If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are to accomplish their goal of "going for two" - to repeat as Super Bowl champions this year - a handful of select players will have to be at the top of their games all season long.
Therefore, AllBucs has compiled a list of the ten most important Buccaneers entering the 2021 season, ranked from No. 10 down to the most crucial of the bunch at No. 1. Although this list is unique, the most important Buc - who will be revealed at a later date - may seem fairly obvious.
But, who else needs to make a large impact this year in order for Tampa Bay to reach, and win, Super Bowl LVI? After kicking off the list with tight end Rob Gronkowski at No. 10, we move onto the No. 9 and specifically the newest member of the Bucs: running back Giovani Bernard.
Most important Buccaneers, No. 9: Giovani Bernard
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are returning all 22 starters from last season, including running backs Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette, who both started stretches of games throughout the 2020 season. While those two will be back, the Bucs went out and signed Bernard for one big reason: His ability to catch passes out of the backfield, specifically, on third downs.
Bernard recorded 47 receptions for 355 receiving yards last season for the Cincinnati Bengals, the most in his career since 2017, to go along with three touchdown catches. The next closest Bucs' running back was Fournette was recorded 233 receiving yards. No other Tampa Bay running back recorded more than one receiving touchdown.
Looking more in-depth at third downs, Bernard averaged just about the length of a first down when making a reception on the critical down (9.2 yards per catch.) While Fournette's average per catch (11.0) might have been higher last year, he was far less successful in that situation catching only three passes on seven targets or only 42% of the time.
Meanwhile, Bernard caught the ball about 73% of the time, being targeted 15 times on third down and recording 11 catches last year.
It's clear Bernard is a more polished pass-catching running back when comparing him to Jones and Fournette. And Bernard isn't just better at catching passes, he's also much stronger in pass protection. During the 2019 season, Bernard was the fourth-best pass-blocking running back in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
Fournette, on the other hand, ranked near the bottom of the league over the course of the 2018 and 2019 seasons per PFF. Out of 46 eligible running backs, Fournette was No. 43 receiving a grade of 39.9 as a pass-blocker.
Between his ability to make catches on third downs and help provide pass protection for Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, Bernard should find a way to carve out playing time while Jones and Fournette will likely continue to start for Tampa Bay. With Jones and Fournette getting the majority of their touches on first and second down, Bernard will be able to become that primary, and successful, third-down back the Bucs didn't really have last season.
Bernard has already impressed the Bucs coaching staff including offensive coordinator Bryon Leftwich, who explained in June how easy it has been to coach Bernard.
"I think the thing that's impressive of him so far in this short period of time, you really only have to tell him something once," Leftwich said about Bernard. "You tell him something once, he gets it, he's able to execute it and operate it, which lets you know he's been around a lot of good football."
The Bucs already had a talented running back room between Jones and Fournette, in addition to Ke'Shawn Vaughn, but Bernard provides multiple things Tampa Bay didn't have last season on their path to Super Bowl LV. As the Bucs hope to "go for two" this year, Bernard will likely become a critical piece of Tampa Bay's offense and only add to the plethora of options Brady has in the passing game.
Stay tuned to AllBucs for further coverage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offseason updates, and other news and analysis.