QB Josh Freeman
There weren’t many worries with Freeman entering last season after he had an outstanding year in 2010 with 3,451 yards and 26 touchdowns with just six interceptions. Unfortunately for Freeman owners he slumped badly in 2011 – his interceptions skyrocketing to 22 as he was victimized by his own poor decision-making and the sophomore slump that wide receiver Mike Williams experienced. Not helping matters was the team’s other sophomore receiver, Arrelious Benn, failed to develop. While Freeman clearly slumped on the field, his fantasy production actually went up 0.1 PPG to 19.4, padded by his four rushing touchdowns. There appears to be bright skies ahead for Freeman with the arrival of former Charger Vincent Jackson. Jackson’s presence will allow Williams to slide into more of a secondary role and provide Freeman with his first true established deep threat at wide receiver. Freeman ranks as a mid-tier fantasy backup with considerable upside in 2012.
RB Doug Martin
With LeGarrette Blount failing to build upon his solid rookie season and struggling for much of 2011, the Bucs traded back into the first round of this year’s draft to select Doug Martin. A solid all around running back, the Boise State product has decent size (5’9”, 223 pounds), agility and speed and excelled as a receiver and pass blocker in college. Martin’s skill set sets him apart from Blount, who has struggled in a receiving role and is more of a power runner. That makes Martin the favorite to open the season as the team’s starter and earn a significant amount of touches in 2012. Given the addition of guard Carl Nicks, further improving an already solid offensive line, and new head coach Greg Schiano’s preference to run the ball, Martin is a breakout candidate this season. The only issue dampening his fantasy prospects is that Blount is likely to earn the goal line work, which limits Martin’s touchdown potential. Consider Martin a mid to lower tier RB2 in 2012 and an outstanding dynasty league prospect.
RB LeGarrette Blount
Blount was a revelation for the Bucs as an undrafted rookie free agent picked up on the waiver wire after being released in the preseason by the Titans. He assumed the starting role at midseason for an ineffective Cadillac Williams and finished the season with 1,007 rushing yards and six touchdowns while averaging an impressive 5.0 yards per carry. However, his limitations as a receiver and pass blocker were evident and with the Bucs often playing from behind, Blount struggled mightily, finishing the year with 781 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He was especially ineffective down the stretch, accumulating just 137 yards and one touchdown on 46 carries over the Bucs final five games. His struggles caused the Bucs to draft Boise State product Doug Martin late in the first round of this year’s draft and he has entered training camp ahead of Blount in the pecking order at running back. While there are no guarantees that Martin will excel in his rookie season, he will get the first crack at earning a significant amount of playing time with Blount likely to get the goal line work and subbing in as a change of pace option. Consider Blount a low end RB4 entering the season and a potential flex option in larger leagues.
WR Vincent Jackson
With second-year players Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn suffering through sophomore slumps in 2011, the Buccaneers were in the market for a big play wide receiver and Jackson figures to take over as the team’s top threat in 2012. Jackson signed a five-year, $55-million contract with Tampa Bay that includes $36-million in payments over the first three years of the deal. The former Division II player out of Northern Colorado possesses excellent size at 6’5” and 230 pounds and speed as his career average yards per catch of 17.5 indicates. Jackson has also shown the ability to out jump defenders on deep balls. Removing his injury-marred, suspension and contract holdout shortened 2010 season, Jackson caught 187 passes for 3,371 yards and 25 touchdowns during the 2008, 2009 and 2011 seasons. However, that production was in San Diego. He goes from catching passes from one of the top quarterbacks in the league and playing in the league’s 5th ranked scoring offense to playing with a far more inexperienced quarterback coming off a horrible season and playing in the league’s 27th ranked scoring offense. Jackson was the 10th ranked fantasy wide receiver in 2011 but he rates as a mid-tier WR2 in 2012. Simply put, Josh Freeman is coming off a horrendous season and has not proven to be as accurate on deep passes as Philip Rivers and those plays have been Jackson’s bread and butter throughout his career.
WR Mike Williams
Williams wasn’t a complete bust last season but he was clearly a huge disappointment, as his yardage and touchdown totals plummeted from his rookie year in 2010 when he caught 64 passes for 955 yards and 11 touchdowns. With Vincent Jackson in the fold, Williams’ chances of matching his rookie production are unlikely, although it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if he approaches 1,000 receiving yards. However, given Jackson’s size and ability to stretch the field, Williams figures to be featured on more short and intermediate routes in 2012 and his red zone opportunities also figure to be diminished so a double-digit touchdown performance won’t be in the cards. Williams rates as a WR4 but is worth taking a flier on provided he shows a renewed dedication and remains in better physical condition.
WR Preston Parker
Entering his 2nd season in the league and coming off an unproductive rookie season, not much was expected of Parker. That won’t be the case in 2012. After putting together a solid season with 40 receptions for 554 yards and three touchdowns, Parker will challenge Sammie Stroughter for the team’s slot receiving role until Arrelious Benn returns from a sprained MCL suffered in late July. The former undrafted 6’0”, 200 pound free agent from North Alabama figures to have the upper hand in that battle. While Parker is shifty enough to be successful out of the slot, he lacks deep speed and is unlikely to deliver many big plays, limiting his fantasy upside. He also struggled down the stretch in 2011, catching 12 passes for 171 yards and no touchdowns over his final seven games. With the Bucs expected to feature Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, Parker isn’t worth owning in 2012.
WR Arrelious Benn
If there was any further evidence needed that NFL’s teams don’t take long in making up their mind about a player, we can add Benn’s history to the pile. Drafted in the 2nd round in 2010, Benn was expected to take over as the team’s lead wide receiver as early as that season, as the team entered the season with no established veterans at the wide receiver position. Unfortunately for Benn, fellow rookie Mike Williams took over as the team’s lead receiver and just when Benn was beginning to show some promise near the end of the season, he suffered a torn ACL in Week 16. As expected, Benn struggled following the ACL injury, finishing last season with just 30 receptions for 441 yards and three touchdowns. That prompted the Bucs to sign former Charger Vincent Jackson, dropped Benn out of the starting lineup and dropping his fantasy value to nil other than in the largest of leagues and in dynasty formats. A sprained right MCL early in training camp further clouds his 2012 prognosis. Unless he does the unexpected and beats out Mike Williams, Benn isn’t worth owning in 2012. Grab him off the waiver wire if he proves worthy.
WR Sammie Stroughter
Stroughter played well as a rookie in 2009, notching 31 receptions for 334 yards and a touchdown before breaking his foot late in the year. He played mostly out of the slot in 2010, seeing a decline in his production to 25 receptions for 248 yards and was even worse in 2011, playing in just six games and catching four passes for 52 yards. Having seen a decline in production for two straight years, Stroughter is unlikely to beat out Preston Parker for the team’s slot receiving role and the 2009 7th round pick may not even be on the Bucs roster on opening day.
TE Dallas Clark
When new Bucs head coach Greg Schiano decided to send a message to his team’s roster by releasing Kellen Winslow, it opened a door for former Colts tight end Dallas Clark to join the team. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that it opened a door for Clark to regain the fantasy glory that he enjoyed in the 2009 season when he topped 1,100 receiving yards and scored 10 touchdowns. With Schiano expected to install a run heavy offense, Clark’s limited blocking ability will negatively impact his playing time. Not helping matters is the presence of 2nd year player Luke Stocker, who will likely be the team’s main blocking tight end and who the Bucs feel could develop into a solid pass catcher. Clark will likely have a few solid games in 2012 but he is best used as bye week filler in most leagues.
TE Luke Stocker
The Bucs 2011 4th round pick, Stocker played little as a rookie catching 12 passes for 92 yards in a reserve role behind Kellen Winslow. With Winslow having been traded to Seattle and Dallas Clark signed as a free agent, Stocker’s chances for a bigger role in 2012 were increased. Given Clark’s poor blocking ability, Stocker has an opportunity to win the starter’s job and the Bucs like his potential as a solid all-around tight end. However, he is unlikely to be a solid fantasy option this season splitting time with Clark and slot receiver Preston Parker coming off a breakout season in 2011. Grab Stocker off the waiver wire if he surprises early in 2012 and consider him a lower tier dynasty prospect.