30th in a series.
The Bucs have a new head coach in Greg Schiano, a defensive specialist who will bring toughness to the unit, and have hired Mike Sullivan — the former Giants quarterbacks coach — as offensive coordinator. His work was evident with Eli Manning's fourth-quarter comebacks and ability to succeed under pressure.
Can QB Josh Freeman bounce back?
Sullivan should improve Freeman's play, as the QB took a step back in all aspects but didn't receive much help from his receivers. He will have to work on his accuracy and decision-making ability before fantasy owners regain faith. Sullivan is likely to depend on a ground game to help protect Freeman and set up the pass. It's no different from what the Giants like to do to keep pressure off the quarterback. Freeman ended the 2011 season with 3,592 yards and 16 TDS with 22 interceptions and chipped in 44-238-4 on the ground — an average of 239.5 yards and 1.3 total TDs with 1.5 interceptions with 15.9 rushing yards in 15 games. Those are numbers to build on, but with a new offensive coordinator and head coach there could be a learning curve, giving Freeman minimal fantasy value going into 2012.
Where does the rushing attack go?
LeGarrette Blount ended a disappointing season with 184-781-5 rushing and 15-148-0 receiving on 25 targets — an average of only 12.3 attempts for 55.8 yards and 0.3 TDs in 14 games. When the team fell behind, as it often did during its 10-game losing streak to end the season, he exited the game for a pass-receiving back and you can't produce from the bench. Blount said he worked on his receiving skills, but the offseason work wasn't enough to garner him a three-down role. As a runner, Blount on occasion showed he has the power to get past the first line and then run over defenders. With a young team getting used to a new offense, the Bucs again could find themselves behind — and that once again will hurt Blount's production. Many will overvalue him based on talent but until the team shows it can keep games close, Blount will lose touches. He's a middle-round pick but is a hold in long-term dynasty leagues.
Earnest Graham is a free agent and his future with the team is unknown. He's 32 years old and will enter his eighth season with injuries and heavy mileage. He has no value right now and neither does Kregg Lumpkin (31-105-0 rushing and 41-291-0 on 53 targets), who's also a free agent. Regardless of who fills the third-down role, the Bucs struggled to stretch the field. For the rushing attack to improve, they need to improve their passing game.
Is there any fantasy value with the wide receivers?
Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn are entering their third seasons and one would expect a breakout but it's unlikely as the team implements a new offense. Some fantasy owners are wondering if Mike Williams is the next Michael Clayton, who peaked his rookie year only to disappoint every season after that. Williams ended the 2011 campaign with 65-771-3 receiving on 124 targets — an average of four catches for 48.2 yards and 0.19 TDs on 7.75 targets in 16 games. Williams was a nonfactor outside Weeks 11-13, where he amassed 18-260-2. He should be seen as a No. 3 or flex-position play entering the season.
Benn is a former second-round pick, and the team expected more from him than finishing fifth in targets and sixth in receptions. He ended with 30-441-3 receiving on 51 targets — an average of two catches for 29.4 yards and 0.2 TDs on 3.4 targets in 14 games. He has no fantasy value entering the offseason. Preston Parker (40-554-3 on 64 targets), Dezmon Briscoe (35-387-6 on 51 targets) and Sammie Stroughter (4-52-0 on seven targets) will battle for playing time or roster spots. The team likely is looking for a vertical threat — rumors have them pursuing free-agent WR Mario Manningham this offseason — so, the position could look different by training camp.
Is Kellen Winslow done as a fantasy relevant tight end?
The big talk with Winslow is the team can release him and save $4.8 million without taking a salary-cap hit. The knock on Winslow is that he will enter his eighth season with a bad knee and his best days look to be behind him. The truth is that the entire offense sputtered in ’11, and despite that he ended with 75-763-2 receiving on 121 targets — an average of 4.7 catches for 47.69 yards and 0.13 TDs on 7.56 targets in 16 games. The team lacked a vertical threat and Josh Freeman elected to go to him as a check down. His 121 targets were second to Mike Williams' 124. He can still produce but has no fantasy value with his status in limbo. If he sticks with the Bucs he's a late round fantasy draft as a No. 1 in larger leagues but preferred as a No. 2.