considering Winston’s contract comes with the 18th-highest 2019 salary cap hit (lower than Case Keenum and Blake Bortles to name a few), there are much worse situations to be in out there. At just 25 years old, there’s still time for Winston to become a solid QB1 in fantasy if he can cut out some of the bone-headed turnovers, and the Buccaneers’ hiring of offensive guru Bruce Arians as head coach should help aid the young quarterback’s continued development. However, Winston’s off-field history has him on thin ice with the league’s disciplinary arm, as any further violation of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy could be potentially devastating for the young quarterback’s future. Despite the early season heroics, the Buccaneers seem content to let Fitzpatrick walk in free agency, though he should have no trouble latching on elsewhere with a team in need of a bridge starter or veteran insurance behind a shaky No. 1.
Overall it was a rough year for Tampa Bay’s run game, as they finished 2018 with the fourth-fewest team rushing yards, and have now fielded a Bottom 10 rush offense in each of the last three seasons. Third-year undrafted free agent Barber earned the Buccaneers’ starting job during the preseason, and was never really pushed by anyone as the campaign wore on. While 963 total yards and six touchdowns is a respectable total, Barber managed to go for more than 70 rushing yards just four times all year while struggling behind an offensive line ranked second-worst in adjusted line yards according to Football Outsiders. Eight-year veteran Rodgers was able to stick around as the Buccaneers’ backfield receiving threat after Charles Sims was placed on Injured Reserve during training camp, and often found himself being relied upon late in games where Tampa Bay was chasing a lead.
Thought to be a guy who would provide an immediate spark for the Buccaneers’ run game, second-round rookie (38th overall) was an absolute disaster. After not even averaging 1 yard per carry during the preseason (0.8 to be exact), Jones was relegated to healthy scratch status during the Buccaneers’ first three 2018 games. When Jones finally did get on the field, he was a liability both as a receiver and in pass protection before suffering a hamstring injury in Week 8 that shelved him for three games. Once healthy, Jones touched the ball just five more times the rest of the season. With a new coaching regime in town, running back will likely be one of the first offensive positions addressed. Rodgers is set to hit free agency, while Barber and Jones won’t be assured offensive roles. Perhaps Jones’ draft pedigree earns him a fresh look, though it also wouldn’t be surprising to see Tampa Bay spend another Day 2 draft pick on a running back this April to drum up some competition.