The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' anticipated starting 11 on offense in 2021 is the exact same group of players that were at the top of the depth chart a year ago. That's another indication of how thoroughly General Manager Jason Licht and company were able to keep the Super Bowl band together, but it doesn't mean that everything is the same on offense for the defending champs.
Most notably, the postseason performance of Leonard Fournette and the offseason addition of Giovani Bernard means the Buccaneers have some sorting out to do in the backfield when it comes to reps, handoffs and targets. While the running back who starts in any given week may not be the running back that gets the most action, they still have to be officially arranged on a depth chart at some point.
That point is now. With their first preseason game looming on Saturday, the Buccaneers were required to release an "official" depth chart this week. It is 90 players deep and thus subject to significant change before the regular-season opener on September 9, but there are still some tidbits that can be gleaned from this work-in-progress depth chart.
One of those is at running back, where incumbent starter Ronald Jones is listed second with Fournette taking the next spot. Jones started the first 13 games of the 2020 season before missing time near the end due to COVID-19 and injuries to his finger and quad, and he finished with a nearly two-to-one edge over Fournette in regular-season carries. Fournette stepped into the lead role in his absence and responded with a superb postseason run that included 448 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in all four games. Head Coach Bruce Arians has said he views both players as starters.
Behind those two are Bernard, one of the few outside free agents added to the post-Super Bowl roster, and second-year man Ke'Shawn Vaughn, a third-round draft pick in 2020. Bernard's placement may indicate that he has the lead on the role of third-down back but the Bucs will likely try to get a more extended look at the young back this season, too.
Click here to review the Bucs' first depth chart of 2020. Below are the listed offensive starters:
WR: Mike Evans
TE: Rob Gronkowski
LT: Donovan Smith
LG: Ali Marpet
C: Ryan Jensen
RG: Alex Cappa
RT: Tristan Wirfs
TE: O.J. Howard
WR: Chris Godwin
QB: Tom Brady
RB: Ronald Jones
And here's a breakdown by position:
Quarterback – The Buccaneers have four quarterbacks in camp this year, with the three returning veterans joined by second-round rookie Kyle Trask. The team kept three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster last year and are likely to do so again, but Trask seems likely to bump one of the two backups to Tom Brady. Brady, of course, is entrenched as the starter.
Running Back – The Buccaneers kept four running backs on the regular-season roster last year and could do so again, but the last two will probably need to make some contributions on special teams. The depth in the backfield is rounded out by C.J. Prosise and Troymaine Pope. Both have been in the league since 2016 and have a decent amount of regular-season experience.
Wide Receiver – The Bucs' top four remain the same as last year with starters Mike Evans and Chris Godwin backed up by Antonio Brown and Scotty Miller. Brown took most of the snaps in three-receiver sets after arriving at midseason in 2020 but Miller was the source of a string of big plays, including an enormous touchdown in the NFC Championship Game. Jaydon Mickens and Tyler Johnson occupy the fifth and sixth spots at the moment but have plenty of competition from rookie fourth-rounder Jaelon Darden, first-year man Travis Jonsen and others. Mickens and Darden are the top two competitors for the return job, as well, which could prompt the Bucs to go seven deep at receiver if possible.
Tight End – Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard occupy the two designated starting spots, though Howard is still working himself back into peak football shape after coming back from last year's Achilles tendon injury. Cameron Brate just returned from the PUP list and is listed second behind Howard. Young tight ends Codey McElroy and Tanner Hudson have taken a good amount of camp reps with Brate and Howard both missing time, and for the moment it appears that McElroy is ahead of Hudson in that pursuit. He is listed second behind Gronkowski and in front of Hudson.
Offensive Line – Again, there are no changes to the starting lineup from a year ago, but that is only true because right guard Alex Cappa has returned from the ankle injury that knocked him out of action in the Wild Card game in January. Aaron Stinnie started the rest of the way in Cappa's spot in the postseason and received praise for his play. Stinnie is now listed second behind Cappa on the depth chart. Robert Hainsey, a third-round rookie out of Notre Dame, has been working at center throughout camp and that's where he starts on the depth chart as well, right behind starter Ryan Jensen. Josh Wells was listed as the primary backup to left tackle Donovan Smith last year but is currently slotted behind right tackle Tristan Wirfs in 2021. Brad Seaton, who returns after opting out of last season, is in the second spot behind Smith. First-year man Nick Leverett has been working at tackle recently but starts out on the depth chart as the second left guard behind Ali Marpet.