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2020 Team Report: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last updated: Sun, May 17

Offensive Philosophy

Bruce Arians' preferred offensive system is aggressive, throwing the ball further past the first down marker, and more often, than any other team. It's best exemplified by one of his favorite sayings: "no risk it, no biscuit". This same aggressiveness perfectly matched the preferred style of former starting quarterback Jameis Winston and star receiver Mike Evans, whose annual first-down rates (first downs as a percentage of their completed passes or receptions) consistently led the NFL. This style of play is antithetical to new starting quarterback Tom Brady, who in his 20 years with the Patriots has posted the 4th-lowest interception rate and 12th-lowest sack rate of any quarterback in history. Brady prefers to methodically work the ball down the field rather than "risk it" all at once, leaning heavily on crossing routes short of the sticks and passes to the running back in the flat mixed in with timely shots down the field once the defense is playing up. Clearly something has to give, and if the signing of Brady's long-time teammate Rob Gronkowski is any indication, it is Arians who will defer to Brady.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Tom Brady
Backup(s): Blaine Gabbert

Starting QB: Tom Brady joins Tampa Bay after 20 seasons with the Patriots. Brady is a marked change as one of the lowest interception rate quarterbacks over the past decade, replacing Jameis Winston, who threw a highly publicized 30 interceptions in 2019 alone. Brady has throw only 29 interceptions over the last four regular seasons total. Brady slipped in production and efficiency across the board last season outside of maintaining an elite level interception rate. Brady arguably had his weakest collection of weapons a year ago in recent memory. Now with the Buccaneers, Brady will enjoy Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in their prime years as well as O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, both upgrades over the non-Rob Gronkowski New England tight ends in recent seasons. The offensive line and pass-protecting running back positions are the central questions for Brady in 2020, keeping the still-sharp soon-to-be 43-year-old upright and healthy surrounded by strong weapons.

Backup QB: Blaine Gabbert returns to Tampa Bay as the primary backup after missing nearly all of 2019 with a dislocated shoulder injury. Gabbert has been a middling quarterback since flaming out as the top-10 draft pick starter through two-plus seasons in Jacksonville to begin his career. Gabbert has had recent stops in Arizona, Tennessee, and now Tampa Bay as a still-mobile stopgap if needed but has posted 15 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and sub-60% completion rate over his past four seasons, spanning 13 total starts.

Running Backs

Starter: Ronald Jones II
Backup(s): Ke'Shawn Vaughn [R], Dare Ogunbowale
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Ronald Jones progressed past Peyton Barber in 2019 for a stint as the lead back for the Buccaneers. The former Round 2 NFL Draft selection mired through injury and sluggish play throughout 2018 before showing signs of promise last season. Jones has reconfigured his build and game with a bigger frame and more rugged style from his slash-and-accelerate style at USC. Jones had 11 games of double-digit carries but only one game of more than 100 yards and Dare Ogunbowale was the preferred pass-catching back on the depth chart for much of the season. Jones' collegiate big plays have yet to translate in the open field of the NFL to-date but his stronger running style is an added boost. The lead back in a Tom Brady-led offense is a production fast track should Jones maintain the role, instead of Brady's ire in pass protection, fumbles, or assignments, through 2020.

Backup RBs: Ke'Shawn Vaughn was drafted by Tampa Bay in the middle of the third round in the 2020 NFL Draft. Vaughn was an underrated SEC starting running back out of Vanderbilt with quality size and two-way ability. The classic 'jack of all trades, master of none' profile, Vaughn offers stability in the receiving role to challenge Dare Ogunbowale immediately for snaps behind Ronald Jones with upside for a larger role. Dare Ogunbowale enters his fourth season with the Buccaneers, a quality achievement coming from the undrafted ranks of the 2017 running back class. Ogunbowale had a receiving-centric profile exiting Wisconsin with good enough size but lacking overt athletic traits. However, Ogunbowale has found his niche as a passing game option for Tampa Bay, including a team-high 47 targets in 2019 among running backs, notably Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin
Backups: Scott Miller, Justin Watson, Tyler Johnson [R]

Starting WRs: Mike Evans found his running mate in 2019 with a break out season from Chris Godwin. Evans is on a historic career track with more than 7,200 yards through six seasons, including more than 1,000 yards in each NFL season. Evans has waned from his career peak of 172 targets and 12 touchdowns in 2016, but the big plays have been pronounced in back-to-back years with more than 17 yards-per-reception each season. Evans is an intermediate and deep ball maven within the scope of Bruce Arians offense, offering more of a downfield threat than new Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady has surrounding him in recent years. Chris Godwin progressed to new heights in 2019 with a massive third-year breakout, amassing more than 1,300 yards on 119 targets. Godwin had more targets than Mike Evans in more than half of their games together in 2019 and, importantly, Godwin projects as the more slot-centric option for new quarterback Tom Brady over the middle of the field. Competition will be high for targets within the Buccaneers' passing game between Godwin, Mike Evans, and O.J. Howard atop the pecking order, but all three are higher level talents to exploit the likely reduced turnovers and quicker decision-making of Tom Brady under center.

Backup WRs: Scott Miller and Justin Watson are the incumbents for the ancillary receivers roles. Miller is a second-year Day 3 option who is sub-sized with quality athleticism and good-but-not-great college production at a relatively off-the-radar program (Bowling Green). Watson enters his third NFL season after also being a Day 3 selection. Watson has more prototypical traits and a lauded profile than Miller with elite movement for his size and an elite production profile out of Penn. Both are likely challenged by 2020 incoming Day 3 rookie Tyler Johnson. Out of Minnesota, Johnson is one of the historically strong college producers in recent draft classes, including two dominant years early in his Minnesota career. The ceiling could be stunted for whoever wins the third receiver role with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Tampa Bay's host of tight ends as priority targets.

Tight Ends

Starters: Rob Gronkowski
Backups: O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate

Rob Gronkowski was acquired out of retirement through a trade from New England. Gronkowski skipped the 2019 season but was a fixture of the Tom Brady-led Patriots offenses over his career. Gronkowski's touchdown rate waned over his final three seasons before stepping away from football and now enters a stacked Tampa Bay passing game where being the true featured target is a tall order considering the team has two sturdy tight ends (O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate) even before accounting for dominant receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. O.J. Howard has flashed impact through three seasons since Tampa Bay spent a first-round selection on the tight end back in a strong 2017 positional class. However, Howard's trajectory in Year 2 averaging more than 50 yards-per-game and half-a-touchdown per contest was halted by a season-ending injury and 2019 saw Howard's touchdowns flat line to a single end zone trip. Howard offers immense talent upside with Tom Brady under center as the quarterback fueled strong production from Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at various points of their careers together in New England. Howard's usage and consistency have been limitations to-date with two strong wide receivers in the passing game (Mike Evans and Christ Godwin) plus the Buccaneers retaining Cameron Brate with a long-term contract in 2018, which has since been restructured. Rob Gronkowski's addition softens any Howard breakout potential without an injury. Cameron Brate had more targets than the heralded O.J. Howard in 2019 and has been a sticky-handed seam and contested catch maven over the years. Brate has churned out 24 touchdowns over the past four seasons and 171 receptions. Brate's big plays down the field have waned over the past two seasons with O.J. Howard's athleticism down the seam being more impactful within the offense in the role. Brate's yards-per-catch has plunged to 9.6 and and alarming 8.6 in successive seasons. Brate's sure hands and red zone cache are his most appealing traits to blend well with Tom Brady this season.

Place Kicker

Matt Gay, Elliott Fry: The Bucs turned to a rookie kicker in 2019 and while the fantasy results were good, his season was pockmarked with misses that cost his team games in an all-too familiar scene for Tampa fans. Gay made 27 of 35 field goal attempts including 5 of 8 from 50+ yards, but he missed five extra point attempts out of 48. The cumulative totals were strong enough to make him draftable in the 5-8 range of kickers, but he comes with some risk that he could lose confidence and his job at some point if he continues to miss clutch kicks. The team claimed Elliott Fry in April to provide competition. Fry lost out to Eddy Pineiro in Chicago before eventually landing in Carolina.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: T.J. Logan, Dare Ogunbowale

The Buccaneers' return units have been atrocious for years. 2019 was no exception on kickoffs, where T.J. Logan and Dare Ogunbowale split duties and Tampa finished as one of just five teams to average fewer than 20 yards per return. Both players will get a chance to return kickoffs again in 2020, but don't be surprised if Tampa gives plenty of others a shot at the job searching for a spark.

Punt Returners: T.J. Logan

The Buccaneers' return units have been atrocious for years- they haven't been noticeably above average at either punt returns or kickoff returns since 2013- but T.J. Logan's 9.5 yards per punt return was a rare bright spot. (The rest of the team averaged 2.4 yards.) Now Logan will get a chance to prove that his performance on punt returns was no fluke.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Donovan Smith, LG Ali Marpet, C Ryan Jensen, RG Alex Cappa, RT Tristan Wirfs [R]
Key Backups: OL Joe Haeg, OL Aaron Stinnie, OL Zack Bailey, OL Michael Liedtke, OL Anthony Fabiano

The team invested a first-round pick in their one new starter this offseason, as right tackle Tristan Wirfs from Iowa is expected to step in right away for retired right tackle Demar Dotson. Center Ryan Jensen leads this zone hybrid unit, and he was rewarded for his efforts with All-Pro second-team honors. The guards of Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa are a stout run-blocking duo, and this unit is trending upward from last season.

Team Defense

Todd Bowles helped the Bucs defense pull off a massive turnaround in 2019. They improved to 47 sacks, 28 takeaways, and six defensive/special teams scores with a very strong finish to a lost season. While the football world focused on Tom Brady coming to Tampa, the Bucs were also keeping this group together, retaining Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Jason Pierre-Paul. They added Antoine Winfield (Minnesota) in the second round, who could be an instant starter at safety. With Jameis Winston and his field-flipping interceptions gone, the defense could be even better this year, and yet their ADP is still outside of the top 10-12. That could change in time, but until it does, consider them a priority target in redraft and best ball leagues alike.

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Vita Vea, DE William Gholston, DE Ndamukong Suh
Backups: DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DE Jeremiah Ledbetter, DT Khalil Davis [R]

Starting DL: Hulking nose tackle Vita Vea anchors a defensive line that, under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, can morph from 3-4 to 4-3 seamlessly. After a stop-start rookie campaign, Vea came into his own in 2019, playing all 16 games and effectively occupying blockers so his teammates could make plays. William Gholston, a career-long Buccaneer, provides a formidable presence in run defense. Ndamukong Suh was re-signed to a one-year, $8m contract this offseason after a solid 2019 campaign in Tampa Bay. He appears to have plenty left in the tank and is a crucial piece in a potentially dominant defense.

Backup DL: Rakeem Nunez-Roches is the standout name among the backups on the defensive line and is a player capable of stepping in and doing a decent job in relief. Third-year pro Jeremiah Ledbetter will hope he can make an impression on the coaching staff after spending most of last season on the practice squad. Sixth-round defensive tackle Khalil Davis will provide a nice depth option if he makes the final roster.

Linebackers

Starters: RILB Devin White, LILB Lavonte David, OLB Shaq Barrett, OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Backups: LB Kendell Beckwith, LB Jack Cichy, LB Kevin Minter, OLB Anthony Nelson, OLB Sam Acho, OLB Demone Harris, OLB Kahzin Daniels, LB Chapelle Russell

Starting LBs: Devin White's rookie year proved to be a baptism of fire. Missing a handful of games, he never quite got into his stride. The talent is there for the 2019 fifth overall pick to turn the page and author a brighter story in 2020, however. Lavonte David enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his career in 2019 on a surging Bucs defense - he was particularly impressive in pass coverage - and, at age 30, will anchor this unit for a while. The NFL's sack leader in 2019, Shaq Barrett, returns on the franchise tag to try to reprise his starring role - and maybe get some of the way to that lofty 19.5-sack mark of last season. The linebacker crew is rounded out by Jason Pierre-Paul, whose play over the past two seasons was rewarded by the team with a fresh two-year deal.

Backup LBs: Kendell Beckwith, a 2017 third round pick, has had a nightmare start to his career. After breaking his ankle in a 2018 car accident, Beckwith did not play a snap that year - and the pattern repeated itself in 2019. The Bucs will be watching his progress closely this offseason to see if he will be able to make an impact. Kevin Minter played 275 snaps last season and would be the first player called upon if either Devin White or Lavonte David missed time. Among the outside linebackers, Anthony Nelson is the only one who saw any action last season. Sam Acho was signed by the team late last season and is a Todd Bowles favorite. Seventh-round pick Chapelle Russell will be a core special teams player.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Jamel Dean, CB Carlton Davis, FS Andrew Adams, SS Jordan Whitehead
Backups: CB Sean Bunting, CB M.J. Stewart, CB Ryan Smith, S Mike Edwards, S Justin Evans, S D'Cota Dixon, S Antoine Winfield Jr. [R]

Starting DBs: The weakness of the Bucs defense lies in their secondary, where young players will be relied on to weather the storm of a potent set of NFC South offenses. Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis, two premium draft picks over the past couple of seasons, are slated to start, though Sean Bunting (formerly Sean Murphy-Bunting) played almost 700 snaps last season and has similar pedigree to Dean and Davis. At free safety, Andrew Adams, re-signed by the team to a one-year contract this offseason, is set to retain his place barring anything unforeseen. Jordan Whitehead will continue to man the strong safety role, but he will need to improve on his 2019 showing or the backup options will be breathing down his neck for playing time.

Backup DBs: Sean Bunting is the most promising of the backup cornerbacks, though M.J. Stewart is a former second round pick and has the talent to step in and make some waves. Mike Edwards did not disgrace himself in his rookie season and should be in the mix for snaps. Justin Evans, a former second round pick, tore his Achilles at the start of 2019 and will be keen to rebound. Antoine Winfield Jr., the son of former NFL defensive back Antoine Winfield, was selected in the second round of the NFL Draft. The younger Winfield tested well at the Combine and, if he can avoid the injury problems that plagued him in college, should be able to start quickly for the Bucs at safety.