Position Group: Running Back
Players: Rachaad White, Leonard Fournette, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Giovani Bernard
2022 Evaluation: A lack of balance created an added emphasis on the passing game for the Buccaneers in 2022. Tampa Bay often fell behind early on, creating a perpetual trend of having to play catch-up, resulting in a pass-heavy approach. Concluding the 2022 regular season, the Bucs finished last in the league in rushing offense, averaging 76.9 yards per game on the ground (franchise worst). That forced Tom Brady to attempt a career-high 756 passing attempts at the age of 45, including 50-plus per game over the final month of the season. Throwing the football is king in the modern NFL with most defenses utilizing nickel personnel groupings to counteract, however, the Bucs inability to run the ball led to a decrease in offensive efficiency.
Despite rookie Rachaad White being listed as the starter out of the backfield on the depth chart and his emergence in 2022, veteran Leonard Fournette received the most snaps. Fournette had 689 snaps (56.66%) and White accumulated 469 snaps (38.57%). The former totaled 668 rushing yards on 189 carries and three touchdowns for an average of 3.5 yards per attempt. Additionally, Fournette added 523 receiving yards on 73 receptions and three touchdowns to his 2022 campaign. White concluded his first year with 481 yards on 129 rushes and a touchdown for an average of 3.7 yards per attempt. In the passing game, White contributed 290 yards on 50 receptions and two touchdowns. The pair provided a complimentary styled-attack, with Fournette serving as the hard-nosed runner between the tackles with a blend of power and speed, while White acted as the slash-back with burst getting north and balance through jump-cuts. White improved in pass protection during the duration of the season, allowing him to stay on the field for all three downs. The Bucs' coaching staff "rode the hot hand" and used a time-shared system out of the backfield between the tandem.
Vaughn, the club's third-year back, rushed for 109 yards on 26 carries in 2022, averaging 4.2 yards per tote. He saw minor bits of action, as did his counterpart Giovani Bernard. Bernard filled a fourth role with only 28 yards on eight carries. His primary contribution came on special teams on punt/kick returns.
2023 Outlook: Bernard is a pending unrestricted free agent. He originally entered the NFL as a second-round pick by the Bengals out of North Carolina in the 2013 NFL Draft. During his eight-year tenure in Cincinnati, Bernard appeared in 115 games with 30 starts and amassed 3,697 yards and 22 touchdowns on 921 carries. Additionally, he became one of the most lethal pass-catching backs during that timeframe, hauling in 342 passes for 2,867 yards and 11 more scores. He re-signed with the Bucs at the outset of the 2022 season and is set to hit the open market.
White, Fournette and Vaughn are under contract for the 2023 season. The Bucs will likely look to White more often in 2023 and seek to add speed in the Draft, with a talented upcoming class at the position. With 23 unrestricted free agents and the second-worst cap situation in the league, the Buccaneers will have several tough decisions to make during the 2023 offseason.