The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a successful regular season in 2021, setting a franchise record with 13 wins en route to their fourth NFC South title. The season ended on a sour note with another playoff matchup against the Rams ending in defeat.
The offseason proved to be eventful, with coach Bruce Arians stepping down, leading to the promotion of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
The Buccaneers return seven starters on an offense that ranked second in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play, first in EPA per play on early downs and third on EPA per play in the red zone.
Quarterback Tom Brady stunned the team by retiring and unretiring in a 40-day stretch. Brady finished last season second in Total Points by a quarterback, behind Justin Herbert. His arm may not be what it once was, but with his guile and experience, he still remains a top-tier quarterback, even at age 45.
Tampa’s running backs were ninth in Rushing Total Points last season. The Bucs replaced Ronald Jones with third-round pick Rachaad White, who ranked second in Total Points Per Play among draft-eligible backs in 2021. With Leonard Fournette showing up to training camp at a svelte 245 pounds, White has become a trendy fantasy option.
After the Antonio Brown debacle and Chris Godwin’s ACL tear, the Buccaneers reinforced their receiving core by signing Russell Gage and Julio Jones. Mike Evans returns looking to post his ninth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
Cameron Brate will be joined by Kyle Rudolph and fourth-round pick Cade Otten in trying to replace Rob Gronkowski’s production at tight end, following Gronk’s retirement.
The Buccaneers had the best offensive line in football last year based on Total Points. This is highlighted by four players (Tristan Wirfs, Donovan Smith, Ryan Jensen and Ali Marpet) finishing in the Top 10 of Total Points for OLs.
That will be hard to replicate this year with the retirement of Marpet. Backup Aaron Stinnie was the frontrunner to replace Marpet until he tore his left ACL and MCL. That leaves second-round pick Luke Goedeke as the favorite, though he is transitioning from being a right tackle in college.
Goedeke blew only two blocks in his last year in college, which led draft-eligible guards on a per-game basis. Alex Cappa departed for the Cincinnati Bengals, leading them to trade for Shaq Mason as his replacement.
Jenson was last year’s top center by Total Points, but will be lost for an undetermined amount of time due to a significant knee injury. Their third-round pick from the 2021 Draft, Robert Hainsey, is expected to replace him in the lineup until he returns.
Wirfs earned his first All-Pro nod and was the top offensive lineman in the league last season by Total Points. Smith returns having started 111 of 113 possible games since being drafted by Tampa Bay in 2015.
The defense returns eight starters from a unit that was top 10 in every category except Red Zone EPA per play, where it ranked 20th. Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh was not re-signed this off-season as the Bucs chose to allocate their resources to signing Akiem Hicks and drafting second-round pick Logan Hall.
Hall was third in True Pressure Rate (13%) for all draft-eligible defensive tackles. Nose tackle Vita Vea anchors a defensive line group that was third in Total Points last year.
Edge rusher Shaquil Barrett had 65 pressures last season, tied with Joey Bosa for 11th in the league. Jason Pierre-Paul was not re-signed, opening up more playing time for 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and 2019 fourth-round pick Anthony Nelson. Tryon-Shoyinka had 2.4 pressures per game last season, while Nelson had 1.4.
Lavonte David and Devin White return as the starting off-ball linebackers in a group that ranked seventh in Total Points.
Buccaneers safeties were first in Total Points as a position group last season, but lost strong safety Jordan Whitehead, who signed with the New York Jets. The Bucs hope Mike Edwards and Logan Ryan can mitigate the loss of Whitehead. Antoine Winfield Jr. was the third-ranked safety in Total Points with 47.
Cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis return with Sean Murphy-Bunting back at Nickel. The cornerback group ranked 18th in Total Points and is expected to remain the weakest unit on defense due to no key additions.
The Buccaneers selected Jake Camarda in the fourth round to replace Bradley Pinion as the punter and kickoff specialist. A camp battle is underway for the kicking position between incumbent Ryan Succop and Jose Borregales.
Jaelon Darden, a fourth-round pick in 2021, is expected to continue returning kicks, though undrafted free agent Deven Thompkins has impressed in training camp.
According to the Total Points Team Strength Model from SIS, the Buccaneers have the 10th-hardest projected strength of schedule. The team will rack up frequent flyer miles on road trips to Dallas, San Francisco and Arizona as well as their week 10 matchup against Seattle, which will take place in Munich, Germany. The Buccaneers draw the AFC North and the Kansas City Chiefs for their cross-conference games.
The Buccaneers will be favorites to repeat as division champions, something they’ve never accomplished in the team’s 46-year history. The personnel losses sustained in the offseason show how hard it is to keep a Super Bowl-winning group together.
After the Brady retirement scare and the looming cap crunch next offseason, it feels like the last year of their championship window.
Johnathan Micklos contributed to this report.