The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a long-suffering NFL franchise. They are coming off of a season in which they won just five games, and they have not made the playoffs since the 2007-08 campaign, representing the longest active drought in the NFC.
Most likely, the Buccaneers will miss the postseason yet again in 2019, but that does not mean the team stands no chance of improving from this past year.
Believe it or not, Tampa Bay actually has plenty of young talent up and down its roster, and with good player development and the right moves in the draft and free agency, the Bucs could get back to the playoffs sometime within the next couple of years.
Of course, that will require some of their players to elevate their games, so here are three players who need to start taking the next step for the Buccaneers this coming season.
3. Carl Nassib
Carl Nassib actually had a very solid first season in Tampa Bay this past year, registering 29 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and a couple of forced fumbles.
Now, with Kwon Alexander gone, there will be that much more responsibility on the Bucs linebackers to step up, and Nassib is one of those linebackers who needs to do just that.
Originally a third-round pick of the Cleveland Browns back in 2016, the Browns waived Nassib before the start of the 2018 campaign, and the Buccaneers immediately scooped him up.
That proved to be a great move, as Nassib was impressive in 15 games of duty.
Perhaps Nassib can put even more pressure on the quarterback in 2019 and become a better run-stopper in the process.
2. O.J. Howard
The Buccaneers have a pretty great receiving tandem of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, so their offense is actually better than most people think. And you know what? It can become pretty lethal if tight end O.J. Howard continues to get better.
Howard had a really solid year in 2018, hauling in 34 receptions for 565 yards and five touchdowns. He also had a nice rookie season in 2017, catching 26 passes for 432 yards and six scores.
Can Howard continue his upward trend in 2019?
The 24-year-old has phenomenal size at 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, and he has freakish athleticism to boot. This kid has the opportunity to become one of the best tight ends in football, and he could take Tampa Bay’s offense to another level this year.
1. Jameis Winston
Much like Marcus Mariota in Tennessee, injuries have hampered Jameis Winston over the last couple of seasons, and also much like Mariota, Winston is running out of chances under center in Tampa.
Due to shoulder issues, Winston was limited to 11 games in 2018, and he was not impressive, throwing 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Yes, he completed a solid 64.6 percent of his passes, but the turnovers are just becoming too much.
Winston is now entering his fifth NFL season, so by now, he should be figuring out how to clean things up and become a more efficient passer, especially given the fact that he has some terrific targets to throw to.
The key for Winston is making more careful throws and not merely relying on his cannon arm to try and fit passes into traffic. His receivers will make plays so long as he gives them the opportunity.