2020 Fantasy Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rich Holman continues the 2020 Team Preview series with a fantasy-focused look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Last year, the Buccaneers offense lived and died on the arm of Jameis Winston. Winston managed to lead the league in passing yards (5,109) and attempts (626), and was second to only Lamar Jackson in touchdowns thrown (33). Winston also led the league in interceptions thrown (30), pick-sixes (7), and was just one sack away from being tied for the league lead (46). While this took Bucs fans on a roller coaster ride every Sunday en route to a 7-9 record, it was certainly fun for fantasy purposes as Winston finished as the QB5 and Chris Godwin and Mike Evans were fantasy monsters. This offseason saw the Bucs decide to be out with the old and in with the, well, old as they swapped out Winston for 43-year old Tom Brady. With Brady at the helm, will the Bucs continue their pass-happy ways or will they lean on a more balanced attack?

 

Quarterback

 

Tom Brady

ADP: 89.1, QB9

After 74,571 passing yards, 541 touchdowns, and 219 career victories (including 6 Super Bowls) in 20 seasons in New England, the Patriots decided to move on from The Golden Boy. The Bucs swooped in and signed Tom Brady to a 2 year, $50 million dollar contract. Brady finished the 2019 season as the QB12 for fantasy purposes with arguably the worst collective of weapons around him in his career. Brady’s completion percentage fell to 60.8%, a six-year low, and he threw just 24 touchdowns, his lowest amount since 2006. In terms of advanced stats, Brady ranked 30th in True Completion Percentage and 32nd in Clean Pocket Completion Percentage. Of his 373 completions, 172 receptions went to Julien Edelman and James White, while no other player caught more than 29 passes. That’s the bad news. The good news is in Tampa Bay, where Brady will be equipped with the best weapons he’s had since the Randy Moss/Wes Welker days. With Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Rob Gronkowski in the passing game, Brady will look to turn around his down year in 2019. Brady’s been coming off the board as the QB9 in the eighth-round of 12-team drafts, which is a little too rich for my blood when there are guys like Aaron Rodgers, and Carson Wentz still on the board.

 

Best-Case Scenario

While Brady took his shots downfield sparingly in 2019, he did manage the 9th best completion percentage on deep balls. With a new core of upgraded weapons at his side, we could see a revived 43-year old Brady. If the Bucs continue to lean on the passing game to the degree that they did in 2019 and the offensive line holds up, we could get all of the fantasy production we got out of Winston without the turnovers. Winston finished as the QB5 last year with an eye-popping 35 combined interceptions and fumbles lost, so if Brady can match his 33 passing touchdowns we could see a top 5 finish in 2020.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Remember the whole “ranked 30th in True Completion Percentage”? What if the decline has finally begun and he’s unable to get the ball to his shiny new toys? Another negative alternative would be if the Bucs have a more balanced attack and don’t lean on the arm of Brady. The 99th percentile worst-case scenario sees the tarnishing of Brady’s legacy and a fantasy season that’s disappointing for everyone.

 

2020 Projection: 594 passing attempts, 386 completions, 4,478 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns, 9 interceptions; 25 rushing attempts, 30 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns

 

Running Back

 

Ronald Jones II

ADP: 59.5, RB29

2019 was a year of one step forward, two steps back for Ronald Jones II. Every time he looked like he started to have a grip on the starting job, he ended up back in HC Bruce Arians’ dog house for missing a block or putting the ball on the ground. The second-year back turned in  1,033 all-purpose yards and scored 6 touchdowns despite seeing just over 50% of the running back snaps. The Bucs spent an early 2018 second-round pick on Jones, but unless his pass blocking progresses, he may never turn into the workhorse back that the Bucs thought they were getting. With more competition nipping at his heels, 2020 is put up or shut up time for Jones. He will likely begin as the Tampa Bay starting running back, but Brady seems destined to have the final say on who ultimately sees the most snaps in this backfield.

 

Best-Case Scenario

If he improves his pass blocking, Jones could be the lead back in an offense that is going to be very, very good. Ke’Shawn Vaughn having some rookie struggles due to a limited training camp would help Jones’ case as well.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

If the pass blocking doesn’t improve, Jones will most likely find his way to the bench and it will be Ke’Shawn Vaughn season. Jones is a part of the backfield mix, but doesn’t have a clearly defined role and doesn’t have much appeal outside of best ball leagues.

 

2020 Projection: 197 rushing attempts, 870 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns; 33 targets, 25 receptions, 220 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

 

Ke’Shawn Vaughn

ADP: 107.2, RB45

Tampa Bay used a 3rd round pick to bring in the running back out of Vanderbilt, Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Over his last two years at Vanderbilt, Vaughn racked up over 2,700 yards and 24 touchdowns. Vaughn has good vision and is a good north-south runner, but the area he provides an upgrade in over Jones is pass protection. Don’t get me wrong, Vaughn isn’t a standout pass blocker, but he does appear to be ahead of Jones in that department. He also has good hands out of the backfield. Dare Ogunbowale appears to be the team’s primary pass-catching back, so the amount of opportunities that Vaughn will receive in the passing game depends a little on Ogunbowale. The only reason Ogunbowale has a roster spot is due to his work in the passing game, so I wouldn’t expect the team to just immediately fade him from the offense. That being said, if Vaughn can prove he has the tools to keep Brady upright more often than Jones, that may be the open door he needs to take the lead back job and run with it.

 

Best-Case Scenario

Vaughn succeeds in pass protection while Jones continues to struggle, leading to Vaughn taking over the lead-back job. There’s the potential for a next-level of production if Vaughn can prove his role in the passing game and take some of the targets from Ogunbowale. In what should be a high-powered offense, Vaughn’s upside is a top-end fantasy running back.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Vaughn’s downside may have more to do with Jones than it does with him. If Jones proves that he’s worked on his pass blocking and can keep Brady upright, Vaughn may never get an opportunity to prove he can carry the load this year. If Ogunbowale continues to carry his weight in the passing game, Vaughn’s target share will remain on the low end, and he will be left without a clear role.

 

2020 Projection: 100 rushing attempts, 397 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns; 35 targets, 29 receptions, 235 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

 

LeSean McCoy

ADP: 140.1, RB55

LeSean McCoy was a late addition to the Bucs, being signed in mid-August. McCoy brings a veteran presence to this backfield. Hopefully, he can help Jones learn to pick up the blitz. I’m not sure there’s a lot here for fantasy purposes, however. HC Bruce Arians said of McCoy, “He’s a heck of a receiver.” Granted, there’s not a lot to go off, but it could mean Ogunbowale’s role would be in jeopardy.

 

Best-Case Scenario

McCoy steals a couple of goal-line touches and receptions to be flex relevant three mystery weeks this year.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

“Worst-Case” from a fantasy perspective is that McCoy is a teacher in this backfield, coaching up Jones and Vaughn. What’s “worst-case” from a fantasy perspective though, may be “best-case” from a real-life perspective.

 

2020 Projection: 70 rushing attempts, 299 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns; 25 targets, 20 receptions, 140 receiving yards

 

Dare Ogunbowale

ADP: 253, RB89

Dare Ogunbowale took the pass-catching back role in Week 1, catching four balls on five targets. For the year, Ogunbowale saw a 7% target share while seeing 31% of the running back snaps. His role in the offense really depended on game-script as there was a significant dropoff in his workload in games that the Bucs were in control of the game. That being said, if the Bucs offense is more efficient and they’re not in catch-up mode as much as they were last year, Ogunbowale’s role may be reduced. Ogunbowale isn’t being drafted for fantasy purposes, but keep an eye on his role to see if Jones’ or Vaughn’s workload could be expanded.

 

Best-Case Scenario

Ogunbowale retains his role as the pass-catching back and sees a “James White-esque” workload.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Ogunbowale loses his pass-catching role to Jones or Vaughn. There also has to be some concern that if the Bucs aren’t playing from behind as often as they were last year, that his role would be minimized regardless.

 

2020 Projection: 24 rushing attempts, 77 rushing yards; 28 targets, 20 receptions, 209 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

 

Wide Receiver

 

Mike Evans

ADP: 27.9, WR8

Mike Evans was on his way to potentially finish as the #2 wide receiver in fantasy scoring when he suffered a hamstring injury on a 61-yard touchdown reception. He still managed to finish as the WR5, thanks to catching 67 balls for 1,157 yards and 8 touchdowns on a 23.8% target share. Despite missing the final three games of the season, as well as the majority of the game he left with an injury, Evans saw the second-most end zone targets (15) in the league.

Evans has benefited from playing his entire career with Winston, who’s short-memory, no-conscious, gunslinger play has led to Evans having a high aDOT every year. Among players who received at least 90 targets last year, Evans’ 15.3 aDOT ranked second only to Mike Williams. The question coming into this year is will Evans’ productivity be affected by the switch from the gunslinger Winston to Brady. There is a ray of hope in Brady’s deep ball completion percentage, but if the Bucs offense becomes more efficient via reducing their turnovers, the passing volume should end up being reduced. Evans has been coming off draft boards towards the end of the 2nd round to the beginning of the 3rd round. He’s in a cluster of third-tier wideouts like Kenny Golladay, D.J.Moore, Allen Robinson, and Odell Beckham.

 

Best-Case Scenario

The Bucs continue their pass-happy ways, utilizing Evans on both deep balls and end zone throws. Even if they don’t end up having the passing volume they had with Winston at the helm, Evans should benefit from the offense being more efficient by finding the end zone more often.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

The Bucs offense becomes more balanced and while I’d expect Evans to keep his 20+% target share, it would be of a much smaller pie. Touchdowns can be flukey and with his targets, catches, yards, and touchdowns reduced, it would be difficult to pay off his high draft price.

 

2020 Projection: 133 targets, 89 receptions, 1,361 yards, 8 touchdowns

 

Chris Godwin

ADP: 21, WR6

In 2019, Chris Godwin broke out in a big way. Godwin caught 86 balls for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns to finish as the WR2 in fantasy leagues. While Evans saw a majority of his production on balls down the field, Godwin stood out in yards after the catch. His 574 YAC was best in the league. In New England, Brady loved to get rid of the ball quickly, which should benefit Godwin who had an aDOT of 10.8. Godwin had a true catch rate of 91.5%, which ranked him as fifth in the league. His catchable target rate was just 79.0%, so if Brady manages to be more accurate than Winston was in 2019, Godwin could maintain his high level of productivity even if his targets drop slightly. Godwin has surpassed Evans and has been going as the WR6 for fantasy purposes in the 2nd round. Depending on which tier you have him in, Godwin either ends the second tier of receivers (Michael Thomas is in a tier of his own) or begins the third tier.

 

Best-Case Scenario

A repeat of 2019. Godwin quickly becomes Brady’s favorite target and becomes essentially what Julian Edelman was in New England, only with elite run after the catch ability. Godwin puts up his second-straight dominant fantasy season and challenges for the WR1 spot in 2021 drafts.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Godwin has a very high ceiling. However, if the Bucs lean more towards a balanced offense, he could see his targets drop off some. Barring injury, I view the downside as a backend WR1.

 

2020 Projection: 126 targets, 92 receptions, 1,313 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns

 

Tyler Johnson

ADP: 361, WR169

The rookie receiver out of Minnesota has been one of the most productive college receivers over the last two years. In his Junior and Senior seasons, Tyler Johnson caught 164 balls for 2,487 yards and 25 touchdowns. His college dominator of 57.2% places him in the 98th percentile. Johnson is a good route runner and has great ball skills, but his size and speed might be what keeps him down in the NFL. He projects as a slot receiver, but he’ll need to continue to hone his craft to get the chance to produce at the NFL level.

 

Best-Case Scenario

His route running and ball skills land him a role as the slot receiver to start the year. With so many mouths to feed, his ceiling is certainly capped, but a 12-15% target share out of the slot should make him plenty productive in what should be a high powered offense.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Given that the Bucs will most likely be using two tight end sets often, this could be a developmental year for Johnson as he fights to see the field among the alternative slot options in Tampa Bay.

 

2020 Projection: 11 targets, 7 receptions, 75 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

 

Tight End

 

Rob Gronkowski

ADP: 70.7, TE6

Gronk returns to the football field after one year of retirement coming after three injury-riddled seasons. Rob Gronkowski missed 13 games with a myriad of injuries – multiple back injuries, concussion, hamstring, chest/lung bruise, and thigh bruise. The back is the most concerning one because it could be reaggravated, but hopefully, a full year of rest and recovery (and WWE appearances) was just what the doctor ordered.

Gronkowski takes his talents to Tampa Bay and pairs back up with the quarterback who has found him in the endzone 78 times in his career. That ranks fifth all-time in touchdown pass combos. However, the questions remain. How much gas does the 31-year old tight end have left in the tank? With two capable tight ends already on the roster, how does Gronk fit in? And with so many mouths to feed, will there be enough work to make any of the three tight ends fantasy-relevant? Gronkowski has been coming off the board as the TE6 in the sixth round for fantasy purposes just before Evan Engram, Tyler Higbee, and Hunter Henry. Personally, I’d rather have any of that trio ahead of Gronk.

 

Best-Case Scenario

For fantasy purposes, the best-case scenario involves Gronk being used primarily as a pass catcher and not as a blocker. That should help keep the wear and tear down. The Bucs use plenty of “12” formations with Howard or Brate taking care of the pass blocking, which allows Gronk to focus on catching balls from his bestie. Gronk plays a major role in the red zone and finishes as a top 4 tight end depending on how many times he finds pay dirt.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

He’s not in football shape. The year off healed his body, but he’s also one extra year older and lost another step. The worst-case scenario is the Bucs realize Brate is outplaying Gronk.

 

2020 Projection: 85 targets, 60 receptions, 778 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns

 

O.J. Howard

ADP: 363, TE40

Fantasy owners were not happy with O.J. Howard last year and for good reason. While he saw his targets increase slightly, his role in the offense seemed depleted. He finished the year with 34 catches for 459 yards and one touchdown. After scoring 11 touchdowns in his previous two seasons, finding the end zone just once was a big disappointment. However, in real life, Howard was doing exactly what his coach asked of him. HC Bruce Arians made it Howard’s job to stay in and help the offensive line out and that’s just what he did. With Gronkowski added to the mix, the road for Howard to get back to being primarily a pass catcher just got more treacherous. Howard hasn’t been regularly drafted for fantasy purposes, but his role is one to keep an eye on.

 

Best-Case Scenario

Brady convinces Arians to make Howard a priority in the passing game a la Gronk/Hernandez. While Howard won’t get all of the tight end targets, if he maintains the uptick in targets and finds the endzone more often, he would regain his TE1 status.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Gronk and Brate take the majority of the tight end targets, while Howard remains in the doghouse. He never establishes a consistent rapport with Brady and is playing for a new team in 2021.

 

2020 Projection: 32 targets, 23 receptions, 243 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns

 

Cameron Brate

ADP: 488, TE65

Despite seeing the field nearly half the time as Howard, Cameron Brate managed to see two more targets (55), catch two more balls (36), and score three more touchdowns (4). We have to assume that Gronkowski’s presence reduces Brate’s role in the passing game some, as Howard showed he could be a reliable blocker last year.

 

Best-Case Scenario

It would probably take an injury or a significant dropoff from Gronk in order to see Brate get a full workload. But if Brate finds a consistent role in the tight end rotation, and Brady leans on the position as a whole, Brate could have some fantasy-relevant weeks.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

Gronk returns to the field completely healthy and the Bucs remember how to get O.J. Howard the ball, which could see Brate phased out of the offense. He’s third in the rotation as the Bucs favor the more athletic options.

 

2020 Projection: 14 targets, 10 receptions, 97 receiving yards, 1 touchdown

 

 

Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

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