The Buccaneers are in a year of transition. Tom Brady has finally retired, and Dave Canales takes over from Byron Leftwich as the offensive coordinator. The wide receiver unit remains one of the league’s best, but the roster is littered with questions at QB, TE, RB, and WR depth. Lots of talent with very few certainties. This roster could be fighting for the playoffs or moving on to a fresh start with one of the top Quarterbacks in the 2024 draft.
The first question is who takes over at quarterback for the Bucs after Brady. The leader in the competition seems to be free-agent signee Baker Mayfield. Mayfield threw for the most TDs as a rookie with a young first-time offensive coordinator. He will be in the same position this year with Canales.
I am a fan of Mayfield’s talent and think his ceiling is a top-ten NFL quarterback. I’m not a believer that his mentality and maturity will let him get there this year. There isn’t a more frustrating player in the NFL for me. Canales plans to focus on ball control, effort, and attitude. All three of those factors could go against Mayfield if things go sideways.
There is a scenario where I can see him connecting with Canales, getting his head straight, and regaining a starting job for years to come. The more likely scenario is that he digs a hole by throwing too many interceptions in an early game, reacts poorly, and his one-year $4 million deal makes him expendable for a team that wants to see what they have in former second-rounder Kyle Trask.
There is a good argument that Trask will get a chance. The Bucs’ current General Manager drafted him in 2021 in the second round. Although he has just nine career pass attempts in the last two years behind Brady, Trask had a 69-15 touchdown to interception ratio in college. If the Bucs start slow this year, it would be tough to imagine they don’t see what they have in Trask.
While I wouldn’t suggest buying either player, I wouldn’t be surprised if either ended up a long-term starter in Tampa or elsewhere. I’d hold both if you have them because of the upside.
With Leonard Fournette gone, things open up at running back for Tampa Bay. For a team that will focus on holding on to the ball, I expect them to rely heavily on the running game early. Rachaad White should benefit the most from Fournette’s departure. They must at least replace Fournette’s 189 carries and 73 receptions. There will be plenty of meat on the bone for the RBs. The team primarily focused on the passing game with Brady and had the fewest rushing carries last year.
White, a 2022 third-rounder, had 129 carries for 481 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 50 balls for 290 yards and two scores. I expect a big breakout year; double the carries, double the yards, and plenty more touchdowns.
While I don’t think he will directly compete for the primary role, I would also buy Keyshawn Vaughn. Vaughn has been a disappointment, but if you have been hanging on to the former third-round pick, 2023 could be the year he is finally worth it. His 37-game career has amounted to 79 attempts for 342 yards, two touchdowns on the ground, and 12 catches for 79 yards through the air. Reports are that he is the primary backup, meaning many more touches.
Beyond the top two, Chase Edmonds is the team’s most accomplished back and should get some carries. Sean Tucker fell out of the draft and into their laps as well. Tucker is the wildcard. It was a surprise that he went undrafted after his success at Syracuse. With Vaughn and Edmonds both headed to free agency after the year, there is an opportunity for Tucker to step into the primary backup role in 2024.
While I would be going after any of the Bucs’ Running Backs at the right price, I’d shy away from their receiver group. I think they will be overvalued and unpredictable. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Russell Gage make up one of the best wide receiver groups in the league based on talent, but all have questions that are amplified by the QB situation.
Let’s start with Evans. He will be 30 by the time the season rolls around. Overall, he had a great season with 77 catches for 1,124 yards and six touchdowns. The problem is he had just three 100 yards games last year, including a week 17 where he went for 207. I’d keep him if you have him, but I wouldn’t go beyond that. Should Tampa start slow, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was traded midseason. He is in the final year of his contract.
Godwin has two years left on his contract, making him at least a bridge to a rookie QB in 2024. He hasn’t played an entire season in the last four years, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up good numbers. In 2022, he had 103-1023-3. He played 72% of his snaps from the slot last year. In an offense trying to simplify things, he is a good bet to meet those numbers in 2023.
Gage was a surprise signing last year as the Bucs tried to tool up for a run with Brady. He rewarded their three years $30 million with 51 catches for 426 yards and five scores in 13 games. If they falter and Evans is traded, Gage would be a buy as his targets increase.
The Rest of the WRs
Rounding out the WR group are Trey Palmer, Rakim Jarrett, Kaylon Geiger, Deven Thompkins, and Kade Warner. Geiger was a college free agent who spent some of last season on the practice squad. Thompkins is just 5’8″ and 155 lbs., leaving his upside low, but he did catch five passes last year and returned 12 kicks and six punts. The three rookies, Palmer, Jarrett, and Warner, are all interesting. Palmer was buried at LSU but blew up his senior year at Nebraska and ran a 4.33 at the combine prompting Tampa to take him in the sixth round. Jarrett went undrafted but has a ton of upside. Warner is the son of former NFL QB Kurt Warner.
I would target Palmer as a potential replacement to Evans on the outside.
Cade Otton should lead the group, but he is a bit of an enigma. The fifth tight end taken in the draft last year, he led all rookie tight ends in catches with 42. He is going as TE32 in Dynasty Nerds ADP. He could be a steal, especially if Mayfield is the quarterback, as Mayfield has been known to be tight end friendly.
Backing up Otton will be Ko Kieft, a fellow 2022 draft pick, and Payne Durham, a fifth-round pick from Purdue. Kieft caught 7-80-1 last year. Durham is known for his blocking and isn’t a great athlete, but he caught 21 touchdowns in his career at Purdue, including eight last year. The position looks lucrative, and despite Otton’s success, he doesn’t have a stranglehold.
There will be some great tight ends in rounds 3-5. I got my eyes on Payne Durham from Purdue. 6-5 | 255 | 56 REC | 560 Yards | 8 TD in 2022. He’s a red-zone threat, but this touchdown was impressive against Tennessee. #49ers pic.twitter.com/HxCdJRcXoj— WayneBreezie (@thewaynebreezie) March 3, 2023
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