Ranking the Bucs' Top Fantasy Football Players
The Buccaneers are coming off a season where three of their players (and their defense, believe it or not) were top-10 in their respective positions. Though the fifth-ranked quarterback Jameis Winston is gone, the Bucs added a Hall-of-Fame duo in Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to their roster of riches.
The receiving weapons in Tampa Bay are second to none. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans combined for 355 fantasy points last year. Gronkowski has top-three tight end potential, averaging 140 fantasy points per season over his career. Throw in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate and the Bucs are loaded for bear.
Tom Brady's 263 fantasy points last season were his third-lowest total over the last 10 seasons. The lack of receiving talent likely had a lot to do with his sub-par fantasy performance, which is unlikely to be a problem in Tampa.
The dark horse on offense is running back Ronald Jones who is lined up to be the primary ball carrier for the Bucs this year. Though he's certain to get the lion's share of rushes, the big question is whether he will see the kind of pass targets that Brady gave running backs in New England.
Here is a ranking of the Bucs' top fantasy football players for 2020:
1. WR Chris Godwin
Had Godwin not missed the last two games of the season with a hamstring injury, he may well have been the top fantasy receiver of 2019. His 13.6 fantasy points per game were within striking distance of top receiver Michael Thomas and a full two points above the next best receiver, Detroit WR Kenny Golladay.
The key to Godwin's success was his efficiency. He was targeted 126 times, just 26th-most among wide receivers, but he averaged an absurd 11 yards per target and 15.5 yards per reception. He also tied Michael Thomas for third-most touchdown receptions with nine.
The reason Godwin outranks his teammates is Tom Brady's love of the slot position. In New England, Brady fed his slot receivers like Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, practically popularizing the position in the NFL. Godwin takes most of his snaps from the slot and should be Brady's new favorite target in Tampa.
2. QB Tom Brady
It's been a few years since Brady was a top-five fantasy quarterback. That should change in 2020.
Gone are the days when Brady's most reliable target was a running back. With Godwin, Evans and Gronkowski, Brady could very well eclipse 300 fantasy points for the first time since 2015.
While Brady is an exceptionally old quarterback, he's also just exceptional generally. With a new offense and upgraded weapons, Brady should be one of the best fantasy football passers this season.
3. WR Mike Evans
Though it could be argued that Mike Evans is not be the best player on Tampa Bay's offense, he is no doubt the most consistently excellent. Until last year, Evans has been the Bucs' top fantasy player, averaging 170 points per season since entering the league.
Evans has never once failed to hit 1000 receiving yards in a season, despite the up-and-down play at quarterback. He's the kind of security blanket that makes any quarterback better thus boosting his targets.
As probably the most physically gifted receiver Tom Brady has had since Randy Moss, Evans is going to see a lot of balls thrown his way. He may not see the same volume of targets he had with Jameis Winston, but the improved quality of quarterback play from Brady should keep his fantasy output on par.
4. TE Rob Gronkowski
Possibly the greatest tight end in NFL history, Rob Gronkowski retired last year following a decade of brutally physical play that took a toll on his health. After a year away from football, Gronkowski could reclaim his position as the best fantasy tight end of the last decade.
When healthy, there is no better fantasy option at tight end. In the seven seasons where he played at least 10 games, Gronkowski averaged 158 fantasy points, which would have made him the highest-scoring tight end in 2019.
The biggest question will be how healthy he can stay. Gronkowski has played a full 16-game season just once in his career and has gone on injured reserve three times. The fact that he left the NFL because of the state of his health should give fantasy owners some pause before drafting him early.
5. RB Ronald Jones II
The Bucs' running back is legitimate diamond in the rough in any kind of fantasy league this year. After an abysmal rookie year, Jones justifiably written off by fantasy owners, but a resurgent 2019 in which he averaged 8.5 points per game while splitting work with Peyton Barber has Jones primed to break out in 2020.
Dynasty owners likely got Jones on the cheap last year, and his modest production in 2019 along with the stacked pass offense may push Jones down draft boards this year. Nevertheless, a balanced run game has always been part of Bruce Arians' offenses so Jones will get a significant number of carries this season.
What will make Jones a top-ten fantasy running back is the trust he instills in Tom Brady. Over the last three seasons, Brady averaged 166 targets to running backs. Tampa Bay's offenses didn't average more than 100 running back targets in the same span.
Jones is a low-risk, high-reward pick for the middle rounds of a fantasy draft, but given his potential upside, he could be a worthy buy in the early rounds.
6. Defense/Special Teams
Surprising though it may be, the Bucs had a solid defense for fantasy in 2019. Thanks to a more aggressive scheme installed by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, the Bucs were highly opportunistic, scoring six defensive touchdowns last season.
The Bucs' DST performance is particularly interesting considering they allowed 405 points, seventh-most in the NFL. That figure should drop with the departure of Jameis Winston, who contributed seven pick-sixes and 30 total interceptions that left the defense with numerous short fields.
The progress of the secondary will be key. Carlton Davis could make the leap to marquee cover corner in 2020, if his 19 pass breakups and league-leading dropped interceptions are any indication (via Pro Football Focus):
With improved secondary play and few turnovers by the offense, the Bucs would no doubt reduce their allowed points, making them a reliable starting DST in 2020.
7. TE O.J. Howard
Despite a disappointing 2019 season, Howard is still a highly talented tight end. Though he only recorded a career low 49.9 fantasy points last year, Howard could be primed for a comeback even with Rob Gronkowski in red and pewter.
Bruce Arians has stated (via Buccaneers.com's Carmen Vitali) the Bucs will run 12-personnel (two wide receivers, two tight ends, one running back) as their base offense. That means more opportunities and more mismatches for Howard thanks to Godwin, Evans and Gronkowski likely drawing more attention from defenses.
Though his fantasy ceiling is lower than Gronkowski's, Howard would instantly become more valuable in the very possible scenario where Gronk were injured. Bucs fans and fantasy owners likely have not seen Howard's full potential at play, so he warrants a spot on any fantasy bench as a backup tight end.
8. WR Scotty Miller
When Tom Brady is quarterback, watch out for the third receiver, especially if he can get down the field in a hurry. Scotty Miller may not see a ton of snaps, but he could be worthy option for deeper leagues.
Miller was a sneaky deep threat for Tampa Bay last year, averaging 15.4 yards per reception. Despite his WR4 status on the Bucs roster and missing six games due to injury, Miller still caught 13 of his 26 deep targets.
A possible model for Miller's future production is Chris Hogan, who was solid in New England while catching passes from Brady. Hogan made his money in New England on deep throws, averaging 15.4 yards per reception and 79.2 fantasy points as a Patriot.
With last year's WR3 Breshad Perriman gone, Miller has an opportunity to become Brady's down low deep threat in Tampa. Though Miller won't get near the looks that Godwin or Evans will get, he could have some big games on some big catches down the field.
9. RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn
The Bucs' third-round pick this year is unlikely to challenge Ronald Jones as the primary ball carrier, but he should get a look as a complementary back. Frankly, the Bucs depth at running back is nothing to write home about, but to keep Jones fresh, they will have to play Vaughn a decent amount.
At Vanderbilt, Vaughn averaged 6.4 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per reception. He's not as flashy as Jones, but he grinds for yards and does not go down easily.
Depending on Vaughn's development in the pass game, he has a modest ceiling, warranting at best a very late draft pick. An injury to Jones would rapidly boost his fantasy stock, but otherwise, Vaughn is a high-risk proposition in any format.
10. TE Cameron Brate
Though Cameron Brate has become a forgotten piece of the Bucs offense by fans as late, red zone defense should know better than to lose track of him.
Since 2015, only three tight ends have scored more touchdowns than Brate. His knack for coming up with big catches made him a security blanket for Jameis Winston and could make him one for Tom Brady, particularly if Gronkowski can't go due to injury.
Brate scored just 55.1 fantasy points last season, and unless Gronk or Howard get hurt, Brate will be extremely risky. Nevertheless, his past production warrants consideration for deeper leagues and waiver wire monitoring.