Buccaneers football is back – finally, belatedly, blessedly back – and that means a number of Tampa Bay player are about to make an impact on fantasy football leagues across the country. Also back: Our weekly take on what you, the fantasy team owner, should expect from the upcoming Buccaneers game. Given the continued development of third-year quarterback Jameis Winston and his suddenly supercharged group of targets, the Bucs may be more fantasy relevant in 2017 than any season before.
One thing about our "Fantasy Football Weekly" column is new this year, however, and you know what it is if you glanced at the byline above. For several years, fantasy football guru Andrew Norton has been sharing his advice with Bucs fans, often backed up by a deep dive into NFL statistics, fantasy scoring history and the like. Norton's pointers were nothing if not well-researched.
Well, Andrew has now moved on to a new professional challenge, which means this year you'll be getting your Buccaneer fantasy advice from me. But you know what? That's okay. Last year Andrew and I were in one fantasy football league together and I won it, while he came in…what's that...sixth? Ouch. Clearly, I'm better at this than he is, so you're in good hands.
(Editor's Note: Andrew may not work at One Buc Place anymore, but he's still dialed into fantasy football because, really, it's a sickness. This is his response to the above:*
"It's a little bittersweet leaving before what looks to be a Bucs season full of incredible fantasy football performances. I obviously leave you in good (and yes, championship-winning) hands with Scott Smith taking over. Thanks for reading and sorry for all the split infinitives.")
Leave it to Andrew to be all gracious on the way out. Whatever. Let's just move on.
Now that this is my series, we're going to play by my rules. No more breaking this down position-by-position because I don't want to give you sit-or-start advice on DeSean Jackson week after week after week. Rather, this year we're going to go with Three Burning Questions for each game. You can make your own decision on whether Jameis Winston is an every-week play; here will take a more specific look at some of the matchups and fantasy concerns of the game at hand.
Oh, one more thing: This year I'm going to hold myself accountable. Next week, in addition to three new questions about the Bucs and Vikings, I'll revisit the issues below to see whether or not I gave you good advice. Now, without further ado…
Three Burning Questions: Buccaneers at Bears
1. What's the best tight end fantasy football play this week, Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard or neither?
Can you start Cam-J Howrate?
I know someone who drafted both Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard this year, which might be stretching the Buccaneer homerism a little bit. Presumably he grabbed both tight ends at a relatively low cost, as Brate has an ADP of 136 on ESPN while Howard comes in at 170. In a 12-team league, those are 12th and 15th-round picks, respectively, and I guess it's okay to take both Buccaneer tight ends with late picks and see which one ends up being the right one to keep throughout the season.
If that friend could somehow figure out a way to combine the two Buccaneer tight ends and play them as one this week, then I would wholeheartedly endorse the start of Cam-J Howrate. I do believe that the Buccaneers will get good production out of the tight end position against Chicago this Sunday, I just can't predict how the numbers will be spread out between Brate and Howard.
If you watched the Bears' opener against Atlanta last Sunday, you know that Chicago's defense did a pretty good job against last year's top-ranked scoring attack, holding the Falcons to 23 points in a narrow loss. However, Matt Ryan still threw for 321 yards and 128 of those were rung up by young tight end Austin Hooper. Hooper had a 40-yard catch plus the play of the game on an 88-yard TD rumble early in the fourth quarter. Chicago's defense had a breakdown on the play, with safety Quintin Demps leaving the middle of the field to help with Julio Jones on the left sideline. Hooper was wide open and a nice stiff-arm in the red zone helped him get all the way to the painted grass.
One game is not proof that the Bears will struggle against tight ends all season, of course. However, keep this in mind: The Chicago secondary has been almost completely rebuilt this year. The four starters include a fourth-round rookie (safety Eddie Jackson) and three 2017 free agency additions (Demps and cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper). Amukamara didn't play in the season opener due to injury.
A look back at all of the match-ups between the Buccaneers and the Bears.
So it would not be surprising if the Bears' secondary took a few weeks to get its communication down, leading to some additional breakdowns such as the one that sprung Hooper. In addition, linebacker Jerrell Freeman was just put on injured reserve due to a biceps tear he suffered against Atlanta, so the Bears could have increased matchup problems with tight ends on intermediate routes.
As Bucs fans know, Head Coach and play-caller Dirk Koetter has made no secret of his fondness for the tight end position. Expect Tampa Bay to be among the leading teams this year in terms of percentage of plays out of "12" personnel, also known as two-TE packages. Brate's excellent 2016 numbers, including eight touchdown receptions, are not necessarily endangered by the arrival of Howard, a dynamic first-round pick out of Alabama.
But, to circle back to the beginning, which of the Buccaneers' tight ends is going to rack up those potentially juicy fantasy points. Will they split the vote? If Brate catches, say, five passes for 67 yards and Howard notches his first NFL TD on a four-yard pass, the Buccaneers and their fans will be thrilled with the tight end spot. Fantasy owners will score just six points either way.
So the advice here is two-pronged. If you have Brate or Howard as your second tight end, maybe behind a Delanie Walker or a Coby Fleener, you should probably stick with your number-one guy this Sunday and give it a game or two to see if you've got the more fantasy-relevant Buccaneer. However, if you don't have much faith this week in your other tight end this week and have either Brate or Howard as a backup, I would feel a bit more comfortable with Brate. The reason: Howard has already shown that he is a superior blocker, which is very valuable to an offense if not a fantasy team. If the Bucs are lined up in a two-TE set with Brate and Howard, Brate would seem to be the one more likely to release from the line into a pass route.
2. Should I pick up the Buccaneers' defense as a streaming option this week?
I'll get to the answer a lot more quickly on this one: Yes.
Did the Buccaneers' defense get drafted in your league? Maybe, maybe not. ESPN did not have Tampa Bay ranked among the top 15 defenses in August when most leagues were drafting, so there's a good chance that the Bucs are sitting on your league's waiver wire. Remember, the Buccaneers' first matchup was supposed to be the Dolphins, who are somewhat promising on offense, and the game was going to be in Miami.
This week, ESPN experts have combined to rank the Buccaneers' 13th among defenses in PPR leagues, which would make them right on the cusp of a starting option in a 12-team setup. The Bucs are at home this week, they are extremely well-rested and healthy and the Bears are bringing a decimated receiving corps to town. Former Buccaneer Mike Glennon turned in a nice game-one performance against Atlanta, but the Bears still only scored 17 points and were held to 301 total yards. A lot of that belonged to rookie sensation Tarik Cohen; if the Buccaneers do better against Cohen than the unsuspecting Falcons did, Glennon may find his options limited.
Glennon was also sacked four times in that game, and the Buccaneers have a full rotation of defensive linemen ready to go on Sunday. Tampa Bay quietly ranked ninth in the NFL in sacks last year and expect bigger things from young edge-rusher Noah Spence in his second year. Tampa Bay's defense looked quite sharp in the preseason and in training camp, with the players much more comfortable in their second year in Mike Smith's system. No team caused turnovers at a more rapid clip than the Buccaneers during the second half of last season. If that continues and the Bucs are able to get to Glennon a handful of times, that's a nice defensive fantasy score right there.
Let's say you drafted Atlanta's defense this year. That was probably a good move. However, the Falcons have Aaron Rodgers and the Packers coming to town this week. If you don't like that matchup and you have some roster flexibility, you could do worse than to pick up the Buccaneers' defense and start it against the Bears. And who knows, you may end up wanting to keep Tampa Bay beyond just a single start.
3. Is this my chance to get optimal value out of playing Jacquizz Rodgers?
Color me…hesitant. (See, I even hesitated to type that.)
This is probably something I'm going to repeat a lot this year, but let me be clear that my hesitancy here is solely on a fantasy football level. I fully expect Rodgers to play well on Sunday, just as he did virtually every time he was called upon last year. I think the Bucs' rushing attack will do just fine with the trio of Rodgers, Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers.
From a fantasy football standpoint, however, I'm worried this is too much of a boom-or-bust situation. First, the Bears' defense fared quite well against a good Atlanta rushing attack last week, holding Devonta Freeman and the Falcons to 64 yards on the ground and 2.8 per carry. Freeman did score a rushing touchdown, and as I mentioned above the loss of Jerrell Freeman can't help, but this could be a game where the Bucs get most of their yards through the air.
One common draft-night approach this year was taking Doug Martin in the sixth or seventh round, hoping he would produce like a first or second-round pick after his suspension ends, then handcuffing him a few rounds later with Rodgers. If you did that, you probably intended to play Rodgers some or all of these first three weeks; otherwise, there wasn't much point.
If you're in that situation and you don't have another back you feel particularly good about to replace Rodgers then you can stick with him and hope he finds the end zone. However, if you're actively deciding between Rodgers and another back with a similar projection this week, it might be safer to go the other way.
As with the tight ends, this feels like a wait-and-see situation. After a game or two, it will probably be a lot more clear how the touches are going to be divvied up between the Bucs' three backs. If I were a Rodgers owner with at least a comparable other option, I think I might sit this one out and see where the handoffs and swing passes go before making him a weekly starter.
I know what you're saying: I only have three weeks with Rodgers as a starter, so sitting him for one of those seems inefficient. Maybe. But Koetter has repeatedly said that there is no guarantee that Martin will immediately come back and start taking the bulk of the carries again. Rodgers could prove himself worthy of a significant rushing load even after Martin returns. That would be great news for the Bucs and an interesting development for owners of either back.