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Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2021 Fantasy Football Preview

by Jack Miller
Updated On: July 23, 2021, 1:52 pm ET

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2020 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 6,145 (7th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 58 (3rd)
Offensive Plays: 1,017 (23rd)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 648 (10th)
Rush Attempts: 369 (29th)
Available Targets: 29 (30th)
Available Carries: 12 (29th)

Coaching Staff

With Tom Brady at the helm, Bruce Arians was able to take a relatively hands-off approach to coaching. Arians did things a little differently than Bill Belichick – Brady will be the first to tell you – but it proved equally effective. Tampa Bay was 7-5 through their first 12 games, but they ended the season on an eight-game winning streak and convincingly defeated the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

The scary part is Brady reportedly didn't entirely grasp the new system until halfway through the regular season. He also played through a partially torn MCL. With a fully functional Brady and all 22 starters back, the Bucs could look even scarier this year.

For the most part, the coaching staff let Brady do his thing. Tampa Bay ranked third in neutral-script pass rate (62%). Even though they were leading most of the time, they had the fourth-fewest rush attempts in the league. They only ran 63.6 plays per game during the regular season (23rd in the NFL), but they skew so pass-heavy that we can project strong volume for Brady and his pass-catchers.

The Bucs bring back Arians as well as both coordinators – offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles – so expect more of the same from the reigning champions in 2021.

Passing Game

QB: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
WR: Mike Evans, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson
WR: Chris Godwin, Justin Watson
WR: Antonio Brown, Jaelon Darden
TE: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard

Barring a truly unprecedented passing season, Brady lacks the rushing upside necessary to compete for the overall QB1 crown, but he had a respectable QB8 finish last season. With another offseason under his belt and one of the best receiving corps in football, there's no reason he can't finish as a top-12 option again. Heading into his age-44 season, he hasn't slowed down at all, and he actually posted his highest yards per attempt (7.6) and adjusted yards per attempt (8.0) since 2017 following the move to Tampa Bay. His current QB10 ADP seems fair given he lacks the game-breaking potential of a Jalen Hurts or the tantalizing unknown of a Joe Burrow, but he's a nice option for fantasy players in need of a dependable QB.

In the eight games Antonio Brown played last year, he averaged 7.8 targets, 5.6 receptions, and 60.4 receiving yards per game. If he can duplicate those numbers in 2021, he'll be a value at his current WR43 ADP. Here's the catch: His 11-grab, 138-yard, two-touchdown outburst came in Week 17 when Mike Evans left early with an injury. If you remove that game, he notched just 4.9 catches and 49.3 yards per game.

33-year-old Brown is entrenched as the third WR in this offense barring injury. He would become a weekly starter if Mike Evans or Chris Godwin goes down, but it's difficult to justify his current ADP knowing he likely needs an injury to become fantasy-viable. With ascending pass-catchers like Laviska Shenault, Mike Williams, and Michael Pittman going at his ADP or after him, Brown is a fade at his advanced age.

Interestingly, Evans' numbers jumped significantly from Week 9 onward. Through eight games, Evans was averaging just 11.8 half-PPR points per game (27th among wideouts). Over his next seven games (excluding Week 17 because he played 16% of snaps), he averaged 16.2 points.

 

StatWeeks 1-8Weeks 9-16
Targets5.88.4
Receptions3.85.3
Yards46.683.9
Touchdowns0.90.9
Half-PPR11.816.2

 

There's no evidence to suggest Brown is a threat to Evans' production; in fact, the 27-year-old actually performed better with Brown on the field in 2020. Despite an up-and-down season, Evans finished with 1,006 yards, topping the millennial mark for the seventh time in as many professional seasons.

With that being said, there are reasons to be concerned about his outlook moving forward. According to Hayden Winks' expected TDs model, the Texas A&M product had 4.5 more TDs than expected last year. His big-bodied frame and the strength of the TB offense means he will outperform expectation more often than not, but 13 scores on 109 targets is unheard of.

It's also not fair to completely ignore the first half of Evans' season, especially considering he saw just 22 targets across four playoff games. Had he not posted such ludicrous TD numbers, Evans would have been considered a disappointment with just 109 targets for 70 catches and 1,006 yards. Between fierce target competition and impending TD regression, Evans is far from a smash at his current WR15 ADP.

Godwin also had a tumultuous campaign, struggling through finger, hamstring, and concussion issues for most of the regular season. When healthy, he was solid but unspectacular, recording 7.0 targets, 5.4 catches, and 70.0 yards per game. Like Brown, Godwin's biggest game came in Week 17 when he posted five catches for 133 yards and a pair of TDs in Evans' absence. With Evans healthy, Godwin scored only 11.9 half-PPR points per game, although it's worth noting that he might not have been fully healthy, even if he was active.

All three Bucs receivers have untapped potential should something happen to one of the others, but all appear fairly valued at best right now. When they all played, Evans was the most productive by far, but it's unclear how much Godwin's injury woes affected his performance.

 

PlayerTargetsReceptionsYardsAir YardsAverage Depth of TargetTouchdownsTarget ShareAir Yards Share
Mike Evans8.45.38410712.60.922.6%29.8%
Chris Godwin6.95617310.70.418.4%20.5%
Antonio Brown6.74.949608.90.318.0%16.7%

 

Like most non-elite tight ends, Rob Gronkowski is a TD-dependent late-round option. If you're looking at TD-dependent guys, you could do much worse than the lead TE in one of the highest-octane offenses in the NFL, but 32-year-old Gronk is a longshot to contribute on a weekly basis. O.J. Howard was actually out-targeting Gronk 19-14 before a torn Achilles cut his season short. Howard is a worthwhile dart throw for TE-needy teams if we get positive injury news out of training camp. Achilles injuries are no joke, but Howard has shown flashes over his brief career and boasts top-10 upside if Gronk gets hurt.

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Running Game 

RB: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard
OL (L-R): Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, Tristan Wirfs

Pro Football Focus ranked the Bucs' offensive line fifth in the league heading into 2021. They return all five starters and added Notre Dame guard Robert Hainsey in the third round of the NFL Draft.

Tampa Bay is rock-solid in the trenches, but their running back usage is not as set in stone. They bring back both Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, plus they added Giovani Bernard in free agency. Jones opened 2020 as the clear starter, out-touching the newly signed Fournette 43-31 through three weeks. Fournette then missed the following three games due to injury.

Jones continued to handle the bulk of the rushing workload once Fournette returned, but the latter operated as the primary pass-catching back. From Weeks 6-17 when both were healthy, Jones averaged 11.4 carries and 1.5 targets per game. Fournette had 7.1 rush attempts and 4.4 targets per outing. Jones handled the majority of goal-line work too, notching seven carries inside the five-yard line to Fournette's four.

Clouding this backfield even further is the fact that Fournette took over completely during the Buccaneers' playoff run. Fournette never played fewer than 69% of snaps during the title run, accumulating 64 carries and 21 targets across four playoff games. On the other hand, Jones never topped a 30% snap share. He could've been limited in the divisional round after missing the previous game with a quad injury, but he practiced in full before the NFC Championship and Super Bowl.

To make things even more confusing, Bruce Arians said after the season that the Bucs almost waived Fournette in December. They instead decided to make him their every-down workhorse for the playoffs, the predictable move after almost removing him from the team entirely. Fantasy drafters are understandably befuddled by this backfield, and both Jones (RB33 ADP) and Fournette (RB37) are going in the late single-digit rounds. The Bucs are one of the pass-heaviest teams in football – they ranked 29th in rush attempts in 2020 – but an offense of this caliber necessarily has rushing upside. If either back emerges as the clear lead runner, they will be an every-week starter.

Fournette's receiving workload looks particularly fragile after Bruce Arians and Tom Brady both personally recruited Giovani Bernard this offseason. One of the league's most underrated third-down backs, Bernard has been a thorn in Joe Mixon's side for years, and he figures to do the same thing to Jones and Fournette in Tampa Bay. Bucs RBs dropped 14.7% of their targets last year, the worst percentage in the NFL and more than double the league average (6.6%). The Athletic's Greg Auman reported the Bernard signing was a direct result of that inadequacy, so Bernard figures to have a role right away as their satellite back. The Patriots never had as many productive wideouts as the Bucs do, but it's easy to see why many are likening Bernard to James White given the Brady connection. Considering pass-catchers are the most desirable late-round RB archetype, Bernard is an awesome option for fantasy teams in need of immediate production, especially for best ball drafters in search of usability.

Bernard could block Jones and Fournette from pass-catching duties, leaving them to fight over early-down usage. Jones was used more in that role last year, but Fournette's late-season push provides some hope. There are a plethora of Zero RB targets around that range of the draft, so I suggest sprinkling in both Bucs backs without overdoing it in either direction until we hear more news.

Win Total

Tampa Bay sports the second-highest win total (12.0) in the NFL behind only the Kansas City Chiefs. According to Sharp Football, the Bucs have the fifth-easiest 2021 schedule. Mike Clay has them projected for 12.2 wins. Still, this is a stay-away spot for me at such a big number. I'd rather bet on Tom Brady to lead his troops to an NFC South title, which you can bet at -200 on PointsBet (and better at some other sportsbooks – remember to always hunt for the best price).

Jack Miller

Jack Miller is a fantasy football and prop betting analyst for NBC Sports EDGE and Establish The Run. You can find him on Twitter @JackMiller02.