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).
Tom Brady Blaine Gabbert 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 – 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 – 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.
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.
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.
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
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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