Everybody is talking about the addition of Desean Jackson. A common perception is that Tampa could house one of the best receiver duos in the league in 2017. The offense has taken a huge step forward and the sky is the limit.
What about the defense?
The Bucs started-off last season as one of the worst in the NFL. It wasn’t until after the Thursday Night Football game vs. Atlanta did it drastically improve. For a solid five games, the Bucs led the league in turnovers, yards against, and points against.
This unit embarrassed Russell Wilson to a tune of five points, ended a winning streak at Arrowhead Stadium, solidified Chicago’s decision to dump Jay Cutler, and made two of the best Quarterbacks in the NFL in Drew Brees and Philip Rivers look like rookies. They were firing on all cylinders.
Cue Chris Baker.
The addition of this monster on the defensive line is a lot bigger than people are comprehending. Gerald McCoy and Chris Baker could be to the defense what Jackson and Evans are to the offense. If Baker plays to his potential and level of play as of late, this could be the best Defensive Tackle duo in the entire league. McCoy has not had the luxury of playing next to an above average linemen at this point in his career (with the exception of Michael Bennett).
Highly regarded as the quite possibly the best defensive player on the Redskins in 2016, he is a day one starter next to Gerald. For the first time in his career, McCoy will have a formidable player with elite potential to clog the interior line. The statistics really do not justify Baker’s level of play. He is consistently in the backfield and refuses to quit. He stated when he was first signed, “who are they going to double team?”. Seriously, who are they going to focus on? This is a nightmare for Offensive Coordinators.
Baker is going to have a domino effect on defense. With the added pressure in the middle, comes less coverage on the outside for Noah Spence, Jacquies Smith (whom is finally back and highly underrated), Robert Ayers, and William Gholston to eat. With added pressure on the edge, comes a smaller window for the Quarterback to complete a pass therefore making the defensive backs job a heck of a lot easier. Sprinkle in Tampa’s linebacker duo of Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David and this front seven is scary. The blitzes may be a thing of nightmares.
PFF, a highly-respected NFL analyst site even listed Baker as the #1 value signing on day one of free agency. His price per output is extremely influential on the success of this team. I am still shocked he was not offered more or engaged in a bidding war.
Not only can Baker collapse the pocket, he is also capable of shutting down the run. That was another area that Tampa was below average in during the 2016 season, however his addition could bolster the defensive run game overnight. With Gholston on the edge, McCoy to his side, and Robert Ayers beasting, this could easily make the offenses one dimensional. Baker is 333 pounds so he is not a small guy.
Washington fans are ironically more livid with the loss of Baker than Jackson. That speaks volumes about his worth and appreciation. He was shocked by management’s lack of desire to bring him back, as were the fans. I had spoken to several of them about this move and the consensus seemed to indicate he was quite possibly their best defensive player, as I had indicated before. The Bucs certainly benefited from Washington’s dumpster fire.
I was genuinely concerned that the front office hadn’t addressed this type of addition for McCoy earlier in his career. They finally have added a piece that could vault him into elite conversation. I smell double-digits coming from Tampa’s all pro in 2017 for the first time in his career.
Things are really coming together in Tampa as evidenced by a #10 power-ranking in preseason polls. The offense is set to take off with Jameis in his third season and the addition of Desean Jackson. The defense finished top five and has already improved since the end of 2016 by adding Baker. It is exciting to imagine an offense like they had in 2015 combined with the defense in the latter part of last year.
Oh, and we haven’t even reached the draft.