Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Cam Brate were the three most likely sources of touchdown receptions for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading into 2017, and all three have already found the end zone through just two games. The Buccaneers' offense hasn't really kicked into high gear yet, but the signs are there that an offseason full of optimism was warranted. In fantasy football terms, Evans is a weekly must-start and Jackson and Brate are attractive options more often than not.
But there's a lot more to the Bucs' offense and a lot more to winning fantasy football than knowing to start Mike Evans. That's what our Fantasy Football Weekly series is all about: diving a little deeper into each week's Buccaneer matchup to see where the smart plays are, and where the red flags are popping up. Each week we're taking a look at Three Burning Questions regarding the fantasy implications of Tampa Bay's upcoming game, in the hopes of helping you balance your Buccaneer fandom and your desire to win your league.
Those questions are below, but first let's review last week's advice.
A look at the Giants' projected starters, according to the team's website.
This season, each Fantasy Football Weekly article is going to include a review of the previous week's advice to see if it was actually helpful. For the second week in a row, the tips provided before the Bucs-Vikings matchup paid off.Advice #1:
Even though the Bucs completely shut down Chicago's good rushing attack, don't expect the same results against Dalvin Cook. Start Cook anyway, even if you have a viable other option.Review:
Good advice. Cook scored early but was mostly bottled up in the first half. However, the Vikings leaned on the rookie heavily in the second half with a big lead and the final numbers were 169 yards from scrimmage and that touchdown.Advice #2:
After starting DeSean Jackson in Week One and getting low fantasy numbers, you should still double down and start him again against the Vikings.Review:
Spot on. Another deep shot between Winston and Jackson missed in the first half, but the two finally hooked up for that big play in the second half, a 25-yard touchdown. Jackson delivered WR1 numbers with 84 yards and that TD.Advice #3:
Kicker Nick Folk is a viable fantasy option after his 11-point game against Chicago, but don't feel like you have to rush out and sign him before someone else.Review:
Folk has been perfect on field goals so far for the Buccaneers, which is a huge relief after the Bucs' kicking issues last year. However, he was only called on to try one field goal and two extra points in Minnesota, for an unsatisfying five fantasy points. Folk is just what the Bucs needed, but he's not yet a must-own in fantasy.
Okay, let's see if I can continue on my hot streak with this week's topics.
**Three Burning Questions: Buccaneers at Vikings
1. This column advised against starting either Cam Brate or O.J. Howard before the Bears game, suggesting that fantasy owners wait to see how the playing time and targets are distributed. With Brate getting more looks than Howard, and a touchdown last Sunday, is it time to start putting him in my starting lineup?
This week, yes.
Pictures of some of the Giants' top players.
I still don't think we've seen how this division of snaps and targets is going to end up, and I expect Howard's piece of the pie to gradually grow. However, it still appears as if Brate is a favored red-zone target for Winston, and this is a good game to roll the dice that he'll score again.
But for a couple exceptions, that's probably the situation you are in with your starting fantasy tight end anyway. You're hoping for a touchdown, otherwise you're probably looking at five or six points. And even the top-scoring tight ends are only going to get you one of those about every other game. Brate tied for the league lead among tight ends last year with eight touchdowns. He has one in two games so far this year.
So you keep your eye out for favorable matchups, and the numbers suggest that this is one of them for Brate. That seems counterintuitive to me, since the Giants' defense features one of the three or four best safeties in the NFL. Landon Collins can hit, cover ground and break up passes. He had five interceptions and 13 passes defensed last year, excellent numbers for a safety.
Still, even with Collins roaming the field, the Giants have been susceptible to tight ends this year. Here's what the number-one tight end for the opposing team has done to New York so far this year:
Obviously, the fact that a tight end has scored against the Giants each week is promising. But look at the volume of those catches! If you're in a PPR league and you think there's a good chance your tight end is going to catch six passes, you're feeling pretty good. That's probably at least 10 points, and if he happens to get a touchdown then you've got a difference-maker at a very up-and-down position.
Also, those 20 catches have come on a total of 24 targets. Opposing quarterbacks are looking to their tight ends frequently when playing the Giants, and they haven't had much difficulty finding them. Perhaps the relatively unimpressive yardage totals suggest that Collins hasn't been a factor; the tight ends aren't getting far downfield, so it may be the New York linebackers that are having difficulty shutting them down.
So there's reason to believe that the top-targeted tight end in an offense facing the Giants will get around 5-7 catches and have a decent shot at scoring a touchdown. I'd start that guy. And for now – but perhaps not a month or two from now – I think that player for the Buccaneers is clearly Brate.
2. The Bucs' defense made life tough on Mike Glennon in Week Two but did little to stop Vikings reserve Case Keenum in Week Three. So what will it do to Eli Manning? If I have Manning and a somewhat comparable quarterback to choose from, should I go with the Giant passer after seeing what Keenum did?
Well, if you have Eli Manning and he's playing the Buccaneers, that's historically been a good start. In five career games against Tampa Bay, including one in the postseason, Manning has thrown 11 touchdown passes (and five interceptions, to be fair). He has at least two touchdown passes in all five of those games. Manning only put up big passing yards in one of those five games, but they were really big: 510 in the wild shootout at MetLife Stadium in Week Two of the 2012 season.
So I'm telling you to start Manning? Actually, no. I think this may be the year the Buccaneers finally keep him somewhat under control, from a fantasy perspective.
Part of my reasoning is that Manning hasn't been a particularly great fantasy play so far this year. Using standard ESPN fantasy football scoring, Manning has logged 40.9 points so far, which ranks 21st among all quarterbacks. He is owned in 17.5% of ESPN leagues, which indicates that the general populace isn't expecting a big fantasy season from him. Still, he just threw for 366 yards and three touchdowns this past week against Philadelphia, notably just the second game back for Odell Beckham due to an ankle injury. Last year, Manning had six games at least three touchdown passes. In most of those he also had multiple interceptions, which definitely hurt his value, but my point is that he probably has some big games left in him. I'm just betting this week isn't going to be one of them.
READ: Series History: Buccaneers-Giants
So why would you be thinking about starting Manning anyway. Well, maybe you're not in love with the matchup for your primary quarterback this week. Let's say, hypothetically, that your main quarterback is Oakland's Derek Carr. So far, Carr is only the 19th-best fantasy quarterback this season, he's coming off a rough game against Washington and he's about to play the Broncos' scary defense in Denver. You drafted Manning as your backup. Is he worth a spot start here.
It's going to come down to the pass rush, in my opinion. The Buccaneers did a good job of putting heat on Mike Glennon in their home opener two weeks ago. Missing several defensive starters and playing on the road in Minnesota last Sunday, the Bucs didn't do much to affect Case Keenum. This week, Tampa Bay is back at home, they hope to have defensive tackle Chris Baker back from illness and they might even see their first action from edge rusher Jacquies Smith. The Giants have allowed eight sacks of Manning in three games and rank 16th in sacks allowed per pass play. Their 32nd-ranked rushing attack hasn't been a threat to slow down opposing rushers. The Giants' offensive line is probably better than the reputation it has earned the last couple years, but I don't think it's as good as the Vikings or Bears lines, and it will have to deal with a hostile environment on Sunday.
That's no proof that Manning will be significantly harassed by the pass rush on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers' defensive front hasn't done enough yet to be considered a sure thing, and there are still some lingering injury issues. So this is a guess; I'm playing a hunch that the Bucs will get to Manning, and as a result he will not have the kind of fantasy performance that Keenum had this past Sunday.
3. Give me a pick for a really sneaky play to get a touchdown for the Bucs on Sunday?
Yes, I know this isn't a particularly useful piece of fantasy advice. If I told you that I thought tight end Alan Cross was going to get a touchdown this week (because: reasons), it's not like you're going to pick up Cross on your fantasy team. So call this a bit of speculation that, if I get it right, will simply make you more confident in my analysis of the Bucs' offense.
So here's my pick: RB Peyton Barber. Allow me to explain.
In Week One, the Buccaneers ran the ball effectively, if not explosively. Jacquizz Rodgers did all of the work in the first half and then he split time with Barber in the second half. Barber performed well in a situation where the offense knew a bunch of running plays were coming, getting 47 yards on 10 carries. The only negative (and an understandable one) mentioned by Head Coach Dirk Koetter the next week was that Barber wore down a bit after a bunch of carries in a row.
This past week in Minnesota, Barber didn't log a single carry. That wasn't the plan though. As a team, the Buccaneers only rushed nine times, tying for the lowest single-game total in franchise history. Earlier, Koetter had indicated that the Bucs would ideally split carries between Rodgers and Barber more like they did in the second half of the Vikings game. The opportunity just didn't arise.
Let's assume that Sunday's game is not an early blowout. I'm guessing that plan for Rodgers and Barber resurfaces and that Barber gets his shots in both halves. And if the Bucs get near the goal line, it may be time to see what the young runner can do. He's more of a load than Rodgers and is theoretically a good short-yardage back, though there isn't enough evidence yet to prove that either way.
So there's your sneaky touchdown prediction: The Bucs get a goal-line opportunity in the first half on Sunday and they let Barber take the first crack at it.