Power Rankings: Preseason: 30. This week: 13.
Where they stand: They’re 5-3 and that’s light years ahead of last year. That’s mostly because second-year quarterback Josh Freeman has turned the corner faster than anyone could have reasonably expected. Freeman has been carrying this team and pulling off some last-minute heroics. He has showed the Bucs were right when they traded up to get him and immediately declared him a franchise quarterback. Freeman’s supporting cast is still a work in progress, but the quarterback has been good enough to make this team very respectable.
Falling: Cadillac Williams. The veteran running back is one of the most respected players in the locker room. He has come back from two major knee injuries, but he simply hasn’t been very effective as a runner in the first half of the season. The team has turned most of the carries over to undrafted rookie LeGarrette Blount, who has performed well. Williams still has a job, but he’s pretty much a role player.
Rising: Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn. The Bucs knew they had to get Freeman some weapons and that’s why they took Benn in the second round and Williams in the fourth. Williams has been the No. 1 receiver since opening day and Benn is now starting. Williams is a legitimate candidate for offensive rookie of the year and already has caught five touchdown passes. Benn started off a little slower, but has come on in recent weeks. It looks like the Bucs might have found two guys who can be good targets for Freeman for a long time.
Midseason MVP: Freeman. This one’s not even close. Freeman makes big plays, has a natural savvy and has willingly embraced his role as the team leader. The best news of all is that he’s only going to keep getting better.
Outlook: The playoffs certainly aren’t out of the question, and Sunday’s narrow loss to Atlanta showed the Bucs can hang with just about anyone. Young players are rising up all over and we’re seeing the youth movement really taking hold. There still are some issues on the defensive line and a few other shaky spots. But the arrow is definitely pointing up for this team. If the Bucs don’t make the playoffs this season, they may be only a few offseason moves away from being a very serious contender.