Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2017 NFL free agency: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a kick return problem

RECOMMENDED READING


The first time Josh Huff fielded a kickoff for the Buccaneers, the ball hit him in the face.

Not exactly what Tampa Bay had in mind when it signed the receiver/returner in November.

Huff went on to average 12 yards on six kick returns, and the team's average fell to an NFL-low 14.6 yards — more than 7 yards below the league mean.

That's not just a single-season low.

That's an ALL-TIME low.

Didn't notice? Maybe that's because the only returns we remember are the ones that result in touchdowns or turnovers. Maybe that's because we're in the kitchen or the bathroom and miss kickoffs entirely.

The conventional wisdom is when the free agency period begins this week, the Bucs need weapons for Jameis Winston. That might be true, but Tampa Bay doesn't have to add to its offense to improve it.

For evidence, look no further than Bryan Anger. His 37 punts downed inside the 20-yard line last season were tied for third most. It's no coincidence the Bucs defense allowed three fewer points per game in 2016.

We marvel at football's intricacies, but it can be a remarkably simple game. The difference between success and failure often depends on where you start. The closer you are to the end zone, the more likely you are to score.

Drive starts over past 10 seasons

Drive startAll scoresAll turnoversPoints per drive
Own 521.7%11.8%1.19
Own 1526.3%13.5%1.43
Own 2532.8%14.2%1.80
Own 3535.9%11.9%1.95
Source: Pro Football Reference

One name about to hit the open market: Vikings receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson, a first-round pick in 2013.

The Bucs didn't return a kickoff more than 26 yards last season; Patterson averaged 31.7 yards. He has led the league in kick return average three of the past four seasons.

The reason the two-time All-Pro is available is also the reason he's a less than ideal fit in Tampa. Patterson has size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and speed (ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine), but he did not develop into the receiver the Vikings hoped he would. He averaged 33 catches and 329 yards a season and was on the sidelines more often than he was on the field. In 2015, he played less than 6 percent of Minnesota's offensive snaps.

While he is an incomplete receiver, Patterson possesses big-play potential as a rusher. He has rushed 31 times in his career for 333 yards, including seven times for 43 yards last season.

Dirk Koetter has integrated such multidimensional threats into his offense before. Flash back to 2014 and a game that Bucs fans would rather forget: the 56-14 shellacking at the hands of the Falcons. Koetter was Atlanta's offensive coordinator.

On the first play of the second quarter, Matt Ryan handed the ball off to a receiver on an end-around. He sliced through the left side of the defense, going nearly untouched on the 20-yard spirit-crushing score. The receiver? Devin Hester.

That run is a staple in Koetter's offense. We saw Mike Thomas run it in 2009 and 2010, when Koetter was in Jacksonville, and we saw Adam Humphries run it a handful of times last season.

If Tampa Bay secures the speedy receiver it covets, count on seeing it again.

Four players returned kickoffs for the Bucs last season — Huff, Humphries, Cecil Shorts III and Ryan Smith. All but Shorts remain under contract, so Tampa Bay might choose to view Huff's struggles as an aberration — just a couple of bad bounces in a short sample — and not feel compelled to make a change. In his two-and-a-half seasons with the Eagles, he averaged 27.7 yards per return. He also scored two touchdowns.

Even consistently average returns would represent a significant improvement. Now imagine the impact Patterson or Huff, if he were to regain his pre-Bucs form, could make. It'd be hard to miss.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

Bucs kickoff returns, 2016

PlayerOpponentStartEndNet return
Adam HumphriesFalcons51712
Cecil Shorts IIICardinals-61319
Ryan SmithBroncos92516
Ryan SmithBroncos61711
Ryan Smith49ers-11314
Ryan Smith49ers066
Adam Humphries49ers62317
Ryan SmithRaiders31512
Ryan SmithRaiders02424
Ryan SmithBears12322
Adam HumphriesBears20299
Ryan SmithChiefs42622
Adam HumphriesChiefs14239
Ryan SmithSeahawks42218
Ryan SmithSeahawks-12324
Josh HuffSaints110
Josh HuffCowboys102212
Josh HuffCowboys-12526
Josh HuffCowboys-21517
Josh HuffSaints-31417
Josh HuffSaints440

Comments
Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

TAMPA ó The Bucs have some positive momentum with back-to-back wins, but DT Gerald McCoy said itís too soon to say his 4-6 team has turned a corner."We havenít turned a corner yet," McCoy said Wednesday, preparing for Sundayís game at Atlanta. "Itís ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
McCoy is only Bucs player in Pro Bowl voting top 10s

McCoy is only Bucs player in Pro Bowl voting top 10s

The Bucs aren't faring well in early Pro Bowl fan voting, with DT Gerald McCoy as the only Tampa Bay player ranking in the top 10 at his position.McCoy, seeking his sixth straight Pro Bowl selection, ranks seventh among NFL defensive tackles, one wee...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Happy Turkey Day!Today is a day of tradition.The Macyís parade. Turkey and stuffing. The Lions and Cowboys.And our annual "Turkey of the Year.ííItís a tradition started by my former colleague at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the brilliant columnist P...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Koetter says Bucs not distracted by Jameis Winstonís off-field issue

The Bucs are 1-0 since news broke last Friday of Jameis Winston being accused by an Uber driver of groping her during a ride in March of 2016.That's really all the evidence coach Dirk Koetter needs to say the issue has not been a distraction to the t...
Updated: 8 hours ago
NFL Week 12: Tampa Bay Times staff picks

NFL Week 12: Tampa Bay Times staff picks

Happy Thanksgiving! It's already week 12 of the NFL season, and the football feast is set to begin. It all starts at at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, when the Lions try to win their fifth straight Thanksgiving Day game against a Minnesota team out to bec...
Published: 11/22/17
Cannon Fodder podcast: Examining the Bucsí Hall of Fame semifinalists

Cannon Fodder podcast: Examining the Bucsí Hall of Fame semifinalists

Times Bucs writer Greg Auman takes a closer look at the three former Bucs who are semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.He also looks at the constant churn on the Bucsí practice squad and why Julio Jonesí stats have dropped off this season,...
Published: 11/22/17
Bucsí Barber, Lynch, Rice among Hall of Fame semifinalists

Bucsí Barber, Lynch, Rice among Hall of Fame semifinalists

Ronde Barber, John Lynch and Simeon Rice — teammates on the Bucs' 2002 Super Bowl championship team — are among the 27 semifinalists to be considered for this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame class.Lynch is a semifinalist for the sixth st...
Published: 11/22/17
Rick and Tom podcast: USF vs UCF is the biggest game in Florida this weekend

Rick and Tom podcast: USF vs UCF is the biggest game in Florida this weekend

Itís a Thanksgiving Football Wednesday as Rick Stroud and Tom Jones preview the Bucs-Falcons game, USF-UCF, Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan and more.The guys agree on the Bucs game outcome with Rick saying they canít win. They also agree that Tha...
Published: 11/22/17
Bucs-Falcons: Itís time to start believing Miko Grimes

Bucs-Falcons: Itís time to start believing Miko Grimes

TAMPA ó The most valuable player for the Bucs is Brent Grimes.It felt odd typing that, but itís time to say it.In Grimesí two seasons in Tampa Bay, the Bucs havenít won a game without him. This season they are 4-3 when he plays, 0-3 when he doesnít.H...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Bucs journal: Defense struggling to get off the field on third and long

Bucs journal: Defense struggling to get off the field on third and long

TAMPA ó Third and long, normally an ideal situation for an NFL defense, continues to be a problem as the Bucs try to get opposing offenses off the field.In the second half of Sundayís game, the Dolphins converted six third downs when they needed 8 ya...
Updated: 9 hours ago