Like everything else Tom Brady, fantasy TB12 is the exception,
not the rule, especially since his move to Tampa Bay two seasons
ago. In this age of dual threat quarterbacks dominating draft
boards, rankings and projections, the 45-year-old Brady is the
one guy who just stands in the pocket and picks apart defenses
and still dishes out ridiculous fantasy production. In 2021, he
averaged nearly 27.0 fantasy points per game by leading the NFL
in attempts (719), completions (485), passing yards (5316), and
touchdown passes (43). The previous season, he ranked 10th in
fantasy points per game (25.6) and has averaged at least 20.0
fantasy points per game every season since 2014.
The truth is, as expected, this Buccaneers offense has worked
its’ way more towards Brady’s favored ball-control
passing game than Bruce Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit”
attack, which never played to the quarterback’s strengths.
That may explain in part why Todd Bowles is now the Bucs’
head coach. But that has caused some concern among fantasy owners
as well. Bowles, like all coaches who come from the defensive
side of the ball, loves a strong running game. Not to worry, though.
Brady’s accuracy and efficiency in the short to intermediate
passing game really serves as an extension of the running game.
Brady dominated the fantasy rankings last season with a 102.1
QB rating (7th among NFL starters) while averaging just 7.4 yards
per attempt (12th among league qualifiers).
Looking forward, Gronk has called it quits and Antonio Brown
is off doing his thing (whatever that is) somewhere else. But
Brady still has Mike Evans, Russell Gage has joined the fray as
a free agent, Scotty Miller, Breshad Perriman, and Cyril Grayson
are all capable targets who have the ability to flash, TE Cameron
Brate is an underrated receiver who will get his first real shot
as a full-time starter and can be a moneymaker in the red zone,
RB Leonard Fournette is coming off 69 receptions a year ago (3rd
amongst NFL RB’s), and Giovai Bernard has receiving skills and
could get a bigger role with the departure of Ronald Jones. Then,
later in the season, Chris Godwin should return to the lineup
after recovering from his ACL injury suffered late last season.
It all adds up to one thing. Brady is a top 5 QB1 candidate.
Fournette has a nose for the end zone, finding pay dirt 10 times
last season, and his chemistry with Tom Brady has made him a critical
part of the passing attack. He hauled in 69 passes for 454 yards
(both the 2nd highest totals of his career) in 2021. But he is
not a volume runner, ranking just 21st in attempts (180) and 19th
in rushing yards (812) a season ago. Still, he did take on a larger
role in the offense last season after his strong playoff run in
2020, and that doesn’t figure to change this year, especially
with the departure of Ronald Jones in the offseason.
However, fantasy owners should take note of the arrival of 3rd-round
pick Rachaad White, who comes to the table with a similar skill
set to Fournette, impressive size and athleticism, and a publicly
stated itch to start. Fournette will begin the season as the bonafide
starter. With OC Byron Leftwich and Brady both back, the system
will remain largely the same, and Brady likes him. But if he struggles
with conditioning, drops, or injuries, which have all ailed him
in the past, he could yield significant touches by the end of
the season. He’s still a low-end RB1 option, but keep an eye on
how things progress early in the season.
White is a dynamic rookie with the potential to be a valuable
three-down back at the NFL level. Last season at Arizona State
he averaged 5.5 yards per carry while rushing for over 1,000 yards
and 15 touchdowns, adding 43 catches for just under 500 yards
and another score. Like Leonard Fournette, he’s a big, physical
back (6’0”, 214 lbs) with 4.4 speed and excellent
hands, very much mirroring the veteran’s skill set. Fournette
will likely begin the season as the starter, but he has struggled
with injuries throughout his career, and White has stated he intends
to compete for the starting role. That might be a year off, but
it’s not hard to see him stealing touches from Lenny as
the season progresses.
Bernard joined Tampa Bay last season after an eight-year career
with the Bengals with the idea of becoming the primary receiving
back. It made sense. Bernard has five 40+ catch seasons to his
credit. But it didn’t work out that way. Leonard Fournette
built chemistry with Tom Brady and Bernard lost a big part of
the regular season to an MCL sprain. Now with rookie Rachaad White,
another back with strong receiving skills entering the fray, Bernard
would seem to have little to no fantasy value unless the Bucs’
RB room gets pummeled by injuries.
Evans has made his living in the red zone, especially with Tom
Brady at the helm the last two seasons, catching 27 total touchdowns
and setting single season career marks in both 2020 and 2021.
That’s a positive, but truth be told, Evans’ target
share, receptions and yardage are all down slightly since Brady’s
arrival, and I’m not sure that’s going to change in
2022. In fact, Evans might find the sledding even tougher than
usual, especially early in the season.
Fellow WR Chris Godwin is not nearly ready to return from an
ACL tear suffered in Week 15 and until free agent Russell Gage
proves his ability to dictate coverage, defenses will be bracketing
Evans and taking away the best part of his game. Evans will still
win his share of contested balls for sure, and he will beat coverage,
even double coverage from time to time. But until some of these
other receivers show they can step up to the challenge, the defensive
focus will limit his ceiling. He’s a TD-reliant, low end
WR1 who might be better as your No.2 if you can manage it, especially
to start the season.
A torn ACL suffered in Week 15 of the 2021 season will give many
a fantasy owner pause when it comes to ranking Godwin on their
draft boards this summer. He will certainly not be ready for the
start of the season, and if he’s placed on the PUP list,
he’ll be out completely for at least the first six weeks
of the season. To be honest, even if he gets back on the field
sooner than later, he’s not likely to even be approaching
full strength until your fantasy playoffs, maybe.
Based on that info, you really can’t draft Godwin as anything
more than a WR2/WR3 in terms of a roster spot. But he is certainly
worth the stash. As long as Tom Brady remains at QB, I might rank
Godwin higher than Mike Evans. His reliable hands and precise
route running skills make him a dangerous weapon on short crossers
and quick slants, and also make him one of the best catch and
run possession receivers. In other words, he’s best at Brady’s
bread and butter throws. But because of all the reasons listed
above, you can’t overpay on draft day. The Bucs just committed
to him long term. As much as HC Todd Bowles and Brady want him
on the field, it’s in the team’s best interest to
make sure he’s 100%. They won’t rush him.
Don’t look now, but Gage may be walking into a dream role
with his new team and is definitely one of the players at or near
the top of my sleepers list. I’m a big Matt Ryan fan, but
Gage goes from Ryan to The Goat at QB, and with fellow WR Chris
Godwin out for the foreseeable future while rehabbing his knee,
and TE Rob Gronkowski recently announcing his retirement, Gage
is essentially the last man standing when it comes to No.2 targets.
Over the last two seasons, Gage has come into his own with 138
catches for over 1500 yards, and last year, when the Falcons were
hit with the loss of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in the second
half of the season, he responded with two 100-yard games and three
double-digit target games. But he’s not a true WR1 and had
his best season in 2020 when playing as the WR3 with both of those
guys mentioned above. That bodes well for later this season when
Godwin eventually returns. Gage can easily slide into the slot,
where he’s very comfortable.
Look for Gage to go feast or famine early this season. Defenses
will slide coverage to Evans and Gage will have to prove he can
command help in coverage. Later, working out of the slot, he will
have a chance to develop even better chemistry with Brady as a
catch and run target in the middle of the field. I think he’s
a solid WR2 candidate to start the season on a team that throws
the ball as much as anyone in the NFL.
Perriman has become a journeyman in recent seasons, and honestly,
doesn’t feel like a fit in this offense with Tom Brady calling
the shots. Perriman is best on deep routes, taking the top off
the defense. There just aren’t many of those throws in this
system, especially with Bruce “No Risk It, No Biscuit”
Arians gone. But until we sort out what this receiver group is
going to look like, he’s a guy who can beat single coverage
downfield and may be a WR4/Flex option if the right matchups and
conditions present themselves.
Miller is in a similar spot to Perriman. 2021 was a lost season
for the most part, but he emerged late when Chris Godwin got hurt
and Antonio Brown walked. The same could be true this year until
they see how Russell Gage fits with this group. He topped 500
receiving yards in 2020, and Tom Brady has shown a willingness
to go to Miller when he needs to. He’s a burner, but he’s
an emergency roster fill at best unless the receiving corps takes
a hit for any reason.
A decorated college sprinter, Grayson is another field stretcher
who emerged when the Bucs’ receiving corps imploded at the
end of last season. He has playmaking ability that’s worth
keeping an eye on, but he’s not a fantasy option unless
Tampa hits another run of bad luck with their WR’s.
I have been a big Cameron Brate fan since he emerged in 2015.
He’s big (6-5, 245), physical, athletic, and smart (he went
to Harvard!). He’s got reliable hands and is a solid blocker,
making him an ideal three-down player. From 2016 to 2018 he scored
20 TD and averaged 45 catches per season while racking up nearly
1500 total receiving yards. But the Bucs spent a first-round pick
on O.J. Howard and then brought Gronk to town, pushing Brate further
down the depth chart.
For the moment, he’s slated as the starter. He’s
a formidable red zone threat when given the chance and is in position
to benefit more than anyone from Gronkowski’s walk into
the sunset. He’s a solid TE2 with upside in my book. But
that’s today. There’s a good chance this whole “retirement”
thing is just a way for Gronk to avoid training camp. The situation
Just when the smoke clears and Cameron Brate elevates to preseason
starter status, here comes Cade Otton. He’s a Brate clone
at 6-5, 247, and he has the speed and athleticism to stretch the
seam, which will make him a favorite of Tom Brady’s. He’s
coming off surgery for a leg injury that ended his 2021 season,
and his production over four years at Washington didn’t
necessarily match the physical skills but playing with Brady has
a way of fixing those things. Put him on your watch list.