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Team Previews

Buccaneers Fantasy Preview

by John Daigle
Updated On: July 30, 2020, 12:43 pm ET

2019 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 6,366 (3rd)

Offensive Touchdowns: 48 (5th)

Offensive Plays: 1,086 (4th) 

Pass Attempts + Sacks: 677 (3rd) 

Rush Attempts: 409 (14th)

Unaccounted for Targets: 108 (16th)

Unaccounted for Carries: 215 (4th)

 

Coaching Staff

Bruce Arians aired his grievances on Jameis Winston’s turnover-prone play through the media and got his wish in selling a two-year, $50 million contract and the league’s most explosive supporting cast to Tom Brady in free agency. Winston quietly engineered the league’s third-highest scoring offense in the red zone (64.8%), completing 38-of-69 passes for 19 scores and one interception inside the 20, but found himself on the outside looking in following five costly turnovers from the fourth quarter on (including Week 17’s historic pick-six fatality) in one-score games. Tampa Bay simply molded the team around Brady from that point forward, trading up for first-round OT Tristan Wirfs (6’5/320) to strengthen their trenches' 22nd Adjusted Sack Rate (7.6%) from last year.

 

Passing Game

QB: Tom Brady

WR: Mike Evans, Justin Watson

WR: Chris GodwinScotty Miller

WR: Tyler Johnson

TE: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Tanner Hudson

Only the third player in the last century to start under center at the ripe age of 43, Tom Brady approaches unknown territory as the first to attempt 200 passes since Vinny Testaverde (172 attempts) did so in 2007. In what should be a welcome change of scenery for both Brady and fantasy players alike, the former Patriots lifer travels south to kick off his shoes in Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” attack, which averaged an NFL-high 10.2 air yards per attempt last year; New England’s offense averaged 7.7 (21st) and 7.4 (23rd) air yards per attempt the past two seasons. Flush with talent that recorded an airtight three drops on the fourth-highest rate (15.8%) of pass attempts 20-plus yards downfield, Brady is primed to increase his counting stats across the board by default. Having said that, I’ve indifferently passed on him at his current ADP (QB11) for players with rushing floors (Josh Allen, Carson Wentz) and higher projected passing volume (Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford) in a similar range. It’s also concerning that, unlike past years, the NFL nightmarishly slated the Bucs with a Week 13 bye, which typically falls during recreational and mid/high-stakes League Playoffs.

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Mike Evans enters his age-27 season with the seventh-most receiving yards (7,260) of any player through their first six years in the league. Although he’s bucked replacement-level play (Josh McCown, Mike Glennon, Winston) to average 2.18 Yards Per Route Run to date, Evans’ seasonal finishes as the overall WR13 < WR26 < WR3 < WR17 < WR9 < WR15 have netted him a questionable FFPC ADP of WR9 in his first year with Brady. The 20-year veteran’s poor 45% completion rate on tosses 15-plus yards downfield last year is a concern for Evans, who has scorched opposing secondaries via a career 14.7 average depth of target, but the former Aggie product did average the fourth-most fantasy points per game (17.9) among wideouts despite tracing the second-lowest deep ball rate (21.9%) of his career in '19. I favor Chris Godwin (see below) being drafted nearly a full round ahead of Evans (2.10 to 3.7), but admit the latter could out-perform his teammate and ADP on a lower target share.

 

“We’ve always been a 12 personnel team. Ever since Pittsburgh. That’s our base offense.” -- Coach Bruce Arians on what to expect from the team’s offense

 

That quote isn’t entirely true as the Bucs utilized three-wide sets (58%) at a far higher rate than 12 personnel (28%) in neutral game scripts last year, but it’s all the same for Godwin, who averaged 2.22 YPRR from the slot versus 2.27 from the boundary. No matter which package Tampa Bay leans on in a given week, the 24-year-old either ascends on a team-high rate of routes from the middle of the field (a la Hines Ward in ‘08-’09, Reggie Wayne in 2012, and Larry Fitzgerald from 2013-17 under Arians) or excels against ancillary corners across from Evans. Given Brady’s comfort in peppering his slot receiver with a 24.9% target share last year, it’s Godwin who has the higher floor between the two as a unanimous top-seven wideout for the first time in his four-year career.

Any uptick in heavy personnel, not to mention the arrival of former WWE 24/7 Champion Rob Gronkowski, would inarguably lead to the Bucs’ surplus of tight ends overthrowing third-year specimen Justin Watson, ‘smokey’ prototype Scotty Miller, and fifth-round rookie Tyler Johnson (6’1/206) for opportunity; it’s actually Johnson, who set school records for receiving yards (3,305) and touchdowns (33) as a three-year starter at Minnesota, who has the clearest path to daylight since he ran 78% of his routes from the slot the past two seasons. Gronk averaged an eight-year low in fantasy points per game (10.1) the last time he was available but did close the Patriots’ 2018 Super Bowl run with 13/191 receiving and 10 yards per target across three postseason starts. Embarking on his 10th campaign from Brady, the duo’s immediate rapport holds value in a shortened year. Gronkowski’s touchdown equity alone plants him firmly inside the top-12 at his position. Any rumored slot usage coming to fruition would only boost the 31-year-old’s value. Only one season removed from averaging 2.24 YPRR as a speculative All-Pro down the road, O.J. Howard’s fall from grace keeps the 24-year-old grounded as a bet-on-talent TE3 for Best-Ball leagues.

 

Running Game

RB: Ronald Jones, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Dare Ogunbowale, Raymond Calais

OL (L-R): Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa/Joe Haeg, Tristan Wirfs

Ronald Jones out-stumbled Peyton Barber as Tampa Bay’s most explosive back last year — an easy task when only eight (5%) of Barber’s 154 carries gained 10-plus yards — sprinting for 1.8 yards before contact per attempt despite averaging the fourth-least amount of time (2.63 seconds) behind the line of scrimmage. Jones’ improved vision (4.2 YPA) and underrated receiving chops (10 yards per reception) as a 22-year-old sophomore were enough for the Bucs to cut bait with Barber; his lone sack, two hits, and five hurries allowed on just 49 pass-blocking snaps were enough for GM Jason Licht to respond with Ke’Shawn Vaughn (5’10/214) in the third round. Arians’ backfield recorded the third-highest rate (23%) of pass-blocking snaps last year, and Vaughn, registering Pro Football Focus’ No. 67 pass-blocking grade among 349 FBS qualifiers at his position, fits the bill. His receiving production actually improved once he jumped ship from the Big 10 to face SEC competition, averaging 2.2 YPRR and 9.1 yards per target over his last two years at Vanderbilt. Jones notably bulked to 225 (up from 218) this offseason and remains a full four months younger than Vaughn, but Barber’s vacated carries inside the five-yard line (8) are expected to land in the rookie’s lap. I’ve consistently drafted Jones (FFPC RB32) over Vaughn (RB37) if only for the former’s experience and likelihood Ke’Shawn (reserve/COVID-19) misses camp. The worst-case (and probable) scenario is a touch split down the middle.

Third-down back Dare Ogunbowale could logically throw a wrench into any fallout here since he quietly out-touched Jones inside the five (8 to 2) all the while being entrusted for a team-high 77 pass-pro reps. Having said that, seventh-round rookie Raymond Calais (5’8/177) offers superior speed (4.42 40-time), explosiveness (three career runs of 80-plus yards), and the track record (didn’t record a single drop at the collegiate level) for that role. I’ve opted for the latter 10 times out of 10 over Dare (RB81) as the ideal flier in 20-round re-draft leagues.

 

Win Total

Tampa Bay recorded a 5-4 record when holding a lead entering the fourth quarter due in part to Winston’s league-high 4.8% interception rate. That won’t be the case with Brady, who infamously hasn’t tipped the scales over 2% in eight consecutive seasons. The Bucs are also slated with the NFL’s 11th-easiest schedule, including four dome games, which Brady has historically finished 17-4 both SU and ATS in over his career with the Patriots (via Warren Sharp’s Season Preview). I typically don’t go swimming with the fishes, but the stars align for Tampa Bay to eclipse its 10 Season Win Total as the NFC South’s outright winner (+144).