Fantasy Outlook: Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay's full-scale rebuilding project began last year with the hire of rookie Head Coach Raheem Morris and the selection of Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. The Bucs are one of the NFL's youngest teams, and their 33-year-old coach is hoping that the collection of young talent the franchise has accrued in the past two seasons begins to show results on the field. There are very few established veterans on the offensive side of the ball, particularly in the passing game.

Sophomore quarterback Josh Freeman has shown potential, but with the departure of Antonio Bryant, Freeman is surrounded entirely by youngsters at the wide receiver position. Tampa Bay invested high draft picks in the 2010 NFL Draft on Syracuse's Mike Williams and Illinois' Arrelious Benn. Sophomore wide out Sammie Stroughter is coming off an injury, and the only veteran added to the equation this offseason was disappointing former Eagle Reggie Brown. Veteran tight end Kellen Winslow remains a top-ten fantasy option, while Williams and Benn are excellent late round sleeper candidates.

Cadillac Williams led the Buccaneers in rushing last season coming off a second patellar tendon tear, an injury that is considered career-threatening after just one. Williams easily unseated free agent acquisition Derrick Ward as Tampa Bay's starting running back last season. Williams and Ward form another solid running back tandem with middle round draft value for fantasy owners in 2010-11.

A major overhaul on the defensive side of the ball was in order, and the selection of Oklahoma defensive tackle (3rd overall) and UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price (35th overall) provide Tampa Bay with two solid defenders to anchor the middle of the defensive line. The only acquisition of note during free agency was former Philadelphia safety Sean Jones.

Tampa Bay is loaded with young talent, there are no stars on this team besides middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. The Buccaneers are making progress, and they desperately need to mature and learn how to win before they become contenders in one of the NFL's strongest divisions. If Tampa doesn't get the instant impact they expect from their young playmakers, then it will be impossible for them to get out of the NFC South basement.
QB Josh Freeman, TB (QB - #27) - Deep-league Only

Freeman is the unquestioned leader, and face of the franchise for the Buccaneers entering 2010-11. Freeman showed glimpses of greatness over the Bucs' final nine games of the 2009-10 season with three multi-touchdown games, three games with at least 250 yards passing and five games with at least 20 yards rushing. Freeman also struggled mightily at times, as he had five games with at least two interceptions, four games fewer than 200 yards passing and six games where he completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes last season.

The major problem for Freeman this season will be that his receiving corps is extremely thin because of the departure of reliable veteran Antonio Bryant as a free agent, which will hurt the most. Freeman will be working with and developing rookies Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams, along with second year talent Sammie Stroughter and the lone veteran Reggie Brown. All four are extremely raw for starting wide receivers at the NFL level. His main target will undoubtedly be tight end Kellen Winslow this year.

The lack of established veteran targets could hurt Freeman's production significantly since he'll need solid receivers to catch his passes and build up his fantasy value. Fantasy owners should consider Freeman a number two backup quarterback worthy of a selection in the late rounds. Freeman certainly has the upside, but the absence of talent at the wide receiver position in Tampa Bay remains a huge issue. If Benn and Williams step up, Freeman could have fantasy value this season.

RB Carnell Williams, TB (RB - #31) - Sleeper (undervalued)

After a series of catastrophic knee injuries in recent years, its amazing that Williams can still play in the NFL; last season Williams was an unexpected fantasy star who turned in solid performances from start to finish. Williams played all 16 regular season games for the first time in his career, and piled up 823 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 211 carries. Williams also added 28 catches for 217 yards and three additional touchdowns. His 1,040 total yards and career high seven total touchdowns have fantasy owners hoping he can pick up right where he left off at the end of last year.

Williams will not shoulder the entire workload by himself, and will likely split carries with the disappointing Derrick Ward. Though based on his performance last season, Williams will be the Buccaneers' featured back, capable of producing as a number two or three fantasy running back. He will be worth a selection in rounds six or seven of fantasy drafts this season.

RB Derrick Ward, TB (RB - #47) - Quality Backup

Ward was excellent for the New York Giants, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, eclipsing 1,000 yards and starting three games in place of Brandon Jacobs during the 2008-09 season. Ward signed a 4 year $17 million deal with the Buccaneers during the 2009-10 offseason, but the success he had in New York didn't carry over to his first season in Tampa Bay (as many fantasy owners had expected it would). Cadillac Williams -- not Ward -- took over the starting role, and put up respectable fantasy numbers last season.

Ward was a colossal disappointment for fantasy owners last season finishing the year with only 409 yards and one touchdown on 114 carries. Ward continued to excel as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 20 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns last season. The most disappointing stat from last year was that Ward only topped 10 total touches in half of the games he played.

Ward remains in the mix for a couple of touches per game, but the starting job is firmly in the grasp of Williams. Ward is worthy of a selection in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts this season because given Williams' lengthy history of injuries, there is a good chance Ward could take over the starting role at some point in the 2010-11 season.

RB Clifton Smith, TB (RB - #126) - Low Potential

With Earnest Graham taking a larger role on special teams and as the Bucs' primary fullback, Smith is now the number three running back on the Tampa Bay depth chart. Smith's season ended in December last year with a concussion, but prior to that, Smith was almost exclusively a special teams contributor. Smith finished the year with seven yards rushing, and four yards receiving (numbers hardly worthy of being a blip on fantasy owners radar). Smith's special teams value in reality is tremendous to the Bucs, but he doesn't deserve fantasy consideration. Even if injuries were to strike, it is more likely that Graham would take over at running back before Smith would get an opportunity.

WR Mike Williams, TB - Gamble (high risk)

An extremely talented but troubled wide receiver, Williams was selected in the fourth-round (101st overall) by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2010 NFL Draft. The former Syracuse star likely would have been selected earlier than fourth round, if not for a number of off the field issues during his career with the Orange. Williams had 60 receptions for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2007-08, when he set a Syracuse record by catching a touchdown pass in nine consecutive games. He missed the entire 2008-09 season after being caught cheating on an exam, but re-enrolled at Syracuse in January 2009 and was on his way to another outstanding season with 49 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns before the school announced Williams "voluntarily took himself off the team" with three games remaining in the season.

There are some major issues with Williams, but if he gets it together, he has an opportunity to make an impact on the Buccaneers (a team desperate for playmakers at the wide receiver position). Williams will have a shot to play right away, and there's major potential if he can keep his head on straight. Williams is worthy of a selection in the late rounds of fantasy drafts as a super sleeper candidate.