QB Josh Freeman
(2012 QB Rank – #13, 20.3 FPts/G)
Entering his fifth year in the league, Freeman faces a make-it-or-break-it season in Tampa Bay. With the Buccaneers having failed to sign him to a long-term extension, Freeman will enter 2013 in the final season of his rookie contract with no guarantees that he will be back in Tampa Bay next year. While he topped 4,000 passing yards for the first time in 2012 and had a reasonably solid 27-17 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Freeman came apart as the season came to a close. He had a pair of four-interception games in the team’s final three contests and threw just six touchdown passes in the Bucs final six games as Tampa Bay skidded to a 1-5 finish. One thing is certain and that is that Freeman has all of the physical tools necessary to be a complete NFL quarterback. While his accuracy was off in 2012 with a 54.8 completion percentage, he topped 60 percent in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons. His biggest issue is his poor decision-making, and that will need to be corrected if he wants to earn a big payday from Bucs management. Entering his second season in offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan’s offense with his motivation high, Freeman should be considered an upper-tier QB2 with upside.
RB Doug Martin
(2012 RB Rank – #3, 16.5 FPts/G; #2 PPR, 19.6 FPts/G)
To think, most of us believed Martin would cede some touches and the goal-line work to LeGarrette Blount in 2012. The Bucs’ 2012 first-round pick laid those plans to waste, exploding onto the scene and emerging as a workhorse back in his rookie season. By season’s end, he had totaled 368 touches, 1,454 rushing yards, 472 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. At 5’,9” and 223 pounds, Martin is an explosive package of power, speed and agility and a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. If you are looking for a wart or two on Martin’s rookie season (hey, that’s my job, right?), you could point out that that 32 percent of his production came in just two games, Week 8 and 9 wins over the Vikings and Raiders. OK, enough with the negativity. As a threat to top 2,000 total yards playing in a backfield where the backups are a mixed bag of unproven players and veteran retreads in an offense that likes to run, Martin is fantasy gold. Consider him a rock-solid top five fantasy RB, and one who could go as early as the second pick in your auction.
RB Peyton Hillis
(2012 RB Rank – #66, 4.1 FPts/G; #69 PPR, 4.1 FPts/G)
Whether it has been injuries or attitude or the realization that his breakout season in 2010 was a fluke, Hillis has done precious little during the last two years. Other than generate headlines for all of the wrong reasons, that is. In 2013, he joins the Bucs but isn’t even guaranteed a roster spot. He will need to beat out the likes of veteran journeyman Brian Leonard, rookie sixth-round pick Mike James, and 2011 seventh-round pick Michael Smith to earn the top backup spot behind Doug Martin. Yes, it has been a precipitous decline. If you’re in a really deep league and you’re a Browns fan who truly enjoyed Hillis’s career year in 2010, then grab him for nostalgic reasons. Otherwise, move on.
RB Mike James
(2012 RB Rank – N/A)
A bowling ball of a runner out of Miami, James will battle to be the Bucs’ top backup running back in 2013. The rookie sixth-round pick has solid size at 5’11” and 22 pounds and was considered the favorite to land the role before the team signed veteran free agent Peyton Hillis. The Bucs are a young team, however, and we suspect that Hillis is little more than insurance in the event that James doesn’t measure up. Whoever wins the role isn’t expected to eat into Doug Martin’s touches, so James is likely waiver-wire material in almost all formats.
RB Brian Leonard
(2012 RB Rank – #106, 1.4 FPts/G; #98 PPR, 2.4 FPts/G)
Leonard joins the Bucs after stints in St. Louis and Cincinnati. He will battle a cast of unproven players and veteran Peyton Hillis to backup Doug Martin. While the sixth-year veteran is a solid player, capable as both a running back and fullback, he offers no upside, having never topped 400 total yards in any season. You can do better.
RB Michael Smith
(2012 RB Rank – N/A)
The Bucs’ 2011 seventh-round pick, Smith failed to get a single touch during his rookie season. The Utah product will battle Brian Leonard, Peyton Hillis, and rookie Mike James for the scraps that Doug Martin leaves behind. Unless Smith wins the battle and Martin gets injured, there isn’t any reason to have Smith on your roster on opening day other than in dynasty formats.
WR Vincent Jackson
(2012 WR Rank – #6, 11.7 FPts/G; #13 PPR, 16.2 FPts/G)
Jackson arrived in Tampa Bay in 2012 and promptly put together the most productive season of his eight-year career. His ability to generate big plays didn’t suffer with the move from San Diego, as he set career highs in receptions (72) and yards (1,384) while continuing to score plenty of touchdowns, finishing with eight on the season. He also averaged a healthy 19.2 yards per reception as he remained one of the league’s preeminent deep threats. And he did all that despite the streaky play of quarterback Josh Freeman. Therein lies the problem with Jackson. While he finished the season as a top 10 fantasy WR, he caught less than half of his targets and had several poor outings, including six games where he was held to six fantasy points or less. With Freeman essentially in a make-it-or-break-it season, there is hope that Jackson can avoid the lengthy slumps that have plagued him throughout his career, and that would go a long way in reducing his own inconsistencies. Consider him a low-end WR1 in 2013.
WR Mike Williams
(2012 WR Rank – #18, 9.6 FPts/G; #20 PPR, 13.5 FPts/G)
It is generally a bad idea to chase touchdowns in fantasy football, but occasionally there are exceptions to that rule. Meet Mike Williams. The Bucs’ clear No. 2 wide receiver behind Vincent Jackson, Williams is coming off a season in which he caught 63 passes for 996 yards and nine touchdowns. That brings the touchdown count over his three-year career to a very solid 23. To be sure, there is plenty of risk with Williams. He fell in the draft due to maturity issues, struggled in his second season after a solid rookie campaign, and he just got paid to the tune of $40.3-million over six years with $9.4-million in guarantees. However, he is in the perfect situation in Tampa Bay as a No. 2 receiver. With Vincent Jackson one of the league’s top deep threats, Williams can handle the intermediate routes and surprise with the occasional big play. Since the fantasy world seems to be down on him, he should represent decent value on draft day as a solid WR3.
WR Tiquan Underwood
(2012 WR Rank – #81, 3.9 FPts/G; #80 PPR, 5.9 FPts/G)
Underwood emerged as the Bucs’ top backup receiver in 2012, having the best season of his four-year career. The former Jaguar set career highs in receptions (28), yards (425) and touchdowns (2) as he took over the slot-receiving role early in the season. While Underwood was a decent performer, his low completion-to-target percentage of 50.9 was likely the main reason the Bucs brought in former Cowboy Kevin Ogletree in the offseason. Since Underwood was the more consistent performer of the two, we expect him to win the job, but there is a decent chance that Ogletree will earn some looks as well. Underwood is unlikely to have much fantasy value this season, barring injury further up the depth chart.
WR Kevin Ogletree
(2012 WR Rank – #66, 4.9 FPts/G; #72 PPR, 7.2 FPts/G)
After three seasons of being a training-camp star for the Cowboys, Ogletree had a breakout game in Week 1 of last season, hauling in eight receptions for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Giants. Then he vanished, catching just 24 passes for 322 yards and two more scores over the balance of the season. Signed by Tampa Bay in the offseason, he will look to unseat Tiquan Underwood as the team’s top backup receiver. Even if he wins that role, we’ve seen enough of Ogletree over the past four years to know that he lacks the consistency to be a solid fantasy option.
TE Luke Stocker
(2012 TE Rank – #50, 1.9 FPts/G; #49 PPR, 3.2 FPts/G)
Stocker, the Bucs’ 2011 fourth-round pick, played little as a rookie and failed to unseat aging veteran Dallas Clark last season, appearing in 12 games and catching 16 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. With Clark no longer a Buc, Stocker will assume the starting role in 2013, but there is little to no reason to suggest he will have a breakout season. While Stocker has enough skill to be a starting tight end in the league, he has shown precious little as a receiver. He is waiver wire material in all formats.