Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2021 Team Previewby Darius Walker August 24, 2021 1 comment
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their best season in franchise history in 2020. Tom Brady signed with the team in late March, and expectations were immediately raised. With all of the pieces Tampa had in place, Brady was looked at as the finishing touch. Then on top of an already loaded roster, the team signed Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette, and Antonio Brown who was a late signing in October. It was a rough start for Brady and the Buccaneers, sitting at 7-5 after 12 games. Things changed later in the season, the team started clicking and they ended the season on a four-game winning streak.
With an 11-5 record, the Buccaneers did not win the NFC South but made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. In the postseason, the Buccaneers won three consecutive road games, then defeated Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. The Buccaneers’ defense was dominant and the offense was efficient. With a roster filled with both talented young players and seasoned veterans, the Buccaneers have all the pieces in place to make another Super Bowl run this season.
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The 2020 offseason was the best in franchise history but may have been topped this year. The Buccaneers pulled off the impossible in free agency. With several key contributors hitting the open market, bringing everyone back was going to be hard. Especially In the salary-cap era where Super Bowl-winning teams have roster turnover yearly. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, they were able to bring back all of their key contributors. On the offensive side of the ball, Chris Godwin, Gronkowski, and Brown all re-signed with the team, keeping the receiving corps intact. In the backfield, Fournette re-signed with the team after impressing in the playoffs. Giovani Bernard was signed as a new addition to the backfield, giving Brady that reliable pass-catching back that they were lacking last season.
The team locked up left tackle Donovan Smith through the 2023 season. This after a year in which he performed at an elite level for stretches in the 2020 season. Keeping the offense together was key but it was Tampa’s defense that dominated in the Super Bowl. The depth they had in their front seven was unrivaled in 2020. Keeping the defense intact was a necessity and that is exactly what the Buccaneers did. After playing the 2020 season on the franchise tag, Shaquil Barrett and the Buccaneers were finally able to agree on a four-year deal. Veteran leaders Lavonte David and Ndamukong Suh were also both brought back. Along with defensive linemen Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Steve McLendon, two players who are important depth pieces.
The Buccaneers were a top 10 offense in 2020 in Brady’s first year in Bruce Arians‘ scheme with no real offseason to get acclimated with his teammates. With all of the weapons they have, the Buccaneers could have the best offense in the NFL this season. Mike Evans, Brown, and Godwin are all 1,000-yard receivers. Each receiver brings something different to the table and that is what makes this receiving unit so dynamic. The tight end position is in good shape with Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, and O.J. Howard. All three players are capable starters so there’s tremendous depth here. Ronald Jones, Fournette, and Bernard give the team a nice three-headed attack at running back. Jones and Fournette complement each other well and Bernard is the perfect third-down back for Brady.
Tristan Wirfs had a near-flawless rookie campaign at right tackle and he’ll only get better this season. Smith and Ali Marpet both had career years, with Ryan Jensen and Alex Cappa also being steady performers all season. The offensive line was steady but there’s room for growth. The Buccaneers ranked 28th in rush yards and 25th in yards per attempt. If the offensive line takes a step forward this season then the Buccaneers run game will find more consistency. A consistent run game paired with their elite aerial attack will make the Buccaneers borderline unstoppable.
Home of the NFL’s top-ranked run defense in both 2019 and 2020, the Buccaneers will look to continue the trend in 2021. With talent at all three levels, there is no weakness on this Buccaneers’ defense. The front seven is elite, and the secondary is young but filled with potential. Antoine Winfield Jr. hit the ground running as a rookie and has all of the makings of a pro bowl safety. He has great instincts and he plays the game with an edge. Carlton Davis showed flashes of being a shutdown corner last season and both Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting were capable starters last season. If Davis and Winfield both continue their growth then the Buccaneers could have two pro bowl-caliber players in the secondary.
The Buccanneers also have the NFL’s best edge-rushing tandem in Jason Pierre-Paul and Barrett. Along with the NFL’s best linebacker tandem in Devin White and David. White was a menace last season, more so in the playoffs. He will be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate this season barring injury. David is entering his 10th season in Tampa and looked better than ever in 2020. David and White both have great sideline-to-sideline speed, making them the ideal linebackers for today’s game. Barrett has 27 sacks over the last two seasons and Pierre-Paul has 18 sacks over the last two seasons, both players should find success again in 2021. This is the most talent Tampa has had on the defensive side since their Tampa-2 days.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
With the Buccaneers spending a second-round pick on Trask, they’ll carry three quarterbacks on the active roster. Brady, of course, is the starter, and even at age 44, he could have an excellent season. Gabbert is the backup quarterback and a serviceable one at that. He is clearly no Brady, but if he had to miss a couple of games, Gabbert would be able to keep the team afloat with the talent at his disposal. Trask is a developmental prospect, he’ll be the No. 3 quarterback and will spend the season soaking up knowledge from the two veterans.
Jones and Fournette will likely be co-starters at running back, splitting carries equally. Jones is more explosive and is capable of breaking off big runs. Fournette is the power back who wears the defense down and his performance in the playoffs earned him the nickname “Playoff Lenny”. Both running backs struggled with drops last season so Bernard was brought in as a trustworthy check-down target for Brady. Bernard is an underrated signing and he will be big for the Buccaneers this season. Vaughn won’t see many touches on offense but he is a special teams guy so he’ll make the roster.
The most talented position group by far on the team and the best receiving corps in the NFL. The Buccaneers have three No. 1 receivers in Godwin, Evans, and Brown, and they could all go for 1,000 yards this season. Miller is a dangerous deep threat. Johnson is entering his second season and while he didn’t put up big numbers as a rookie, he jumped off the screen at times. Darden has been the rave of training camp. His play caught Brady’s attention who has taken him under his wing. He’s an electric player who will make an instant impact as a return man. Mickens makes the roster here as the seventh receiver because of his impact on special teams.
The team could suffer multiple injuries at tight end and still be in good hands. Gronkowski showed that he still had something left in the tank once he got more involved in the offense and Brate has always been a reliable target in Tampa. Howard is returning from an Achilles injury and the team is hopeful that he can regain his explosiveness. Brady loves to target his tight ends so Howard could be in for a good season. Hudson’s blocking has been inconsistent but he’s made plays in the passing game during the preseason. He’ll make the roster as a depth piece.
Tampa is returning all five starters on the offensive line, the most important unit on the offense. Having continuity along the offensive front with an immobile quarterback like Brady is key. With everyone returning, adding depth pieces was the next step. Wells was re-signed at tackle, while Hainsey was drafted in the third round. If the Buccaneers were to suffer an injury upfront then players like Hainsey and Wells could fill right in. Leverett has value because he plays multiple positions on the offensive line.
Another unit with tremendous depth. Suh, Gholston, and Vea have spear-headed the league’s top-run defense in each of the last two seasons. Nunez-Roches and McLendon are two veteran rotation pieces. Nunez-Roches started 11 games in Vea’s absence last season and the Bucs stout run defense did not miss a beat. This unit will be dominant again in 2021. Davis is a second-year player still refining his skills and technique. O’Connor is one of Tampa’s top special teams’ players who is still growing as a player.
Pierre-Paul and Barrett both return as the starters here. The Buccaneers don’t have anything to worry about if these two stay healthy. There’s not a lot of depth behind Barrett and Pierre-Paul but coaches around the organization have the utmost belief in the rookie Tryon. The rookie has flashed during the preseason and he’s learning behind two savvy vets. He could earn a spot in the rotation as a rookie. Nelson was a solid rotation piece last season who played on over 30 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
White and David have the two linebacker spots wrapped up. They are the league’s best linebacker tandem and are a perfect complement to one another. White is in for a career year and will become a household name this season. Minter is a serviceable linebacker who plays the game with smarts. He is a big special teams guy and served as a captain in 2020. Britt was selected in the fifth round of this year’s draft and he’ll make the team as the fourth linebacker. He’s been a solid contributor on specials teams throughout training camp and preseason.
The cornerback position is filled with youth. Davis, Murphy-Bunting, and Dean are the team’s top three corners and all are under the age of 24. This unit has the potential to take a big step forward this season. After those three, Cockrell and Hamilton will round out the cornerback position. Cockrell can play both safety and corner. He’s been working with the safeties in training camp but expect him to get work at multiple spots during the regular season. Hamilton has been inconsistent but he has made plays and been a good special teams performer.
Winfield and Whitehead proved to be a formidable duo at safety last season. Both return as the starters here and Winfield could make a sophomore leap into stardom. There’s depth behind these two with Edwards who has proved to be an impact player in training camp. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles utilizes three safety looks so Edwards’ strong play in camp could earn him more playing time. Hagan is a second-year player who has greatly improved this offseason. Hagan was a playmaking safety in college and he’s beginning to find his footing at the NFL level. His play on special teams along with his development as a player will earn him a roster spot.
Succop returns as the kicker after a strong 2020 campaign where he made 28-31 field goals. Tampa has been looking for continuity at the kicker position for years so re-signing Succop was more important than it may appear. Pinion is an above-average punter who will once again serve as the holder and kickoff specialist. Triner will be the long snapper again, one of the more reliable long snappers in the league.
One Player to Add
Honestly, the Buccaneers are pretty much set at every position. It’s a rare situation for a team to be in but that’s truly the case for Tampa. The team has the least cap space in the NFL so signing any player who could make an impact seems very unlikely. The team chemistry is at an all-time high so making a trade and shaking up the roster would not make any sense. They are not a perfect team, but the Buccaneers do not have any glaring holes in the roster. This team is ready to compete with the team they have. That said, if a veteran pass rusher becomes available, expect the Buccaneers to take a look.
2021 Outlook & Odds
Tampa has the most talented roster in the NFL. They have depth at running back, wide receiver, tight end, and on the defensive line. Brady has a plethora of weapons at his disposal and Arians is one of the best offensive minds in the league. All of their key players are returning and there are multiple young players on the roster ready to take the next step in their development. They will be a dominant force in 2021.
The Buccaneers are entering the 2021 season with Super Bowl expectations. Something new for a franchise with the lowest winning percentage in NFL history. Arians and Brady have changed the culture. Entering their title defense, their win total is set at 12. With a 17-game schedule, they will go over that win total en route to their first NFC South division title since 2007.
Season Prediction: 13-4 and Win the NFC South
Follow Darius Walker on Twitter @BullWalker1
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