The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected seven players in last weekend's 2021 NFL Draft, and three of them were to help the offense. That side of the ball got a strong and accurate quarterback, a versatile lineman who can play inside or out and a wide receiver with impressive run-after-the-catch abilities.
You could call those luxury picks, however, because the Buccaneers' 2021 offense doesn't appear to need much help at the moment. Kyle Trask, Robert Hainsey and Jaelon Darden can provide quality depth and some special teams help now and could see their roles grow significantly in the years to come, but Tampa Bay's offense was already in very good shape before the draft.
It's been known for nearly a month that the Buccaneers would be the first defending league champion since the 1970s to bring back all 22 players who started in the previous year's Super Bowl. That's the result of a very successful campaign to re-sign more than a dozen players who became or were due to become unrestricted free agents. But that success goes beyond just the cool "All 22" note; in fact, the Bucs' 2021 offense is running it back down to nearly every snap taken in 2020.
Including the playoffs, there were 14,871 individual snaps taken by Tampa Bay players in 2020, including three by defensive lineman Vita Vea. (Inexplicably, the Bucs are only credited for 549 individual offensive snaps on 50 plays in the Week Nine game against New Orleans.) The team currently has under contract for 2021 players responsible for 13,829 of those snaps, or 93.0% of the total.
View pictures of Florida QB Kyle Trask, who Tampa Bay selected in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Reports indicate that the Buccaneers are close to re-signing wide receiver Antonio Brown, and Head Coach Bruce Arians said during last week's draft that the team would also like to bring back quarterback Blaine Gabbert. If those two things happen, the returning snap count on offense will be 14,287, or 96.1% of the total.
In addition, if Brown and Gabbert return, the Buccaneers will have the players who accounted for 100% of their 2020 points scored, 100% of their passing yards, 98.0% of their receiving yards and 97.9% of their rushing yards.
This is a good thing because the Buccaneers' offense in 2020 was very good, particularly down the stretch. And contrary to some outside opinion, it is not a geriatric group. Yes, Tom Brady is 43 and will be 44 when the season begins, but he has proved to be in a category all his own in which age apparently doesn't matter. Rob Gronkowski is 31 and came out of retirement to join the Buccaneers, but he made a career-high 20 starts in 2020.
Meanwhile, Mike Evans is still only 27; Chris Godwin is just 25; Scotty Miller is 23; Leonard Fournette is 26; Ronald Jones is 23; Ke'Shawn Vaughn is 23; O.J. Howard is 26; Ali Marpet is 28; Donovan Smith is 27; Tristan Wirfs is 22. The Buccaneers' offense has a lot of players who are just in or have yet to reach their primes.
Perhaps more importantly, the Buccaneers' offense will not be heading into the 2021 season trying to figure things out on the fly. It was franchise-altering news when Brady signed with the Buccaneers in March of 2020 and a development to celebrate even in a vacuum. But that signing happened at about the same time that the COVID-19 pandemic was shutting everything down and, as it turned out, the Bucs had no offseason training program and no preseason games. Even with the G.O.A.T. under center, that was still a recipe for the classic "work in progress" during the season. Brady and Arians echoed that thought repeatedly during the first three months of the season.
The Brady-led offense was perfectly fine for the first three quarters of the season. After Week 12, Tampa Bay ranked seventh in points per game (28.7), 15th in net yards per game (362.8), 10th in scrimmage yards per touch (7.6), ninth in net passing yards per game (266.4) and 14th in passer rating (94.9).
After the team's Week 13 bye, however, the Bucs had arguably the best offense in the NFL for the final quarter of the season. It ranked second in points (37.0) and net yards (448.0) per game to the Bills, was tops in both yards per touch (9.4) and net passing yards per game (357.3) and had a 127.8 passer rating that trailed only Green Bay. Also, after committing 16 turnovers before the bye, tied for 11th-most in the league, the Bucs only coughed it up once in those last four games, tied for the fewest in that span.
That momentum flowed right into the postseason, as the Buccaneers scored 30-plus points in all four of their contests on the way to a Super Bowl championship. They were the first team ever to score at least 30 points in three straight playoff road games.
The Buccaneers even featured a better run-pass balance in the postseason than they had during the regular season, and that was in three tight games leading to the Super Bowl, not lopsided blowouts. With Fournette leading the way, the Bucs averaged 122.5 rushing yards per game in the playoffs, as compared to 94.9 in the regular season. Tampa Bay ran the ball on 36.3% of its snaps during the regular season, the third-lowest mark in the league, but upped that to 45.7% in the playoffs.
It remains to be seen what sort of offseason program the Buccaneers and the NFL as a whole will have in 2021, but there are three preseason games scheduled and Brady and company now have a full 20 games under their belts. With the band coming back intact and all that experience, plus a great idea from the last two months of the season what works best, the Buccaneers' offense should be poised to be near the very top of the NFL ranks once again in 2021.