This may be stating the obvious, but there’s little reason for
fantasy owners NOT to like Tom Brady heading into 2021. His 2020
stat line (401 comp-610 att-65.7%-4633 Yds-40 TD) represents some
of the best numbers of his career. In his first season in Tampa,
he put up the 2nd-most completions and 2nd-most passing TD’s of
his career. His 610 attempts were the 6th-most of his career,
while his completion percentage tied for his 6th-best. The 4,633
passing yards were the 5th-most he’s ever thrown, and his seven
300-yard games tied for 3rd-most on the back of his football card.
He also averaged 7.6 yards per attempt and 289 passing yards per
game. All of that was good enough to rank 7th among QB’s here
on FFToday’s 2020 rankings.
There’s more good news, too. There’s reason to believe
Brady will be even better this Fall. While on the surface everything
came out peachy, some of you may remember Brady struggled early
in the season. Anyone remember that opener in the Superdome? How
about the following week against Carolina, or the second meeting
with the Saints? There was a span in November when Brady threw
seven picks in three games against New Orleans, the Rams, and
Kansas City. Brady admittedly had a hard time grasping the complexity
of Bruce Arians’ terminology and playbook. But as the season
went on, this offense transformed, and it started looking a whole
lot more like the offense Brady ran in New England. The run game
was featured more, and the deep shots downfield took a back seat
to -more of a possession game that used more short and intermediate
routes and more receptions out of the backfield (oh, and by the
way, kept Brady off the ground ). As he and Arians found a balance
(Interpretation: The Bucs started doing more of what Brady wanted
to do), things improved, and we all know how it ended. So there’s
no way, no matter what you hear from anyone in Tampa, that the
genie is going back in the bottle.
The even better news is that everyone – let me say that once
more with feeling – EVERYONE is back. It’s unheard of for a defending
Super Bowl champion. Gronk is back. Antonio Brown is back on a
one-year deal. Postseason darling Leonard Fournette is back, and
in case he gets banged up, Giovani Bernard, another strong receiver
out of the backfield, has been added to the mix. Mike Evans, Chris
Godwin, Scotty Miller, Cameron Brate, all back. Even O.J. Howard
is healthy and expected back for camp. Brady has his offense,
and now he has all his guys in place.
Finally, Brady is healthy. That’s no small consideration
for a man who will turn 44 in August. Brady felt like the knee
pain that was hopefully addressed in the surgery he underwent
this February really held him back, and he’s looking forward
to improving other parts of his game now that the knee stuff is
behind him. To top it off, the Bucs open against Dallas, which
featured one of the five worst secondary’s in the game in
So, in short (too late for that now!), Brady should be stronger
and healthier, will be surrounded by talent, will have a better
grasp of the offense from day one, and should get off to a fast
start. He could be better than he was last year, which will have
him fighting for Top 5 Fantasy QB status in 2021.
Don’t look now, but this Buccaneers backfield may be headed
down the same road as the old Patriots running back committee
that Tom Brady played with in his previous life. Jones is exhibit
1A. After posting four 100-yard rushing games and amassing nearly
1,000 run yards on a 4.7 yard/carry average in the regular season,
Jones took a backseat to Leonard Fournette during the Bucs’
postseason run to the Super Bowl title. His big issue, aside from
a finger injury and a bout with coronavirus quarantine, was his
inability to provide a consistent outlet for Brady in the passing
game. Jones had a case of the drops, catching just 28 passes on
HC Bruce Arians has said Jones will split RB duties with Fournette
out of the gate, but as this offense moves away from Arians’
“No Risk It, No Biscuit” attack to Brady’s beloved
check-down game, there will be less 3rd down opportunities for
Jones (especially with the arrival of Gio Bernard in free agency).
If he’s splitting 1st and 2nd down reps with Fournette,
Jones will provide very little fantasy value unless Fournette
gets hurt, which is not out of the realm of possibility for a
guy who has never played a full 16-game season in his career.
Until then, however, Jones is probably not even a viable RB2 to
start the season.
When this 6’-0”, 228-lb freight train of a back came
to the Buccaneers last year as a waiver claim from Jacksonville,
most people expected him to be the thunder to Ronald Jones’
lightning. A power back with size and strength to move the pile,
he’s a dangerous between the tackles runner, and a serious
threat in short-yardage and goal line situations, and he delivered
with six rushing touchdowns in 2020, though he only toted the
ball a total of 97 times.
Where he really made his impact was as a receiver out of the
backfield. He caught 36 passes (tied for 2nd-most in his career)
on 42 targets for 233 yards. Half those catches came in the Bucs’
four postseason games, totaling 148 yards, averaging over 8.2
yards per catch and earning Fournette the moniker “Lombardi
By that time, it had become clear that the Tampa Bay offense
was becoming a hybrid of Bruce Arians’ playbook and a list
of Tom Brady’s favorite things from New England –
including a checkdown passing game. Essentially, Brady was looking
for James White, who made a career as Brady’s 3rd down security
blanket with the Patriots. So, what Brady wants, Brady gets, or
at least tries to get. Despite Fournette’s playoff breakout,
Tampa courted White in free agency. When he re-signed with New
England, the team went and got RB Giovani Bernard who had almost
50 catches in 2020 in a reserve role, and not nearly as many drops
as Jones or Fournette.
Fournette’s inconsistency and his injury history have to
be a concern for Arians and Brady. Fournette has a laundry list
of lower body injuries dating back to his college days at LSU
and has never played a full 16-game season in the NFL. The bottom
line is splitting carries with Jones, and possibly yielding at
least some 3rd down snaps to Bernard, is going to leave Fournette
short of any real fantasy value until one of those guys ends up
on the injured list.
Tom Brady will be a big fan of Bernard’s receiving skills
out of the backfield, and he’s a much better blocker in
pass protection than either Ronald Jones or Leonard Fournette.
It remains to see what kind of role that earns him in this crowded
backfield, at least initially. Two of Brady’s biggest concerns
at this point in his career are getting the ball out of his hand
quickly and limiting the number of hits he takes. Bernard caught
79% of his targets in 2020 and ranked as Pro Football Focus’
7th-best blocker at RB. But he doesn’t offer much as a runner,
so while he may prove very valuable to Brady over time, as a 3rd
down receiving option, he won’t offer much to fantasy owners.
HC Bruce Arians keeps talking about how much he likes Vaughn.
He speaks excitedly about his potential to take a big step forward
in Year Two with the benefit of a full offseason and a full training
camp. Then the Buccaneers, who already have Ronald Jones playing
on the last year of his rookie deal, signed Leonard Fournette
and Gio Bernard to one-year deals. Something doesn’t add
up. Maybe 2022 is Vaughn’s year. But for 2021, it looks
like he has a better chance of being a weekly healthy scratch
than any type of fantasy option.
2020 was a year of adjustment for Evans as he worked to create
chemistry with Tom Brady and adapted to an offense that was evolving
by the week. Truth be told, most of Evans’ numbers were
down. His 109 targets and 62.9 receiving yards per game were the
worst of his career. He barely surpassed the 1,000-yard mark (1,006)
and averaged just 14.4 yards per catch, both the 2nd-worst of
his career. His catches (70) and 100-yard games (4) were only
lower two other times in his seven-year NFL run. The one stat
that was up was his touchdown total, a career-high 13.
So, if in a “down” year, when everything is new,
he gives you 70 catches for 1,000+ yards and 13 scores, that’s
still a win for fantasy owners. He ranked 7th in the NFL with
11.2 fantasy points per game, and it would seem to follow that
he’d be better in 2021 with a year of Brady under his belt.
It’s important for owners to understand, however, that
the Buccaneers attack is going to continue to look more and more
like the possession game that Brady favors, featuring more short
and intermediate routes and check down routes to the TE’s
and RB’s. That’s going to limit some of Evans’
considerable upside as a deep threat, and he’s still going
to be sharing targets with a whole host of talented pass-catchers
in this offense. Simply put, they’re loaded! But if you
view Evans as the sort of Randy Moss of this offense, stretching
the field on occasion and owning the red zone targets, he’s
still solidly in the WR1 discussion.
Godwin fought through injuries throughout 2020 and missed four
games. Due partly to that and partly to his fate as a possession
receiver in Brady’s “share the ball” circus,
his numbers were down across the board. With the entire band back
together, and Brady taking a stronger hold of the reins of the
offense, it’s hard to imagine Godwin seeing much more than
the 84 targets he saw a season ago. He did still have seven touchdowns
in 2020 and will be the clear No.2 (maybe even 1A) on this team
in target share, but that still won’t make him more than
a matchup WR2/WR3.
AB is back on a one-year deal in Tampa Bay. First and foremost,
Tom Brady loves him and has been fighting for him for several
years now, so he’s got that going for him. He is a big play
waiting to happen and had four scores in just eight games with
the Bucs in 2020. If healthy and active for a full season, he
could potentially approach 1,000 yards and 8-10 TD this year.
But at 33 years old, the question is can he be available all season?
We don’t really see a scenario where he is more than the
third option in the passing game, and his big plays will be hard
to target on a week-to-week basis.
It was a career year for young Scotty Miller in 2020 (33-501-15.2
ypc-3 TD), but his targets and his role in the offense diminished
as the season went on, and with everyone back in the fold for
the coming season it seems Miller’s only fantasy impact
will be stealing targets from guys like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
He’s not a fantasy option until we see how things flesh
out once this team works through all their current one-year contracts
At 32 years old, Gronk isn’t getting any younger, and he
looked it at times in 2020 despite finishing 7th in our TE rankings
with 6.5 fantasy points per game. That came mostly on the strength
of his presence as a red zone threat (7 TD in regular season).
The season was also significant in that Gronkowski played every
game for the first time since 2011. Gronk is still Tom Brady’s
guy, and games like the Super Bowl (6 catches on 7 targets for
67 yards and 2 TD’s) are always within the realm of possibility,
especially as Brady takes more and more control of the offensive
play-calling, making Gronkowski a legitimate borderline consideration
as a TE1.
Howard was off to a great start last year before an Achilles
injury ended his season. All indications are that his recovery
is going very well, and he should be ready for training camp and
the start of the season. Tom Brady likes 12 personnel (1 RB, 2
TE), so if he wins that battle with HC Bruce Arians, who likes
to spread things out a bit more, there is a chance we could see
Howard on the field with Gronk, thus creating more target opportunities
for him. If you can get him late in your draft, he is worth stashing
on your roster until we can confirm his health status and see
how he evolves in the offense.
I love Cameron Brate. I always have. The guy has 26 touchdowns
over the last five seasons. But the Buccaneers always seem to
be looking for someone or something else. Despite being the Bucs’
primary receiving TE for much of the season after O.J. Howard
was lost to injury, his numbers, from targets and receptions to
yards and touchdowns, were still down in 2020. With Rob Gronkowski
and Howard both set to return, and Tampa asking Brate to restructure
his contract to make room for guys like Antonio Brown, it’s
becoming harder and harder to find any significant role or fantasy
value for Brate in this offense.