In his second season with Tampa, Bruce Arians parlayed Jameis Winston into Tom Brady, netting the Bucs 22 fewer turnovers at quarterback and a Super Bowl title. Over seven seasons as a head coach, he has a 76-47-1 record with two other playoff appearances.
Arians helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls (2005 and 2008) as their wide receiver coach and offensive coordinator. He has 27 years of experience in the NFL. Tampa ended their 12-year playoff drought with their win over the Chiefs.
The Bucs finished third in scoring (492) in back-to-back years while slipping to seventh yards gained (third in 2018 and 2019). Tampa did battle some wide receiver injuries during the season.
Byron Leftwich returns for his third season as the offensive coordinator after working under Bruce Arians in Arizona. He held the quarterback’s coach job for the Cardinals in 2017 and the offensive coordinator position in 2018.
After failing as the Jets’ head coach (24-40 with no playoff appearances), Todd Bowles landed the defensive coordinator job for the Buccaneers in 2019. He worked under Arians in 2013 and 2014 in Arizona while running their defense. Bowles has been a coach in the NFL since 2000, and his defense owns a Super Bowl title.
Last year Tampa catapulted to eighth in the league in points allowed (355), improving by 94 points from 2019 (449 points – 29th). The Bucs finished sixth in yards allowed.
The only player of value added in free agency was RB Giovani Bernard. Unfortunately, his best days are behind him, but he does add veteran pass-catching experience out of the backfield.
DE Joe Tryon
The Bucs hope to get some mileage out of him in rookie season in the pass rush. His ceiling looks to be very high once he develops depth in his attack. Tryon gets off the ball well while needing a better game plan and more strength.
QB Kyle Trask
He brings an NFL arm with an excellent rhythm in his passers. His weakness comes in his pocket presence and reads at the line of scrimmage and in the secondary. Trask lacks the intangibles needed to start in the NFL at this point of his career. A year holding a clipboard behind Tom Brady should treat him well and possibly fill in the missing links to his game.
T Robert Hainsey
The Bucs should move him to guard, where his foundation in technique, hands, and rhythm in run blocking should offer more upside. His range and quickness have limitations. Speed rushers can give him issues in the pass rush.
WR Jaelon Darden
He brings an undersized frame (5’8” and 175 lbs.) while being lightning quick. The Bucs will look to get him in space to let his speed and open-field ability create after the catch. Darden will challenge a defense in the deep passing game with a chance to return kicks.
LB K.J. Britt
Britt fires toward the line of scrimmage with forceful blows to slow down the run game. His vision can put him on a wayward path, leading him behind play flow. Limited range should keep him on the sidelines early in his career on passing downs.
CB Chris Wilcox
Wilcox looks labored when asked to mirror receivers with length to their route tree. Early in his career, a bump and chase plan should keep him in a position to make plays. He lacks playmaking skills, and his vision is below par.
LB Grant Stuard
Stuard reads quickly, and attacks would be holes in run support. His quest to be ahead of play development can lead him to dead ends in traffic with no chance of recovering from his mistakes. Stuard can disrupt at the line of scrimmage, but he should head to the sidelines on passing downs.
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Tampa fell to 28th in rushing yards (1,519) with 16 touchdowns and nine runs over 20 yards. They averaged 4.1 yards per carry with 23.1 attempts per game.
The Bucs slipped to fourth in passing yards (5,776) with 42 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 22 sacks, compared to 47 in 2019. Tampa gained 7.6 yards per pass attempt with 67 catches over 20 yards (3rd) and 12 completions over 40 yards (4th).
LT Donovan Smith
Smith finished 2020 with the best all-around blocking of his six-year career after getting drafted in the second round in 2015. He showed the most growth in the run game while still ranking above the league average in pass protection. However, Tampa attempts many passes (over 600 since 2017), leading to some mistakes in sacks and pressure by Smith. On the positive side, he’s had over 1,000 snaps in each year in the league.
LG Ali Marpet
Marpet is another six-year vet with a winning resume in both run and pass blocking. Tampa drafted him in the second round in 2015. He hasn’t missed a start in three seasons while moving to an elite area in the run game. Marpet tends to give up minimal sacks with occasional pressure.
C Ryan Jensen
Over the last four years, Jensen made 64 regular-season starts for the Ravens and the Bucs. Last year his run blocking played well, but he did have the most issues of his career in pass protection. I would rate Jensen as a neutral player with upside.
RG Alex Cappa
In his third year in the NFL, Cappa made 17 starts before going down in the postseason with an ankle injury. His run blocking improved slightly while still offering below-par value. Cappa didn’t allow a sack last year, but pass rushers did apply some pressure.
RT Tristan Wirfs
Wirfs started 20 games in his rookie season after getting drafted 13th overall in 2020. He finished as one of the top players in the league at his position with some special games as a run blocker. Pass rushers rarely reach Tom Brady.
Chemistry on an offensive line breeds success. Tampa rolled out five players in 2020 who had a combined two missed games over a 20-game season, leading to fewer sacks allowed, some improvement in the run game, and a Super Bowl title. This offensive line would push even higher with a dynamic running back in the backfield. Every option on the line projects as an asset with more growth expected in 2021.
The Bucs want to air the ball out, and they left some passing stats on the table in 2020 due to four missed games by Chris Godwin and 12 lost starts by O.J. Howard. Tampa passed the ball 62.9 percent of the time, but they want to score running the ball in close (16 rushing touchdowns).
The retirement of Drew Brees almost ensures that Brady will finish his NFL career with the most passing yards (trails Brees by 1,154 yards) while already owning the all-time top spot in passing touchdowns (581) thanks to 40 scores via the air in 2020. He has a 230-69 record with seven Super Bowl titles. Brady has 10 wins or more in 18 of his 19 full seasons played.
At age 42, he finished with the second-most passing touchdowns (40) of his career while also chipping in with three rushing scores. However, Brady did have some moments in 2020 when he looked to have lost some of his luster (Week 10 at home against the Saints – 209/0 with three interceptions and 55.0 percent completion rate over his first three postseason wins).
Brady passed for over 300 yards in eight games (including the playoffs). Four of those outings came from Week 15 to Week 18 (390/2, 348/4, 399/4, and 381/2). He had three touchdowns or more in 11 of his 20 starts.
Fantasy Outlook: Even with an excellent season, Brady finished seventh in quarterback scoring (398.15 fantasy points) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. Even in a down season in 2019 with the Patriots, he ranked 13th in fantasy points (314.25). This year Brady comes off the board as the ninth quarterback drafted. In early March, he had surgery on his left knee. Tampa expects him to be ready for the regular season. Based on his receiving corps, Brady should have a floor of 4,500 passing yards with 40 touchdowns.
The low output in running by Tom Brady (30/6/3) hid some of the Bucs’ backs’ excellent work on early downs. They gained 4.5 yards per rush with 13 touchdowns while averaging 20.6 carries per game. In New England, Brady used his backs more often in the passing game. Unfortunately, Tampa lacked a clear, reliable pass-catching out of the backfield, leading to only 6.4 yards per catch and almost the same output (84/534/2 in 110 targets) as 2019 (84/723/1 on 115 targets).
Jones is the best back on the Bucs’ roster. He gained over 1,000 combined yards in 2019 (1,033) and 2020 (1,143) while averaging 14.1 touches. Most will write him off in the passing game after gaining only 5.9 yards per catch last year, but Jones gained 10.0 yards on his catches in 2019.
After Leonard Fournette went down with an ankle injury, Jones strung together three games with over 100 yards rushing (20/111, 17/106, and 23/113/2) while also catching 11 balls for 44 yards.
Over the final 10 weeks of the season, Jones missed two matchups with a finger injury. He dominated in Week 10 (198 combined yards with one touchdown and one catch) while adding three other steady games (17.30, 15.40, and 13.80 fantasy points) in PPR formats.
A quad issue knocked him out of the first round of the playoffs, opening the door for Fournette to drive the running back bus home in the Bucs’ championship run. Jones gained 139 yards on 35 rushes in the postseason over three games with no value in the passing game or scoring.
Fantasy Outlook: Jones has an ADP of 82 in the early draft season, two spots ahead of Fournette. In essence, fantasy owners have them in a dead heat. Jones should see over 60 percent of Tampa’s rushes with a healthy season, leading to 250 combined touches for 1,250 yards with 10 touchdowns and about 20 catches. At the very least, he is a mid-tier RB2 while being a value on draft day. His downside comes from a capable backup running back, giving the Bucs a chance to ride the hot hand in some matchups.
During the regular season, Fournette was a challenging ride in the season-long games. He was a bust in Week 1 (19 combined yards and one catch) and Week 3 (22 combined yards and two catches) while teasing in Week 2 (116 combined yards with two touchdowns and four catches).
Fournette missed most of the following three games with an ankle issue. Over the next six weeks, he gained only 285 combined yards with one score and 21 catches while gaining only 3.3 yards per rush and 6.5 yards per catch). Tampa didn’t activate him for Week 14.
Over the final three games (158 combined yards with three touchdowns and eight catches), Fournette had one contest of value (Week 15 – 65 combined yards with two touchdowns and three catches). The Bucs leaned on him over four weeks in the postseason (448 combined yards with four touchdowns and 18 catches), thanks to 20.5 touches per game. He averaged 21.7 fantasy points in PPR leagues over this span.
Fantasy Outlook: Fournette comes into 2021 at age 26 with two top 12 running back seasons (2017 and 2019) on his resume. Despite some success, he’s missed 15 starts over four years with weakness in his yards per carry three times (3.9, 3.3, and 3.8). Fournette caught 112 combined passes in 2019 and 2020, but he failed to make impact plays (6.7 yards per catch). His early July ADP (84) ranks him 32nd at running back. Ronald Jones is a better runner on early downs, and Giovani Bernard should become the top pass-catching back in Tampa. I only see about 175 touches for 750 combined yards with a handful of scores and about 25 catches, making him an RB4 in PPR leagues.
Over the past three seasons with the Bengals, Bernard gained 797 yards on 233 carries with three scores, which works out to a dull 3.4 yards per rush. His best value continues to be in the passing game (47/33/5 in 2020).
Bernard gained over 1,000 combined yards from 2013 to 2015, highlighted by his success in his rookie season (1,209 yards with eight touchdowns and 56 catches).
In four matchups with starting snaps, he gained 402 combined yards with five touchdowns and 16 catches while averaging 21.25 touches. In his other 12 games, Bernard gained over 50 combined yards twice.
Fantasy Outlook: There will be times this year when the Bucs are trailing that Bernard will be highly active in the passing game. He’ll work primarily on passing downs while also providing starting insurance. In addition, his veteran experience should be important to Tom Brady in pass protection. Think James White while understanding that Tampa will throw more balls to backs in 2021 to help move the chains.
Vaughn gained only 143 combined yards in his rookie season with a touchdown and five catches on 31 touches. The signing of Giovani Bernard pushes into a deep bench role in 2021.
He breaks tackles with enough vision and quickness to make plays on the outside. His leg drive is an asset, which also helps him in pass protection. He’ll run with patience while struggling to climb out of tight quarters unless his win comes from strength. Vaughn should work best over the short areas of the field while being helped by better blocking options in front of him. His game does have some upside as a receiver.
Other Options: Troymaine Pope, C.J. Prosise
The difference between Tom Brady and Jameis Winston in wide receiver production for Tampa in 2020 was 16 more catches for 415 fewer yards and three more touchdowns on 16 fewer targets. The regression in the passing game can be solely tied to the stats for Chris Godwin in 2019 (86/1,333/9) and 2020 (65/840/7).
A concussion knocked Godwin out of Week 2. Then, two games later, he suffered a hamstring jury, costing him another two matchups. A finger issue also led to him missing Week 8. At the end of his first five games, Godwin caught 28 of his 35 targets for 320 yards and two touchdowns, with his best success in Week 7 (9/88/1).
He regained his form over his next 10 contests (51/743/6 on 77 targets). Unfortunately, his season ended on a down note in the Super Bowl (two catches for nine yards on four targets). Godwin gained over 100 yards in two games (5/133/2 and 5/11)) while maintaining a high catch rate (77.4 – 71.1 in 2019).
His stats over 12 starts projected over an entire season could have come to 87 catches for 1,120 yards and nine touchdowns on 112 targets or 253.00 fantasy points in PPR leagues (11th wide receiver ranking).
Fantasy Outlook: His early ADP (47) in PPR leagues looks favorable when adding his success in 2019 and passing results posted by Tom Brady. Godwin comes off the board as a mid-tier WR2. His natural progression over 17 game schedule points to 100-catches for over 1,300 yards and double-digit scores.
Evans enters his eighth season with Tampa. He gained over 1,000 each year with a range of 67 to 96 catches while scoring 61 touchdowns over 106 starts. His best year came in 2016 (96/1,321/12) due to the league’s most targets (173).
He finished last year as the 11th highest scoring wide receiver (248.60 fantasy points) in PPR leagues with a boom or bust season. When Evans was at his best over three matches (7/104/1, 7/122/1, and 10/181/2), he scored 35.7 percent of his fantasy points. He had three catches or fewer in seven of his 16 starts in the regular season while scoring fewer than 9.00 fantasy points in five games.
After a big game (6/119) against Washington in the playoffs, Evans struggled to get open for the rest of the postseason (1/3/1, 3/51/1, and 1/31 on a combined 12 targets). He played through an ankle injury in October, a hamstring issue in September and December, and a knee injury in the playoffs.
Fantasy Outlook: Evans does two things well – score and make big plays. His catch rate (64) improved under Tom Brady, partly due to shorter yards per catch (14.4 – 15.7 over his first six seasons). He ranks 13th in the early draft season in 12-team PPR leagues with an ADP of 42. Twenty-one running backs get drafted before Evans. Only seven backs outscore him in 2020, 12 in 2019, and five in 2018 (Note: I used his scoring in PPR formats within each season to compare). Let’s set his bar at 85 catches for 1,250 yards and a dozen scores (282 fantasy points).
The investment in Brown paid off in 2020, which came after sitting out eight games. Over the second half of the year, he caught 45 of his 62 targets (72.6 percent) for 483 yards and four touchdowns. His downside came from only six catches over 20 yards and 10.7 yards per catch.
His best game came in Week 17 (11/138/2 on 15 targets), but Tampa struggled to get him the ball in the playoffs (2/49/1, 1/10, and 5/22/1). He missed the NFC Division Championship game with a knee injury that required surgery in May. The Bucs expect to have him on the field for training camp.
Fantasy Outlook: Brown is easy to dismiss by a fantasy owner after his shenanigans in 2019 that led to his suspension. His half-season of work in 2020 was on pace for 90 catches for 966 yards and eight scores on 124 targets or a top-20 wide receiver year. His ADP (111.10) priced him as the 45th receiver. You can mark this down; the Bucs have the best three wide receivers in the league, and I expect them to lead the NFL in yards and touchdowns. Brown becomes the better version of Julian Edelman for Tom Brady by adding more explosiveness. Possible checkmate value if his ADP doesn’t rise.
In 2020, Miller caught 33 of his 53 targets for 501 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 15.2 yards per catch. He had three playable games (5/73, 5/83/1, and 6/109/1) over the first eight weeks. Once Antonio Brown returned to game action, Miller only had 12 catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 21 targets.
Fantasy Outlook: This year, Miller should work as a possible handcuff for Brown while being found in the free-agent pool in most formats.
In college, Johnson played at a high level over his junior (78/1169/12) and senior (86/1318/13). He averaged 15.5 yards per catch in his career with 33 TDs in 43 games.
Johnson grades at an elite level with the hand’s tool while having the prowess to win in tight coverage. Unfortunately, his route running, speed, and quickness won’t create a big passing window in the pros. Instead, he is more of a zone buster with the feel of a clutch player.
In his rookie season, Johnson caught 12 balls for 169 yards and two scores on 17 targets.
Other Options: Jaelon Darden, Justin Watson, John Franklin
Even with an injury to O.J. Howard, Tampa set a three-year high in catches (87), receiving yards (1,092), and targets (137). Their right ends gained 23 percent of the Bucs’ passing yards. The lack of a pass-catching running back and the injury to Chris Godwin worked led to more chances.
The best part of Gronkowski’s game over the past two seasons was his willingness to put his ego aside and be a team player. He loves to compete while continuing to make plays.
His season started with only 12 catches for 140 yards on 20 targets over the first five weeks. After that, Gronkowski had three catches or fewer in 10 of his final 15 contests, including the postseason. His best two showings came against the Chiefs (6/106 and 6/67/2), with the latter coming in the Super Bowl. However, he did score nine touchdowns after Week 5 (15 games).
Fantasy Outlook: Gronkowski will score touchdowns, but his output from week-to-week points to many valleys leaving a fantasy owner looking for more consistency. His ADP (153) makes him a mid-tier TE2.
Howard went down as a draft-day bust for fantasy owners in 2019 and 2020. He blew out his Achilles in Week 4 after starting the year with 11 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
Over his first 42 games with the Bucs, Howard caught 105 passes for 1,602 yards and 14 touchdowns on 159 targets. He averaged 8.3 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues.
Fantasy Outlook: In early June, Howard looks to be a forgotten tight end option. His ADP (223) puts him in the 19th round in 12-team leagues. Tampa will use him to stretch the field, plus give Howard some scoring chances. Once he sees action in training camp, his draft value should rise. He hits the upside TE2 category.
Other Options: Cameron Brate, Tanner Hudson, Codey McElroy
Succop ended up being an excellent signing for the Bucs. He made 28 of his 31 field goals, but Tampa only gave him one of his two kicks over 50 yards. Succop made all nine of his field goals in the postseason while going 12-for-13 in his extra-point tries.
Fantasy Outlook: Tampa created 88 scoring chances in 2020, with 57 of those coming via extra points. Only once in his career, Succop made over 28 field goals in a season. As a result, he falls into a matchup upside while needing to improve from long range.
The Buccaneers finished first defending the run (1,289 yards) for the second season while allowing 10 touchdowns and four runs over 20 yards. Ball carriers gained 3.6 yards per rush, with 22.4 attempts per game.
Tampa worked their way to 21st in passing yards allowed (3,945) yards with only 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Quarterbacks gained 7.0 yards per pass attempt with 46 catches over 20 yards. Their defense had 48 sacks.
DE Ndamukong Suh
Heading into 2019, Suh was a top-run defender over the previous five seasons. However, he lost value in run support in back-to-back years while still being better than most players in the league. Suh finished with sacks (6.0). At age 34, his window of being a top player is diminishing.
DE Williams Gholston
The Bucs gave Gholston the most playing time of his career in 2020, leading to 44 tackles and three sacks. He applied the most pressure of his career, but he turned into a weak link in run support. Tampa needs to improve this position this season.
DT Vita Vea
Vea continues to improve against the run while delivering only 7.5 sacks over 34 games. A broken leg led to 11 missed starts. He is a mountain of a man (6’4” and 347 lbs.) with insane strength.
LB Jason Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul posted 55 tackles and 9.5 sacks while forcing four fumbles. The Bucs signed him to a two-year $27 million contract in mid-March in 2020. He struggled against the run with below-par tackling, which wasn’t the case in 10 of his previous 11 seasons.
LB Devin White
In his sophomore season, White finished with 140 tackles, 9.0 sacks, and four defended passes. Despite his stats, he didn’t provide an edge against the run while becoming a productive pass rusher when called upon.
LB Lavonte David
David has over 100 tackles in eight of his nine years in the NFL, including the last four seasons. In 2020, he played well vs. the run with fade in tackling. David only has 6.0 sacks over his previous 59 games. He allows a high catch rate with offenses looking his way over seven times a game in pass coverage last year.
LB Shaquil Barrett
After drifting through four seasons with the Broncos with minimal upside, Barrett turned into a beast in the pass rush (19.5 sacks) in 2019 while also setting a career-high in tackles (58). Last season, he had similar tackles (57) with a step back in sacks (8). He’s been a good run defender throughout his career.
CB Carlton Davis
In his third season in the NFL, Davis gave up a ton of plays and touchdowns with receivers finishing with just below the league average in his catch rate. He improved against the run with 68 tackles, four interceptions, and 18 defended passes.
CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
Last year he posted 70 tackles, one interception, and three defended passes while making 16 starts. Murphy-Bunting allowed short yards per catch but a high completion rate and damage in touchdowns.
S Jordan Whitehead
He finished with 74 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, and four defended passes in 2020. His run defense reached the league average with improvement in his play in coverage.
S Antonio Winfield
Winfield made 94 tackles with three sacks, one interception, and six defended passes. His run defense graded out as an elite attribute.
Fantasy Defense Snapshot
Tampa has young talent in their secondary, but their cornerbacks allow a ton of catches. More experience should lead to growth in coverage. They have two top tackling linebackers with pass rushing on the outside. The Bucs have a significant issue at defensive end, pointing to a possible fade against the run. Game score should help create more turnovers. Tampa ranks as a top-five fantasy defense in early July.
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