Whether it comes in the form or a No. 1 running back, a No. 2 wide receiver or a No. 3 tight end, the Buccaneers biggest offseason need is for an influx of play makers on the offensive side of the ball.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said as much last month during his season wrap-up press conference, when he pointed out that the Bucs experienced a significant drop-off in what he calls “explosive plays’’ in 2016.
Koetter describes an explosive play as a run of 11 yards or more and a pass reception of 16 yards or more, and the drop-off the Bucs suffered in those kinds of big plays was indeed dramatic.
By Koetter’s count, the Bucs went from averaging just under nine explosive plays per game during the 2015 season to averaging just under seven per game last year. The reason he said was two-fold.
Injuries were certainly part of the issue, particularly in the running game, where the Bucs spent most of the season without their top two running backs, Doug Martin and Charles Sims.
Injuries contributed to the slide in the passing game as well, but the biggest reason for the drop-off in explosive plays there was the struggles the Bucs experienced making yards after the catch.
The Bucs weren’t very good in that area in 2015 either, finishing the season with a total of 1,514 yards after the catch and averaging 4.85 yards after the catch per reception, according to SportingCharts.com.
But they were worse last year, ranking 29th in the league in total yards gained after the catch with 1,433 and 31st in the league average yards gained after the catch per reception with 4.04.
“Our run after the catch is not where it needs to be,’’ Koetter said. “And (that’s) not an indictment on the guys we have. The guys you have are the guys you have and you have to coach the heck out of them.
“But we need more speed and more play makers. And (by) playmakers we’re talking about guys who can catch a 10-yard pass, break one tackle and turn it into a 30-yard gain.’’
Adding speed and “play makers’’ will certainly help the cause but the problem goes a little deeper than that. In fact, some of the responsibility lies at the feet of quarterback Jameis Winston.
Winston was a more accurate passer in 2016. He completed 60.8-percent of his passes after completing 58.3-percent the year before. But he still wasn’t accurate enough, particularly on throws down the field.
Winston completed just 31.7-percent of the passes he threw more than 20 yards downfield as a rookie two years ago but that percentage dropped to 31.1 percent last year.
And that after paying special attention to the issue during the offseason. It’s clear then that while the Bucs do need an influx of speed and play makers, they also need to see some improvement from Winston.
After all, the best way for a pass catcher – be it a wide receiver, a tight end or a running back – to make extra yards after the catch is to have the ball thrown so that he can catch it in stride.
Once Winston improves his ability to do that, then the Bucs will likely see an increase in their yards after the catch. And with that, will almost certainly come an increase in explosive plays.