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Andy Behrens

Juggernaut Index No. 32: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. This is not an NFL power ranking. We're not predicting wins and losses here. In fact, we don't care about such things. Instead, we're reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it.

Last year, Tampa Bay finished 30th in the NFL in points per game (15.3) and 28th in total yards (287.5). The Bucs lost their most talented wide receiver to Cincinnati via free agency (Antonio Bryant(notes)), then used six of their nine draft picks on defensive players, and another on a punter. It's entirely possible that Raheem Morris' squad will improve in his second season as head coach, but the offense isn't going to lead the way. Tampa Bay offers remarkably little to the fantasy community.

In the preliminary 2010 Yahoo! player ranks, only one member of the Bucs placed as a recommended starter in a standard 12-team league. Kellen Winslow(notes) is ninth on our preseason draft board at tight end, despite the fact that he had yet another surgical procedure on his right knee this offseason (reportedly minor, but this is his fifth knee surgery). None of Tampa Bay's other skill players are threatening to open the season as fantasy starters. In the current rankings, this team doesn't have a top-25 quarterback, a top-35 running back, or a top-50 wide receiver.* It's not exactly a loaded roster.

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*OK, sure, rookie WR Arrelious Benn(notes) is technically 47th at his position in the composite ranks, but that's entirely due to the Brad Evans bump. (Noise rated Benn as his No. 35 wide receiver; both the ranker and the rankee attended the University of Illinois). If you disregard the outlier, Benn falls to No. 56. Evans really should have recused himself.

Quarterback Josh Freeman(notes) is entering his second season, and he showed a great deal of promise as a rookie. He has ideal size (6-foot-6, 248), a strong arm, and there are no questions whatsoever about his athleticism. Freeman led the Bucs to all three of their wins — including stunners over the Packers and Saints — but he was also painfully erratic in his first NFL campaign. He completed just 54.6 percent of his passes and threw 18 interceptions in just nine starts. You should have Freeman on the fantasy radar in dynasty leagues and two-quarterback formats, but elsewhere he's strictly a bye-week placeholder.

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We'd all feel much better about Freeman if his receiving corps wasn't so … well, so ordinary. There's a legitimate chance that a pair of rookies — Benn and Mike Williams, a fourth-rounder — will actually open the season as starters for the Bucs. With Bryant gone, there's no clear No. 1. Instead, the depth chart is full of No. 3's. None of Tampa's returning wideouts had a 100-yard receiving game last season. Sammie Stroughter(notes) led all returnees in receptions (31), Maurice Stovall(notes) led in yardage (366), and Michael Clayton(notes) had the best single-game performance (5-for-93 in Week 1). The Bucs' biggest offseason add at the position (other than the rookies) was Reggie Brown(notes), a multi-year fantasy disappointment.

If you absolutely had to draft a Tampa receiver — that would be the worst rule in fantasy history, but let's just say — then right now, Williams might be the guy. He's earned rave reviews thus far, although you should never take offseason, no-pads hype too seriously. He's reportedly ahead of the talented Benn at the moment.

Tampa Bay's offensive line is a legitimate strength, and they deserve much of the credit for the team's surprisingly not-terrible rushing performance in 2009 (4.0 YPC, 101.6 YPG). But none of the members of the Bucs' backfield are big-play threats. In fact, none of them are even medium-play threats. Carnell Williams(notes) figures to again lead the team in yards and carries, assuming his rebuilt knees hold up. (Cadillac's return to relevance following career-threatening injuries has been impressive, but that's no reason to nudge him up your pre-draft ranks). Derrick Ward(notes) will be in the rotation as well — perhaps for as many as 170 touches — and Earnest Graham(notes) will make a cameo appearance. None of these players are ideal fantasy starters, not in this low-yield offense. Williams is a depth pick in most fantasy leagues; Ward is a late, low-upside flier in larger formats.

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The Buccaneers allowed 25.0 points per game last season and they were dead-last in the NFL in stopping the run (158.2 rush YPG), so the team used its first two draft picks on defensive tackles: Gerald McCoy(notes) at No. 3 overall and Brian Price(notes) at No. 35. That pair should solidify the interior. McCoy will be a difference-maker immediately, although DTs aren't generally useful as IDPs in fantasy leagues. Stylez G White(notes) led the Bucs in sacks last season with 6.5, and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud(notes) again led the team in tackles with 142 (107 solo). Ruud hasn't created many turnovers so far in his career, but he's a high-volume tackler, and those guys typically finish near the top of the IDP scoring leaders.

Linebacker Geno Hayes(notes) (98 tackles in '09) could sneak into fantasy lineups during bye weeks, and so could safeties Tanard Jackson(notes) (71) and Sean Jones(notes) (61). But Ruud is the only member of Tampa's defense who needs to be drafted in most IDP formats. The Buccaneers team DEF didn't get a top-15 vote from any of the Yahoo! analysts, in spite of the upgrades.

Bottom line: There will be thousands of fantasy leagues in which no Bucs are owned on Sept. 12, when Tampa's season kicks off against Cleveland. That's the formula for ranking No. 32 in the Juggernaut Index. If you think we've rated Tampa Bay unfairly, however, then by all means, give us your best counterargument in comments. Otherwise, please tell us where you were when Michael Spurlock made a little history.

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