On shaky ground, that's where. And the earth is moving more under coach Jon Gruden than anywhere else. Despite the fact he is the man who brought the franchise its only Super Bowl championship, it's all about "what have you done for me lately"?
That would be a sputtering offense for a man deemed as a fine offensive mind, and a gradual rebuild on defense. All in all, Tampa may be a most popular vacation destination, but if your fantasy is football, there's no reason to stop here.
Projected draft round Player Round Jeff Garcia DND Carnell Williams, RB 4-5 Michael Pittman, RB 11-12 Joey Galloway, WR 8-9 Maurice Stovall, WR 17-DND David Boston, WR DND Matt Bryant, K DND Defense/special teams DND Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Key additions: DE Gaines Adams, DL Kevin Carter, DL Patrick Chukwurah, QB Jeff Garcia, LB Cato June, OT Luke Petitgout. Key losses: OL Sean Mahan, LB Shelton Quarles, DE Simeon Rice, OT Kenyatta Walker, DE Dewayne White.
Ronde Barber, DB. We'll never know for sure if brother Tiki really retired, or if he and Ronde are really one person and one helluva of a two-way player. OK, I guess when Tiki talks about a game when Ronde's playing, we'll have proof. Speaking of which, Ronde has lost a few steps, but he hasn't lost the instincts that make him one of the league's best secondary playmakers.
Jermaine Phillips, DB. The Bucs' front seven is built for speed and not size, which means it needs a fine wrap-up safety to support it. Although Phillips isn't the big highlight-reel guy that Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu is, he figures to rack up tackles a la 2006 -- when he had a whopping 102 to his name.
Carnell Williams, RB. The good news is that Cadillac will be a fantasy team's starting running back who will fall to the fourth and fifth rounds of most league drafts. The bad news is that he's an injury risk and in an anemic offense, justifying his low ranking. I wouldn't trust him as a No. 2 back, even with the outside shot of him returning to his rookie production. In fact, if you went RB-WR-WR-QB in the first four rounds of your draft and Williams is indeed your No. 2, you better pick a pretty good No. 3. If you assume the risk and somehow get more than 1,000 yards and about a half-dozen TDs, you should be ecstatic.
Michael Pittman, RB. Pittman has shined in stretches as a feature back both in Tampa and Arizona, but for some reason -- some football-related, some not -- he has never broken through as a steady performer, making him only a sporadic fantasy producer. It's a good idea to grab Pittman a few rounds after Williams, just so you have some live running back regardless of what happens with the Bucs. He shouldn't crack the lineup unless it's clear A) he's being consistently used in the Mike Alstott goal-line role B) Williams will be on the shelf for an extended period.
Joey Galloway, WR. With all the turnover and uncertainty the Bucs have had at quarterback, it's amazing that Galloway, especially at 35, has found a way to revive his career with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Galloway also has proved to be more than the speedster he was in his best early days in Seattle, catching passes all over the field as a security blanket. He looks every bit the part of a fantasy No. 3. 1-Star Players
Jeff Garcia, QB. Garcia is more of a caretaker than a playmaker at this stage of his career, which means he is most efficient when playing off the run and taking calculated chances with his arm. There's some problems with that in Tampa. First, it will be much harder to be efficient with the Bucs' running game than it was with Brian Westbrook. Second, he's also experiencing a dropoff at receiver from Donte' Stallworth and Reggie Brown. Third, QBs of that nature are not known to put up big stats. At best, Garcia is good for a spot start in a good matchup during your starting QB's bye. He shouldn't be drafted.
Gaines Adams, DE. The Bucs' pass rush was suddenly nonexistent last year, and Adams is expected to start the season as a backup to another newcomer, veteran Patrick Chukwurah. Kevin Carter is expected to start on the opposite, left side. When Adams plays, he'll get a chance to operate without double-teams at first, inserted in favorable pass-rush situations. Adams can be potentially prolific; it just won't happen at an IDP-worth level as a rookie.
Defense/special teams. This unit used to be a premier sack and takeaway machine in the Tampa 2. Now that playmaking mojo has seemed to have drifted toward former Bucs assistant Lovie Smith and the Bears. Individually, Cato June, Derrick Brooks, Barber and Phillips can put up some good numbers; the unit as a whole just doesn't do enough to fill your fantasy stat sheet.
David Boston, WR. Some smarty pants will take Boston in your league thinking he's got the comeback player of the year. Proceed to bang him on the head to make said smarty pants come back to earth.
Michael Clayton, WR. Maybe he can be the comeback player of the year. Riiiight.
Alex Smith, TE. Remember when this Alex Smith was a sleeper tight end after he scored twice in his first NFL game? It's not coming to me.
Matt Bryant, K. He has his moments. They shouldn't be for your team.
Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: Being perceived as an anemic offense really brings down the value of your skill players. Although Jeff Garcia and Carnell Williams are both nicely priced at $5.50 million each, that's $11 million I'd rather spend on two other players.
TO KNOW LIST
Coaching: Gruden loves to collect quarterbacks and come up with new ways of producing in the passing game, but he's also smart to realize that Williams is his most talented option and Garcia works better when playing off the run. Expect a good mix of shots downfield, especially to Galloway, but power rushing and short passing will be the staples. If there's one thing about Gruden, he finds a way to make his talent work in his system.
Monte Kiffin is a venerable defensive coordinator, but the release of Simeon Rice means yet another former elite piece leaving the team. Although there's hope that Adams and June will be the cornerstones of the next wave of the original Tampa 2, the unit is in transition and may not deliver right away.
Offensive line: Guard Davin Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood give the team some young promise on the right side, and left tackle Luke Petitgout is a welcome addition. As this has been the most maligned unit on the team, however, we'll have to see it jell and produce to believe a change for the better.
Schedule analysis: This is the only bright side: There are some exploitable defenses along the way based on matchups with the NFC South, NFC West and AFC South. But many of those teams also have strong offenses, which can put the Bucs in unfavorable catch-up mode. That may lead to some decent garbage stats for Garcia but definitely will cut into Williams' touches. Power poll rank: Tied for 2nd easiest (31st toughest)