Top receiver Michael Thomas made it after catching 104 passes for 1,245 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore second-round pick, while running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara also did so after combining for 3,094 scrimmage yards and 25 touchdowns.
No reason to think any of those guys will be less effective in 2018, and a four-game early-season suspension for Ingram shouldn’t be enough to drastically slow down an offense that also got a 787-yard, age-32 season from speedy veteran Ted Ginn Jr. (who somehow caught 76 percent of the passes thrown his way while averaging nearly 15 yards per reception).
But the Saints also went out in the offseason and added receiver Cameron Meredith, who is coming off a knee injury but had 888 receiving yards and strong rate-based numbers with the Bears two years ago.
And would anyone be surprised if rookie third-round pick Tre’Quan Smith put together a big season in that friendly offense after averaging 16.4 yards per catch at UCF?
Of course, it’s easy to find those wideouts when you’ve got Devonta Freeman and/or Tevin Coleman in the backfield. And while those two weren’t as effective in 2017 as they were in 2016, that probably had to do with the offense experiencing growing pains while transitioning to Steve Sarkisian’s system.
If both of those guys can pick up where they left off in support of Evans (a four-year vet with four 1,000-yard seasons under his belt and the second-highest paid wideout in the NFL) and Jackson (a three-time Pro Bowler a year removed from a 1,000-yard season in Washington), Winston will be in damn good shape in 2018.
Of course, that’s no guarantee. Sophomore slumps happen, and the Bucs also need to hope that Evans and Jackson can improve their reception rates (they combined to catch just 54 percent of the passes thrown their way in 2017). The 31-year-old Jackson is also trying to fight off Father Time, and they’re holding auditions for a starting running back role.
Davis is the wild card here. The 2017 No. 5 overall pick caught just 34 passes and failed to score a touchdown during an injury-derailed rookie season. And while he has impressed this offseason, you can’t call him a strong supporting cast member until he delivers consistently in actual games.
Things could change quickly if Davis emerges, but for now Mariota’s arsenal is below average because of a lack of established weapons out wide.