Juggernaut Index No. 24: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. We're interested in yards and points here. We began at No. 32, the NFL's least useful franchise (Oakland), and we're working our way toward the elite teams. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly resellable on E-Bay collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.

There was a knife fight rock-paper-scissors match between the Arcade regulars as we decided who would get stuck with the Tampa Bay spin. Consider what's on the menu here: a three-headed logjam at quarterback, a likely time share in the backfield, two talented but combustible players in the passing game, no more Jon Gruden to spice things up. But we don't dodge anything at the Juggernaut Index, so let's head on down to The Big Guava and see what's what.

The precocious Raheem Morris steps into his first head coaching gig with the Bucs, but he's got a defensive background and the offense is likely to belong to well-traveled coordinator and offensive mind Jeff Jagodzinski. Jags has plenty of experience with the West Coast offense and zone-blocking schemes (he worked with the godfather of zone blocking, Alex Gibbs), but it remains to be seen how effective he'll be getting his offense to fit the motley crew of quarterbacks he's working with.

Ah, yes, the Tampa Bay quarterbacks. I suppose there's no way of avoiding this messy position battle, though we're only discussing it because of how it affects the rest of the offense – you're not going to want any of these guys on your roster in a shallow or medium league.

Byron Leftwich(notes) has the edge when it comes to overall experience, but he's not a perfect fit for the West Coast offense and he struggled during minicamp season. Leftwich has one of the slowest releases in league history, the exact opposite of what you want in your WCO quarterback. Luke McCown(notes) hasn't been the quickest study to the new scheme, either, but he looked better in the spring and comes to summer camp as the favorite on paper. He posted a respectable 91.7 rating and 7.3 YPA over 139 pass attempts two years ago, but he only threw one pass last season.

Rookie first-rounder Josh Freeman(notes) is around to further complicate things, but he's more of a project than your typical first-round pick, a superb athlete who's a long way from understanding the finer points of the position. Freeman also isn't signed yet, and it's doubtful that he'll get any meaningful playing time in-season until the Bucs fade out of playoff contention. If you wind up drafting any of the receiving options here, you'll want Freeman on the bench for the entire season. The Pro Football Weekly scouting report has so much red ink on Freeman, I don't have the heart to post it in the main part of this article; if you want the dirt, head to the comment section and we'll show the file.


With so much uncertainty in the pocket, it's good news for the Bucs that they've got excellent depth at running back. Free agent addition Derrick Ward(notes) probably will be the starter (you don't throw a four-year, $17 million contract at a runner unless you want to feature him), but the versatile Earnest Graham(notes) can't be discounted.

Ward exploded in his fifth season, posting numbers you almost never see from a No. 2 running back: 1,409 yards from scrimmage, 5.6 yards per carry, 41 receptions. Full disclosure, the setup with the Giants was just about perfect for Ward last year; New York had the best offensive line in the league by far and Brandon Jacobs(notes) generally got the first-quarter work, wearing down defensive fronts and making it easier for Ward to exploit tired defenders (check out Ward's production by quarters last year, it tells a story).

Ward might not be a great fit for short-yardage work; he scored just two touchdowns and had problems working in the goal-line package. Ward makes more sense in yardage-heavy leagues, but he might have trouble scoring more than 5-6 times and we've got him conservatively slotted (No. 21 at RB) on the current Yahoo! expert board. The early drafters in the crowd are even more bearish, slotting Ward No. 23 overall and behind Marshawn Lynch(notes) and Joseph Addai(notes), among others.

Graham weighs the same 225 pounds as Ward but he's two incher shorter and a little thicker, and slower – he's been a capable goal-line guy during his career and it won't be a surprise if the Bucs make him their specialist from in close. Graham was a Top 10 fantasy back during his surprising 2007 campaign and he was useful enough in 10 games last year (73 total yards a game, four TDs) before an ankle injury (and subsequent surgery) wiped out his season. Graham looked fully healed during spring workouts, and he's going to be a regular part of this offense, somehow.

Antonio Bryant(notes) should be the featured receiver in the passing game and let's give him a long ovation for the dominant performance he gave us during the fantasy playoffs last year (a zesty 23-435-4 line during Weeks 14-16). So why is he merely No. 18 on our current staff ranks? Because Gruden is gone, Jeff Garcia(notes) is gone, and Bryant doesn't have a history of being the most consistent guy, year-to-year, that's why. Bryant's breakthrough seasons in 2002 and 2005 were met with notable dips the following year, and it's hard to feel confident in the QBs that will be pitching him the pig.

New tight end Kellen Winslow(notes) might not mind the Tampa Bay quarterback situation so much – remember what he dealt with last year with the Browns. The Bucs aggressively pursued the Winslow trade in the offseason and handed him a six-year, $36.1 million extension upon completion, and Winslow should be plenty motivated to restore his name and reputation after the way things crash landed for him in Cleveland. Winslow's per-game stats have been strong during his career (4.97 RPG, 55.9 YPG), but keep in mind he's played just two full seasons out of five and he's scored a modest 11 touchdowns over 44 games.

Buccaneers Banter: Michael Clayton(notes) got a new deal and should hold onto a starting spot, though he's more respected as a blocker than as a receiver and it was curious to see Jagodzinski botch Clayton's first name during a spring interview. I'd rather watch George Clooney play a NYC fixer than spend my Sundays tied to this Clayton story, but you can decide if the No. 2 receiver in this pedestrian passing game is worth it. … Matt Bryant(notes) had a strong 2008 season and anyone with a heart had to be rooting for him every step of the way, but the Bucs brought in Mike Nugent(notes) (seven years younger) to challenge him. … The Bucs defense had just 29 sacks last year but five runback TDs pushed Tampa into the Top 10 at the position. I'm not willing to bet on that repeating, and other than LB Barrett Ruud(notes), there's not a lot of IDP buzz here. … The schedule doesn't do Tampa any favors, especially over the opening seven weeks – the Bucs face all of the NFC East clubs over that span in addition to the Panthers and Patriots. If you want to play palm reader and figure out what the Bucs will do during the fantasy playoffs, here's your slate: Jets at home, then trips to Seattle and New Orleans. Vegas isn't expecting a lot from the Bucs this year; their over/under is currently trading around 6.5 wins.

Earlier Juggernaut posts: 32) Oakland, 31) Cleveland, 30) St. Louis, 29) Miami, 28) NY Jets, 27) Baltimore, 26) Washington, 25) San Francisco.


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Photos via Associated Press, Getty Images

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