TAMPA–The 2020 NFL Draft was a virtual success for the league and for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who not only set the league on fire with the best free-agent season in franchise history but topped it off with a more than solid draft.
But did the Bucs do enough to finally vanquish the label of having the second-active longest non-playoff appearance in the NFL?
This offseason, the team was able to make strides toward ending that drought. But there are a lot of factors that will determine that outcome:
Are the Bucs better now than following the last game of 2019?
The COVID-19 effect.
Playoff Caliber Offseason
When last we saw Tampa Bay on the field, they were closing the season with a Jameis Winston pick-6 in overtime that ended the season and changed the direction of the squad.
Winston is gone and while earthquakes are rare on this side of the coast, the Bucs could rattle the country with their signing of quarterback Tom Brady and then set off aftershocks with their trade to get tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The Bucs doubled down on their offseason with an impressive draft with not only players who were good both on and off the field, but that could also come in and fill the needs of the team.
The 2020 Buccaneers Draft Class
Offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs from Iowa will be expected to fill the void of departed Demar Dotson on the right side of the line. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. from Minnesota is a ball-hawking rover who can play all over the field. Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn from Vanderbilt will have the opportunity to be the team’s featured running back and wide receiver Tyler Johnson from Minnesota could be the squad’s answer at third receiver.
Meanwhile, defensive lineman Khalil Davis (Nebraska), linebacker Chapelle Russell (Temple), and running back Raymond Calais (Louisiana-Lafayette) add depth and could develop into rotational players but will probably have to start off making the squad on special teams.
Did the Buccaneers Do Enough on Defense?
While the league’s No. 1 passing attack (third overall) appeared to get even stronger, the defense had more holes. Tampa Bay owned the league’s top rushing defense but was still ranked 15th overall because of the passing defense being ranked 30th. The Bucs also were 29th in points allowed.
Fortunately, there will be time to address any need the team feels it still has before the start of the regular season.
Defend the South
If Tampa Bay wants to make the playoffs, it starts with being better in their own division. Tampa Bay was 2-4 and 2-5 overall at home. The Buccaneers have to improve in both areas to even talk about the playoffs.
It won’t be easy. Tampa Bay will play home games against four 2019 playoff teams; NFC South rival New Orleans, Minnesota, Green Bay, and the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. While the road schedule features just one playoff team (Saints), there are squads that were in the playoff hunt (Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos) or beat the squad last season at home (Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants).
That’s a schedule that will test whether the Buccaneers are playoff ready or not.
The impact of COVID-19 is the elephant in the room that all 32 teams will have to deal with. There are so many unknowns. How long will they keep the country shut down? Will the season start on time? Will there be a full season? How long will teams have to prepare for the season? Will preseason games or training camps, valuable time to assess players, be cut short?
This will test the mettle of both the coaching staff and the front office to plan for all the scenarios and those not yet known. Rookies and new players who use OTAs to learn the system and get on the same page as their new teammates, won’t have the same time as in the past to get this done. The teams able to do it quicker will have more success when the season starts.
Even with the winningest quarterback in NFL history and one of the greatest tight ends to play the position on the squad doesn’t automatically make the Buccaneers a slam dunk to make the playoffs, much less become the first team to host a Super Bowl in their home stadium. Also, did they do enough to shore up their leaky defense? There are still pieces that have to come together and the uncertainty due to the status of the country doesn’t make that part easier.
The Bucs are better now than they were at the end of last season. But many teams on the brink of the playoffs last year are saying the same thing. Only time will tell if they are good enough to take that next step this season.