Buccaneers Take Step Back in Latest NFL Rankings

Baker Mayfield

Getty Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are three-time defending NFC South champions and may have had the best offseason of any team in the NFL.

Headed into the 2024 season, it’s becoming more and more clear they’re going to have to take a backseat to another team in their division until they can prove it on the field.

PFF’s Jim Wyman and Dalton Wasserman put the Buccaneers at No. 18 in their NFL roster rankings ahead of the 2024 season — three spots behind the Atlanta Falcons at No. 15.

For the rest of the NFC South, PFF put the New Orleans Saints at No. 21 and the Carolina Panthers at No. 30.

“There are some key variables in projecting the Buccaneers’ 2024 performance, the biggest being Baker Mayfield’s performance under a new offensive coordinator,” PFF wrote. “They do have some constants in stars Mike Evans, Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr. If they get production from their young players, including an underrated rookie class, they will stay in NFC South contention.”

Everything Hinges on Mayfield’s Play in 2024

It’s hard to win in the NFL without consistent quarterback play. Even with an elite defensive unit you need to have someone who is, at the very least, a game manager.

Tampa Bay got the most out of quarterback Baker Mayfield on a one-year contract in 2023 and the former No. 1 overall pick had a career year with 4,044 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and made his first Pro Bowl.

Mayfield was selected to his first Pro Bowl and rewarded with a 3-year, $100 million contract. History tells us he’s not been consistent year-to-year throughout his NFL career, so he’ll need to prove his worth again in 2024.

So as Mayfield goes, so do the Buccaneers — PFF listed him as the teams “X-Factor” for his team in 2024.

From PFF: “Baker Mayfield didn’t win Comeback Player of the Year last season, but he certainly deserved to. His excellent play late in the year was a huge reason the Buccaneers won their division. Now, he has to prove that he can produce for a second consecutive season after the departure of offensive coordinator Dave Canales. Mayfield’s risky habits will be under the microscope, as only Sam Howell finished 2023 with more turnover-worthy plays.”

Bucs Have Several Rookies Who Could Contribute

PFF listed Tampa Bay’s 2024 first-round pick Graham Barton as the “Rookie to Watch” on the roster. Barton starred at left offensive tackle for Duke and should start at center for the Buccaneers in 2024.

From PFF: “(Barton’s) presence could alleviate the aforementioned struggles from the interior offensive line. His athleticism should be an asset for new offensive coordinator Liam Coen in the run game.”

Barton is one of several rookies on the roster who could contribute.

Oregon running back Bucky Irving, a fourth-round pick, could help bolster a rushing attack that’s been the worst in the NFL over the last two seasons.

Washington wide receiver Jalen McMillan, a third-round pick, could be the third option at wide receiver behind Evans and Chris Godwin.

On defense, second-round pick Chris Braswell could add depth as an edge rusher and cornerback Tykee Smith could step in and be the Buccaneers’ nickel back.

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