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Bucs’ Way-Too-Early 53-Man Roster Projection

Now that the 2021 NFL Draft is complete and the Bucs have signed their depth free agents to the 90-man roster, just a few spots remain to be filled heading into OTAs and mini-camp. The signing of LB Joe Jones, S Raven Greene and CB Nate Brooks last week brought competition with the team’s Day 3 draft picks for the final roster spots at each of those position groups. The Bucs may have used seven of their original eight selections during the 2021 draft, but don’t be surprised if several of those Day 3 rookies don’t make the team’s final roster.

Of course, the Bucs will return largely the same team in 2021, so it’s hard to be too critical of Day 3 players not being able to crack the best roster in the league. Only two players who didn’t suit up for Tampa Bay in 2020 project to play a consistent role in the team’s offensive or defensive success this year: RB Giovani Bernard and OLB Joe Tryon. Injuries could obviously expand that number, but right now even the team’s depth is essentially the same as it was a year ago.

That makes for a rather easy 53-man roster projection, at least across the first 48-49 spots. There are very few camp battles on this Bucs team, with most of the competition taking place on special teams. With rookie mini-camp looming in three days, I decided to project Tampa Bay’s final roster and 10-man practice squad (assuming the practice squad rules return to normal).

Quarterbacks (3)

Tom Brady
Blaine Gabbert
Kyle Trask

Bucs QB Kyle Trask

Bucs QB Kyle Trask – Photo courtesy of Florida

Analysis: There are two separate quarterback battles in Bucs training camp, and both of them involve Gabbert. The newly-re-signed backup will contend with Ryan Griffin for space on the roster, while also trying to hold off Trask, the team’s second-round pick, for the No. 2 job behind Tom Brady. I think Gabbert will win both competitions, but I’d love to feel confident that Trask is the second-most talented quarterback on the team after the preseason.

If Brady goes down long-term the Bucs are obviously screwed, but their quarterback room is more talented than it was a year ago.

Running Backs (4)

Leonard Fournette
Giovani Bernard
Ronald Jones II
Ke’Shawn Vaughn

Analysis: I could see the Bucs adding another running back for training camp, as only five backs currently sit on the roster. Right now it would be a surprise if any of these four did not make the final roster, especially after the team chose not to select a running back in the 2021 NFL Draft.

I believe Fournette will start the season playing early downs, with Bernard seeing the bulk of the action on long-and-late downs and 2-minute situations. Jones will rotate with Fournette eventually, and how well he performs will determine a lot about what his role looks like in 2021.

There is a timeline where Jones is movable before the trade deadline if Fournette and Bernard are killing it as a 1-2 punch and Vaughn is showing out as well. It also isn’t far-fetched to think he could out-snap Fournette in Week 1 if we get Good RoJo during the preseason. It’s a crossroads offseason for Jones, who must have his best camp yet amidst the most talented running back room he’s been in during his career.

Wide Receivers (6)

Mike Evans
Chris Godwin
Antonio Brown
Scotty Miller
Tyler Johnson
Jaelon Darden

Analysis: I almost put seven wide receivers on the final roster, but decided not to get that crazy. I’m a Jaydon Mickens fan, but unless they keep him on the practice squad, it’s difficult to figure out how he makes the team this year. As a fourth-round pick that the Bucs traded up for, Darden will be given every opportunity to win the punt return job. Provided Darden doesn’t fall on his face during the preseason, he likely forces Mickens from the final roster.

The top five receiver spots are set in stone, as Tampa Bay returns the best wideout room in the league. If Johnson can take another step and the chemistry between Brady and Brown continues to grow, it’s hard to envision defenses matching up with Tampa Bay’s weaponry.

Tight Ends (3)

Rob Gronkowski
O.J. Howard
Cameron Brate

Analysis: There is no reason to think the Bucs tight end room will look any different in 2021. They didn’t add anyone new to the group and only lost Antony Auclair. With Brate agreeing to another contract restructure, the Bucs’ tight end trio should be one of the deepest in the NFL again in 2021.

Offensive Line (9)

LT Donovan Smith
LG Ali Marpet
C Ryan Jensen
RG Alex Cappa
RT Tristan Wirfs
OT Josh Wells
OG Aaron Stinnie
OL Robert Hainsey
OL Sadarius Hutcherson

Bucs G Sadarius Hutcherson

Bucs G Sadarius Hutcherson – Photo courtesy of South Carolina

Analysis: The starting five is set in stone for the Bucs, who will finally experience some year-to-year consistency in their offensive line heading into 2021. Smith and Wirfs are the team’s bookend tackles for the foreseeable future, and the interior should be one of the best in the league as Cappa returns from a broken ankle.

Wells, Stinnie and Hainsey are expected to be the top backups, with the ninth offensive line spot set to be a battle between Hutcherson, Brad Seaton and John Molchon, among a few others. I’ll put my money on Hutcherson, who I believe has the tools and good enough technique to be a surprising depth piece for the Bucs in 2021.

Defensive Line (7)

Vita Vea
Ndamukong Suh
Will Gholston
Rakeem Nunez-Roches
Steve McLendon
Pat O’Connor
Khalil Davis

Analysis: Tampa Bay’s interior defensive line is going to look exactly the same as it did a year ago, and it will hope that old age doesn’t catch up. O’Connor’s work on special teams will keep him around, and Davis continues to develop as part of the team’s long-term plan at defensive tackle.

Pass rush remains a concern, as Vea is the only difference-maker on passing downs. Can Suh and Gholston continue to provide enough juice on passing downs to keep the Bucs dangerous at all four defensive line spots? We know Nunez-Roches and McLendon offer next-to-nothing outside of run defense, so anything Davis can offer as a rusher in his second season could be a nice boost on long-and-late downs.

Outside Linebackers (4)

Shaq Barrett
Jason Pierre-Paul
Joe Tryon
Anthony Nelson

Analysis: The Bucs played the entire 2020 season with basically no meaningful depth at edge defender, putting a ton of weight on the shoulders of Barrett and Pierre-Paul. Tampa Bay’s star outside linebacker duo delivered, combining for 17.5 sacks while rarely coming off the field. The hope is that the presence of first-round pick Joe Tryon can help alleviate some of the workload on Barrett and Pierre-Paul.

Right now Tryon represents an upgrade over Nelson as a No.3 rusher, although the Iowa product will still be a solid No. 4 over Cam Gill thanks to his run defense. If Tryon can see the field early, that will give defensive coordinator Todd Bowles a chance to kick Pierre-Paul inside more often, where he’s been very effective as a rusher.

Inside Linebackers (4)

Lavonte David
Devin White
Kevin Minter
Joe Jones

Bucs ILB Kevin Minter

Bucs ILB Kevin Minter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Analysis: The Bucs drafted two linebackers in KJ Britt and Grant Stuard, but after the signing of special teams ace Joe Jones, it’s hard to see either rookie making the final roster. Both were drafted purely for their special teams ability, and Jones is already a proven commodity in that area. The former Bronco also has more upside and experience as a defensive player.

Britt and Stuard’s best chance at the final 53 is if the Bucs keep five inside linebackers. Tampa Bay spent the majority of the 2020 season with just four linebackers on the roster due to how seldom David and White come off the field. Safety Raven Greene was a dime ‘backer in Green Bay and should function as the Bucs emergency fifth linebacker on Sundays, while also filling the role of No. 4 safety.

Cornerbacks (5)

Carlton Davis
Sean Murphy-Bunting
Jamel Dean
Ross Cockrell
Herb Miller

Analysis: Tampa Bay returns their top four cornerbacks from a year ago, with the hope that Murphy-Bunting and Dean can continue their strong play from the postseason. With Davis becoming a lockdown corner last year, all eyes will be on the Bucs pair of third-year defensive backs after Murphy-Bunting and Dean finished a troubling 2020 season on a high note.

If they falter, Cockrell will be there to pick up the slack. Behind the veteran there is very little depth however, as Miller will try to fend off rookie challengers Chris Wilcox and Cameron Kinley, as well as former Ravens cornerback Nate Brooks. But the staff likes Miller and he’s acquitted himself well in limited reps, intercepting a pass against the Lions last season. The Florida Atlantic product should have the inside track to the No. 5 cornerback spot vacated by Ryan Smith this offseason.

Safeties (5)

Antoine Winfield Jr.
Jordan Whitehead
Mike Edwards
Raven Greene
Javon Hagan

Analysis: One of the NFL’s best safety trios will be back in Tampa Bay this season. Winfield will seek star status in year 2, while Whitehead and Edwards continue to fulfill their critical roles in the Bucs secondary. Whitehead enters a contract year in Tampa Bay, and his play in 2021 will likely determine his future with the Super Bowl champs.

The addition of Greene to the roster last week may serve as a death knell to Hagan’s odds of making the roster, but for now I’ll predict the team keeps both. Greene’s ability to serve as a dime linebacker and play significant snaps in the box allows him to cover depth at two positions, while also playing a huge role on special teams. Hagan may be a “teams-only” addition to the roster, but he flashed in special teams sessions during training camp last year. If the Bucs keep just four off-ball linebackers, they should have room for Greene and Hagan on the final roster.

Specialists (3)

K Ryan Succop
P Bradley Pinion
LS Zach Triner

Practice Squad (10)

LB K.J. Britt
CB Nate Brooks
CB Chris Wilcox
OLB Cam Gill
DT Benning Potoa’e
TE Tanner Hudson
WR Travis Jonsen
WR Cyril Grayson
OG John Molchon
OT Brad Seaton

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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Alldaway 2.0
4 months ago

Interesting early 53 projection. On offense I feel that the Bucs may keep an extra TE. The Bucs may still be high on McElroy and he could edge out Hudson. This is a big reason why the Bucs didn’t draft a TE IMO and also why they didn’t do much to keep Auclair. A lot has been said how deep the WR group is for the Bucs. But the Bucs have a talented TE group. And players like McElroy and Hudson are lost in the shuffle, because of how strong the top three at TE are for the Bucs (Gronk,… Read more »

4 months ago

Thanks Jon.
I wonder if Joe Jones is still a special teams ace. Saw he played 357 special teams plays last year and had 1 solo tackle and 2 assists. I tend to think a special teams ace would have done more in a season. For comparison (different position), Justin Watson had 173 special team snaps and 4 solo tackles and 3 assists.

Alldaway 2.0
Reply to  geno711
4 months ago

That is a fair point about Watson. Watson may be outclassed because of the deep WR group the Bucs have. But as a ST player Watsons still one of the few aces left from the 2020 squad.

Last edited 4 months ago by Alldaway 2.0
4 months ago

Hard to predict this far out but looks very reasonable prediction to me.

I used to cringe seeing Bucs roster years ago. Always 2-3 positions that were shaky as hell like O line and secondary. Lol. Or kicker….lol

4 months ago

I doubt some of the Practice Squad Player will make the team as they will be picked up by others.

Alldaway 2.0
4 months ago

I know the team is high on Herb Miller but does he provide greater upside than Wilcox while being able to play ST? Wilcox might have a greater chance than we all believe.
Miller probably is the better boundary CB and nickel while Wilcox is strictly ST gunner. It will be interesting to see how the Bucs balance depth at CB while addressing ST improvement. A tough balancing act IMO.

4 months ago

The way you have constructed the team makes our draft look even worse than it already was.
You may like Mickens but he hasn’t shown much as a punt returner and hopefully Darden can do better although he hasn’t shown a propensity in college of doing that. If Darden can do it I see no reason to keep Mickens. If any WR playing time was hurt with the arrival of AB it was Justin Watson. As another writer reports his ability on ST is much better than Jones with less chances.

Reply to  drdneast
4 months ago

I don’t see it as a bad Draft. I see it as a strong roster. I remember the days when we were hoping even the later round choices and undrafted F/A’s made the team because what we had wasn’t competitive.

Captain Sly
4 months ago

You seem to be warming up to Leonard Fournette since you have him as our RB1. However I will disagree with you about Giovanni Bernard RB2 ahead of RoJo. Giovanni Bernard has always been and will always be useful in special situations whereas RoJo is a Bellcow. For some reason you and the rest of the PR staff seem to disrespect Rojo every year and time & time again he makes you guys look foolish. I would say it’s time to start giving the man his Due!

Alldaway 2.0
Reply to  Captain Sly
4 months ago

RoJo isn’t going to see 3rd down or long passing situations anymore as long as Lenny and Gio are on the roster. So by default that limits RoJo’s touches. If Vaughn is active on game days that further reinforces that RoJo is going to lose more snaps between the other three RBs. Throw in that the Bucs drafted a WR in the 4th round (Darden) to be a big part of the offense with the rest of the deep pool of weapons (Evans, Godwin, Brown, Johhnson, Miller, Gronk Brate, and Howard) and it is easy to see the Bucs have… Read more »

Reply to  Captain Sly
4 months ago

I don’t think anyone is arguing that rojo isnt more dynamic with the ball in his hands than fournette it’s all the other aspects of his game that is lacking which makes him too one dimensional when he is out on the field which leads to more wasted plays, he is a terrible pass protector, can’t catch the ball very well he doesnt even go to the right spots most the time and doesn’t hardly even look back for the ball most the time. Not to say he can’t improve but unless he does it’s hard to see him dominating… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by Joseph
Captain Sly
Reply to  Joseph
4 months ago

It’ll be okay if we disagree on this one.

Captain Sly
Reply to  Captain Sly
4 months ago

In fact I’m not sure I’m sold on any of this I think BA and the coaches see RoJo as RB1 followed by LF. We seem to forget that LF was about to be cut right before the playoffs and if RoJo had not gotten that quad injury we would have never seen “Playoff Lenny” hit the field. Sorry fellas I ain’t buying it!

Reply to  Captain Sly
4 months ago

Yeah we will have to agree to disagree guess we will see when the season starts but if the team felt really good about rojo then they don’t sign fournette in the first place and then don’t resign him after the season is over if they think rojo is the guy. I remember he almost got cut but he didn’t get cut and then had a solid post season so what does it matter

Last edited 4 months ago by Joseph
Reply to  Captain Sly
4 months ago

I also think Rojo should be penciled in as RB1. He was a 1000yard rusher last year, averaged about 1more yard per carry than Fournette and also clearly looked like the better pure runner all season long. He was hurt in the playoffs but still had some spark plays there too. I hope they give Rojo the RB1 duties, use Bernard on 3rd downs and have Fournette as a backup to both.

Reply to  Captain Sly
4 months ago

100% agreed dude. Rojo was clearly the superior RB with the ball in his hands all season. One or 2 solid playoff games doesn’t change that. Every single season, Rojo gets better, and better. And he’s always looked at as the “just good enough” complimentary back. Sorry but I don’t think there’s anything on a football field, other than the act of catching the football, that LF does better than Rojo. Someone above said that Rojo is one dimensional, and LF is well rounded. Well rounded? Lol. If you want to look at it that way. I don’t consider LF… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by Dave
4 months ago

That looks right.

4 months ago

I think Cam Gill will make the team as well. He is a decent special teamer and would be the fourth best pass-rusher. My guess is they keep 5 OLB but might cut back on OL, DL or Safety. I also hope that one of our draft picks can win the 4th LB spot and take that away from Joe Jones.

4 months ago

Seems about right. The IDL group jumps out to you as you read through as a potential problem area because of age. Let’s hope they can beat father time! Very realistic Suh and McLendon regress. How good would a Alim McNeill look in the place of Steven McLendon etc? All other areas of the squad have some youth and depth. Oh well, I guess not to be. At the very least Licht should chase a proven vet that can put inside pressure on to patch up potential regression or depth issues. Geno Atkins, Jurrell Casey and Shelby Harris are just… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by Barnz1
4 months ago

Several years ago, I won a contest put on by, It’s Sports Magazine, the great grandfather of Pewter Report. I had a bit of an advantage since I often peeked over the fence at the old One Buc Place as an “undocumented observer”. I think I missed 3 due to injury. Still a fun exercise. Nice job Jon. Looks reasonable to me.

4 months ago

I think britt make the team

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