The Professor’s 2021 NFL Preview: NFC South – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

TheProfessor_NFL preview-buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Team Projection

TeamPoints ForPoints AgainstGames FavoredPythagorean Expected Wins

The Tampa Bay Bucs are in an enviable situation entering 2021. The Super Bowl champs were able to retain their entire roster, and while cap gymnastics certainly played a role in their ability to do that, the underlying reason that was possible, and the foundation of this championship team, lies in Jason Licht’s strong draft results in recent years.

Tampa Bay has a number of standout contributors on rookie contracts, which is the name of the game in roster building. Right tackle Tristan Wirfs, running back Ronald Jones, defensive tackle Vita Vea, linebacker Devin White, safety Antoine Winfield Jr., and the entire corner trio of Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Jamel Dean have yet to break the bank, which means that every one of those players is providing surplus-value relative to their cap number. It’s a formula that made the division-rival Saints such a force over the past four years, and one that will allow head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Tom Brady to make a run at another Lombardi in 2021.

This situation won’t last forever. This past offseason saw receiver Chris Godwin graduate from his rookie deal to a big-time extension, and edge Shaquill Barrett also signed for big money, though he had played on the franchise tag in 2020, so his cap hit didn’t change as dramatically. That said, the point is that Tampa Bay will want to make this season count, as they are in the prime part of whatever championship window they opened with Brady in the mix.

There’s little reason to think the Bucs won’t be playing late in the season. From my perspective, it starts with this defense, which played at a dominant level throughout the playoffs. Tampa has big-time players at every level. In the front, linebacker Lavonte David pairs with Devin White to form the league’s premier inside linebacker tandem, and Jason Pierre-Paul played at an elite level in the biggest moments in his edge spot across from Barrett, while Ndamukong Suh continued to rack up production and an absurd number of snaps for a man his age. The secondary is young and could continue to improve. Carlton Davis has emerged as a legit number one corner, and Sean Murphy-Bunting, who typically starts on the outside in base but slides into the slot in the sub, ended the season on an absolute tear. Safety Antoine Winfield was excellent as a rookie, and should only make more game-changing plays as he gains experience.

What’s scary is that the Bucs could be much better on offense over the full course of the season. It took time for Brady to get things really rolling in 2020, but over the back half of the season, this offense was a force to be reckoned with. They have skill players galore, but it really starts up front, where Wirfs was a dominant presence at right tackle in his rookie season to complement the left side of tackle Donovan Smith, guard Ali Marpet, and center Ryan Jensen, a group that had played at a high level stretching back to the pre-Brady days, even if none of them match the freaky ability of Wirfs.

That said, the skill players are damn good as well. Receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin battled injuries throughout 2020; if healthy, both could boost their production. Scotty Miller emerged as a dangerous deep threat last season, Rob Gronkowski steadily rounded into form as he knocked the rust off and remains an excellent two-way tight end, and Cameron Brate continued to produce as a receiving tight end. Add in the fact that they could get more from receiver Antonio Brown, who will presumably be with the team from the start of training camp this year, and tight end O.J. Howard, who is coming off a torn Achilles, and Brady has everything a quarterback could ask for. Tampa even added running back Gio Bernard to the tandem of Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette, giving Brady a better receiving threat out of the backfield.

The NFL is a tough league, and even the most promising teams can get derailed, but as it stands, it would be a shock if the Bucs don’t take home the NFC South title this season and make a run in the playoffs.

QB Passing Projections

Tom Brady717414.5629.90.668.25165.836.69.420.61

QB Rushing Projections

Tom Brady71738.11.6663.

Skill Projections, Rushing

Leonard FournetteRB10117170.23.93668.66.639.139.77.79
Ronald Jones IIRB11317158.84.35691.06.136.537.07.28
Giovani BernardRB1451759.63.73222.12.213.713.55.66
Scotty MillerWR207178.75.1144.

Skill Projections, Receiving

Mike EvansWR161758.983.315.041252.710.722.529.213.60
Chris GodwinWR221770.690.013.641227.
Leonard FournetteRB1011780.917.37.23125.
Antonio BrownWR1051766.356.912.64718.84.813.613.17.58
Rob GronkowskiTE1121760.952.012.97674.25.213.614.17.32
Ronald Jones IIRB1131769.313.58.26111.
Giovani BernardRB1451777.041.77.84327.
Scotty MillerWR2071760.723.913.98333.
O.J. HowardTE2341760.418.212.04219.
Cameron BrateTE2611770.417.89.88175.
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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.