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2022 Player Outlooks: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

By Ken Ilchuk | 6/24/22

Tom Brady

QB Tom Brady
(2021 QB Rank – No. 2, 26.9 FPts/G)

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.

RB Leonard Fournette
(2021 RB Rank – No. 10, 13.3 FPts/G)

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.

RB Rachaad White
(2021 RB Rank – N/A)

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.

RB Giovani Bernard
(2021 RB Rank – No. 92, 3.6 FPts/G)

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.

WR Mike Evans
(2021 WR Rank – No. 7, 11.8 FPts/G)

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.

WR Chris Godwin
(2021 WR Rank – No. 12, 10.6 FPts/G)

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.

WR Russell Gage
(2021 WR Rank – No. 40, 7.8 FPts/G)

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.

WR Breshad Perriman
(2021 WR Rank – No. 93, 4.5 FPts/G)

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.

WR Scotty Miller
(2021 WR Rank – No. 137, 2.8 FPts/G)

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.

WR Cyril Grayson
(2021 WR Rank – No. 8, 11.5 FPts/G)

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.

TE Cameron Brate
(2021 TE Rank – No. 28, 3.0 FPts/G)

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 bears watching.

TE Cade Otton
(2021 TE Rank – N/A)

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.

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