When you’re coming off a Super Bowl title with a 44-year-old quarterback who still has plenty left in the tank, you don’t have much choice but to run it back. Rebuilding or retooling can wait.
And so the Bucs, the defending world champs, are doing just that, returning all 22 starters from their title run.
While that’s uncommon in the NFL and certainly will draw some skepticism from those who believe some changes or tweaks are needed every year, the Bucs are counting on the steady hands of Bruce Arians and Tom Brady to lead them back to the Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Franchise Focus Companion Podcast
|Season Win Total (O/U)||12 (-110/-110)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 11.5 (-110) in late March to 12 (-110)
Super Bowl: +900 in early February to +600
Premium 2021 Betting Preview from Tom Brolley found here.
Key Offseason Moves
|Sadarius Hutcherson (OG, UDFA)||Kyle Trask (QB)||Joe Haeg (OT, Pit)|
|Giovani Bernard (RB)||Robert Hainsey (OT)||A.Q. Shipley (OC, retirement)|
|Elijah Ponder (DE, UDFA)||Jaelon Darden (WR)||Chapelle Russell (ILB, Jax)|
|Joseph Jones (ILB)||Joe Tryon (OLB)||Jack Cinchy (ILB)|
|Nate Brooks (CB)||K.J. Britt (ILB)||Ryan Smith (CB, LAC)|
|Antonio Hamilton (CB)||Grant Stuard (ILB)|
|Raven Greene (S)||Chris Wilcox (CB)|
|Curtis Riley (S)|
Scott Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule
Quarterback: 3rd-toughest (-0.63)
Running Back: the toughest (-2.04)
Wide Receivers: 9th-toughest (-0.66)
Tight Ends: 6th-softest (+0.41)
Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 26.6 (T-6th)
Plays per game: 62.6 (24th)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 62.1% (4th) | Run: 37.9% (29th)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 55.3% (7th) | Run: 44.7% (26th)
When the team is behind — Pass: 71.7% (1st) | Run: 28.3% (32nd)
Unsurprisingly, the Bucs’ were among the most pass-heavy teams in all game situations in Tom Brady’s first season. For comparison’s sake, only Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Houston were more pass-heavy when the game was within a score. What’s most impressive is that Brady immediately thrived in HC Bruce Arians’ vertical attack, and Brady led all passers in average depth of target downfield on his early-down throws (10.4 yards). That’s right. The GOAT, at 43-years-old, was more aggressive than the bazooka-armed Josh Allen (9.8 aDOT) on early-downs. With the same exact starting 11 back in place, there is no reason to believe that anything is going to materially change here in 2021.
Tom Brady-led teams now have piled up 34 playoff wins. 34! Joe Montana’s 49ers/Chiefs racked up 16 playoff wins (second most all-time) while Peyton Manning, John Elway, Steve Young, and Terry Bradshaw are tied in third with 14.
Brady has thrown over 1,700 passes in his playoff career. The only other QB with over 1,000 playoff attempts is Peyton Manning.
Brady has 83 playoff TDs, which is most all-time by miles. Aaron Rodgers is actually now tied with Joe Montana for second-most (45).
Brady averaged 21.1 fantasy points per game last year, which is the fifth-highest mark of his career.
Including the postseason, Brady ended his year with multiple passing TDs in 14 of his final 16 games.
Despite all of the massive QB upgrade, both Chris Godwin and Mike Evans both fell from the top-4 in points per game in 2019 to WR15 and WR16 in 2020.
Among qualified receivers, Godwin ranked first in catch rate (86%) and fifth in yards gained per route run (1.79) from the slot per PFF.
84% of Godwin’s targets were catchable (sixth-highest rate among WRs).
Godwin was fairly consistent — he had 5+ receptions in 11-of-16 games (including playoffs) — but the same can’t be said for Evans.
In the four games that Godwin missed, Evans put up receiving lines of: 7/104/1, 7/122/1, 5/41/1, and 5/55/1.
Without Godwin, Evans saw 8.5 targets and had 20.1 fantasy points per game.
When Godwin was active, Evans scored 13.4 FPG and only got 6.3 targets per game.
Antonio Brown’s target share was incredibly inconsistent once he joined the team. He had five games with a target share above 20% and six games with a target share of 14% or lower.
Per PFF, Rob Gronkowski led all TEs in end-zone targets during the regular season.
Gronk was completely boom-or-bust last season, finishing as a TE1 (top-12) in seven games and outside of the top-25 in weekly scoring seven times.
Gronk now has 14 playoff TDs, second-most all-time behind Jerry Rice (22).
In the playoffs, Leonard Fournette had over 70 scrimmage yards in all four games and averaged 21.7 fantasy points per game.
However, even if we include the playoffs, Ronald Jones still averaged more yards after contact (3.2) and had a better success rate (44%) on his 227 total carries than Fournette (2.3 YAC; 41% success rate) on 161 carries.
Huber’s Scheme Notes
When you have the luxurious distinction of Tom Brady leading your offense, everyone and everything attached to the franchise appears a step ahead of the competition. Indisputably exceeding all others. You can literally count on one hand the number of combined games where a Brady-led offense was either outscored by more than three TDs (three) or failed to score any points (two). In over 344 combined regular season and playoff games, Brady teams have only been defeated by more than two TDs on 15 occasions, never more than twice in a single season. Brady has orchestrated 37 double-digit comeback victories. The GOAT also holds the mark for the most fourth quarter comebacks (48) and game-winning drives (61). He’s played in 18.2% of the 55 Super Bowls in NFL history. In his 19 seasons as a starting QB, he led his team to the Super Bowl in 52.6%. He also holds the record for most passing yards in a single Super Bowl (505) and over a career (3,039).
We get it already, Brady is the best QB in NFL history. When he’s on, it seems no amount of defensive preparation, analytical study, or personnel experience can slow him down. We saw a perfect example at the end of last season. But Brady is not without his weaknesses. “Tom Terrific'' ranks sixth-best over the last three seasons with an overall 0.44 FPs/dropback (FP/DB). But his FP/Db ranking drops to 30th vs. Cover 4 and 25th vs. Cover 6. DCs use Cover 6 to confuse QBs into diagnosing it as either Cover 2 or Cover 4. Since it actually combines Cover 2 and Cover 4 (2 + 4 = 6), it’s a very common mistake. And it asks QBs to checkdown to their targets underneath, forcing them to take what the defense allows. It’s a scheme that hasn’t meshed well with Brady.
Brady’s issues with straight Cover 4 are the most shocking. The strength of Cover 4 is in defending the run. Both safeties act as “read” defenders, keying on a single offensive assignment. If that assignment stays in to block, they attack expecting the run. That results in placing eight defenders into the box, compared to only six for the offense. If those assignments run a route, the safeties drop back to defend their deep zones in the middle of the field. While Cover 4 is strong vs. the run, it’s easily the most vulnerable shell to the pass. Yet, over the last three seasons, Brady has posted an uncharacteristic 81.6 passer rating (34th) with only four TD passes compared to six INTs. And it’s Brady’s aggressiveness that appears to explain those struggles since, when he should be looking underneath, his air yards/attempt rate has only declined by 2.3%.
Some moderate struggles passing into a pair of coverages only used, on average, 18.8% of defensive snaps last season is not going to result in anyone complaining. And nobody was shocked to see GM Jason Licht maneuver the books in order to bring back pretty close to the entire roster. That includes every single starter on both sides of the ball. An O-line consisting of Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, and Tristan Wirfs return to protect Brady’s pocket. It’s a group that only permitted 9.2 QB pressures/game (seventh-best), and aided Brady toward the fifth-lowest sack rate (3.5%). The WR core of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, and Tyler Johnson all return, and Licht added electric playmaker Jaelen Darden through the draft. And it’s tough to find a deeper TE rotation than that of Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate.
Licht also brought back the entire coaching staff assembled by HC Bruce Arians for a third-consecutive season. That provides us with excellent consistency for our schematic expectations. It will surprise nobody to learn that OC Byron Leftwich used multiple-TE sets at the 11th-highest rate for the second-consecutive season. What may be considered a bit unexpected to learn is that the only slight personnel adjustment from Leftwich in the transition from Jameis Winston to Brady was the rate of four-wide sets. Tampa Bay went from ranking with the 11th-highest rate in 2019 with Winston to fourth in 2020 with Brady. But Miller, Johnson, and/or Darden will need an injury to one of the big-three to see fantasy-worthy snaps.
As for the backfield, an already jam-packed carry-share situation was further muddied by the addition of Gio Benard. It’s safe to assume that Benard will be utilized as the passing-down specialist. Whereas we could get away with rolling the dice on either Leonard Fournette or Ronald Jones as an RB3, we have no way of knowing how many of the 110 combined targets they saw last year will be redistributed to Bernard. The situation between Fournette and Jones is going to either be decided by injury, or the goal line carry circulation. Since Jones was banged up late in the year when Fournette led the backfield, it’s anyone's guess how the situation will play out when Jones is at full strength. What we do know for sure is the Buccaneers will continue to utilize the NFLs highest rate of Man blocking — 34% higher than the next team on the list.
While it may be a mind-boring expectation for some, the NFC representative will most likely be decided by Tampa Bay and either Green Bay — the same teams that met in the ‘20 NFC Championship — or the L.A. Rams. In fact, +600 odds of Brady leading the Buccaneers to Super Bowl LVI are pretty damn good. A $10K investment would look amazing when it returns a $50K profit!
How stacked is DC Todd Bowles’ defense? So good that GM Jason Licht didn’t add a single impact defender through free agency, and drafted EDGE Joe Tryon in the first round without any expectations for Year 1 returns. The singular category where the Tampa Bay defense should strive to improve upon is their missed tackle rate (bottom-10). It’s truly disgusting they field a D-line consisting of Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, and William Gholston on the interior, and Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett on the outside. It’s no wonder Tampa Bay led the NFL with 19.3 QB pressures/game.
I’ve yet to even mention Devin White. While his madman aggressiveness leads to too many missed tackles and leaves him as a coverage liability, it also allows him to be an intimidating pass-rushing force. White’s pass-rushing specialty meshes perfectly with MIKE Lavonte David’s elite coverage ability. If you want to play a significant role in coverage for Bowles’ defense, you need to possess an array of skills/understanding in order to comprehend your responsibilities within his nine coverage scheme rotation called upon at competitive rates. That list includes: Cover 1, Cover 1 with a double team, Cover 2, Cover 2-Man, Cover 2 with Man-match assignments, Cover 3, Cover 3-Cloud, Cover 4, and Cover 6.
When Bowles and Licht plucked journeyman Ross Cockrell off the street last offseason, they not only discovered their Dime-package specialist, they acquired depth behind their trio of stud CBs. After the ‘20 season he submitted during Tampa Bay’s title run, Cockrell could have sought out a deal with another franchise guaranteeing a starting role. Instead, he re-signed with the Bucs for a third of what he received from his previous team (Carolina). While he proved himself on the outside when Jamel Dean missed a pair of games, Cockrell teams up with ‘19 second-rounder Sean Murphy-Bunting to fortify the inside. Holding down the outside are a pair of homegrown talents in ‘18 second-rounder Carlton Davis and — the most talented of the bunch — ‘19 third-rounder Dean.
Without free safety Jordan Whitehead and strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr., Tom Brady’s collection of Super Bowl rings might still sit at six. Whitehead locked down the opposition, ranking with the 10th-fewest yards allowed/coverage snap, fourth-fewest FPs/coverage snap, and the lowest air yards/coverage snap among 53 qualified FS. As for Winfield, he gave the Buccaneers one of the top defensive rookie breakouts last season. Seemingly drafted pro-ready, Winfield emerged as one of the top strong safeties in run defense and even got after QBs with excellent efficiency.
This is the exact same defense that prevented Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs from scoring double-digit points in Super Bowl LV. The only NFC teams that stand in the Bucs’ way from reaching another Super Bowl are the Packers and Rams. Considering the current state of the Packers’ O-line, HC Bruce Arians will have his fingers crossed the playoff seeding allows them to, once again, avoid the Rams. No matter who they face, you can guarantee they’ll give them a hell of a fight.
Projected Fantasy Contributors
Tom Brady (Proj: QB8 | ADP: 80 | Pos ADP: QB8)
Brady’s first season in Tampa Bay ended with the Lombardi Trophy in his hands, just like six of his 20 seasons in New England ended. He also won his fifth Super Bowl MVP award and he did it all while playing on a torn MCL, which he had repaired this off-season — it was his first surgery in 12 years. The Buccaneers offense really hit its stride at the end of last season with Brady throwing multiple TD passes in his final 11 games (playoffs included). He completed 401/610 passes (65.7%) for 4633 yards (7.6 YPA), 40 TDs, and 12 INTs to finish as the QB10 with 21.1 FPG in 16 games. Brady finished third in passing yards per game (289.6), second in attempts (610), and tied for second in touchdown passes (40). It was the first time he’s reached 40+ TDs since his historic 50-TD campaign in 2007, and his 6.6% TD rate was its highest since 2010. He’ll need the touchdowns and passing volume for fantasy to offset his lack of rushing production after he had a career-low six rushing yards last season. Brady has arguably the best receiving corps at his disposal and he’s still playing at an elite level at 44 years old to take advantage of the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown among others. Our Greg Cosell told us that Brady has a way better arm than he gets credit for and that TB12 had just one down game at the end of the season against the Packers (and they still won). Brady doesn’t have much room for error as a low-end QB1 because of his lack of rushing production, but he should still lead one of the league’s best passing attacks as long as his age doesn’t catch up to him.
Ronald Jones (Proj: RB38 | ADP: 88 | Pos ADP: RB34)
Jones is entering a pivotal contract season with his future with the Buccaneers hanging in the balance. He’s shown incremental improvements through his first three seasons, but the 24-year-old back has failed to break through as the organization imagined he would when they drafted him at No. 38 in 2018. HC Bruce Arians revealed how the coaching staff truly feels about him in the postseason when he took a clear backseat to Leonard Fournette, who took full advantage of his playing opportunities. RJII had by far his best regular season performance to date with 192/978/7 rushing (5.1 YPC) and 28/165/1 receiving on 42 targets to finish as the RB22 with 13.3 FPG while playing 48% of the snaps in 14 games. He averaged a career-best 3.0 YAC per attempt last season, but he still doesn’t bring much to the table as a receiver with 20 or fewer receiving yards in 13-of-14 games. The Buccaneers will head into the season without a clear lead runner or a clear passing back. Jones is the favorite to lead Tampa Bay in early-down carries while Gio Bernard is the favorite to handle the most passing-down work, but Fournette established himself as the team’s best back in the playoffs and he will play in all situations this season. Jones is going to be a better option in non-PPR formats and he’ll be a bit volatile as a touchdown-dependent RB3/4, but the Buccaneers should own one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses. He’ll be a low-end RB2/flex option in matchups against poor run defenses and/or when the Buccaneers are heavily favored when he can rack up extra carries in positive game scripts.
Leonard Fournette (Proj: RB39 | ADP: 95 | Pos ADP: RB35)
Fournette had one of the league’s more bizarre journeys last season and it ended with him hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in his home stadium. The Jaguars waived him two weeks prior to the start of the season and he signed with the Buccaneers, where ended up having a wildly inconsistent regular season, bottoming out as a healthy scratch in Week 14. He posted 97/367/6 rushing (3.8 YPC) and 36/233/0 receiving on 47 targets to finish as the RB34 with 10.2 FPG while playing 43% of the snaps in 13 games. He had one top-5 RB finish, one more top-12 finish, and four more top-24 finishes. And then the playoffs came. Fournette was a legitimate “factor back” in the Buccaneers’ run to the Super Bowl LV title. He managed 64/300/3 rushing (4.7 YPC) and 18/148/1 receiving on 21 targets to average 21.7 FPG in four postseason games. He also had a 69% snap share or better in each of the Bucs’ four playoff games, a number he topped just once during the regular season. Fournette took his benching in Week 14 in stride and was one of the Bucs’ most valuable players in a title run, but HC Bruce Arians will take his backfield back to square one in 2021. Fournette will be battling it out with Ronald Jones for early-down carries and he’ll be competing with Giovani Bernard for work in passing situations. He’s setting up to be an extremely volatile RB3/4 since he’s getting squeezed on both ends as a runner and as a receiver. Fournette is likely to hit for a couple of big performances playing in one of the league’s best offenses, but he’s probably better suited for best ball formats since those spike weeks could be difficult to predict.
Giovani Bernard (Proj: RB52 | ADP: 156 | Pos ADP: RB55)
The Bengals parted ways with Bernard this off-season after eight seasons with the franchise, and it didn’t take long for the Buccaneers to snatch him up to join their crowded backfield. He was forced into a big role for the final six games of last season after Joe Mixon went down with a season-ending injury in Week 6. Gio finished as the RB26 with 12.1 FPG from Week 7 on by posting 112/372/2 rushing and 31/240/3 receiving. He either posted 20+ FP (four times) or he fell below 10 FP (six times) in each of his 10 games without Mixon. Bernard hasn’t been an effective runner recently with a 3.4 YPC average in 2018-20, and he hasn’t averaged more than 2.0 YAC per attempt in each of those seasons. He still excels as a receiver after catching 79.7% of his targets for a 7.6 YPR average last season, and the Buccaneers signed him in to be another weapon for Tom Brady in the passing game. Bernard joined a crowded backfield with Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn already in the mix, and he’ll mostly be confined to a role in passing situations. His main competition for passing-down snaps will come from Fournette, who excelled in the role at the end of the regular season and in the postseason. Bernard is worth a look in deeper PPR formats in case he can take control of the passing-back role, but he’s more likely to be a fantasy pain for Fournette and Jones this season.
Mike Evans (Proj: WR16 | ADP: 38 | Pos ADP: WR14)
Evans needed a mad dash at the end of the 2020 season but he reached 1000+ receiving yards for the seventh straight season to start his career. He bested his childhood idol Randy Moss’ previous record of six straight seasons with 1000+ yards to open a career. Evans finished with a career-high 13 touchdowns in his first season with Tom Brady, which was the fourth-most at the position, as he connected on 8-of-14 end-zone targets. Evans’ touchdown production propelled him to a WR16 finish with 15.5 FPG as he finished with 70/1006/13 receiving (14.4) on 109 targets in 16 games. Evans finished with career-lows in targets (109) and target share (18%) with Brady spreading the rock all over the field, and he actually finished third on the team in target share behind Chris Godwin (20%) and Antonio Brown (19%). His aDOT also dipped from 15.1 yards with Jameis Winston in 2019 to 12.1 yards with Brady in 2020, which wasn’t unexpected. Evans seemingly played at less than full health for most of the 2020 season as he dealt with early-season hamstring and ankle injuries before picking up a knee injury in the season finale before the postseason. Evans will have plenty of competition for targets in 2021 but he should have plenty of scoring opportunities again in one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses. Evans has proven to have a safe floor as he’s been a WR2 or better in each of his seven seasons, and he has WR1 potential if he’s connecting on his high-upside targets in the end zone and downfield.
Chris Godwin (Proj: WR18 | ADP: 41 | Pos ADP: WR16)
The Buccaneers have quickly become Tom Brady’s franchise and they were never going to let Godwin slip away in free agency last off-season. The old Buccaneers regime refused to play Godwin over Adam Humphries in his first two seasons in the league, and he would’ve been one of the most coveted free agents (if he hit the market) two years later after getting his chance to play under Bruce Arians. He posted 86/1333/9 receiving in 14 games as a first-time, full-time starter last season playing with the gunslinger Jameis Winston in 2019. His numbers dropped off significantly last season because of injuries, more competition for targets, and Brady’s affinity to spread the ball around. Godwin finished with 65/840/7 receiving on 84 targets to finish as the WR15 with 15.9 FPG while playing 88% of the snaps in 12 games. Godwin had an uncharacteristic nine drops last season (10.7%) with an additional seven drops in four postseason games after needing surgery on his index finger. Godwin came into the season with just four career drops through three seasons so last season is likely just an anomaly. He also averaged just 12.9 YPR in his first season with Brady after averaging 15.1 YPR in his first three seasons with Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick — his aDOT also sat at a career-low 9.9 yards last season. Godwin has run basically two-thirds of his routes from the slot the last two seasons, but he’s versatile enough to play all over the formation as he did in his first two seasons in Tampa. Godwin is a safe WR2 option this season, but he won’t have nearly the upside as some of the receivers drafted around him because of his target competition. Antonio Brown will be around for the entire season and O.J. Howard will return in the middle of the field to potentially tamp down Godwin’s target share, which sat at 19% last season.
Antonio Brown (Proj: WR46 | ADP: 96 | Pos ADP: WR41)
Brown has been on an interesting journey since the Steelers traded AB to the Raiders in March 2019. He played just one game in two stops between the Raiders and Patriots in 2019 before he returned to the field on a full-time basis for the final eight regular season games with the Buccaneers, which culminated in a Super Bowl victory. Brown finished with 45/483/4 receiving on 62 targets for 117.1 FP while playing 62% of the snaps in eight games. He ranked as the WR25 with 14.6 FPG in Week 9-17 thanks in large part to his 231 receiving yards in two games against the Falcons — he had just 333 yards in his other nine games last season (playoffs included). He picked up a knee injury in the Divisional Round against the Saints, which slowed his production in the playoffs and the injury required a clean-up procedure this off-season. Brown became an underneath receiver playing with Tom Brady with Mike Evans and Scotty Miller handling most of the deep passing work. AB averaged a 10-year low 10.7 YPR but, digging a little deeper, he averaged a healthy 2.07 yards per route run and he averaged a seven-year best 5.2 yards after the catch. Brady also didn’t have a favorite receiver in the final nine weeks of the regular season with Evans (21%), Brown (20%), and Chris Godwin (18%) each finishing with similar target shares in Weeks 9-17. AB managed to stay quiet and out of the headlines and he returned to Tampa Bay this off-season to chase another ring with Brady and company. Brown isn’t the safest WR4 option because of his advanced football age at 33 years old and because of his past off-the-field indiscretions, but he should beat his current ADP if he stays on the field with Brady spreading the ball all over the field in one of the league’s best offenses.
Scotty Miller (Proj: WR110 | ADP: 510 | Pos ADP: WR173)
Miller went from being a fringe fantasy option as Tampa’s #3 WR in the first half of 2020 to completely falling off the radar as Tampa’s #4 WR in the second half of the season. Antonio Brown joined the team and immediately vaulted ahead of Miller starting in Week 9. Miller was barely heard from again until his improbable 39-yard TD catch in the final seconds of the first half of the NFC Championship Game. He posted 25/400/2 receiving (16.0 YPR) on 38 targets in his first eight games before being limited to 8/101/1 receiving on 15 targets in his final eight games. Miller will once again slot in as the team’s #4 WR and as a situational deep threat for Brady this season after averaging a healthy 15.8 yards on his depth of targets — Brady averaged 9.1 yards on all of his attempts. Miller’s position behind Tampa’s big three WRs isn’t set in stone with 2020 fifth-round pick Tyler Johnson and 2021 fourth-round pick Jaelon Darden also competing for snaps. Miller is off the radar in most formats to start the season but he has a chance to be a waiver wire option if there’s an injury or two in front of him.
Rob Gronkowski (Proj: TE17 | ADP: 152 | Pos ADP: TE18)
It would’ve been absolutely stunning if Gronk played with anybody but Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in 2021. Both sides seem content to take it a year at a time after Brady coaxed Gronk out of retirement last off-season. The move certainly paid off with Gronk winning his fourth Super Bowl title. He played a pivotal role with two touchdowns in their stunning 22-point victory over the Chiefs after previously totaling just two catches in Tampa’s first three playoff games. Gronk played well overall last season with 45/623/7 receiving on 77 targets and he finished as the TE13 with 9.3 FPG. He also registered his first full 16-game season (while playing 75% of the snaps) since he did it in his first and second seasons in 2010 and 2011. Gronk’s role in the passing game diminished after Antonio Brown joined the team as he posted two or fewer catches in nine of his final 12 games (playoffs included). Gronk will be hard-pressed to match his TE13 fantasy finish from last season since he’ll be another year older and he’ll have more competition for targets. Cameron Brate emerged as a Brady favorite in the postseason and O.J. Howard is returning to the lineup after tearing his Achilles last season. Gronk could still challenge for the position lead in touchdowns after he led the position with 14 end-zone targets last season, which makes him intriguing for Best Ball formats. He’s going to be a frustrating mid-TE2 in re-draft formats after he averaged 4.3 targets per game in the final 12 games of last season (playoffs included) after AB joined the roster.
O.J. Howard (Proj: TE34 | ADP: 235 | Pos ADP: TE28)
Howard is at a career crossroads entering 2021. He’s coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon in early October of last season and he’s in the fifth and final year on his rookie contract at 26 years old. He actually paced the Buccaneers’ TEs before his season-ending injury last season, posting 11/146/2 receiving on 19 targets in his four games. In a small sample, Howard had better per game averages with Brady in 2020 (2.8/36.5/.5 receiving) than he did with Jameis Winston in 2019 (2.4/32.8/.07). Howard played on just 48% of the snaps in his four contests and Rob Gronkowski ran 36 more routes than him (97 to 61) in that time, but Howard made the bigger passing-game impact with Gronk getting his legs back under him after sitting out in 2019. Howard has missed at least two games in each of his first four seasons and he’s missed 34.3% of his possible games (22 of 64) to open his career. The Buccaneers can afford to ease Howard into the lineup this season since they’re loaded at the position with Gronk and Cameron Brate in the mix. Howard is a fringe option in TE-premium formats and he’s a player to keep a close eye on early in the season to see if he’s regained his old form.
Cameron Brate (Proj: TE43 | ADP: 445 | Pos ADP: TE65)
Brate has been more of a fantasy nuisance than a fantasy asset over the last four years in Tampa Bay playing next to O.J. Howard during that time and Rob Gronkowski in 2020. Brate once again found his way into targets last season after Howard went down with a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 4. He posted just 28/282/2 receiving (10.1 YPR) on 34 targets while playing 30% of the snaps in 16 games. HC Bruce Arians started to increase Brate’s playing time starting in Week 10, and he became an important part of Tom Brady’s arsenal by the time the postseason rolled around. Brate scored the decisive touchdown against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game and he finished with 14/175/1 receiving on 19 targets in four playoff games. Brate figures to slide back down the depth chart this season if Howard is close to full health off of his catastrophic leg injury. He’ll open the year off the radar in all formats but there’s an outside chance he’s fantasy relevant at some point since Gronk is entering his age-32 season and Howard has missed more than a third of his games to start his career.
Hansen’s Final Points
He doesn’t run, so he’s not really a “cheat code” fantasy asset — or is he? Tom Brady will actually run 2-3 TDs in any given season these days (3 rushing TDs each of the last two years), but the real “cheat code” for Brady is his incredible brain and work ethic combined with a sickeningly good roster and collection of skill players, so he really can’t fail. 35+ TD passes are a lock if he’s on the field, which he almost always is. Brady got better and better as the 2020 season progressed, and since they are so loaded, Brady is actually a “sexy” fantasy pick with upside, and he’s surely safer than some guys going off the board around the same time, like Matthew Stafford. They are so loaded at receiver (and even RB), that their players are difficult to evaluate at their ADPs, but the big winner and the easiest player to handicap is Brady himself. He’s going to do well.
He’s entering the final year of his rookie deal, so it’s a big season for Ronald Jones, who did look and perform better than I expected last year. But Jones also has plenty of issues, namely his lack of work in the passing game, due to his poor hands and shaky pass protection. Jones ran hard as hell last year, but he also wore down and they basically bailed on him as their lead back en route to a Super Bowl win. I don’t see how that fact is anything but worrisome for Jones this year. Leonard Fournette is about as unreliable, but he could ruin a good Jones performance any given week by vuluting the TDs, and with Gio Bernard added, Jones may be lucky to catch 10 balls this year. Jones is probably the favorite to lead Tampa Bay in early-down carries, but it’s impossible to project him to do anything of note for fantasy. He’s not overly expensive at 88 overall and the RB34, but I’ll be looking for quality WRs in that range, so Jones will not be on any of my teams.
Could it work out for Leonard Fournette this year? Sure it could, as Fournette put up a healthy 64/300/3 rushing (4.7 YPC) and 18/148/1 receiving on 21 targets to average 21.7 FPG in four postseason games. He also had a 69% snap share or better in each of their playoff games. The problem, of course, is that Fournette isn’t guaranteed anything, and he’ll be tough to handicap with Ronald Jones a good bet to get more early-down work and Gio Bernard a good bet to get more passing game work. You can’t count on Fournette for anything, and you can’t take a player you can’t count on inside the top-100, so I’ll be drafting three RBs before Lenny is off the board and I’ll let him pass.
The Bucs have been looking for a pass-catching specialist dating back to last year, and I thought James White would be signed and reunited with Tom Brady, but that didn’t happen. Instead, they got arguably the second best pass catching specialist in the league in Gio Bernard, who is more explosive than White but probably can’t handle White’s large workload. Gio’s ADP is very reasonable at 155 overall and RB55, so he’s a decent PPR depth guy. His upside is obviously limited, though, and he’s not a lead pipe lock to dominate the snaps when they are passing it.
There’s only one ball in Tampa Bay, so their top two wideouts, both capable of posting WR1 numbers, are tough to deal with in 2021. Mike Evans was pretty good with Brady last year, especially in the red zone, but he also had career-lows in targets (109) and target share (18%), which should continue. Evans was also banged up for much of the season, and that’s a concern because he’s such a big guy and a big target. He’s certainly a “safe” pick at 38 overall, but we have him projected a little lower than his ADP of WR16, and we do not find ourselves targeting him. If you draft Evans, it’s ideally because he slipped a little and presented better value in the fifth round or beyond.
He was my #1 player to target in 2019, and I still love him, but Chris Godwin, like Mike Evans, isn’t an easy call. I do like how he’s playing under the Franchise tag this year, so he’ll be gunning for a big payday, but then again effort and a love of football have never been a problem for Godwin. Godwin is ideally in the slot, but with Antonio Brown in town, his slot snaps have decreased from his breakout 2019 season. I’m not worried about his problems with drops last year (only 4 career drops before 2020), but I am worried about volume and some volatility. Godwin’s target share was a good 19% last season, but a full season and AB and the return of TE OJ Howard will cause that number to drop, so he’d have to drop a round from his 40 ADP for me to feel good about him.
Usually, when there’s a quagmire of sorts in terms of too many players pining for the ball and they’re all good, I go with the cheapest guy and the best option, and I’m there this year with Antonio Brown as the best WR pick on the Bucs. On film, AB looked like AB from the jump last year, which is impressive, and he should only get better with more time in the offense and with his QB. Brown isn’t without some downside at 33 years old and given his off-field antics, but he does seem to have turned a corner, and he’s no longer acting insane! Bottom line, he has the best chance to outproduce his ADP at WR for the Bucs.
With an ADP of 500+, it’s safe to say the people are “off” Scotty Miller this year, so there’s no reason to draft him. I can’t even say he’s a great dynasty pick, since the Bucs would be a completely different team in a year or two, and youngsters like Tyler Johnson and 2021 fourth-round pick Jaelon Darden look like fine contributors. Miller is a potential waiver wire add only.
It sure as heck feels like everyone is uninterested in drafting Rob Gronkowski this year, as evidenced by a lack of Gronk chatter on the interwebs and his low ADP of 150 and TE18. He’s certainly volatile and TD-dependent, and there’s so much talent in this offense that he can be more of a role player than a go-to guy, plus OJ Howard has a lot more downfield ability, at this point. He’s better for best ball, of course, since he’ll likely have 2-3 big games, but he could be frustrating in redraft leagues. Of course, his concerns are baked into his ADP, so he’s certainly worth grabbing as a nice TE2 if you’re looking for a quality backup.
He started showing signs of life in 2020 with Tom Brady, but then OJ Howard suffered a ruptured Achilles, so he’s now entering the final year of his rookie deal with a ton of competition for targets, and with less time logged with their HOF QB than everyone else. His career could break either way, and we can’t rule out an Eric Ebron-like mid-career surge at some point. But that’s unlikely to happen in Tampa unless Rob Gronkowski is out, so Howard’s a so-so backup TE pick, even at 235 overall.
I’ve never endorsed a team’s TE3 for fantasy, and I won’t be doing so here for Cameron Brate, despite Brate looking good late last year and clicking well with Tom Brady. If Gronk is hurt and OJ Howard is slow to return from his Achilles, then Brate will be worth streaming consideration, but there’s nothing going on here for redraft leagues.