“Counterparts to be counted on” is a 32-part series where we the “Front Office” of couchpotatogm.com analyze one offensive player and one defensive player on each team that MUST have a particularly strong individual season in 2016 for their respective teams to have a successful 2016 campaign. The continued development of Jameis Winston and improved play from the defense can turn the Buccaneers into a competitor as soon as 2016. Who else has to step up? Do they have what it takes?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers “Counterparts to be Counted On” 2016
Doug Martin – The league’s 2nd leading rusher in 2015. Jason Licht decided not to exercise Doug Martin’s 5th year option on his rookie contract due to a couple of injury plagued and inconsistent seasons after Martin’s highly impressive first year. In his contract year “Dougie Fresh” provided consistent production and balance to the Buccaneers’ offense led by rookie QB Jameis Winston. I expect Winston to continue to develop and ascend as a professional signal caller but a good running game is any quarterback’s best friend. In 2015, Doug Martin wasn’t good… he was great. His 1,402 yards was only bested by Adrian Peterson’s 1,485. Most impressive was Martin’s determined running style and yards after contact. The physical rushing attack led by Doug Martin was uncharacteristically old school in nature. Hat on a hat, I-Form, extra offensive tackle… punch you in the mouth. Martin averaged a robust 4.9 yards per carry and the Buccaneers as a team averaged 4.8 yards per carry tied for best in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.
The Buccaneers enjoyed one of their best seasons statistically from an offensive perspective in 2015. Certainly having competent quarterback play went a long way towards that, but, the Bucs as a team rushed for 2, 162 yards (5th most in 2015); Doug Martin accounted for 65% of that total. He’s got to stay healthy. The aforementioned rookie season (1,454) was exciting and encouraging but seasons two and three were utter disappointments (15 games missed) as the freshly minted Martin (5-year $35.75 million) could not stay out of the trainer’s room. While points come out of the passing game, Tampa Bay will continue to lean on Martin to set the tone offensively, help control time of possession while taking some pressure off of Jameis Winston, mitigate pass protection issues and shorten football contests.
Kwon Alexander – The Bucs may have something in the 4th round selection out of LSU. Alexander turned heads during training camp/preseason and parlayed his performance into the starting middle linebacker gig. A pretty impressive rookie season was marred by a 4-game suspension for PED use; Alexander missed the final four games resulting in four straight losses to end the season. Whether Kwon’s success was directly correlated to his use of banned substances remains to be seen but when he was in the lineup he proved to be a playmaker, routinely around the football.
The biggest issues with the Bucs’ defense has been a lack of a consistent pass rush and shaky play in the secondary. So why focus on a player at the second level of the defense? Well, in 12 games, Alexander demonstrated sideline-to-sideline speed and range finishing with 93 tackles (2nd most on team). He had 3.0 sacks (strong number for a middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense), two interceptions and nine passes defended. Additionally, he forced two fumbles (recovered one) and tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with seven. All of this suggests that Alexander made plays all over the field; at or behind the line of scrimmage and in coverage. Paired with weak side linebacker Lavonte David the Bucs could have one of the better linebacker corps (certainly among the best duos) in the NFL. Three-down linebackers who are just as effective on 1st & 10 as they are on 3rd & 12 don’t grow on trees; and if 2015 wasn’t an aberration and Alexander is the player we saw for three fourths of the season the defense may no longer be a liability in Tampa considering the acquisitions of free agents Robert Ayers and Brent Grimes as well as the draft selections of Vernon Hargreaves and Noah Spence.