Every Down with Tampa Bay

So every year I try to make the offseason pass more quickly by watching one NFL team’s entire season again. It’s amazing how quickly you can go through an entire season when you take out advertisements, timeouts, and setting up for the next play. This year, the team I decided to watch was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay Fantasy FootballThis may come as a surprise to most, but for me it was simple: I wanted to see if the Bucs were ready to step up in 2013. I had only gotten to see one game that the Bucs had played, and it was a relatively poor performance against the Broncos. So I wanted to see for myself if Doug Martin was the real deal, if Josh Freeman’s occasional tanking took the rest of the team with him, and how Vincent Jackson fit into the Tampa Bay offensive scheme.

After watching every single play of the Bucs’ season, here is what I’ve found:

It’s a Team Effort

On many great offenses, when you own one of the players you feel like you are competing more with his teammates than you are against the defense. For example, in 2012 if you owned Wes Welker you may have found yourself constantly groaning when Brady passed to Gronkowski or Hernandez. The same thing is often true for owners of players on the Saints, Packers, Giants, Falcons and many other NFL teams. The Saints may win the game, may even crush the opposition, but your beloved player could leave your fantasy team reeling from a terrible performance. In fact, all of these previously mentioned teams have 7 or even 8 fantasy players who are being drafted in the top 200. It’s too many options for a quarterback to choose from, and your fantasy team is often the one who suffers.

Except on the Buccaneers, where there are only 4 viable fantasy starters: Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, and Josh Freeman. Compared to the teams mentioned above, who each had 6-8 fantasy viable players. (for a list of fantasy players on each NFL team click here). And for the Buccaneers, who averaged almost 52 fantasy points per game, this means that there is a surplus of fantasy points to go around. Now this sounds great in theory, but here is how it panned out for fantasy owners last year.

Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams

Bucs Fantasy FootballThis WR duo continued to score big points and surprise the league, even scoring big games at the same time. In fact, of the 16 games that Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams played in – one of them had a great game on average of every single game. Each of them individually had 8 games of 11 pts or greater or 50%.

But of those combined 16 good games, 11 of them came at the same time at a significant 69%. So when VJax went off for 18 pts against KC, Mike Williams did too. When Williams scored his season high of 20 pts against the Rams, VJax still had over 100 receiving yards. Sure, they both had times when they both scored poorly, but that is going to happen to any receiver. But overall, when you saw Vincent Jackson start going off it actually meant good things were coming for Mike Williams and vice versa.

Doug Martin

Not enough good things can be said about the Doug Martin, but one of the main ones is that he is the catalyst for this team. When Doug Martin scored 12 pts or more (which he did 9 times), every single game either Jackson or Williams scored well. And 44% of the time it was both at the same time. If you throw in the 3 games Doug Martin had where he scored 11 points, and on average if one Buccaneer had a good game then the others did as well. You will not find that to be true on the Saints, Patriots, Packers, or any other elite offense. These other elite teams simply have too many mouths to feed, and so the fantasy owners suffer.

Josh Freeman – the Love and the Hate

Tampa Bay Bucs Fantasy FootballFreeman suffered greatly from losing guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph to injury last year. He was pressured constantly by pass rushers, hit often during his release, and by the end of the season it was starting to show. Freeman began to slow down, make terrible throws, and led the team to fall short of the playoffs. His last 3 games he scored a total of 23 points. 23 points, spread over 3 games. That’s about as bad as it gets.

With Freeman it really comes to what you want to believe. He is getting his offensive linemen back this year, and the first half of the season he outscored Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton, and Tony Romo. All 3 are currently being drafted higher. Even with a new head coach, running back, and wide receiver – Freeman finished 13th among quarterbacks. He is currently going as the 20th quarterback in ADP. Personally, I think Freeman is going to have a great year and will be drafting him in many of my leagues.

So whether you love or hate Freeman, you have some valid reasons to do so. But don’t let your opinion of Freeman effect your drafting Martin, Jackson, or Williams.

Good Enough to Play Without Freeman

After watching the Bucs’ season, I am not going to try to convince you that Freeman is the steal of this year. There are enough question marks surrounding Freeman that over-selling him would be risky at best. But let’s look at how Freeman’s performance affected the rest of his team’s fantasy value. Last season, Freeman had 5 terrible games of 10 pts or fewer. Generally, this would be a death sentence for his wide receivers, the type of week where you don’t even want to look at your score if you own a Buccaneer on your fantasy team.

But, for Tampa Bay, it was different. In fact 50% of the time when Freeman had a terrible game his wide receivers were still able to post decent fantasy scores. Doug Martin 80% of the time still had a good game, and even had two games with more than 17 points. Considering that the Bucs’ wide receivers only had good games (11 pts or more) 50% of the time anyway, the actual damage done was only 3 points on average. It always helps to have your quarterback playing well, but even when Freeman stumbles his teammates were able to still reward their fantasy owners.

Doug Martin is Just Getting Started

It’s easy for people to write off Doug Martin as overhyped and point to his phenomenal game against the Oakland Raiders as an anomaly that will never again occur. In that game, the Muscle Hampster ran for 251 yards and over 50 fantasy points. It was incredible, and I agree that he may never have a game where he scores that high again. But to knock Martin out of the top 5 for running backs would be just as big of a mistake as expecting a couple 50 point games every season. Here’s why.

With the loss of Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, the Bucs had the 2nd worst blocking in the NFL, only better than the Cardinals. To give you an idea of how much a poor GBR hurts RBs, teams that were even near this poor of a GBR rating include the Chargers, Steelers, Packers, and Saints – none of whom had consistently productive running backs.

Doug Martin, in spite of this setback, ran for 1,400 yards and totaled over 1,900 yards with an average of 4.6 yards per carry. As a rookie. This is a higher average than Arian Foster, Ray Rice, and LeSean McCoy – the top 3 picks of 2012. Martin now has an improved offensive line, another year under his belt, and a backfield that is now completely his. The same cannot be said for Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy or Marshawn Lynch – all of whom have backups who are likely to steal significant carries. There is always the risk of injury with any running back, but beyond that Doug Martin is one of the 3 best RB options this year. His rookie year was not a fluke, but rather a sign of great things yet to come.

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Josh is a new father. Although he misses the days of sleeping through the night, Josh is incredibly happy to have a young son. Josh is a graduate student in Colorado, and he will be a licensed counselor by the end of the year. Josh is relatively new to the fantasy football scene, but he has reached league championships two years in a row, although he is still looking for the elusive championship win.

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