2018 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 6,648 (3rd)
Offensive Touchdowns: 47 (8th)
Offensive Plays: 1,055 (6th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 666 (3rd)
Rush Attempts: 389 (22nd)
Unaccounted for Targets: 229 (4th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 77 (19th)
They struggled to run the ball and avoid turnovers, but Tampa’s passing game was one of the best in the league in 2018. The offense finished atop the league in passing yards and only behind the Chiefs in net yards per pass attempt (7.7). An offseason coaching change would normally be a concern coming off that kind of success, but the Bucs allayed that worry by hiring Bruce Arians. In 14 seasons as an offensive coordinator or head coach, Arians has overseen a top-15 passing offense nine times and in every season since 2008 with five top-10 finishes during that run. Only three of those offenses finished better than 15th in pass attempts, but two of those were his final two years in Arizona with teams that hovered around .500. With questions on defense and playing in the toughest division in the league, the Bucs would be lucky to even reach those heights, so it is likely they continue to be a pass-heavy unit. Those passes also figure to be effective given the personnel available and Arians’ history, making this a passing game to target in fantasy drafts.
Jameis Winston’s biggest concern last year was staying on the field. After serving a three-game suspension to open the season, Winston traded the starting job back and forth with Ryan Fitzpatrick before eventually starting the final six games. When he played, he was a great fantasy option. In the eight games he played 100 percent of the snaps, he averaged 26.1 fantasy points, a total that would have made him the QB4 in per-game scoring. He was also more careful down the stretch, throwing just three interceptions over the final six games after reclaiming the starting job.
Arians does have a strange affinity for Blaine Gabbert, but he is a less threatening backup option than Fitzpatrick, and Winston theoretically is a good fit for Arians’ offense. As DeSean Jackson can attest, Winston has not been particularly successful throwing down the field, but he has been willing to push the ball throughout his career -- his 10.3 career average depth of target would have ranked fourth last season with Winston himself occupying one of the top-three spots. If Arians can help him become more efficient, the weapons are there for Winston to replicate what he was able to do when on the field last season, and his double-digit round ADP will not be much of a loss if he falls to pieces. Winston shapes up as one of the best upside picks for those who like to wait on quarterback.
Unlike now ex-teammate Jackson, Mike Evans was actually more efficient with Winston at quarterback than Fitzpatrick last season, so that departure is unlikely to affect him much. That is not the case for the departures of Jackson and Adam Humphries, which put Evans in position to potentially post an astronomical target total. While he did finish 10th among receivers with 138 a season ago, his target share has been “only” around 22 percent the last two seasons. It is possible a healthy O.J. Howard or Chris Godwin eats up most of the targets left behind by Jackson and Humphries or the Bucs simply throw less, but Evans is a strong candidate to see a larger target share and more looks. Coming off the most efficient season of his career and with a double-digit touchdown ceiling, there is a path for Evans to out-play his already strong WR9 ADP.
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Even if Evans does see a larger share of the targets, there are enough available for Godwin to live up to his hype, a fire that continues to be stoked by his coach’s comments. After confirming Godwin will see time in the slot and saying the receiver can be a “100-catch guy” over the offseason, Arians opened camp by saying Godwin will “never come off the field.” Godwin already commanded 95 targets last season, and the Bucs have the fourth-most available targets (229) in the league. Even with Evans atop the depth chart and Howard healthy, Godwin is going to get his fair share of targets, and he has proven he can produce when given the opportunity. The hype means he is not going to come cheap, but Godwin still looks like a good pick in the fifth round.
The third receiver spot remains up for grabs. Tampa signed Breshad Perriman in free agency, drafted Scott Miller in the sixth round, and have 2018 fifth-rounder Justin Watson waiting in the wings. All three have the physical tools to be real threats down the field, a trait that is important in an Arians offense. There might not be enough targets behind Evans, Godwin, and the tight ends for this to be a fantasy-relevant spot, but it would not be shocking to see some big plays and games from this trio.
Howard might be the most interesting part of this passing game. Unquestionably talented, Howard averaged 16.6 yards per catch in each of his first two seasons in the league with 11 total scores over that span. Those two seasons amounted to only 24 games because of ankle and foot injuries, however, and he had 87 total targets in those contests. There are also some coaching concerns. Heath Miller was heavily utilized in just one of his seasons with Arians, and the coach basically forgot about the position during his time with the Cardinals. That said, it was a different league back when Miller and Arians were together, and the options in Arizona were names like Rob Housler and Jermaine Gresham. It also has to be noted Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener had decent success during Arians’ one season with the Colts.
On the one hand, Howard has the talent and profile of an elite option at tight end, the Bucs have as many targets to replace as any team in the league, and it would be foolish of them not to get the third-year tight end heavily involved. On the other, both Howard’s injury history and Arians’ usage history suggest the hype train could be moving a little too fast. Given the state of the position after the top-three options, that upside ultimately wins out and makes Howard worth a pick in the middle rounds, but it does not come without risk.
Cameron Brate also deserves a mention, especially given the red-zone connection he has shown with Winston throughout his career. Brate has scored at least six touchdowns in each of the last three seasons with all but one of those coming inside the red zone. He is unlikely to be more than a touchdown-prayer if Howard stays healthy, but it would not be surprising if he once again found the end zone at a decent rate.
It would be a massive understatement to call Ronald Jones’ rookie season a disappointment. Selected in the second round, Jones was expected to easily win the starting job and be an immediate contributor. Instead, he struggled through training camp and the preseason, was soundly beaten out by Peyton Barber, and ended his rookie year with just 44 rushing yards on 23 carries. It was a disaster.
After the Bucs surprisingly did not add anyone of note during the offseason, Jones finds himself in a similar position as last year with just Barber, who offered nothing as a receiver and averaged just 3.7 yards per carry as the starter last season, as his competition. Unlike last year, Jones has earned nothing but praise for his work this offseason, and the Bucs are reportedly “really excited” about his progress. That has not stopped beat writers from consistently projecting Barber as the lead back, but it at least seems like Jones has a shot to win the starting job heading into camp. That makes him a fine mid-round flier.
As for Barber, he showed last season even his unquestioned-starter form is not that exciting. He finished as the RB44 in per-game PPR scoring, and he was the first player since 2013 to have more than 250 touches with fewer than 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Even if he wins the starting job, his best-case looks like a floor-play RB3.
Neither Jones nor Barber offers much in the passing game, so there is a path for a third-down back to return value in this offense. Familiar with Arians from their time together in Arizona, Andre Ellington was brought in over the offseason, but exciting undrafted rookie Bruce Anderson is the name to watch.
Coming off back-to-back five-win seasons, the Bucs’ total sits at 6.5 most places. Even if the new coaching staff ends up being a major upgrade, Tampa faces a tough path to seven wins. Despite devoting most of their draft to the defense, that side of the ball remains a large question mark, and they face a rough schedule in the best division in the league. They did finish second-to-last in turnover differential last season, and better ball security with a similar quality passing game could push them to a couple more wins. Even so, the under looks like the play.