Power rankings should always be taken with a grain of salt, as they’re nothing more than conversation pieces. But given the state of the world right now, we could certainly use as many football-related conversation pieces as possible. And that’s what we got from ESPN on Monday.
The latest power rankings, dubbed the “post-free agency 2020 NFL power rankings” saw a significant jump for the Buccaneers. In the “way-too-early” power rankings back in February, Tampa Bay came in at No. 19. At the time, the subsection titled “reason for optimism in 2020” was all about the late-season rise of the defense.
Fast forward a couple of months, and the landscape of the league has changed. As part of the paradigm shift, the Bucs jumped up to No. 10 in the latest rankings:
Of course, the leap into the top 10 has almost everything to do with Tom Brady. Now, bringing back Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh is obviously a big deal for the defense. And those moves have rightfully been celebrated by those who pay attention to the Bucs reguarly. But signing a six-time Super Bowl champion and future first-ballot Hall of Famer to play quarterback in 2020 has immediately made Tampa Bay relevant again on a national level, despite the fact that he hasn’t even been in the building yet. Heck, he doesn’t even have an official jersey number right now.
The subsection under the Bucs’ new ranking, following the “three words” theme, makes the team’s new priority clear: “Must Protect Brady.” ESPN’s Jenna Laine had this to say in the short blurb:
The Bucs are over-the-moon excited right now after landing six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady. But they still need a starting right tackle to replace Demar Dotson and to possibly groom into a replacement on the left side if Donovan Smith doesn’t work out. They’ll also need to address the ground game, getting a running back who can help Brady in the screen game, which in turn helps slow down an opposing pass rush.
Simple enough. The defense is essentially set, other than a potential addition at the safety position. But now, the priority becomes protecting Brady and giving him even more weapons to work with. The offensive line, which is far better than it gets credit for, does need a new right tackle and could stand to gain some serious depth. Signing Joe Haeg was the start of the team’s effort. The draft should also yield a pass-catching running back and a third wide receiver to pair with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
All of those “next steps” aside, take a second to marvel at where the Bucs are right now. Already being considered a top 10 team in the entire league by ESPN? That’s the Brady Effect at its finest.
Tampa Bay still has a tough road ahead in 2020, though, as it will face four of the top nine teams in the rankings. That includes the Saints, who are of course on the schedule twice. The other three? The defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs, the Packers and the Vikings.
As for the rest of the rankings, there is plenty worth noting. The Patriots, after losing Brady, fell from No. 7 to No. 13. The Texans, after their baffling trade of DeAndre Hopkins, went from No. 10 to No. 16. The Bucs’ other two NFC South foes find themselves in the bottom half of the league, with the Falcons at No. 18 (down from No. 16) and the Panthers coming in at 27 (seeing no change from where they were in February).
With the next power rankings presumably dropping after the draft, it’s only a matter of time before we see whether the hype cools off, grows or simply stays the same for the Bucs.