2022 NFC South Preview: Fantasy Football Outlook, Sleepers, and Busts

Matt Bevins breaks down the NFC South from a fantasy football perspective.

2021 Review

 

Points per Game 29.9 2nd
Offensive Snaps 1139 3rd
2021 Record 13-4 1st
2022 Vegas Win Projection 11.5 T-2nd

 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had quite the season last year, finding themselves just a play from getting past the Divisional Round and wreaking havoc on the NFC, and all playoff football-watching fans who just wanted to watch the ultimate ending of Tom Brady not going out as a Super Bowl winner yet again were happy. Then the offseason happened. Tom Brady retired. 40 days passed, and Brady returned. It was an April Fools joke that was dropped just moments before April 1st, and now we get to watch how Brady can ride without his trusty sidekick Rob Gronkowski in tow.

The Buccaneers spent the offseason cleaning out a closet full of ghosts and Cooper Kupp haunts after his miraculous catch led to a field goal that took them out before they could tiptoe back into a Super Bowl. The nerve!

That play is worth a rewatch.

So here ya go.

 

 

Coaching:

The Bucs clearly took the game to heart and spent the offseason likely pleading with Bruce Ariansto to stay, as he regains a spot on the Bucs “staff” as a Senior Consultant. The coaching staff will now be spearheaded by Todd Bowles, a defensive mastermind who has regained his luster after a putrid coaching effort with the New York Jets (maybe it wasn’t all Todd’s fault, after all). A head coach job awaiting in the wings may someday take their offensive coordinator from them in Byron Leftwich, but for now, the Bucs on paper have one of the most purely talented coaching teams in the NFL. Larry Foote, former NFL defenseman will slide into a co/defensive leadership role with Kacy Rodgers, former defensive line lead coach, while Bruce Armstrong will continue to retain his role as special teams. The latter is a former Arians prodigy as well.

 

On-Field Personnel:

The Tampa Bay Bucs spent this offseason in slight turmoil, turning over players and leaves alike, as they see the loss of such necessary pieces as Rob Gronkowski, arguably the most important cog in the machine that Tom Brady continues to run. They also see a much more maligned piece leave, one who brought a boatload of talent along with barrels of toxic waste stowed away on board, in Antonio Brown.

The Buccaneers have Chris Godwin locked down for a three-year deal, after designating him a franchise player. The team desperately needed to retain a Godwin duo that also includes Mike Evans, who has a restructured contract that is worth $1.12 million, with an additional $12.88 million in bonuses. With Gronkowski gone, the stock of Evans and Godwin could likely be even more valuable than even their average draft positions would imply. Their offseason also included locking in Russell Gage to a deal worth 3 years and 30 million dollars. Julio Jones is nw also on board, though we will have to see what he has left in the tank after an injury-plagued year in Tennessee.

The running game loses Ronald Jones, someone drafted with incredibly lofty expectations that just couldn’t remain out of the Buc’s doghouse, but also bring in a rusher with incredible talent in Rachaad White. They lastly saw Ali Marpet retire, a very solid guard that has been incredibly helpful to the Buc’s offense.

 

Passing Game

 

Passing Yards per Game 304.2 1st
Passing Touchdowns per Game 2.4 2nd
Pass Attempts per Game 43.3 1st

 

The Buccaneers lived off passing the ball, there’s not much more to it than that. In almost every way, shape, or form, the Buccaneers made their hay in the air. Gronkowski sorely missed as both a player and just as much a personality will leave with the highest Yards Per Catch (14.3). Evans was following closely behind at 14.0 yards per catch, just a tad under his 14.9 yards per catch average in 2021. Godwin will continue to leverage his slot role, assumedly, as he’s averaged just around 12 yards per catch over the last season. The wheels may continue to run in motion purely due to the fact that arguably world’s best passer will continue to rip the ball out at an insanely high clip, but just a year removed from a hampering knee injury, it’s a bit hard to not think about the fact the Bucs may have just signed Godwin to a long term deal (3 years) out of immense necessity, and he could have his usual Y-slot role relinquished a bit with the upside of a younger, less injury recovered version in Russell Gage, who was on an immense upswing in Atlanta before Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense fell entirely into a sinkhole.

 

Running Game

 

Rushing Yards Per Game 96.3 26th
Rushing Touchdowns Per Game 1.2 T-6th
Rushing Attempts Per Game 22.6 31st

 

The Tampa Bay Bucs’ running game for the most part last year could be described in one word. Afterthought. We get it. Don’t we? Best quarterback of all time at the helm. Let him delegate and figure out what needs to be done to win. Leonard Fournette went on an absolute scorcher in the playoffs, but looking at the overall rushing stats, the whole backfield was salvaged late and close to the end-zone with vultured running game touchdowns after hard-fought passing yards. Fournette has had quite the resurgence after a tepid, then toxic relationship in Jacksonville before he left for sunnier backfields in Tampa Bay. While his offseason couldn’t have started better with Ronald Jones leaving in free agency to jump into a new second rusher role in Kansas City, his buzz was ultimately destroyed when the Buccaneers opted to take a rusher in the third round of the draft in Rachaad White. The former Sun Devil has quickly become the hip guy to know, and it seems potentially worrisome that Playoff Lenny (Fournette) has been eating the news off, allegedly coming into the offseason OTA’s at over/roughly 260 lbs. The buzz on White will only grow, and this backfield could be one to watch.

 

 

Sleeper

 

Rachaad White, RB

The rusher out of Arizona State has not taken long to be the darling of the end of draft boards, and I’m going to punch my ticket and get on the bandwagon while I can.  White is elusive, he has flash and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in college. While Fournette can make defenders weak at the sight of him near the trenches, White is the kind of guy who will make you miss in the open field and can eat up chunks of yardage without a second thought. This has been something Tampa Bay hasn’t seen from a rusher in a while and can lead to a chicken or the egg conundrum. Was this team avoiding the running game because it wanted to lean on their elite passing, or was the passing game relied on due to the lack of elite factors in the rushing game? A third-round pick for a running back is a relatively high investment, and speaks to a need that Tampa has likely not touched upon publicly, but may be looking to fill.  Pencil in White on your watch lists, and absolutely handcuff Playoff Len if you’re getting him at the beginning of your drafts.

 

Deep Sleeper

 

Cyril Grayson, WR

Cyril Grayson is a former standout track and field member, and while I may just be eyeballing someone who I find enjoyable to watch, the tape seems to check out on Grayson being an important piece of this team, and a luxury for this team if the injury bug hits an aging Mike Evans, or anything happens to Chris Godwin and his recovering knees. This team is sans Rob Gronkowski, doesn’t have much reliability without flaws, and Russell Gage may take a bit to really blend in with this team. Grayson may not be someone who jumps off the page, but as someone who’s only been in the league for 2 years, there’s plenty of meat left on the bone, and in just 10 receptions last year, the average yards per reception was 21.2. The guy has jets. Hopefully, he can stay on the field and find a spot to play here.

 

Bust Candidate

 

Chris Godwin, WR

This was a very hard one to answer between two of the higher talent players in Tampa, but I lean to Godwin due to the fact that the tread on the tires could likely be pushing us to the worry that Godwin may be on the way to a less volume-driven role. The talent on Tampa at first had thinned out with Ronald Jones and Gronkowski leaving, but the team has drafted an extremely high-end rusher in White, while also having depth in their lower chart WRs like Cyril Grayson and Scottie Miller, but the team also took on a three-year commitment to Russell Gage who at times was starting to look like he was blooming into a version of Godwin in Atlanta before the wheels fell off and started to bounce down the highway. Godwin, I’ve loved you for so long, but I think we may finally be watching the shine coming off this Dad’s Garage Mustang.

 

 

 

Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Ken Murray, Roy K. Miller, William Howard & David Rosenblum / Icon Sportswire

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