Preseason - 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Outlook
In his second season with Tampa, Bruce Arians parleyed Jameis Winston into Tom Brady, netting the Bucs 22 fewer turnovers at quarterback and a Super Bowl title. Over seven seasons as a head coach, he has a 76-47-1 record with two other playoff appearances.
Arians helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls (2005 and 2008) as their wide receiver coach and offensive coordinator. He has 27 years of experience in the NFL. Tampa ended their 12-year playoff drought with their win over the Chiefs.
The Bucs finished third in scoring (492) in back-to-back years while slipping to seventh yards gained (third in 2018 and 2019). Tampa did battle some wide receiver injuries during the season.
Byron Leftwich returns for his third season as the offensive coordinator after working under Bruce Arians in Arizona. He held the quarterback's coach job for the Cardinals in 2017 and the offensive coordinator position in 2018.
After failing as the Jets' head coach (24-40 with no playoff appearances), Todd Bowles landed the defensive coordinator job for the Buccaneers in 2019. He worked under Arians in 2013 and 2014 in Arizona while running their defense. Bowles has been a coach in the NFL since 2000, and his defense owns a Super Bowl title.
Last year Tampa catapulted to eighth in the league in points allowed (355), improving by 94 points from 2019 (449 points – 29th). The Bucs finished sixth in yards allowed.
The only player added of value in free agency was RB Giovani Bernard. Unfortunately, his best days are behind him, but he does add veteran pass-catching experience out of the backfield.
With the final selection in the first round, Tampa invested in DE Joe Tryon. The Bucs hope to get some mileage out of him in rookie season in the pass rush. His ceiling looks to be very high once he develops depth in his attack. Tyron gets off the ball well while needing a better game plan and more strength.
The Bucs added their possible future quarterback (Kyle Trask) in the second round. He brings an NFL arm with an excellent rhythm in his passers. His weakness comes in his pocket presence and reads at the line of scrimmage and in the secondary. Trask lacks the intangibles needed to start in the NFL at this point of his career. A year holding a clipboard behind Tom Brady should treat him well and possibly fill in the missing links to his game.
T Robert Hainsey was the choice in the third round. The Bucs should move him to guard, where his foundation in technique, hands, and rhythm in run blocking should offer more upside. His range and quickness have limitations. Speed rushers can give him issues in the pass rush.
Tampa added WR Jaelon Darden with their fourth pick in the draft. He brings an undersized frame (5'8" and 175 lbs.) while being lightning quick. The Bucs will look to get him in space to let his speed and open-field ability create after the catch. Darden will challenge a defense in the deep passing game with a chance to return kicks.
The Bucs selected LB K.J. Britt, CB Chris Wilcox, and LB Grant Stuard with their final three additions.
Britt fires toward the line of scrimmage with forceful blows to slow down the run game. His vision can put him on a wayward path, leading him behind play flow. Limited range should keep him on the sidelines early in his career on passing downs.
Wilcox looks labored when asked to mirror receivers with length to their route tree. Early in his career, a bump and chase plan should keep him in a position to make plays. He lacks playmaking skills, and his vision is below par.
Stuard reads quickly, and attacks would be holes in run support. His quest to be ahead of play development can lead him to dead ends in traffic with no chance of recovering from his mistakes. Stuard can disrupt at the line of scrimmage, but he should head to the sidelines on passing downs.
Tampa fell to 28th in rushing yards (1,519) with 16 touchdowns and nine runs over 20 yards. They averaged 4.1 yards per carry with 23.1 attempts per game.
The Bucs slipped to fourth in passing yards (5,776) with 42 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 22 sacks, compared to 47 in 2019. Tampa gained 7.6 yards per pass attempt with 67 catches over 20 yards (3rd) and 12 completion over 40 yards (4th).
LT Donovan Smith
Smith finished 2020 with the best all-around blocking of his six-year career after getting drafted in the second round in 2015. He showed the most growth in the run game while still ranking above the league average in pass protection. However, Tampa attempts many passes (over 600 since 2017), leading to some mistakes in sacks and pressure by Smith. On the positive side, he's had over 1,000 snaps in each year in the league.
LG Ali Marpet
Marpet is another six-year vet with a winning resume in both run and pass blocking. Tampa drafted him in the second round in 2015. He hasn't missed a start in three seasons while moving to an elite area in the run game. Marpet tends to give up minimal sacks with occasional pressure.
C Ryan Jensen
Over the last four years, Jensen made 64 regular-season starts for the Ravens and the Bucs. Last year his run blocking played well, but he did have the most issues of his career in pass protection. I would rate Jensen as a neutral player with upside.
RG Alex Cappa
In his third year in the NFL, Cappa made 17 starts before going down in the postseason with an ankle injury. His run blocking improved slightly while still offering below-par value. Cappa didn't allow a sack last year, but pass rushers did apply some pressure.
Cappa is an athletic power blocker who will have the most value in the run game. His range will be limited, but he makes up for his lack of speed with quickness and plus hands. He went to a small school (Humboldt State), which means he'll face better players in the pros. His pass protection will take the longest time to develop.
RT Tristan Wirfs
Wirts started 20 games in his rookie season after getting drafted 13th overall in 2020. He finished as one of the top players in the league at his position with some special games as a run blocker. Pass rushers rarely reach Tom Brady.
Chemistry on an offensive line breeds success. Tampa rolled out five players in 2020 who had a combined two missed games over a 20-game season, leading to fewer sacks allowed, some improvement in the run game, and a Super Bowl title. This offensive line would push even higher with a dynamic running back in the backfield. Every option on the line projects as an asset with more growth expected in 2021.
The Bucs want to air the ball out, and they left some passing stats on the table in 2020 due to four missed games by Chris Godwin and 12 lost starts by O.J. Howard. Tampa passed the ball 62.9 percent of the time, but they want to score running the ball in close (16 rushing touchdowns).
QB Tom Brady, TB - Solid/Safe Pick
The retirement of Drew Brees almost ensures that Brady will finish his NFL career with the most passing yards (trails Brees by 1,154 yards) while already owning the all-time top spot in passing touchdowns (581) thanks to 40 scores via the air in 2020. He has a 230-69 record with seven Super Bowl titles. Brady has 10 wins or more in 18 of his 19 full seasons played.
At age 42, he finished with the second-most passing touchdowns (40) of his career while also chipping in with three rushing scores. However, Brady did have some moments in 2020 when he looked to have lost some of his luster (Week 10 at home against the Saints – 209/0 with three interceptions and 55.0 percent completion rate over his first three postseason wins).
Brady passed for over 300 yards in eight games (including the playoffs). Four of those outings came from Week 15 to Week 18 (390/2, 348/4, 399/4, and 381/2). He had three touchdowns or more in 11 of his 20 starts.
Fantasy Outlook: Even with an excellent season, Brady finished seventh in quarterback scoring (398.15 fantasy points) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. Even in a down season in 2019 with the Patriots, he ranks 13th in fantasy points (314.25). This year Brady comes off the board as the ninth quarterback drafted in fantasyland. In early March, he had surgery on his left knee. Tampa expects him to be ready for the regular season. Based on his receiving corps, Brady should have a floor of 4,500 passing yards with 40 touchdowns.
RB Leonard Fournette, TB - Quality Backup
During the regular season, Fournette was a challenging ride in the season-long games. He was a bust in Week 1 (19 combined yards and one catch) and Week 3 (22 combined yards and two catches) while teasing in Week 2 (116 combined yards with two touchdowns and four catches).
Fournette missed most of the following three games with an ankle issue. Over the next six weeks, he gained only 285 combined yards with one score and 21 catches while gaining only 3.3 yards per rush and 6.5 yards per catch). Tampa didn't activate him for Week 14.
Over the final three games (158 combined yards with three touchdowns and eight catches), Fournette had one contest of value (Week 15 – 65 combined yards with two touchdowns and three catches). The Bucs leaned on him over four weeks in the postseason (448 combined yards with four touchdowns and 18 catches), thanks to 20.5 touches per game. He averaged 21.7 fantasy points in PPR leagues over this span.Fantasy Outlook: Fournette comes into 2021 at age 26 with two top 12 running back seasons (2017 and 2019) on his resume. Despite some success, he's missed 15 starts over four years with weakness in his yards per carry three times (3.9, 3.3, and 3.8). Fournette caught 112 combined passes in 2019 and 2020, but he failed to make impact plays (6.7 yards per catch). His early July ADP (84) ranks him 32nd at running back. Ronald Jones is a better runner on early downs, and Giovani Bernard should become the top pass-catching back in Tampa. I only see about 175 touches for 750 combined yards with a handful of scores and about 25 catches, making him an RB4 in PPR leagues.
RB Ronald Jones, TB - Quality Backup
The low output in running by Tom Brady (30/6/3) hid some of the Bucs' backs' excellent work on early downs. They gained 4.5 yards per rush with 13 touchdowns while averaging 20.6 carries per game. In New England, Brady used his backs more often in the passing game. Unfortunately, Tampa lacked a clear, reliable pass-catching out of the backfield, leading to only 6.4 yards per catch and almost the same output (84/534/2 in 110 targets) as 2019 (84/723/1 on 115 targets).
Jones is the best back on the Bucs' roster. He gained over 1,000 combined yards in 2019 (1,033) and 2020 (1,143) while averaging 14.1 touches. Most will write him off in the passing game after gaining only 5.9 yards per catch last year, but Jones gained 10.0 yards on his catches in 2019.
After Leonard Fournette went down with an ankle injury, Jones strung together three games with over 100 yards rushing (20/111, 17/106, and 23/113/2) while also catching 11 balls for 44 yards.
Over the final 10 weeks of the season, Jones missed two matchups with a finger injury. He dominated in Week 10 (198 combined yards with one touchdown and one catch) while adding three other steady games (17.30, 15.40, and 13.80 fantasy points) in PPR formats.
A quad issue knocked him out of the first round of the playoffs, opening the door for Fournette to drive the running back bus home in the Bucs' championship run. Jones gained 139 yards on 35 rushes in the postseason over three games with no value in the passing game or scoring.
Fantasy Outlook: Jones has an ADP of 82 in the early draft season, two spots ahead of Fournette. In essence, fantasy owners have them in a dead heat. Jones should see over 60 percent of Tampa's rushes with a healthy season, leading to 250 combined touches for 1,250 yards with 10 touchdowns and about 20 catches. At the very least, he is a mid-tier RB2 while being a value on draft day. His downside comes from a capable backup running back, giving the Bucs a chance to ride the hot hand in some matchups.
RB Giovani Bernard, TB - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Over the past three seasons with the Bengals, Bernard gained 797 yards on 233 carries with three scores, which works out to a dull 3.4 yards per rush. His best value continues to be in the passing game (47/33/5 in 2020).
Bernard gained over 1,000 combined yards from 2013 to 2015, highlighted by his success in his rookie season (1,209 yards with eight touchdowns and 56 catches).
In four matchups with starting snaps, he gained 402 combined yards with five touchdowns and 16 catches while averaging 21.25 touches. In his other 12 games, Bernard gained over 50 combined yards twice.
Fantasy Outlook: There will be times this year when the Bucs are trailing that Bernard will be highly active in the passing game. He'll work primarily on passing downs while also providing starting insurance. In addition, his veteran experience should be important to Tom Brady in pass protection. Think James White while understanding that Tampa will throw more balls to backs in 2021 to help move the chains.
RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn, TB - Dynasty Only
Vaughn gained only 143 combined yards in his rookie season with a touchdown and five catches on 31 touches. The signing of Giovani Bernard pushes into a deep bench role in 2021.
He breaks tackles with enough vision and quickness to make plays on the outside. His leg drive is an asset, which also helps him in pass protection. He'll run with patience while struggling to climb out of tight quarters unless his win comes from strength. Vaughn should work best over the short areas of the field while being helped by better blocking options in front of him. His game does have some upside as a receiver.
Other Options: Troymaine Pope, C.J. Prosise
WR Chris Godwin, TB - Solid/Safe Pick
A concussion knocked Godwin out of Week 2. Then, two games later, he suffered a hamstring jury, costing him another two matchups. A finger issue also led to him missing Week 8. At the end of his first five games played, Godwin caught 28 of his 35 targets for 320 yards and two touchdowns, with his best success coming in Week 7 (9/88/1).
He regained his form over his next 10 contests (51/743/6 on 77 targets). Unfortunately, his season ended on a down note in the Super Bowl (two catches for nine yards on four targets). Godwin gained over 100 yards in two games (5/133/2 and 5/11)) while maintaining a high catch rate (77.4 – 71.1 in 2019).
His stats over 12 starts projected over an entire season could have come to 87 catches for 1,120 yards and nine touchdowns on 112 targets or 253.00 fantasy points in PPR leagues (11th wide receiver ranking).
Fantasy Outlook: His early ADP (47) in PPR leagues looks favorable when adding his success in 2019 and passing results posted by Tom Brady. Godwin comes off the board as a mid-tier WR2. His natural progression over 17 game schedule points to 100-catches for over 1,300 yards and double-digit scores.