With the 2021 preseason clear in the rear-view mirror, it's time to turn your attention to the real thing. And by the real thing, I of course mean *drumroll please* fantasy football. Is that kind of an oxymoron? Maybe. But now that the bullets count on the field, so do the points in your PPR league and I'm just here to help you not end up in a Waffle House for 24 hours, attempting to power through as many dry waffles as possible while live tweeting the experience just to feel something.
The Buccaneers should be a fantasy football gold mine if everything goes according to plan this year. Head Coach Bruce Arians' 'no risk-it, no biscuit' mantra lends itself to a ton of offensive production while Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles' pressure-happy scheme specializes in not only getting those gaudy sack stats, but also forcing opposing offenses into making mistakes that lead to turnovers (a.k.a. more points for you).
Not only do the Bucs have productive schemes, they have an arsenal of offensive weapons to execute Arians' high-powered attack. Yes, there's an argument to be made that there are only so many touches to go around. How productive can these guys really be? But when you consider that Tampa Bay scored no less than 30 points in each one of their playoff games last season and have the goal of picking up where they left off… there may be a lot of touches to go around – especially through the air.
I will concede that on the ground, in the running-back-by-committee approach the Bucs are likely to deploy, you could be better off taking another team's clear-cut featured back over either Ronald Jones or Leonard Fournette. That's purely why they are omitted from the below list. It's not that I don't think they'll be productive – I have plenty of faith in the two, plus running back Giovani Bernard who will look to occupy that third-down role. I just don't think they'll outperform (statistically) backs who are the sole provider of on-the-ground production for their respective teams.
The offensive splits further reinforce that point, too. The Bucs ran the ball 38% of the time in 2020, meaning there are far less carries on the ground to go around than there are passes through the air.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's preseason matchup vs. the Texans.
That brings me to my top players to go after in your fantasy leagues this year. I'll even get to a few bonus suggestions if you're in an IDP league (go you!) and some sleeper picks. But none at the top of the following list should be a surprise.
Quarterback Tom Brady
This is a no brainer. The quarterback position is your most lucrative in fantasy and if you think at 44 years old, Brady has taken a step back, you inexplicably somehow don't know Brady. In his first year with the Bucs, Brady put up 337.92 fantasy points, the 10th-most of any player, according to NFL Fantasy. It was thanks to the fifth-most yards of his 21-year career with 4,633, while scoring the second-most touchdowns with 40 – and that's before he even had a full grasp of the offense. We could potentially see 2007 Brady levels now that he has it all figured out. That should catapult him from top 10 to top 5 in 2021.
So just as it's been since you likely started playing fantasy football, put Brady at the top of your fantasy wish list.
WR Mike Evans
How aggressively you go after Evans will probably depend on what kind of league you're in. Though Evans is now the first player in NFL history to begin his career with seven-straight 1,000-yard seasons, he just barely crossed the threshold last year, ultimately finishing with 1,006. It took until the last game of the season, after going on a two-game tear against Atlanta and Detroit where Evans had 16 catches for 291 yards, for Evans to get to the four-digit mark. He had 70 receptions on the year, which puts him outside the top 25 for receivers. But if you're in a standard non-PPR league, run don't walk to get Evans. He had a career-high 13 single-season touchdowns, which was the fourth-most of any receiver last year. The production is there when it comes to actual points on the board. That's good news for the Bucs and your standard league. But if you're in a PPR league, Evans may not be your first target – even on the Bucs.
WR Chris Godwin & WR Antonio Brown
That's a good segue into these next two players. Godwin was on pace to be the Bucs' leading receiver for the second-straight year in 2020 before injury held him out of four games. He managed to rack up 840 yards on 65 receptions with seven touchdowns, anyway. Had he played a full season, those numbers would have inflated to 1,120 yards on 87 catches and nine touchdowns. That sounds much more conducive to a PPR league considering those 87 catches would have put him up there with the Chiefs' Tyreek Hill in the top 15 for wide receiver, according to 2020 NFL Fantasy data.
Similarly, Antonio Brown didn't play a full season for the Bucs last year, appearing in eight games and starting only four. Coming in halfway through the season to a brand-new team requires some adjustment but Brown now seems to be on the other side of that for the Bucs. Arians went so far as to say Brown looks like the AB from four-five years ago. Well, four years ago would put us at the Brown of 2017, in which he led the league with 1,533 yards on 101 receptions with nine touchdowns while with the Pittsburgh Steelers. That would have put him top five in receptions and top two in yards in 2020.
Now, of course, there's no guarantee that will happen again in 2021, no matter how fast he did look in camp. But Brady's trust in him provides another argument for why we could see closer to those 2017 numbers than we will his actual numbers of 2020. In the biggest game of the year, Super Bowl LV, Brady targeted Brown six times, with Brown making five catches, including one in the end zone. That is likely a foreshadowing of what's to come for the quarterback-receiver duo and why you may want to get in on the 'business' at the ground level.
The Bucs Defense
On the field, the Bucs' defense has the fourth-most takeaways of any team since Bowles took over in 2019. That translated to the 11th-most points for defense in fantasy last year and 2021 is all about leveling up – specifically in takeaways. We heard the same sentiment from much of the secondary this preseason: turn those pass breakups into interceptions. Plus, last season, the Bucs had the fourth-most sacks of any team, recording 48 quarterback takedowns. With another chess piece added in the first round of this last year's draft and the team returning 98.2% of the defensive snaps from last year, you have to think that level up is going to happen. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said their goal is to be the number one defense in the league in 2021, so they should be your number one choice for defense in your fantasy league, too.
BONUS: IDP players
Speaking of defense, if you play in an individual defensive player league and need some suggestions, here we go:
Inside linebacker Devin White – White had the most sacks of any inside linebacker on the team with 9.0 in the 2020 regular season. He also led the team in tackles and forced and recovered a fumble. In 2019, he had three forced fumbles. If he puts his pass rush together with his ball awareness, watch out.
Outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul – This is the guy that led the Bucs in sacks last year, falling a half-sack short of double digits in the regular season. He picked it back up in the playoffs, especially the NFC Championship when he and Shaq Barrett combined for 5.0 sacks on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a dominating defensive display.
Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett – If JPP doesn't lead the team in sacks, Barrett will.
Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. – This guy was a ball hawk at Minnesota and in his rookie season for the Bucs showed flashes of his potential to be the same at the NFL level. He can also come down in the box and lay hits on quarterbacks. He had 3.0 sacks last year, one of which was a strip sack. He forced two total fumbles last year, recovering one.
Cornerback Carlton Davis – Davis was perhaps the biggest proponent of the Bucs' defense turning pass breakups into interceptions. Davis led the team and finished second in the league in pass breakups last year. If he can turn even a fraction of them into interceptions, he would be a corner worth having in an IDP.
Tight End Rob Gronkowski – Is it weird to call Gronk a sleeper? It might be considering he still finished top 10 for tight ends in 2020. He was another player that needed to adjust to a brand-new system – in addition to shaking off the rust of a year spent out of football. That resulted in a season we aren't used to seeing out of Gronk. That is, he was under 1,000 receiving yards on the year with 623yards on 43 catches with seven touchdowns. Because that's totally something to snuff at… In reality, he bided his time in the beginning of the year, even semi-jokingly classifying himself as a blocking tight end. But he ended on a more expected note, scoring not one but two touchdowns in Super Bowl LV. Gronkowski also played a full 16-game season last year for the first time since 2011 and said he felt great this preseason. That bodes well for Gronk to perhaps return to form in 2021.
Tight End O.J. Howard – If Howard can stay healthy this year, his physicality and natural hands will make it tough for defenses to defend against 12 personnel sets when both him and Gronk are on the field together. It could result in Howard exploiting one-on-one matchups with the attention on Gronk or one of the other plethora of offensive options on this roster.
Running Back Giovani Bernard – If you're looking for a good value pickup, Bernard could be it. He can run routes like a receiver and has natural hands, meaning he's likely to give you those coveted running back pass-catching points if he does pan out the way the Bucs seem poised to use him.
Safety Mike Edwards – if you're in an IDP league, pick up Edwards. I talked above how Winfield could be a ball hawk this year and the same goes for Edwards. He had a great camp and looks to have a better understanding of this defense going into his third season. I wouldn't be surprised if Edwards surprises some people with his ability to track the ball.
OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka – I know, I know. I have both Barrett and JPP already on this list – how could I possibly put a rotational player on this list? Well, I am. And I have a feeling Tryon-Shoyinka is going to make me look real good by the time this season is said and done.