Bucs fall even further in the latest ESPN Power Rankings
In the latest edition of ESPN’s NFL Power Rankingsthe Bucs are at the bottom of the league at No. 29. This represented a drop of four spots from their No. 25 ranking in February’s “Way-Too-Early” ranking.
Is that fair? Is Tampa Bay currently one of the four worst teams in the NFL? Which has changed drastically since then the previous rankings, which came out after quarterback Tom Brady retired? Was it a case where other teams behind them have done more to improve over the past month and a half? It is difficult to estimate.
It feels hard to beat the Bucs, who still have a solid core, well below teams like the Jimmy Garoppolo-led Raiders (No. 18), the soon-to-be Aaron Rodgers-less Packers (No. 20), and the Commanders (No. 22). ). It’s also hard to put them below the Titans (No. 26) and Bears (No. 27).
That’s not to say that Tampa Bay should be placed in the top half of the ranking or anything, but perhaps this is more of an indictment of the way this ranking is organized. What separates the No. 29 Bucs from the No. 24 Saints? It can’t be much.
Therefore ranking in tiers is a more accurate way to judge the landscape of the competition. It’s much more plausible to consider the Bucs in the bottom one or two tiers of the league right now (I’d have them in the second tier from the bottom, for what it’s worth) than to say they’re No. 29 of the 32 teams. But I digress – on to the actual evaluation of where this team is.
No one will confuse the 2023 Bucs with the 2022 version of the team. The loss of Brady is a hard one to recover from, and the lack of a clear answer to the quarterback position is – rightly so, to some extent – a pause for analysts and fans alike when it comes to evaluating Todd’s team Bowles.
However, Tampa Bay is doing what it can to put together a roster that can compete in a weak NFC South. This isn’t some “bloated rebuild.” There are still some gaps to be filled, namely defense line and safety, while the team also needs to assemble a new offensive line.
But whoever the starting quarterback becomes — whether it’s 2021 second-round pick Kyle Trask or new signing Baker Mayfield — he’ll have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage and an emerging weapon in Cade Otton to throw at . He will also allow Rachaad White, who is looking to build on a solid rookie season, to take on a bigger role in the backfield.
Defensively, the Bucs still have Lavonte David and Devin White who make one of the better linebacker duos in the NFL. They also have an impressive starting cornerback duo in Carlton Davis III and recently re-signed Jamel Dean. Vita Vea and Antoine Winfield Jr. are also two key pieces of the squad, and while the pass rush is a question mark due to the age of Shaq Barrett/Achilles and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka’s inconsistency, there’s potential there too.
By the time even more players have come in and the draft is over, the Bucs should be more than capable of competing in their weak division. It’s hard to imagine them being the 29th best team out of 32 for a long time as it’s honestly hard to imagine right now. Do the Falcons (No. 28), Saints (No. 24), and Panthers (No. 21) have cores that make them superior to the Bucs? Hardly.
Bucs – Considering the conditions – have had a solid offseason so far
The Bucs have done pretty well this off-season given their salary cap and the need to fill a giant Brady-sized hole in their roster.
They came under the salary cap by making some tough decisions, saying goodbye to Donovan Smith, playoff hero Leonard Fournette and fan/locker room favorite Cameron Brate. The team also traded right guard Shaq Mason to the Texans and recently released Ryan Succop, the kicker who came in for the 2020 season and brought much needed stability to the position.
In terms of free moves, the two biggest actually involved the Bucs keeping their own homegrown players. Somewhat surprisingly, they could Dean (four years, $52 million) and later David, a legendary Buc, signed a new deal (one year, $7 million).
Anthony Nelson, Nick Leverett, Aaron Stinnie and Pat O’Connor are all back too. Mayfield (one year, up to $8.5 million) was the big addition, and he will come in and challenge Trask for the right to lead the new offensive coordinator Dave Canales system.
Defensive tackle Greg Gaines and running back Chase Edmonds were the other new signings, with both guys fitting in value signing form Jason Licht and Co. after this low season.
Especially in a weak NFC South, the Bucs have positioned themselves pretty well heading into next month’s draft. There is reason to believe that by the time the roster is complete and the team takes the field this fall, Bowles’ squad could be in contention for a third straight division title.
The best thing about off-season rankings is that they are just that: off-season rankings. It all takes place on the field from September to February. Perhaps the Bucs will become the 29th best team in the league this season, debating the opposite will feel like it was a huge waste of time. Or maybe, just maybe, they can outperform projections and prove many people wrong.
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