2020 NFL Team Previews: Tampa Bay Bucs

2020 NFL Team Previews

By Professor MJ

Tampa Bay Bucs



1. Introduction

It was a roller-coaster season for the Bucs last year.

After a horrendous 2-6 start, the team won five of their next six meetings. They closed out the year with a couple of defeats to end the 2019 regular season with a 7-9 record.

Tampa Bay has enjoyed just one winning season over the past nine years. They have missed the playoffs in 12 straight seasons.

Obviously, the talk of the town is the arrival of Tom Brady under center. Can he turn the franchise around before ending his NFL career?

2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

Everyone is curious to see how Tom Brady will do as a Buccaneer. After playing 20 years in New England, he is going to write a new chapter in his illustrious career.

What makes the Brady & Bucs match intriguing is the fact that Bruce Arians is known for his aggressive approach where the QB throws the ball downfield pretty often. On the other hand, Brady has made a career out of playing very efficient football with accurate short/intermediate passes to set up occasional long throws.

What kind of offense is Tampa going to have in 2020? Most likely, they will make it fit Brady’s style. Defenses will remain wary of long throws to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, which should open up space for the short passing game.

Also, it’s unclear whether Brady still has the arm to complete long throws on a regular basis. He had its lowest yards-per-attempt average (6.6) over the past 16 years. Granted, he didn’t have much weapons to work with in New England.

Brady threw just 24 TD passes last year, one of its lowest output ever. Same goes for his completion percentage (60.8%). Again, part of the blame goes to the poor supporting cast he had with the Patriots in 2019.

Brady doesn’t outrun defenders, but he’s surprisingly good eluding pressure in the pocket. That has allowed him to stay healthy; he has missed just four games in the past 11 years!

Blaine Gabbert will backup Brady in case he gets hurt. You don’t want him as your starter. Throughout his eight-year career he has a 48:47 TD:INT mark, which is really bad. His 56.2% completion rate is equally poor.

2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

After being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft, Ronald Jones was awful in his rookie season. He showed enough in his sophomore year to warrant another shot in 2020, but he still left a sour taste in the mouth.

The area where he struggled the most was in pass protection. Tom Brady won’t appreciate having a back that cannot protect him adequately.

As a runner, he was “okay”, but not great. He racked up 724 rushing yards with a 4.2 yards-per-carry average, which isn’t special.

The team claims they still have a lot of faith in Jones, while also announcing they were looking for a pass-catching back. It doesn’t sound like a team that trusts Jones all that much.

Peyton Barber had an abysmal 3.1 yards-per-rush average last year. He is gone to Washington.

The next man up is Dare Ogunbowale. He was mainly used as a third-down specialist. He rushed just 11 times all year, while catching 35 balls. The undrafted Wisconsin Badger has never had much impact in the league in three years thus far.

The team picked De’Shawn Vaughn in the 3rd round of this year’s draft. He’s a straightforward runner who relies on good blocking ahead of him due to his physical limitations. He did post back-to-back 1,000 rushing seasons with Vanderbilt and he’s just “okay” as a pass catcher.

2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

Based on PFF rankings, the Bucs have the #1 and #6 wideouts in the entire NFL. You cannot ask for much better than this!

Mike Evans is a beast. Plain and simple. He and Randy Moss are the only players in NFL history to record six straight 1,000 receiving-yard seasons to start their career.

Here are Evans’ yearly averages since coming into the league in 2014: 77 receptions, 1,210 receiving yards and 8 TDs. That’s phenomenal and incredibly consistent year-over-year.

Chris Godwin is a former third-round pick whose numbers have increased every year. He caught 34 balls in his rookie season, then 59 in his second year and he hauled in 86 last year. He blew past the 1,000 receiving-yard mark for the first time of his career with 1,333. He also caught 9 TD passes from Jameis Winston in 2019.

Both Evans and Godwin are in their mid-twenties, and there is no reason to believe they’re going to slow down.

Breshad Perriman broke out during the final 4-5 games of the season, once Evans and Godwin went down to injuries. He was a nice #3 WR to have on the roster, but he signed with the Jets during the offseason.

The No.3 receiver role is up for grabs. Justin Watson and Scotty Miller were both late-round picks in the 2018 and 2019 draft, respectively. They had similar modest numbers last year (15 and 13 catches). Both are unproven and it’s hard to figure out what to expect from them.

2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. You could do worse as a TE trio!

The Bucs traded with the Pats in order to bring Gronkowski out of retirement and reunite him with his former signal caller.

We all know how Gronkowski has been a dominant player for years. After a plethora of injuries, he looked significantly slower in 2018. He still grabbed 47 passes for 682 yards and 3 TDs that year, plus 13 more receptions in three playoff games. It is possible that he looks refreshed after taking a year off. He will be playing his age-31 campaign.

We just keep hearing rumors that O.J. Howard is on the trading block, but there he is, still on the team! He is an explosive tight end who was picked as the #19 overall selection in the 2017 draft.

After catching six and five touchdown passes in his first two years, Howard fell flat by reaching the end zone just once under first-year head coach Bruce Arians. The talent is there without a doubt. Can he regain his previous form? I bet he can, given his young age.

Cameron Brate came out of nowhere. He was an undrafted free agent from Harvard who joined the team in 2014. He broke out in 2016 with 8 TD receptions and he followed that up with 6 more in 2017.

His star has been fading a little bit since then. The receptions, yards and TD catches have all suffered a downturn over the past two years. His usage will probably go down with Gronkowski on the team, but he’s a nice #3 TE to have!

2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

Center Ryan Jensen had a huge year in 2019. ProFootballFocus graded him as the third-best center out of 37 qualifiers. I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but a regression is fairly likely in 2020. The former sixth-round pick had never even come close to such numbers in his first four years in the league.

Brady’s blindside protector will be Donovan Smith. He’s been a slightly above-average player since entering the league in 2015. Now entering his prime years, you can expect a solid, yet unspectacular, job from him.

Right tackle Demar Dotson is now off the team, and he seemed likely to be replaced by newly acquired Joe Haeg. The latter couldn’t get a starting job in Indy and saw a great opportunity in Tampa. He seems to be an average player.

However, the plans changed when Tampa Bay selected Tristan Wirfs with the 13th overall pick. Some experts have called him the best pass blocker in the draft, which should make Brady very happy. Wirfs was the lone tackle to start as a freshman with Iowa in 20 years.

Ali Marpet, on the other hand, is a very solid and reliable guy. He’s done a very good job since being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2015 draft. You can expect good protection from the team’s left guard in 2020.

After seeing limited action in his rookie season, Alex Cappa finished as the number 37 guard out of 81 players, according to PFF rankings. In other words, he did a decent job and has a shot to improve his game even more with one full year of experience under his belt (even though he missed three games last year).

Overall, this OL is above-average, but not amongst the top 5.

2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

It’s time for the million-dollar question: how will Tampa’s offense do in 2020 compared to last year?

Let’s start with the offseason moves. The depth at the WR position took a hit when Breshad Perriman left for the Jets. However, the team acquired Rob Gronkowski who will be part of a threatening TE trio, along with O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.

Peyton Barber signed with the Redskins, but he struggled mightily last year so it won’t affect the offense very much. The Bucs also replaced Demar Dotson with rookie Tristan Wirfs at right tackle; that seems like a wash to me. Dotson did a decent job last year and you can hardly ask Wirfs to be part of the upper tier of NFL tackles instantly.

Adding Tom Brady under center instead of Jameis Winston is likely to be a plus. We’re talking about two completely different types of quarterbacks. One is super-efficient, while the other is a gunslinger willing to take risks on a regular basis.

Winston was spectacular to watch, but he turned the ball over way too often. Tampa scored the fourth-highest number of points last year, so it will be difficult to match this performance.

However, you can expect this unit to move the ball methodically, which is Brady’s signature mark. So overall, I’m going to grade this offense as a small upgrade, even though they may not score as many points as they did in 2019.

Final call (2020 vs 2019):

Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade

3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

At 33 years old, Ndamukong Suh is not the commanding force he used to be anymore. He had his lowest PFF grade in eight years and has the lowest sack total of his 10-year career (2.5). Still, he finished as the 41st-best DLs out of 114 players based on PFF rankings. He can still provide good play, both against the run and rushing the passer.

Vita Vea has received very nice marks from PFF in each of his first two seasons since being selected as the #12 overall pick in 2018. He has battled with knee injuries both in 2018 and 2019; that raises a bit of concern about him. When healthy, he’s a strong presence.

William Gholston is mainly a run stuffer because he doesn’t get many sacks. He has just 12 sacks in seven years. He is really an average interior defender in this league.

The team re-signed Rakeem Nunez-Roches, but he’s nothing more than a depth piece.

3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

Did any of you place a bet on Shaquil Barrett to lead the league in sacks last year? If so, congratulations! You probably netted a nice lofty profit because he was a super long shot to win the title.

Prior to last year had never recorded more than 5.5 sacks in his four years in Denver. He literally burst onto the scene with 19.5 sacks, one interception and six forced fumbles in his first season with the Bucs. Can you believe all of this production came from an undrafted free agent?

Obviously, the big question around Barrett is whether he is just a one-year wonder or not. I do believe he will continue to be a strong player, while not necessarily reaching 19.5 sacks again. His PFF grades were surprisingly high, both against the run and as a pass rusher, through his entire four-year stint in Denver.

Jason Pierre-Paul finished second on the team with 8.5 sacks despite playing just 10 games and recovering from a broken neck suffered during a car accident in the summer. He had also picked up 12.5 and 8.5 the previous two years. Clearly, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down even though he turned 31.

The third-most sacks on the team were obtained by Carl Nassib (6). He was about to enter his prime years, so it’s unfortunate that he left to join the Raiders. He provided this Tampa defense with above-average play. He played 56% of the snaps last year and his departure will hurt to some degree.

3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

Lavonte David is a top linebacker in this league. He doesn’t get enough recognition from playing in a smaller market, but he’s very good. As a matter of fact, PFF gave him the #3 spot out of 89 LBs last year.

He’s been a tackling machine his entire career. He also averages 2.8 sacks, 2.6 forced fumbles and 1.4 interception per year. He can do a little of everything on the field. He is 30 years old, but I have no doubt he will continue playing at a high level in 2020.

The team had high hopes when they picked Devin White with the #5 overall selection in last year’s draft. His rookie season had mitigated success. The numbers sound good with 91 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and one interception.

However, he still received below-average grades from PFF. That applied to all facets of the game: run defense, pass rushing and coverage. With more experience, he has the potential to step up his game.

The Bucs re-signed Kevin Minter, who made just two starts last year. He’s an “okay” player at best.

3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

2018 second-round pick Carlton Davis improved upon his rookie campaign where he obtained a 61.2 PFF grade. Last year, he received a 70.4 mark, which was good for the 30th rank out of 112 corners. He is particularly effective in coverage and has a chance to take another leap this year.

The Bucs cut ties with former first-rounder Vernon Hargreaves at midseason last year. One of the reasons, aside from Hargreaves’ poor play, was the emergence of rookie Sean Bunting. He finished in the middle of the pack among all cornerbacks, which is a very respectable outcome for a rookie CB.

Another rookie, Jamel Dean, took the field last year. He played 32% of the snaps and it’s probably too early to draw conclusions from his limited time on the field. However, he showed good skills in coverage, but had much more trouble defending the run.

The future looks bright at this spot with a trio of very young corners who all did their job last year.

3.5 Safeties (S)

The situation is not nearly as sparkling when it comes down to safeties.

Jordan Whitehead ended up playing 82% of the snaps, but his play was dreadful. He finished dead last among 87 safeties according to the PFF rating system.

He’s an undersized safety with very suspect coverage skills. He was a promising prospect coming out of high school, but he underachieved in college. It doesn’t look too good for his NFL future either.

Third-round rookie Mike Edwards didn’t receive much better marks from PFF. Unless he elevates his game a notch, he may not last too long in the NFL.

One of the solutions may come through Justin Evans, who missed the entire 2019 season with foot injuries. The Bucs took him in the second round of the 2017 draft and he showed decent play in his first two seasons. The big question mark concerns his health. His whole career (including in college) has been marred with injuries. The team needs him badly.

The team made a good move that clearly fills a need by taking Antoine Winfield in the second round of this year’s draft. He’s not the biggest player. He’s not the fastest player. However, he has great instincts, reads plays well and fights super hard.

One of the concerns about Winfield is his injury history; he missed most of his sophomore and junior seasons with the Gophers with foot and hamstring injuries. He came back strong as a senior with the fourth-highest number of interceptions in college football with seven.

2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

The entire 2019 defense is back, with the lone exception being Carl Nassib who left for Las Vegas. That in itself is a good news for continuity reasons.

The whole secondary is very young: all key guys have three years of experience at most. An improvement is therefore much more likely than a regression.

At linebacker, Lavonte David is a sure bet to play well, while second-year man Devin White could take a big leap.

The edge rushers and DLs worry me a lot more. Barrett is unlikely to repeat his 19.5-sack performance. Pierre-Paul is still playing well, but he’s getting up there in age. Same goes for Ndamukong Suh. And Carl Nassib was a valuable rotational pass rusher.

Tampa allowed the 4th-most points last year. I am banking on the young players making progress when calling for a small upgrade in 2020.

Final call (2020 vs 2019):

Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade

4. Regular Season Wins

According to sportsbooks, the Tampa Bay Bucs are expected to win 9.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

  • Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
  • Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
  • Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
  • Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
  • Count the proportion of seasons where the Bucs won more or less than 9.5 games.

The results of this thorough statistical investigation generate the 7th-highest ROI (Return On Investment) among the league's 32 teams.

As you can see on my website, the Over/Under pick is provided for free for the NFL teams producing the ROIs ranked 11-32.

The top 10 picks, which includes the Buccaneers, all have a ROI above 24% and they are available in my special NFL Gold Package. This is the best product I have ever sold. Take advantage of it!

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