Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2014 Season Review: Is There Any Hope?

Not a lot went right for the NFL's worst team in 2014, but is a savior on the horizon?

There was a time when many prognosticators thought the 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers could potentially be a playoff team. These were real people with real opinions, many of whom were often seen as credible sports writers with credible ideas.

That credibility took a major hit once the lowly Bucs actually took the field. Nothing went right from the beginning, with the Tampa 2 defense that first year coach Lovie Smith brought back looking outdated and ineffective. The offense, meanwhile, was crumbling behind a historically poor offensive line, mediocre quarterback play and uninspired play-calling from a fill-in offensive coordinator.

The team finished with only two wins, locking up the top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and the chance to ideally draft its savior at the quarterback position. And perhaps that’s where their hope rests as they move through an offseason of soul searching. So, what went wrong for the Buccaneers in 2014, what went right, and can Lovie Smith right the ship anytime soon?

The Good: A New Hope

Finding a silver lining for a team that finished near the bottom in every offensive metric is difficult. The quarterback position was a disaster no matter who was under center, with the team recently releasing one-year wonder Josh McCown after he posted a Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) on par with Michael Vick and Chad Henne in 2014, going just 1-10 as a starter.

Mike Glennon was equally mediocre, although far less embarrassing, posting a Passing NEP of 0.55. That ranked 33rd of 43 100-plus drop back quarterbacks in Passing NEP.

Yet things could have looked much worse if not for rookie wide receiver Mike Evans, their top pick from the 2014 draft, who eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving despite the dumpster fire of an offense around him. He was the lone bright spot for a team that struggled to move the ball on offense, using his size and leaping ability to snag 12 touchdowns and announce himself as a force to be reckoned with in 2015. That is, if anyone can get him the ball.

Evans finished 15th in the NFL in Reception NEP (100.30), far surpassing his more heralded (and reasonably effective) teammate Vincent Jackson. Both players went over 1,000 yards, but it was Evans who was more consistent and explosive, outpacing Jackson by 10 touchdowns on 19 fewer targets.

Both figure to be relevant in 2015, but Jackson is on the wrong side of 30 and is showing signs of slowing down, while Evans will be only 22 years old this season with an arrow pointing up. If either Winston or Mariota (and let’s face it, it will be Winston) can be just average at the quarterback position, Evans could be an offensive force in the coming years.

The Bad: All Is Lost

Outside of Mike Evans and perhaps Jackson, the team was a complete mess. It started up front, with the team investing millions in an offensive line that couldn’t block a fire hydrant. Even a late trade for Patriots Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins couldn’t stop the unit from ranking 32nd in penalties. Overmatched at every position up front, Glennon and McCown didn’t have much of a chance. The team finished 31st in the NFL in Adjusted Passing NEP as a result.

Former rookie sensation Doug Martin continued to his epic fall from grace, posting a Rushing NEP of -7.83, which ranked in the bottom half of the league. He averaged under four yards per carry for the second consecutive season, and once again looked lost in the passing game. He simply doesn’t possess the speed or creativity to compensate for poor blocking, and his future with the team is in doubt. While he did finish the season strong (ish), his deficiencies as a runner and especially in the passing game could push the team to cut ties with Martin.

That would be extremely likely if Charles Sims, the handpicked third-round draft pick of the Lovie Smith administration, had shown even a glimpse of ability as a rookie. Unfortunately, his first season was an injury-filled disappointment that saw him average just 2.8 yards per carry and post a Rushing NEP of -16.03, the ninth worst total in the NFL. While his work in the passing game was a moderate improvement, he simply didn’t display the explosiveness or tackle breaking ability that would put him on fantasy radars heading into 2015. The opportunity is there, especially if Martin is released or traded, but nothing we saw would give us hope for a breakout sophomore season.

Backup running back Bobby Rainey was probably the most effective of the backs (-5.59 Rushing NEP), but the restricted free agent is 27 years old and may not be back with the team. And even if he is brought back, the coaching staff seems more interested in developing its younger backs than investing in a career backup who struggled to hold onto the football in 2014.

The team also failed to develop consistency from the tight end position, whiffing on free agent addition Brandon Myers and getting only glimpses of promise from oft-injured rookie tight Austin Seferian-Jenkins. While the latter figures to be a bigger part of the passing game in 2015, he has yet to demonstrate the ability that would push him to fantasy relevance. While his talent suggests he is capable of being a mismatch and red zone threat at 6’5'', this offense doesn’t have the talent to support another dominant pass catcher. Yet.

Lastly, there's the defense. The unit ranked 23rd in the league overall, anchored by a strong run-stuffing group. The secondary, however, surrendered roughly 114 more expected points than they should have this season, ending the year ranked 31st against the pass.

The Future: All About the Quarterback

Media reports indicate the Buccaneers have zeroed in on quarterbacks Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota as their top pick, which provides both hope and uncertainty to a team desperate for a franchise quarterback. While rookie quarterbacks can infuse both hope and explosiveness to an anemic offense (see Luck, Andrew and Griffin III, Robert), more often than not, teams struggle to score with a rookie under center (see almost everyone else).

The Buccaneers are a team with an identity crisis on offense and defense, but the cupboard isn’t bare. With franchise cornerstones in Evans and Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David on defense, this is a team that could be two years away from competing if they can snag a true franchise quarterback with the first pick in the 2015 draft.

New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who spent the past three seasons with the Falcons, has a proven track record at the helm of a top NFL offense and did a masterful job with Matt Ryan and the injury-prone players around him. The Buccaneers head into this offseason looking to once again rebuild their offensive line as they prepare to develop their version of Matt Ryan, with Evans in the Julio Jones role and Jackson serving as a more physical Roddy White.

While the future isn’t bright, there is hope, namely in the future number-one overall pick. That is, as long as the crab legs are free for Winston in any Tampa area Publix.