There hasn’t been this much anticipation for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football season since, well, maybe ever. With that anticipation has come a lot of conversation as to what production will look like per player during the 2020 NFL season. Will Tom Brady throw deep often enough to make Mike Evans as effective as normal?
Is Rob Gronkowski going to remain Brady’s favorite target, even with fellow tight end O.J. Howard looking ready to break out? Which running back will lead the way in the passing game? How about on the ground?
I’ve used statistics from past Bruce Arians-led offenses and from the past performances of each individual on this list to compile production predictions for each skill player on the Bucs offense. Important to note: these predictions assume a 16-game, healthy season for all players. Because of that, I’m not anticipating much action for rookie wide receiver Tyler Johnson and rookie running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn this season, due to a combination of injuries and no offseason to really earn more playing time.
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Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Some have predicted the Bucs will go with a more ball control, run-oriented offense in 2020, and this is perhaps the first myth I will dismantle for you today. Simply put, no Bruce Arians-led offense will EVER be a run-oriented offense. EVER.
Most Bucs fans are aware of Jameis Winston’s eye-popping 626 attempts which led the NFL last season under Arians. The Bucs finished the 2019 campaign fourth in the league in pass attempts, the third consecutive year that an Arians-led offense has finished in the Top 5 in the NFL in pass attempts. As the NFL has shifted into predominantly a pass-first and pass-often league of which Arians was one of the initial proponents, the Bucs head coach has simply continued to increase his own team’s pass volume to stay ahead of the curve.
That should be just fine with Brady, who has finished in the Top 10 in the NFL in pass attempts each of the past three seasons, including first in 2017. Brady isn’t likely to hit Winston’s 626 attempts given how often the Bucs were playing from behind thanks to Winston’s turnovers last year, but he still should be safely in the 560-590 range. Let’s set the mark at 585 to get aggressive in a league that trends more pass-heavy every year, and predict a 64 percent completion rate, roughly the average of the past five seasons of Brady’s career with a slight regression projected in.
It’s going to be difficult to predict yards accurately, but a ballpark assessment is the goal. Last year, Brady averaged 6.6 yards per attempt in an offense with little juice and no vertical threats down the field. It was a completely different league the last time Brady had an average YPA that low, back in 2002.
There’s no way he’ll repeat that mark in this offense, so conservatively I’ll guess he lands around 7.8-7.9 yards per attempt, looking at Brady’s larger career sample size and what Carson Palmer did in the pre-Bucs version of Arians’ offense. That mark would have put Brady at 11th place in the NFL in yards per attempt a season ago, so that still may be too conservative of a prediction. A 7.86 average yards per attempt would put Brady at around 4,600 yards passing for the season, good enough for fifth-highest in the NFL last season.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Passing touchdowns are a difficult stat to predict, as it is a little more of a random occurrence than simple completions. Last year’s 24 passing touchdowns was the lowest mark for Brady since 2006, and even if you think he’s declining, the sheer uptick in weapons and an improved passing offense makes him a safe bet to get over 25 in a healthy season. I think all of those tight ends creating mismatches in the red zone could put Brady even higher than my assessment in this category, but we’ll be realistic and predict 33. That mark would have tied him for second in the NFL with Winston a year ago. Remember, we’re talking about probably the best red zone quarterback of all-time, in an offense built to thrive in the passing game in that area of the field.
As for interceptions, I’ve seen the stats on quarterbacks throwing a career-high number of picks in their first year in Bruce Arians’ offense, but I’m not buying that being true for Brady. Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer were all quarterbacks with a proclivity for interceptions before that point, and none of them are the best quarterback of all-time, who has made a 20-year career out of minimizing mistakes. Putting the ball in the air more will come with some inherent risks and unlucky results, but Brady hasn’t thrown more than 12 interceptions in any season over the past 10 years, so you can’t convince me he’s eclipsing his career high of 14 in 2020.
A huge year is looming for Mike Evans, as he has a chance to become the first wide receiver in NFL history to eclipse 1,000 yards for seven straight seasons to begin his career. When a guy has a six-year sample size and every one of those seasons is marked by elite production at his position, it makes the prediction part of this pretty simple.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Getty Images
We’ve got 374 catches, 4,600 yards and 33 touchdowns to divide up between a host of offensive weapons, and I’m giving Evans more of the yards than anyone else, even if he isn’t the volume receiver Chris Godwin is. Here’s my predictions for the Bucs’ franchise wide receiver:
Catches: 75 Yards: 1,152 Avg: 15.4 TDs: 7
I fully anticipate the Bucs offense operating heavier in the short-intermediate areas of the field, while still hitting plenty of deep shots with greater efficiency than it did a year ago. Evans’ catch numbers could be even lower than this, but I doubt his yardage will be. The Bucs aren’t going to use him in the quick game or get him any manufactured touches on screens, but Evans is one of the premier deep threats in the NFL, and he and Brady already have shown great chemistry in training camp.
It might not be the most statistically dominant campaign Evans has ever put up in the NFL, but that’s only due to the talent around him and the fact that there aren’t more balls to go around. If anyone else gets hurt, Evans is the skill player I’d bet on seeing the most bump in production.
Catches: 81 Yards: 1,047 Avg: 13.0 TDs: 7
Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
I expect Godwin to lead the way in catches for the Bucs once again this year, as he tends to play the most volume-heavy position in Tampa Bay’s offense in the slot, while running a lot of routes to the middle of the field – the place where Brady threw the vast majority of his passes a season ago. Godwin might see more quick hitters this season which will push his average yards per catch down a tad, but his contested catch ability and smooth adjustments outside his frame should make a big impact in close quarters down near the red zone.
Catches: 26 Yards: 353 Avg: 13.6 TDs: 3
Bucs WR Scotty Miller – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Some might expect Miler’s average yards per catch to be up higher than this in 2020, but while he will likely make a few big plays down the field, I also think the Bucs will get him involved on some smoke routes and screens this season that should function more like carries in the run game.
Miller’s speed and elusiveness are two traits the Bucs could really use on the field this season, even if most of what he’s doing is opening up space for other players. His ability to balance quick-hitting targets in space with big plays in the vertical passing game is a missing element to the Bucs passing game that should help keep defenses from doubling Evans on a consistent basis.
Catches: 13 Yards: 142 Avg: 11.0 TDs: 0
Bucs WR Justin Watson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
As long as Miller stays healthy, it’s hard for me to see Watson wresting away much playing time from his more talented teammate. Watson will also be relied on heavily for his special teams prowess this season, especially with Dare Ogunbowale moving on. Combine that with the depth the team has at tight end, and it’s easy to see how Watson could struggle to get on the field offensively this season.
Catches: 51 Yards: 707 Avg: 13.9 TDs: 5
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Howard’s yards per catch might take a slight tumble this season after being the No. 1 tight end in the NFL in that category since he entered the league in 2017, but his overall game is going to take off. I’m predicting an excellent season for the Bucs’ fourth-year tight end, who should lead the way in snaps, catches, yards and targets at the position.
Catches: 40 Yards: 520 Avg: 13.0 TDs: 6
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If I’m wrong about Howard, than Gronk’s numbers will look a lot better than this, because I fully believe he’s still very capable of being a top tight end in the NFL. Having said that, I think Tampa Bay’s plan is to limit Gronkowski as needed, keeping him fresh and capable of making an impact late in the season. He’s also by far the team’s best run-blocking tight end, so a good chunk of his workload may come in the run game rather than through the air.
Catches: 18 Yards: 150 Avg: 8.3 TDs: 2
Bucs TE Cameron Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Where Gronkowski and Howard have been two of the most big-play tight ends in the NFL during their careers, Brate is the underneath chain-moving type who could see his best opportunities come out of tight end-heavy sets in the red zone. He’s reliable and will have fine rapport with Brady, the opportunities will just be limited.
Catches: 3 Yards: 25 Avg: 8.3 TDs: 1
Bucs TE Antony Auclair – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Mark my words: Auclair is gonna grab one of the 33 touchdowns next season, and there will be much rejoicing when he does – especially up in his native Canada.
Ronald Jones II
Catches: 33 Yards: 265 Avg: 8.0 TDs: 2
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Brady has a reputation for targeting running backs heavily in the passing game, but I think they’ve been more of a last resort for him in his career when he can’t find anyone else open. I don’t think that’ll be the case with the Bucs, although Jones will still produce just fine as a receiver. There will be a regression to the mean from his average of 10 yards per catch on 31 catches last year, but RoJo is the Bucs’ running back that should get the majority of touches in the passing game this season.
Catches: 22 Yards: 152 Avg: 7.0 TDs: 0
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Getty Images
Fournette is a capable receiving back who spent far more time as a featured receiver in Jacksonville last season than he should ever spend again. I hope Tampa Bay realizes this, but I still think Fournette will get his fair share of targets in the passing game. He’ll be fine in that role, but ‘fine’ isn’t a desirable offensive outcome on a team with far more desirable options on passing downs.
Catches: 12 Yards: 87 Avg: 7.3 TDs: 0
Bucs RB LeSean McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The addition of Fournette should make McCoy an afterthought after the first few weeks of the season. Unless there is an injury ahead of him, expect McCoy to be see a pretty light workload this season.
CLICK PAGE 2 TO SEE LEDYARD’S PREDICTION FOR THE BUCS’ RUNNING GAME IN 2020
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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