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2020 Team Report: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last updated: Tue, Apr 20

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.

Running Backs

Starter: Leonard Fournette
Backup(s): Ronald Jones II, Giovani Bernard, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: The early-season running back committee for Tampa Bay shifted towards Leonard Fournette during the Buccaneers Super Bowl run. Fournette had 17 or more touches in each of the playoff games, but only three such games over the entire regular season. Ronald Jones is poised to split work on early downs and Giovani Bernard is a notable addition (and upgrade) over last year's version of LeSean McCoy. Fournette is projected into a committee, albeit on an explosive offense where any weekly clarity turns into a strong projection for the remaining options.

Backup RBs: Ronald Jones was the preferred option early in the season over Leonard Fournette in 2020, but heeded to Fournette during the Tampa Bay playoff push. Fournette returning in 2021 keeps Jones' breakout probabilities at bay, but Jones did have his best season to-date with 220 touches and more than 1,100 total yards. The addition of Giovani Bernard to the depth chart crowds the snaps even more than the version with LeSean McCoy a year ago, especially for passing game snaps. Giovani Bernard joins Tampa Bay after an eight-year run with the Bengals. Bernard has been a receiving-game maven after flaming out as a potential lead back early in his career. With LeSean McCoy gone, Bernard offers an upgrade to the change-of-pace role. More than intrinsic value on his own, Bernard siphons snaps from Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones. Also, Bernard's addition is a firm indicator Round 3 pick from 2020, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, is unlikely to have a meaningful role. Ke'Shawn Vaughn had plenty of fanfare with a Round 3 draft pedigree last offseason. Since, Tampa Bay's addition of Leonard Fournette and now Giovani Bernard bury Vaughn down the depth chart just one year later. Without an injury or two, Vaughn has an uphill climb to relevance on the crowded Buccaneers offense.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

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

Starting WRs: Mike Evans' target load dropped in 2020 with the in-flux of additions in the Tampa Bay passing game. However, Evans remained his productive self, surpassing 1,000 yards for the seventh straight season to begin his career. Evans has been one of the preeminent touchdown scorers in the NFL with 29 touchdowns over the past three seasons. While one of the top touchdown rate wide receivers, Evans' 18.6% rate in 2020 was well above his career rate and in line for a sharp historical regression. Chris Godwin returns to Tampa Bay on the franchise tag after another efficient season, his third straight year higher than the NFL wide receiver average. Volume has been the biggest roadblock to Godwin unlocking a higher ceiling, as well as missing six games over the past two seasons. Godwin returning to Tampa Bay limits his target ceiling, but also keeps his efficiency on the higher side. Godwin's notable passing game standing includes Antonio Brown exiting Tampa Bay and O.J. Howard returning from an early-season injury.

Backup WRs: Scott Miller was an early-season impact for Tampa Bay before Antonio Brown's activation minimized Miller's momentum later in 2020. Miller had five weeks in the first half of the season with at least five targets, while three targets was his high-water mark to close the year. The good news is Antonio Brown is gone, along with his 61 targets over the final eight games. The WR3 role is wide open for Miller and the notable competition is second-year Tyler Johnson, who flashed on his 18 regular season targets. Tyler Johnson had a minimal role in 2020 as a Day 3 rookie, seeing more than two targets in only one regular season game. However, Johnson optimized his sparse opportunities averaging 9.4 yards-per-target and scoring twice on 12 receptions. Outside of an extended injury to at least one of Mike Evans or Chris Godwin there is a limited ceiling for Johnson's usage, but the second-year Johnson is capable of an expanded role. Justin Watson has mired down Tampa Bay's depth chart for three seasons, a lost name considering their deep pool of passing game talent. Watson, before Tyler Johnson in 2020, was the metric marvel prospect from Day 3 in 2018 for the Buccaneers. Watson, still buried on the depth chart, remains an intriguing talent if opportunities become available.

Tight Ends

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

Rob Gronkowski returns to Tampa Bay after yet another Super Bowl-winning run paired with Tom Brady in 2020. Gronkowski was a lesser version of himself until a season-high six catches and two touchdowns in the Super Bowl, offering as much as a blocker as a receiver. O.J. Howard had more targets than Gronkowski in the opening month of the season before Howard suffered a season-ending injury. O.J. Howard's return in 2021 offers an infusion to the Tampa Bay offense after Howard was on a career-best pace through four games to open last season. Howard enters his fifth-year option season of contract control for the Buccaneers, a critical year for Howard's career path in Tampa Bay, or elsewhere, with a new upcoming contract. Howard has flashed big plays and highlight moments through four seasons, but has missed 24 games in the process and topped out with 34 receptions as a career-high mark.

Place Kicker

Ryan Succop: 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 early in draft season, but Bruce Arians didn't like Gay's performance in camp, and he was replaced by Ryan Succop.

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, DT Khalil Davis [R], DL Patrick O'Connor

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. He is scheduled to start the season without limitations despite a minor procedure on his hand this offseason. 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. He has been a standout player at camp. Sixth-round defensive tackle Khalil Davis will provide a nice depth option.

Linebackers

Starters: RILB Devin White, LILB Lavonte David, OLB Shaq Barrett, OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Backups: LB Quinton Bell, LB Jack Cichy, LB Kevin Minter, OLB Anthony Nelson, LB Cam Gill

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. Pierre-Paul underwent a minor arthroscopic knee procedure this offseason, but is expected to be ready for camp.

Backup LBs: 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. Quinton Bell and Cam Gill will primarily be special teamers.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Jamel Dean, CB Carlton Davis, FS Andrew Adams, SS Jordan Whitehead
Backups: CB Sean Bunting, CB Parnell Motley, S Justin Evans [PUP], S Antoine Winfield Jr. [R], CB Ryan Smith, S Mike Edwards

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 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 was placed on PUP. 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.