2022 Buccaneers Fantasy Football Preview: Does Julio Jones change how we view this offense?

The Buccaneers ultimately ended up falling short in their bid to return to the Super Bowl, but this was once again one of the best teams in the NFL and should be so again in 2022 with Tom Brady ultimately opting to return after feinting toward a retirement. But the clock is clearly ticking here.

2021 Review

Record: 13-4 (1)
PPG: 30.1 (2)
YPG: 405.9 (2)
Pass YPG: 307.6 (1)
Rush YPG: 98.4 (26)
PAPG: 43.0 (1)
RAPG: 22.6 (31)

2020 Fantasy finishes

QB: Tom Brady QB2
RB: Leonard Fournette RB6
WR: Mike Evans WR9, Chris Godwin WR13, Antonio Brown* WR59
TE: Rob Gronkowski* TE7
*No longer with team

Number to know: 56

That’s how many more passes the Buccaneers threw last season than the No. 2 most pass-happy offense, the Chiefs. The Bucs were the only team to top 5,000 passing yards and one of just three with 40-plus passing touchdowns — that they also had the ninth-most rushing touchdowns as well is a testament to just how great this offense was. 

Of course, this is also a team that lost Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, and Ronald Jones from last year’s squad and may not have Chris Godwin around to start the season — he’s coming off late-season ACL surgery. Tom Brady spreads the ball around so much that the total share of touches not returning from last season isn’t actually all that high — around 30%, though Gronkowski and Brown missed a decent amount of time, which skews the number some — but it’s clear there are going to have to be some new faces stepping up here.

Julio Jones is the biggest new name after he signed at the start of training camp, but his addition doesn’t necessarily fundamentally alter how we view this offense. Russell Gage is another name we expect more from after signing from the Falcons, though we’ll have to see in training camp whether he or Jones is likelier to step up if Godwin isn’t 100%. Even then, there could still be room for someone else to step up and contribute — or perhaps even multiple someone’s, especially if Leonard Fournette’s well-documented conditioning issues this offseason cost him some trust from the coaching staff. There’s a lot of value in this offense, and a lot more ambiguity than normal. 

2021 Offseason

Draft Picks 

2. (33) Logan Hall, DE
2. (57) Luke Goedeke, OL
3. (91) Rachaad White, RB
4. (106) Cade Otton, TE
4. (133) Jake Camarda, P
5. (157) Zyon McCollum, DB
6. (218) Ko Kieft, TE
7. (248) Andre Anthony, DE

Additions

OL Shaq Mason, WR Russell Gage, DL Akiem Hicks, S Keanu Neal, WR Julio Jones

Key Departures

DE Jason Pierre-Paul, OL Alex Cappa, DL Ndamukong Suh, TE Rob Gronkowski, S Jordan Whitehead, TE O.J. Howard, RB Ronald Jones, CB Richard Sherman

Available Opportunity 

117 carries, 46 RB targets, 71 WR targets, 112 TE targets 

2022 Preview

Rankings

Chris Towers’ projections

QB Tom Brady PA: 647, YD: 4787, TD: 36, INT: 16; RUSH — ATT: 39, YD: 136, TD: 2
RB Leonard Fournette CAR: 233, YD: 979, TD: 11, TAR: 84, REC: 68, YD: 476, TD: 3
RB Rachaad White CAR: 78, YD: 326, TD: 4, TAR: 19, REC: 15, YD: 102, TD: 1
WR Mike Evans TAR: 142, REC: 94, YD: 1221, TD: 9
WR Chris Godwin TAR: 115, REC: 76, YD: 838, TD: 7
WR Russell Gage TAR: 125, REC: 75, YD: 866, TD: 6
WR Russell Gage TAR: 91, REC: 60, YD: 835, TD: 5
TE Cameron Brate TAR: 78, REC: 50, YD: 515, TD: 3

Biggest Question

What can we expect from Chris Godwin?  

When healthy, Godwin is a top-12 WR, but we just don’t know if or when he’s going to be healthy this season. Godwin tore his ACL on Dec. 19, 2021, and while it’s possible he’ll be ready for Week 1, that would be well ahead of the average return-to-play time for a WR coming off an ACL tear, which is 10-11 months. That timetable could lead to a lengthy absence in the regular season, plus whatever time it might take to get up to speed. Godwin is one of the players who could make or break countless Fantasy seasons.

One sleeper, one breakout and one bust

If Godwin isn’t ready for the start of the season, it’ll be interesting to see how the Bucs choose to replace him. Johnson could be one of the more intriguing options. He’s not nearly as quick as Godwin, but he could be used as a bigger slot guy the way Godwin often is, with the potential to help replace some of what they lost in Rob Gronkowski as a red-zone option as well. Johnson hasn’t done much in his NFL career to date, so it’s a long shot, but I’m keeping an eye on him in camp to see if he potentially breaks into the top three at WR.

I had largely written Gage off as Just A Guy throughout his career, so it was a true surprise to see him emerge as a legitimate playmaker in the second half of last season. From Week 12 on, Gage averaged 80.3 yards on 8.6 targets per game with three touchdowns, putting up a near-1,400-yard pace that stands as by far the best production of his career. Overall, he played better in just about every way possible, upping his catch rate, yards per catch, and yards per target on a higher target share than ever before, and now he might be the No. 2 target in the most pass-happy offense in the league. At least to start the season, if Godwin isn’t ready to go, and even then, we’ve seen there is room for three or even four pass-catchers to be Fantasy relevant here. Gage has legitimate WR2 upside in this offense if things break right. 

Of course, what if this is the year Brady finally falls off. We saw signs of it in his final season in New England, but he’s been rejuvenated in Tampa, in no small part thanks to the terrific weapons he’s had at his disposal. However, those weapons could be significantly worse this season than they have been in years past, and we’ve seen certain defenses show signs of figuring out how to slow this passing game down by taking Mike Evans out of the game, as the Saints have done over the past few seasons. The likeliest outcome is this is still one of the best offenses in the league and Brady remains a high-end Fantasy option, however because he doesn’t run at all, Brady needs to be one of the two or three most productive passers in the NFL in order to remain a must-start Fantasy option. At some point, this run is going to come to an end. 

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