Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2020 Team Previewby Christopher Gallagher September 1, 2020 0 comments
One of the most up and down teams in the NFL over the past few seasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were up to their old tricks in 2019. One of the most high powered offenses in the league, the team finished third overall in the league, with over 398 yards and 28 points per game. However, the downfall of Tampa Bay was self-inflicted as quarterback Jameis Winston threw 30 interceptions and fumbled 12 times in 16 games. Along with this, in key situations, the Bucs defense was unable to make stops, forcing the team to get involved in shootouts each game. This ultimately led to a disappointing 7-9 record and a third-place finish in the NFC South, extending the team’s current playoff drought to 12 straight seasons.
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Generating buzz all offseason long, Tampa Bay sent shockwaves around the league when they ultimately won the sweepstakes for longtime Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Agreeing to join the team on a two-year deal, general manager Jason Licht appears to have found his short term answer at quarterback, allowing Winston to walk in free agency and join the rival New Orleans Saints. Joining the Brady acquisition, the Buccaneers announced another significant move when they came to terms with New England to strike a deal for the formerly retired Rob Gronkowski. Rounding out their list of actions, the team placed the franchise tag on premier pass rusher Shaquil Barrett. Fresh off a season that saw him lead the league with 19.5 sacks, Barrett is set to make 16 million next year under the tag.
Heading into the 2020 draft with a clear need at right tackle, the Buccaneers front office was active in the first round when they struck a deal with the San Francisco 49ers to move up one spot to number 13. With the pick, the team selected Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, while picking up an extra seventh-round selection. A three-year starter with the Hawkeyes, he started 13 games in 2019 and was named offensive lineman of the year by the Big Ten. Focused on improving their defense in round two, Tampa Bay picked Minnesota safety Antonie Winfield Jr. with the 45th selection. Known for his superb ball and coverage skills, expect Winfield to become an immediate contributor for Todd Bowles‘s defense.
Rounding out their selections, the team added two new offensive playmakers for their new quarterback, selecting running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn and wide receiver Tyler Johnson. Maintaining the same core coaching staff from a season, the Buccaneers once again head into 2020 with Bruce Arians at the helm for a second season, Bowles running the defense, and former quarterback Byron Leftwich controlling the team’s offense.
One of the most offensively gifted teams in football, expect Tampa Bay to be even better in 2020 following the Brady addition. Led by one of the best receiving tandems in football in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, the focus of the offense next year will once again be to throw the ball all over the field under Arians. However, the Bucs also feature an under the radar rushing attack. With three capable backs, led by longtime veteran LeSean McCoy to go along with second-year rusher Ronald Jones and Vaughan, the rush offense should be much improved from their 24th overall rank in 2019. The story of the offseason for the franchise was focused on improving their offensive line after giving up 47 sacks against a season ago.
A much-improved unit on paper from 2019 will again be led by center Ryan Jensen, guards Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa, and left tackle Donovan Smith. Filling out the unit’s weakest spot from last year will be Wirfs, a much-needed upgrade to keep Brady upright in 2020. One of the stories of the season for the team will be how head coach Arians molds his offense to fit the strengths of his 40-year-old quarterback. Still a capable passer, Brady does not feature the deep ball he once did, and under Arians, quarterbacks are expected to stand in the pocket and push the ball downfield on vertical passing routes. Never shy to criticize his quarterbacks, expect Arians to draw up route combinations to put his new signal caller in the best shape possible.
Two-position battles that should carry on all season will be for the backup quarterback and backup tight end spots. Competing for the right to backup Brady is longtime journeymen Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin. With starter experience, expect Gabbert to win the job over Griffin, who has been mostly a third-string guy during the duration of his career. On the flip side, after Gronkowski’s signing, the backup tight end spot will be up for grabs in a battle between former first-round pick O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. With a much higher upside than Brate, expect Howard to earn the backup spot and play a significant amount in two-tight end sets.
Led by one of the best defensive lines in football, the Buccaneers defense is the key to the team’s success this season. Guided by standout pass rushers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, along with interior run stuffers Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh, this unit’s strength in 2020 will once again come from the guys up front. Finishing as the number one rushing defense in football last season, Bowles’ unit allowed only 73.8 yards per game on the ground in 2019. However, the defense’s back end is filled with question marks, especially at cornerback. Finishing as one of the worst passing defenses a year ago, Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy Bunting project to be the week one starters at the position after they failed to upgrade it in the offseason.
Making a career off running an aggressive 3-4 defensive scheme focusing on bringing pressure from anywhere on the field, expect the Tampa Bay defense to blitz a lot in 2020. With linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David to go along with Winfield, Bowles has many capable blitzers at his disposal to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks next season. After getting off to a slow start in his rookie campaign in 2019, White suffered a hamstring injury and was forced to miss three games. Although, the former LSU Tiger still had a strong season, recording 91 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one interception, and three forced fumbles in 13 games with the team. With a clear lack of depth in their defense’s back end, sustained health will be key for this unit in 2020.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
A unique look for teams to carry three quarterbacks; expect the Buccaneers to do so in 2020. After signing with the team this past offseason, Brady will be the team’s starter, making him the best quarterback they have had in over 15 years. A longtime journeyman, Gabbert should earn the backup role to Brady, with former University of Tulane starter Griffin getting the final spot as the third-string emergency option.
After making it clear that Jones will be the feature back next season, 2020 is a big year for the former second-round pick. Vaughn should see significant snaps in his first season after the team spent a third-round pick on him this past draft. A longtime veteran, McCoy should be a nice change of pace back with the ability to catch passes out of the backfield. Finishing off the group is Ogunbowale and Calais, who could challenge for snaps, but should see their contributions primarily on special teams.
Evans and Godwin are among the best-receiving tandems in the league and should dominate snaps for the pass catchers group. With the third receiving option still up for grabs, expect Johnson to have an inside track to open the season in the role. After only hauling in 13 passes in his rookie year, Miller fits the mold for a perfect receiver for Brady and could have an expanded role in 2020. Watson and Miller both provide the team with much-needed depth.
After the Gronkowski addition, this group is as deep as any team in the league. Brady’s favorite target his entire career, expect him to be among the elite in the league for tight ends. A former first-round pick, Howard has yet to live up to his billing, but still provides a lot of talent. Brate should see his contribution primarily in the red zone after hauling in 16 touchdown catches over his past three seasons. A blocking tight end, Auclair, grabs the last roster spot.
With the starting offensive line from a year ago intact for next season, Jensen, Smith, Marpet, and Cappa all return. Wirfs will open the season as the starting right tackle, providing a much-needed upgrade at the position. Free-agent acquisition Haeg provides depth along the line as he has experience playing multiple positions. Wells provides depth at tackle while Bailey offers the same at guard. An undrafted free agent, Molchon earns the final spot.
Improving in each of his two seasons in the league, Vea returns to anchor down the defensive line’s interior with Suh. Known for his strong run defense, Gholston should provide another strong presence in the middle. Nunez-Roches and Davis should both see playing time and can spell the starters in the case of injury.
Led by the NFL leader in sacks from a season ago, the edge group should once again be strong for Tampa Bay. Fresh off a contract extension, Pierre-Paul should also provide a strong presence across from Barrett. Nelson is expected to fill the role of the recently departed Carl Nasib. Divinity Jr is another undrafted player who should earn the final spot on cutdown day.
David and White are one of the most underrated linebacker tandems in the league and should finally begin to earn the respect they deserve in 2020. Two terrific special teams players, Minter and Cichy, both earn spots on the roster. With unlucky injury luck over his NFL tenure, Russell is a risky pick to make the final roster, but with tremendous upside, he earns the final spot.
A secondary full of young, unproven players, the Buccaneers group should see improvements from a season ago. A promising young trio full of question marks, Davis, Dean, and Murphy-Bunting, should dominate this group’s snaps. Smith has found his home on special teams and should be one of the leaders of the group. Former University of South Florida Wilkins earns the final spot.
Whitehead and Edwards both showed tremendous promise last year in expanded roles. Known for his great ball and coverage skills, WInfield Jr. should open the season as the starting free safety. Adams provides a veteran presence to round out the safeties.
The question mark for the specialists will come down to the kicking battle between Gay and Elliot Fry. Expect Gay to earn the spot as the kicker for the team. Pinion returns to handle the punting duties, with Triner running the long snapping role.
COVID (1) – Brad Seaton
A team that should look to contend for a Super Bowl in 2020, the Buccaneers roster is one of the best in the game. Led by one of the premier receiving tandems in the league in Evans and Godwin, expect Tampa’s offense to be among the elite in the league once again. With question marks still surrounding their defense, if the group can be average next season and get stops at critical points in the game, they should have no problem winning football games and competing in the loaded NFC South.
Season Prediction: 10-6 and make the playoffs.
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