My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).
Bucs 2020 Recap
The Bucs were a good team going into their Week 13 bye (7-5) and the best team after it (8-0). Tom Brady seemed to find the right balance between Bruce Arians’ vertical concepts and his own methodical quick game, and it didn’t hurt that Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown came alive late in the year. The real difference between the Bucs and more flashy Super Bowl contenders was Tampa’s trench warfare. They were third in adjusted sack rate and second in short-yardage rushing EPA on offense, and sixth in adjusted sack rate and first in rushing EPA on defense. The Bucs were the most complete team in 2020, and few pieces are leaving this offseason. After doing all 32 Offseason Team Previews this month, it’s clear to me that the Buccaneers have the best roster heading into free agency, and they’re arguably in a tier of their own.
Bucs 2021 Offseason
Bucs Cap Space
-$5.5 million (26th)
Bucs Draft Picks
1.31, 2.63, 3.95, 4th, 5th, 7th, 7th, plus compensatory picks
Bucs Cut Candidates
TE O.J. Howard ($6.0M cap savings)
Bucs Depth Chart
% of Passes
RB (Early Down)
RB (Third Down)
Offensive Coordinator: After weeks of tinkering and battling injuries at receiver, the Bucs found the perfect formula following their Week 13 bye. Tom Brady threw more deep balls because their play-action rate climbed from 19% before to 27% after, and the result was the No. 1 passing EPA offense from Weeks 14-21. Coach Bruce Arians and OC Byron Leftwich tinkered between 12-personnel and 11-personnel depending on matchup but always played with speed (4th in neutral pace) and leaned on the pass (3rd in neutral pass rate). With most of the pieces including coaches coming back, the Bucs should be one of the best passing offenses in 2021 as long as Brady continues to take his TB12 pills.
Passing Offense: Tom Brady had his most touchdowns (40) since 2017 and his most yards (4,633) since 2015 in year one of being a Buc. His arm strength hasn’t dropped much if at all -- his aDOT jumped from 7.6 to 9.1 last year -- and he has the best supporting cast in the league going into 2021. Last year’s No. 3 adjusted sack rate offensive line is back, and the front office has enough wiggle room to keep Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown around as ancillary options behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. When all are healthy, Evans and Godwin will distinguish themselves as the top targets, particularly Evans in the red zone and Godwin against zone defenses between the 20s. They averaged 15.2 and 14.3 PPR points respectively once Brown was brought in, and that includes the weeks they battled injuries. The tight end depth chart is a mess right now because both Cameron Brate ($6.5M cap savings) and O.J. Howard ($6.0M) are cut candidates and Gronk is unsigned. The most likely outcome is Gronk plus one of the two backups. This should be an elite unit once again.
Rushing Offense: The entire offensive line (LT Donovan Smith, LG Ali Marpet, C Ryan Jensen, RG Alex Cappa, and 2020 first-round RT Tristan Wirfs) is back. This unit had the highest rushing EPA (+0.17) on runs up the middle last year, and Wirfs’ elite traits are poised to take a second-year leap off the edge. The only question mark in the run game is at running back. Ronald Jones is the clear-cut favorite for early-down work as an explosive runner with iffy vision, but he needs a running mate to handle third downs. Perhaps Leonard Fournette re-signs for cheap. Perhaps 2020 third-rounder Ke’Shawn Vaughn can avoid being healthy scratched again. In a perfect world, the Bucs bring in a pure receiving back like James White and let Jones rack up 200-plus carries as the go-to short-yardage bulldozer. A repeat of last year’s No. 10 rushing EPA offense feels fair.
% of Plays
Defensive Coordinator: Todd Bowles sends it. The Bucs were fifth in blitz rate (39%) and created the third-most quarterback pressure (27%). They had the necessary speed at linebacker and corner to play aggressively, and it worked all the way to a Super Bowl. On the backend, Bowles runs more single-high coverage (Cover 1 and Cover 3) than most but orchestrated a beautiful Cover 2 game plan against the Chiefs. The entire back-seven returns in 2021, so the offseason attention turns to finding EDGE Shaq Barrett and DT Ndamukong Suh replacements. Repeating as the No. 6 adjusted sack rate defense will be tough without them, but the rest of the unit is strong enough to repeat as a top-12 scoring defense (8th in 2020).
Passing Defense: Corner was an actual concern coming into 2020, but 2018 second-round CB1 Carlton Davis, 2019 third-round CB2 Jamel Dean, and 2019 second-round slot CB Sean Murphy-Bunting all held their own on cheap rookie contracts. This trio returns and will continue growing alongside FS Antoine Winfield, the fourth Day 2 starter in the Bucs’ secondary. The biggest weakness in the secondary is at strong safety where fourth-rounder Jordan Whitehead presides. All five are under 25 years old, so minor improvements are expected. Up front, the Bucs have their hands full replacing Shaq Barrett who has 19.5 and 8.0 sacks since 2019. 32-year-old Jason Pierre-Paul (9.0 sacks) and 2019 fourth-rounder Anthony Nelson (1.0) are the top edge rushers on the roster. Getting sack production off blitzes and from athletic LB Devin Bush (9.0) softens the potential loss of Barrett.
Rushing Defense: The Bucs had the best run defense in the league last year. Opposing offenses completely abandoned the run against Tampa last year (32nd in neutral pass rate against), and when they did try to run, the Bucs stuffed it. Elite NT Vita Vea is the straw that stirs the drink, and he’s in the prime of his career as a 26-year-old. Vea’s ability to control double teams makes things easier for the Bucs’ three-techs and linebackers. 30-year-old DT William Gholston should start next to Vea in 2021, but he’s in the last year of his contract and is a low-end starter already. Perhaps athletic outlier DT Khalil Davis, a 2019 sixth-rounder, earns more snaps. At linebacker, the front office prioritized keeping veteran Lavonte David. His presence and leadership takes more off 23-year-old LB Devin White’s plate. White has a lot of potential but has been mistake-prone in each of his two seasons. As long as Vea and David are around, this run defense will remain intimidating. It doesn’t hurt that the Bucs have more defenders in the box than the average unit.
Bucs Team Needs
1. Edge Rusher(s) - This could be as simple as re-signing Shaq Barrett. If he’s too expensive after sack totals of 19.5 and 8.0 over the last two years, then the Bucs will be in some trouble. The depth chart behind 32-year-old Jason Pierre-Paul is pretty empty. It’s the lone major weakness heading into free agency.
2. Defensive Tackle - Specifically three-technique. Vita Vea is a monster at nose tackle, but the Bucs are losing DT Ndamukong Suh, leaving 30-year-old fringe starter William Gholston as the current starter. That’s fine for 2021, but his contract is up after this season and he has already exited the prime of his career.
3. Offensive Guard - 2015 second-round LG Ali Marpet is a stud, and 2018 third-round RG Alex Cappa is a decent starter, too. But there really aren’t too many needs, and Cappa is coming off a January fractured ankle. With only one more year left on Cappa’s contract, a rookie would provide insurance both in 2021 and 2022.
4. Strong Safety - Jordan Whitehead is a former fourth-rounder heading into the final year of his contract. He’s been a fringe starter for two-plus seasons. Finding a quality starter alongside 2020 second-round Antoine Winfield on Day 2 this year would simply be unfair.
2021 Fantasy Football Rankings
Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.
Mike Evans (WR2) - With so much target competition, it’s a little hard envisioning Evans climbing back into the every-week WR1 mix. He averaged 15.2 PPR points per game after Antonio Brown’s signing and was the WR15 per game (16.1 PPR) during the entire regular season. The floor is extremely bankable, however, after seven-straight seasons of 1,000-plus yards. Evans is 28 years old.
Chris Godwin (WR2) - Brought back on the franchise tag, Godwin profiles as the Bucs’ 1B target once again. He was 13th in my efficiency stat PPR Points Over Expected Per Game (+2.4) last year, yet only finished as the WR21 per game. Unless Evans misses time, Godwin likely is stuck in WR2 land. His floor as a productive 25-year-old player in a contract season makes him a reasonable pick in the 4th/5th round of fantasy drafts.
Ronald Jones (RB2/3) - A to be determined projection, Jones profiles as an early-down player only. If Leonard Fournette walks, RoJo comfortably projects for 150-250 carries in 2021, just without much receiving work. He was the RB22 per game (13.6 PPR points) while operating as the 1A in a two-back committee last year.
Tom Brady (QB1/2) - The Super Bowl MVP threw for his most touchdowns since 2017, yet only finished as the QB11 per game (21.1) because he’s the anti-Konami Code quarterback. If some regression hits the offense after Tampa finished third in percentage of red zone trips ending in a touchdown, Brady could fall into the QB2 mix. There’s not much of a fantasy ceiling to chase at his ADP.
FA Rob Gronkowski (TE1/2) - Brady’s pay cut is reserved to re-sign Gronk who is a near lock to be back as the 1A in what was a two-tight end offense at times last year. In that role, Gronk was the TE14 per game (9.6 PPR points). The Bucs could limit Gronk’s regular-season usage in an attempt to save him for another playoff run.
FA Antonio Brown (WR5) - Brown did just enough on the field and did nothing of note off the field with the Bucs to earn another year with Brady. He averaged 13.4 PPR points, including playoffs, but some of that production came with Evans and Godwin limping around. Brown needs an injury to one of the top dogs to be in the every-week mix.