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2021 Team Report: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last updated: Mon, May 24

Offensive Philosophy

When the Buccaneers signed Tom Brady, the big question was whose offensive vision would predominate. Arians has historically preferred an aggressive passing game that attacked past the sticks on virtually every down. Brady's offenses tended to be more methodical, taking what they could get on any given play, avoiding mistakes, and working the ball down the field. Could the two coexist? The early returns weren't especially promising; over the first 12 games, Brady averaged just 7.0 yards per attempt, his third-lowest mark since 2007. Then Tampa had its bye and Brady (who admitted he was still learning the playbook) had a chance to study up some more. Over his final eight games (including the playoffs), Brady averaged 8.7 yards per attempt and threw for 22 touchdowns against 4 interceptions. Ever the chameleon, Brady managed to adapt his game perfectly to Arians' preferences, ranking among the league leaders in yards per completion and first downs per attempt.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Tom Brady
Backup(s): Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask

Starting QB: Tom Brady enters his 22nd season in NFL and second with Tampa Bay, fresh off another Super Bowl victory. Brady saw little to no erosion in his play in 2020 with arguably the best collection of talent around him on offense in his career. Brady his 40 passing touchdowns for the first time since 2007 and the most passing yards since 2015. The Buccaneers kept the team together for another projected deep run in 2021 with potential departures of Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski all returning. Look for Brady to be near the NFL lead in attempts with the surrounding talent and Bruce Arians-minded offense.

Backup QB: Blaine Gabbert is back as the Buccaneers backup for 2021 after throwing 16 passes in sparse duty last season. Gabbert's mobility has waned over the season, now entering his age 30 season, and has consistently been a below-average passer in the NFL. Gabbert offers a veteran presence until Round 2 rookie Kyle Trask is ready for the primary backup role. Tampa Bay splashed the position by drafting Florida prospect Kyle Trask to the end of the second round in 2021. Trask is a big-boded signal-caller and is generally accurate, especially gives his receivers an opportunity in contested windows. Trask

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: The Tampa Bay running back logjam continues in 2021 with Leonard Fournette returning but also Giovani Bernard signing to occupy the roster spot departed by LeSean McCoy last season. Ronald Jones out-snapped Fournette on the ground be heeded to Fournette for the Super Bowl stretch run. Jones, turning 24 years old just before the regular season, enters a pivotal fourth season and coming off a quality 2020 surpassing 1,100 total yards and eight touchdowns while firmly in a committee. Bernard enters the depth chart without a firm role or expected usage. Bernard has been a spot starter when needed since his rookie season as a potential full-time starter in Cincinnati. Bernard offers more upside within a secondary role than LeSean McCoy, who was clearing eroding, did a year ago. Ke'Shawn Vaughn has the most ambiguous path to significant usage. Bringing back Fournette and adding Bernard were both gut punches for Vaughn's potential Year 2 growth on the Super Bowl contender. Vaughn, while a Day 2 pick, has shown little to suggest he is moving up the depth chart higher than third or fourth in the pecking order.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin
Backups: Antonio Brown, Scott Miller, Tyler Johnson, Jaelon Darden [R]

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: Antonio Brown returns to Tampa Bay after a partial season in 2020 due to suspension. Brown saw a hearty 61 targets, rivaling Mike Evans (63) and Chris Godwin (55) for tops on the team over the half-season sample. Brown squeezed targets from Scott Miller notably and Brown's addition came over a few games after O.J. Howard was lost for the season. With Howard expected back, projecting any Tampa Bay option for more than 120 targets is a lower-probability endeavor. Brown is an enviable WR3 for an NFL depth chart, a luxury for the loaded Tampa Bay offense. 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.

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: Succop helped the Bucs solve their perpetual kicker problem with a very steady year. He made all 20 field goal attempts under 40 yards and 7 of 9 from 40-49, while converting 52 of 57 extra points. He wasn't an elite fantasy kicker, but he was still consistent and worthy of the top 10 kicker pick it will probably take to land him. The Bucs offense should be one of the best in the league and you can probably still get Succop in the last round, so he's a good plan A for teams that wait at kicker.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jaelon Darden [R], Jaydon Mickens

Mickens got a ring for his service in 2020 but didn't stand out, so the team spend a fourth-round pick on Darden, a dynamic player who handled kick returns at North Texas in his freshman year. Since the team is likely committed to keeping Darden due to his draft capital, he is the favorite to return kicks this year.

Punt Returners: Jaelon Darden [R], Jaydon Mickens

Darden was the punt returner at North Texas all four years of his career, so he's the logical choice to take over for Mickens this year since he's almost a sure thing to make the roster. Darden had one punt return for a score in college and should be able to focus on the return jobs because the Bucs have more than ample depth at wide receiver this year.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Donovan Smith, LG Ali Marpet, C Ryan Jensen, RG Alex Cappa, RT Tristan Wirfs
Key Backups: OL Aaron Stinnie, OL Josh Wells, OL Robert Hainsey [R]

Center Ryan Jensen is probably the most valuable member of this line, running the blocking system and reaching defenders from the inside. Left tackle Donovan Smith and right tackle Tristan Wirfs are capable of excellent pass protection and decent going forward. The guards of Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa have become impact players in the run game. The Bucs have no official Pro Bowlers, but they have rings and a top-five grade in the rankings.

Team Defense

The Bucs D/ST finished as a top 10 fantasy unit with an arrow pointing up. They were top 10 in sacks and interceptions and brought back the entire starting defense despite having multiple key players hitting free agency this offseason. They even added a top edge rusher in the first round (Washington's Joe Tryon) to help in case they suffer an injury at the position. Tampa surprisingly will not cost you a top 5 pick at D/ST, which makes them a good target once 7-8 defenses have gone off of the board if you prefer to stick with one D/ST throughout the season instead of streaming.

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Vita Vea, DE William Gholston, DE Ndamukong Suh
Backups: DE Joe Tryon, DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DE Jeremiah Ledbetter, DT Khalil Davis. DE Benning Potoa'e, DE Patrick O'Connor, DE Steve McLendon, DT Kobe Smith, DT Sam Renner

Starting DL: In an offseason of consolidation and consistency for the Super Bowl champions, the defensive front that harried and harassed Patrick Mahomes will run it back. Anchor and space-eating nose tackle Vita Vea missed a large portion of last season after breaking his ankle, but was able to make an impact in the postseason. The organisation picked up his fifth-year option, so the 25-year-old remains a key cog. Alongside him both William Gholston and Ndamukong Suh form one of the more disruptive 3-4 edge partnerships in the league. They figure to remain a stout presence against the run, with the Bucs the stingiest run defense last season.

Backup DL: Veteran backup Rakeem Nunez-Roches was re-signed this offseason in the wake of the Lombardi Trophy victory. Fellow veteran Steve McLendon was also re-upped and should remain a factor in the rotation. Patrick O'Connor, Jeremiah Ledbetter and others will battle it out for snaps behind an established defensive line starting unit. The Bucs selected Joe Tryon, a late bloomer out of Washington who tested well, in the first round of the Draft. He should slot in behind Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul in nickel packages as a designated pass rusher to begin with.

Linebackers

Starters: RILB Lavonte David, LILB Devin White, OLB Shaq Barrett, OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Backups: LB Kevin Minter, OLB Anthony Nelson, LB Cam Gill, LB Quinton Bell, LB K.J. Britt, LB Grant Stuard, LB Leighton McCarthy

Starting LBs: In his sophomore campaign Devin White took a major step forward, playing a key role in the Super Bowl victory and racking up 97 tackles. Alongside veteran Lavonte David, who has yet to take a step back despite his advancing years, they formed one of the most fearsome and reliable inside linebacker tandems in the league. Coming off one of his best seasons in coverage, the Bucs re-signed David to a two-year, $25m extension this offseason. The Bucs did not stop there with solidifying their linebacking unit, re-signing Shaq Barrett to a four-year contract and inking Jason Pierre-Paul to a two-year extension. The moves are a clear indication to the rest of the league that the Bucs are intent on pouring their resources into another run in 2021.

Backup LBs: Kevin Minter will return as a core special teams player for the Bucs after the team re-signed him, while former fourth-round pick Anthony Nelson will look to carve out a larger role in his third season. Cam Gill and Quinton Bell round out the corps. Late-round selections K.J. Britt and Grand Stuard will be core special teams players if they can make the roster.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Sean Murphy-Bunting, CB Carlton Davis, SS Antoine Winfield, FS Jordan Whitehead
Backups: CB Ross Cockrell, CB Cameron Kinley, CB Herb Miller, CB Jamel Dean, CB Antonio Hamilton, S Mike Edwards, S Javon Hagan, S Lawrence White IV, S Augie Contressa

Starting DBs: Cornerback tandem Sean Murphy-Bunting and Carlton Davis will renew their partnership in a solid secondary. Entering his third season, Murphy-Bunting will look to improve on his big play totals; last season he had just one interception and three passes broken up. At safety, Antoine Winfield proved to be a revelation in his rookie campaign, growing with each game and playing a telling role in the Super Bowl run. Jordan Whitehead will reprise his role at free safety, with continuity king for this unit.

Backup DBs: Ross Cockrell was re-signed by the Bucs after playing 94 snaps during the postseason run. Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards are two of the most experienced heads among the backups, with the Bucs well-positioned to manage any lost starter snaps. Antonio Hamilton spent last season with the Chiefs and projects as a core special teams player.