Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Buying Guide
With training camps here, TFG fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice is breaking down the prospects for all 32 teams. Click here for a running list of teams, and check back often as teams are added on an almost daily basis. On to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers…
The Buccaneers might not be any good this year, but they should be hella fun to watch.
The Bucs of the late ’90s and early ’00s were a bloodthirsty band of pirates who looted and pillaged their way to a championship in the 2002 season The modern-day Bucs can’t match the savagery of those earlier crews but could be entertaining in their own way – more like a band of pirates on shore leave after a few flagons of rum.
The Bruce Arians-Jameis Winston pairing will be particularly fascinating. Arians, who came out of retirement to take the Tampa job, will install the same sort of aggressive downfield passing game that he ran in Arizona. Winston should be familiar with that sort of attack after playing under aerial-minded offensive coordinator Todd Monken last year. But while the Bucs toggled between Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2018 under then-head coach Dirk Koetter, Arians has little choice but to ride or die with Winston, since Fitz is now in Miami and Winston’s backup is (yeesh) Blaine Gabbert.
With an outrageous supply of pass-catching cannonry, and with the running game in a sorry state, Winston could produce gaudy numbers over a full season. Based on the offense he’ll be running and his record as a decision-maker, he could also throw 20 interceptions. Fantasy owners should probably be less worried about the interceptions than about Winston’s well-being. Arians isn’t afraid to empty the backfield and try to block with just five linemen. And with no running game to worry about, opposing defenses are going to come after Winston HARD.
I should probably have Winston ranked higher than QB14. The former No. 1 overall draft pick could really light up the pinball machine this year. I might even draft him above that ranking if it’s a league where the waiver wire is stocked with useable QBs. But in deeper leagues where the safety net is smaller, I’ll probably let some other smoker light up a Winston.
In virtually every draft I’ve been in over the last few months – and I’ve done a few dozen of ’em – Mike Evans invariably gets taken at the end of the second round. That’s a pretty nice get for one of the people fortunate enough to have grabbed one of the elite running backs among the first few picks.
Evans is virtually bust-proof. He’s never failed to top 1,000 yards. Over his five-year career he’s averaged 79 catches, 1,221 yards and 8 TDs. He’s not going to give you much yardage after the catch, but he’s sure to end up at or near the top of the air yards leaderboard. Evans is in an offense that’s going to throw like crazy, and he seems a perfect fit for Arians’ vertical passing attack.
And is it possible that we still haven’t seen the best from Evans? Even though he’s entering his sixth NFL season, Evans is just 25. (He turns 26 later this month.) Evans hit the ground running when he broke into the league, but surely he’s still adding nuance to his game and figuring out how to best leverage his 6-5, 231-pound frame and basketballer’s athleticism. Evans is a rock-solid fantasy asset who might even be able to take it up another notch.
Two of the pioneers of fantasy football podcasting, Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) and Cecil Lammey (@CecilLammey) of FootballGuys.com, have said the way to foretell a breakout season is to listen for a building drumbeat around a player. Coaches and players throw around praise like confetti this time of year, but when a player’s efforts in the offseason, OTAs and training camp are heralded in a steady drumbeat of accolades, big things are afoot.
The noise building around Chris Godwin these days has the thunder of John Bonham’s drum solo in “Moby Dick” and the relentlessness of Neil Peart’s work in “YYZ” No praise meant more than Arians’ training camp proclamation that Godwin is “never coming off the field.” That may have been hyperbole, but it reflects immense faith in the 23-year-old receiver.
Godwin had three 100-yard games over the second half of 2018 and capped off the season with a 114-yard, two-TD game against the Falcons. Now, DeSean Jackson is out of the way, and Godwin is poised to become a full-time contributor to one of the league’s most aggressive passing attacks. Even at a rising ADP of WR21, Godwin is a strong buy.
There are two other Tampa receivers worth keeping an eye on, even if they aren’t draftable in average-size fantasy leagues. One is Justin Watson, a fifth-round pick last year who could get slot work. He’s athletic and had a productive Ivy League career at Penn. The other is Breshad Perriman, a first-round pick out of Miami in 2015 and the son of former Lions WR Brett Perriman. The younger Perriman was waylaid by knee injuries early in his career but came on strong late last season, making some big plays for the Browns down the stretch. He’s 6-2, 215 pounds and had 4.3 speed coming out of college. A player who has such an impressive toolkit and plays in a pass-happy offense warrants our attention.
Fantasy analysts have spilled a lot of words in dismissing the idea that O.J. Howard’s fantasy stock was damaged by the Arians hiring – and with good reason. Arians had a paucity of TE talent to work with in Arizona. Howard is a rare two-way talent who can knock a linebacker on his ass or blow by him up the seam. Maybe Arians will use Howard in much the same way he used Larry Fitzgerald in the desert, and Howard will become Winston’s short-area receiver of choice.
Howard had 565 yards and five TDs in just 10 games last year, averaging 16.6 yards per catch. He’s only scratched the surface of his talent. After the top three tight ends – Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz – are off the board, Howard is the next-best option a couple rounds later.
Cameron Brate has thus far managed to coexist with Howard for two seasons, scoring 12 touchdowns over that span and even providing stand-alone fantasy value in 2017. But we aren’t likely to see an Arians offense support two fantasy-relevant tight ends, and it’s pretty easy to guess who’ll be the odd man out.
The planet Mars has given us more signs of life than Ronald Jones gave us last year. A second-round pick out of USC, Jones flopped in his first training camp and preseason, then never got any regular-season traction, averaging 1.9 yards per carry over nine games and backing up journeyman Peyton Barber.
Shawn Siegele of RotoViz (@FF_Contrarian) recently wrote an article suggesting that it may be too early to give up on Jones , citing some other RBs who overcame poor career starts to become useful fantasy assets. Siegele is one of the sharpest fantasy analysts in the biz, yet I’m still not ready to buy Jones and would probably only consider him if he fell into the nether regions of drafts where the kickers and team defenses dwell. I hated to see the news that Jones had added weight, adding 13 pounds of bulk to get up to 221 pounds. If a running back whose calling card was quickness loses that advantage, what’s left?
With all due respect to Barber, a former undrafted free agent from Auburn who’s maximized his talents, there’s no need to spend much time on him here. He’s a replacement-level player waiting to be replaced. Barber somehow managed to churn out 1,005 yards and five touchdowns last year – an admirable effort to be sure. But it’s folly to project him for a similar workload this year because there’s such a good chance he’ll be replaced, even if the identity of that replacement remains a mystery.
Which brings us to this: Why the hell didn’t the Buccaneers draft a running back this year? When the Buccaneers had a screaming need for a kicker, Bucs GM Jason Licht drafted one in the second round in 2016. Didn’t Licht see RB as a position of need? Had the Bucs drafted a running back anywhere in the first four rounds, that player would have become an automatic first-round pick in dynasty rookie drafts.
The Bucs didsign undrafted free agent Bruce Anderson, an intriguing prospect from North Dakota State. He doesn’t have an extraordinary athletic profile and would need to be coached up, but Anderson has at least a puncher’s chance in such an emaciated backfield.
It’s also possible that Arians resurrects the fantasy value of Andre Ellington, who played for the man in the Kangol cap in Arizona. Ellington is nimble and can catch passes, but at 5-9 and 200 pounds, he isn’t cut out for heavy-duty work.
ADP = Average Draft Position ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking (based on half-PPR scoring)