It’s a bit past the halfway point of the season, which means by now we have a pretty decent idea of who the key contributors for the Buccaneers are. While the team itself has been a huge disappointment in a horrible, winnable division, there are some individual performances to focus on, especially as the team moves forward and has plenty of decisions to make.
One stat we’ll focus on is EPA, which is “Expected points added.” What the hell does that mean (a question I’ve been asking for the past few weeks as I’ve seen it on Twitter/X)? It’s a sort of catch-all stat that measures how each individual player can directly affect the outcome of a game by making plays that increase a team’s expected points based on their field position. There’s several other stats specific to position groups that we’ll bring up, but I’ll explain them as they come.
Without further ado, we’ll discuss some contributors whose places on the team are tenuous at best.
We’ll start with his EPA/play; he comes in at .09, good for 11th in the NFL amongst qualified QBs. Not too bad, right? Of course in more traditional QB stats he’s a bit more below average, like completion %, passing yards and passing TDs. However, an important note to make is that the Bucs have one of the highest rated offensive lines in football in regards to pass protection; Baker rocks a really low sack %, yet he scrambles more than most QBs in the league. The Bucs also have Mike Evans, one of the best receivers in the NFL analytically (we’ll get to him) and Chris Godwin, who’s not an analytics darling but is someone who is incredibly productive for being a “#2 option.”
What does this all mean, specifically in regards to should the Bucs keep him around? Well… it’s hard to say. There are a lot of factors that would contribute to him staying and him leaving; do the Bucs draft someone? Are they firing Todd Bowles, which therefore gives them a reason to try and give a brand new (likely offensive-minded) head coach a brand new QB that the HC hand-picks? What does the salary cap situation look like?
All to say, it’s still up in the air. He’s played well enough to warrant keeping him around, but not nearly well enough to give him an extension and commit to him long-term and miss out on an opportunity to draft a franchise QB.
If it were me, I’d stick with him for another year, giving him another 1-year prove-it deal to bridge the time between rebuilding the roster for their franchise QB. The absolute worst thing they could do would be to rush it and get their “guy” while the rest of the roster still needs a lot of work, setting the guy up for failure. If Baker comes in and struggles next year, it’s no biggie, they’re moving on from him anyways. But unfortunately that’s not very often how teams work; GMs love drafting QBs in the first round and telling ownership they “need time” to see him develop; it’s job security. So, yeah, we’ll see how it all goes.
Is he a dynamic pass catching back? Yes. He’s got the best receiving yards over expected rates in the league amongst backs.
Is he a good between-the-tackles traditional back? Eh… the stats (both traditional and analytical) say no.
His explosive run rate is abysmal, amongst the lowest in the league, and although his negative run rate is also pretty low, his EPA/play is also in the bottom 10 of the NFL for qualified ball carriers.
Factor in a low success rate % and the second lowest yards created rate and you’ve got yourself a putrid run game. How much of that is his fault vs. a bad o-line?
From the numbers, it seems to be a mix; White is amazing in the open field and seems to make guys miss, especially after the catch, yet he can’t seem to translate that success when handed the rock. Just a confusing issue, one that for me means focusing on the interior o-line in the draft and offseason, then maybe giving White a solid power-running partner in the backfield. But interior o-line first.
Ouch. Evans is where things get really difficult to evaluate what the Buccaneers should do. He’s not a YAC guy, but pretty much every other statistic, both basic and advanced, paints a very clear picture: Mike Evans is still very good at what he does. He gets open, he adds a ton of value, and he’s a great number 1 target for whoever’s lined up under center for the Bucs.
But… he’s going to be 31 by the time next season begins. He’s going to cost a pretty penny, as there are going to be a multitude of teams vying for the veteran’s services. And the Buccaneers have a long list of other players that need extensions and don’t have the same age concerns.
In the pro category, Evans has shown he hasn’t lost a step and is the same old Mike, on his way to what will likely be yet another 1k yard season. He’s seemingly a great leader and doesn’t do anything off the field to draw any negative attention to himself or the team, somewhat of a rarity at the wide receiver position.
I’m a big fan of Mike, so this decision is painful, but I’d let him walk if I’m the Buccaneers. Not only from a purely franchise-focus perspective, allocating what precious cap space you end up with towards other positions and avoiding potentially paying an aging wideout a big pay day, he deserves to play for a winner. The Bucs aren’t going to be that next season.
Yeah, this is a whole category in and of itself, because the entire group needs work. Both Ryan Neal and Antoine Winfield, Jr. are free agents, and the lack of depth at corner has reared its ugly head on a consistent basis with Dean being unable to stay healthy from week-to-week.
The Buccaneers as a group are bottom-10 in EPA/Pass and are also bottom-10 in “Eckel %” (a stat that measures the % of drives allowed that are considered “quality,” which means they allowed either a big TD or record a first down inside the opponent’s 40-yard line) despite allowing one of the lowest EPA/rush rates in the league, indicating just how bad their secondary is.
Given, their pass rush is also average at best, with a slightly-above-average sack rate, but anyone who watched that Texans game knows CD3 ain’t gettin’ it done anymore.
Unfortunately the Buccaneers won’t have enough draft picks or cap space to properly address this position, and the likely scenario is that they at least run it back with CD3 and Dean next season with AWJ perhaps getting a big payday elsewhere. Hopefully they can find the room to bring him back, but I just don’t see a way in which they can afford to bring back one of the more productive safeties in football.
While NFL advanced analytics are still developing, there’s a lot of information to be gleaned from this type of information. They can obviously slow down the run, their passing game is slightly above average, and they suck at running the ball and stopping the pass. These are obvious things, but it’s still nice to know the eyes don’t fool you.
Hopefully moving forward the Buccaneers can either commit to a rebuild and start to infuse even more youth into an aging roster, because the team lacks a lot of young players to build around and they’re still not very good.
Otherwise they’ll keep banging their head against the wall in a bad division.