With Tampa Bay Buccaneers players about a week away from reporting to what will be uncharted training camp waters, we’re taking a round table glimpse into what might be for this team in 2020.
The Bucs are a heavily discussed team among Super Bowl predictors and in playoff scenario conversations. However, we’re a long ways away from any of those talks becoming a reality, and it’ll all begin in training camp.
To identify some key players to keep an eye on throughout training camp and the regular season, we’re enlisting the help of every Bucs Nation contributor, as go around the table for some Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2020 Preseason superlatives!
Bailey Adams: Lavonte David is a good pick here, but I’ll flip over to the offensive side of the ball and go with Ali Marpet. Since he was drafted out of Hobart College in 2015, Marpet has been an absolute stud. Year in and year out, he’s been one of the best interior offensive linemen around, yet he’s been constantly overlooked. With more eyes on the Bucs this year thanks to the signing of Tom Brady, more eyes should be on Marpet as a result. And that’s a great thing, as it should lead to him entering the conversation of being among the league’s elite.
Chris Schoenherr: It seems as though Lavonte David would benefit the most from the national spotlight, however the guy I’m going with here is Jamel Dean. Despite Dean only being a rookie in 2019, he didn’t appear in the overall national conversation, even when discussing stand-out rookies. Fellow rookie corner Sean Murphy-Bunting ended up on the all-rookie team, but I believe that Jamel Dean will be the true break-out star in 2020. While his exclusion was not necessarily a snub, based on the fact that Dean didn’t play much during the first half of the season, I believe that he at least deserved some recognition. With the whole world watching thanks to Tom Brady, Dean will have a chance to leap into the national spotlight.
David Harrison: Lavonte David has gone from being the most underrated linebacker in the NFL to perhaps the most commonly identified as being underrated in the NFL. To me, this has to be a precursor to David getting the attention he’s deserved throughout his career, making him my candidate as the player who will burst onto the national scene in 2020.
Evan Winter: The more and more I think about Ronald Jones II and the current situation around him, the more I like his chances of having a big year.
He should have a big year if everything goes to plan. Some of Brady’s best years have come when he has had a legitimate threat (or threats) out of the backfield combined with a strong running game. Why would he steer from that model at the age of 43?
Bruce Arians has already said that RoJo can handle the load. He’ll do that and more in 2020, thus making him the breakout player on this team.
Gil Arcia: I have to agree with Evan here. RoJo will undoubtedly have the pleasure of playing in an offense led by Tom Brady. It’ll be an offense where defenses will try to dare the Buccaneers to run, and they will.
With defenses having to respect the passing attack, more lanes should open up for Jones. Arians may ask Byron Leftwich to dial up more play action as well. And those are the plays that can free up Jones for some screen passes or underneath routes.
So while there will be an improved running game from the former USC standout, he will also have a big year in the passing game. I expect Jones to benefit from all things Brady has to offer in this offense.
James Yarcho: It seems as if Lavonte David is already being thrust into the national spotlight now with all the additional attention on the Buccaneers. He’s beginning to get praise from across the media landscape, he’s one of four Buccaneers players with a 90+ rating in Madden 21, and he’s been touted as one of the most underrated players in the league. So, I’m going to say Ali Marpet will begin to garner the attention and praise he deserves.
Marpet has been a tremendous player since the moment he entered the league. Not only that, but he’s been the ultimate team guy having switched positions across the line without any hesitation or complaint. He’s played right guard, left guard, and center all at an extremely high level but seems to continuously be overlooked when it comes to the praise heaped upon some linemen across the league. Marpet having not been named to a Pro Bowl is disappointing and now that he has to keep Brady upright, he might finally grab the attention of those national writers and broadcasters.
Jason Curtis: I completely agree Lavonte David is significantly underrated not only as a linebacker, but as a player altogether. He’s the total package and deserves the spotlight, but not the only key player.
The story for 2020 will continue to be the Buccaneers defense, as the team has become known for, so my breakout player for 2020-2021 will be Devin White. With a year under his belt, he’ll be the dominant force he was brought in to be. Him and David could very well be the best linebacker duo in the NFL. I expect White to almost double his solo tackle count from 58 to 75. He’ll also play a critical role in pass protection in the middle and weak side.
The offense won’t have any issues with the spotlight with Brady, Godwin, Evans and Gronk. Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich will have plenty of opportunity to show off his new weapons, but they have to execute. The constant turnovers in 2019-2020 tired the defense out. The Bucs defense won’t be able to perform at an optimal level if the offense can’t take care of their side of the ball first.
Jon Marchant: Have to agree with Bailey, I think all Lavonte David has been missing during his criminally unrecognized career is national media attention — in other words, a good team around him. I picked David because he doesn’t have to get better to launch himself into the spotlight; he’s already really good. He just needs the light. Godwin is good too, but playing offense probably contributed a lot as to why he made his name for himself on his own. I still have some reservations about this team but all eyes will be on Tom Brady and the Buccaneers regardless, and that should finally spell good things for David.
Bailey: It’s probably an easy pick, considering he’s making his comeback to the NFL after a year in retirement, but I’ll go ahead and choose Rob Gronkowski. The future Hall of Famer (and perhaps the greatest tight end of all time?) is returning to football and making a new home in Tampa Bay alongside his longtime quarterback Tom Brady. The familiarity with Brady and the ability to be the third or fourth receiving option rather than the first should help him have a great return. Not to mention, there was that report a while back that defensive coordinators around the league aren’t worried so much about the three-time Super Bowl champ and four-time All-Pro. I’m thinking he makes those coordinators regret that.
Chris: For me this one is easy, I am going with Jason Pierre-Paul. JPP is one tough guy, but before the season began in 2019, he found himself in a car accident that left him sidelined for 6 games. While he didn’t miss the whole season, his production was obviously limited based on his participation in only 10 games. In these 10 games, he truly showed what can happen when he is playing under Todd Bowles and collected 8.5 sacks, tying for the 4th best in his career. Barring any unforeseen injuries, I think JPP becomes the Bucs comeback player of the year in 2020, hopefully picking up right where he left off.
David: I feel like Rob Gronkowski is the low-hanging fruit on this one, but I’m going a different direction, although Gronk related. O.J. Howard is my comeback player for 2020, and the arrival of the future Hall of Fame tight end has plenty to do with it. Relegated to a second tight end role in 2020, I believe Howard will play looser, and have plenty of opportunities to shake the ‘yips’ which seemed to bog down many of the offensive opportunities he did have in 2019.
Evan: This one is tough because the Bucs were pretty healthy all season long. Regardless, I’d say Devin White fits into this category.
Even though he had a decent year, it’s fair to say that White underperformed based off his draft selection. That was partly due to a knee injury that occurred in Week 2 and kept him sidelined for the next three games.
But once White was on the field, things began to click. He started making several plays toward the end of 2019, which should only lead to more in 2020.
White makes his “comeback” from a slightly disappointing rookie season to show why he was taken with the fifth overall pick in the draft.
Gil: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Gronk. ’Nuff said.
James: I mean, it’s Gronk right? That’s the only viable answer? We’re all in agreement? Great.
Jason: I actually think there are a few players to highlight for comeback player of the year. The no-brainer of course is the future Hall of Famer, Rob Gronkowski. Having been retired during the 2019-2020 season, and then famously returning to rejoin his friend and teammate Tom Brady here in Tampa. He’s remained in great shape, and even leaner than when he left. He embraced the TB12 diet and even killed it in the WWE. He’s healthy, strong and determined to be better than when he left the Patriots after winning Super Bowl LIII.
I also like the JPP pick that Chris wrote about. Pierre-Paul is set for another fantastic season after resigning with the Bucs for another 2 years. After nearly losing his hand in a fireworks explosion while with the Giants, and now a car accident in early 2019. The Bucs still like what he’s able to do, and the 2xPro Bowler is sure to not disappoint.
Jon: Easy — Jamel Dean. Dean only played 32 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season, most of them after Vernon Hargreaves III finally got cut following another poor performance in the team’s ninth game of the season. Dean was up and down, as all rookies are, but he got better nearly every week, and so did the pass defense. I think he belongs here on this list because his career started slowly due to multiple serious injuries sustained in college. With Hargreaves gone, Dean should challenge for a much larger role in this defense next season.
Bailey: I really want to say Antoine Winfield Jr. here. I think he’s primed to step up big-time as a rookie and provide some memorable plays for the Tampa Bay defense, endearing himself to the Buccaneer fan base in the process. But my official pick is actually going to be Ronald Jones II. Because, truthfully, Bucs fans seem to still view RoJo as an unknown commodity, a guy who improved in 2019 but still hasn’t quite made it. And while that’s true, I think this is a breakout year for the 2018 second-round pick and as a result, the fans will truly get behind him as their running back.
Chris: Now this one may not be the most obvious answer, but I think that Matt Gay will be the “rising star” in 2020. Think about it, the kicking woes and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are almost as good together as PB & J. In 2020, this will be no more. While Matt Gay may have had his disappointing moments, the overall year he put together is something to be excited about. Before the infamous 3 miss game in week 17, he was a pretty good 84% on the season and in total was 5/8 from 50+ yards with a long of 58. When was the last time we thought a Tampa Bay Bucs kicker could make a 50 yarder, much less a 58? When Catanzaro made the 59 yarder against the Browns in 2018, we were all left shocked, but when Matt Gay put up the 58 yarder against the Rams, I felt like it was just something that would happen.
David: One of the bigger questions heading into 2020 is going to be who the third receiver will be. My early thoughts are on two guys: Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson. Gone are the days where the third receiver automatically means slot, but both of these guys can play out of the slot, and Miller showed in 2019 he has some perimeter ability as well. I can only pick one, and I’m going with Miller to build upon a strong rookie season - all things considered - and take advantage of the fact he’s got one year in the scheme under his belt, and a quarterback who loves getting the ball out quickly.
Evan: If this team reaches its ceiling when it comes to the national spotlight then I’d say Ryan Jensen is the prime candidate for the rising star.
Not only is he one of the league’s best at his position, but he’s a funny dude, as well. If you follow his Twitter feed, then you know exactly what I mean.
Plus the dude is a pro —or at least it looks like he is— when it comes to barbecue and smoked meats. Again, check the Twitter feed for references.
We’ve seen offensive linemen take center stage before (think Taylor Lewan, Jason Kelce, and others), so there’s no reason to think Jensen would fail to entertain a gaggle.
Gil: The rising star will be on defense, and it’ll be a rookie. Bailey almost had it right by saying Antoine Winfield, Jr. That’s who it’ll be.
Why? Winfield showed a great trait in college and that is adapting to a play as it developed. He will undoubtedly carry that into the NFL and will have no issues getting into the box and helping to stop the run.
While he will need to adapt to the NFL passing game, it won’t be an issue and we will see the future of the Bucs defensive backfield shine often throughout 2020 because of him.
James: This is like a “name the next Chris Godwin” category. For the first few years, Bucs fans raved over Godwin - and rightfully so - just for him to become one of the most talked about receivers in the NFL. So for now, I’m going to say Jamel Dean.
Dean go ripped by this fan base after his poor performance in Seattle. Since then, he was one of the best players on the defense, slowly earning the respect and admiration of Bucs fans. Building on that in 2020, Dean could very well become the star of the secondary and a big fan favorite for the foreseeable future. All the guys in the secondary have skill and are growing as NFL players, but it’ll be the one that emerges as the leader, as the reliable guy that will become the star. We saw that with Ronde Barber who could barely get on the field as a rookie. Now, he’s in the talks for Canton. Dean has set himself up to become that player for the Bucs moving forward.
Jason: Chris with another strong pick with Matt Gay. Love this kid! Strong leg and deadly accurate from distance. The Bucs have hungered for a solid kicker for too damn long. So much so it warranted a really odd 2nd round pick in 2016, which proved to be a failed ROI with FSU’s Robert Aguayo. I can’t say they’ve had anyone else notable since then.
At first, I wasn’t sure. He was a no name guy from Utah. I figured he was yet another kicker that the Bucs got cheap; but now I’m on the other side of the fence with this guy. He holds the single franchise record for longest field goal by a rookie kicker (58 yards), and even tied the great Martin Gramatica (nicknamed “Automatica”) with 27 successful field goal attempts by a rookie kicker.
Gay will absolutely shine as many kickers with Brady have done so in the past. Brady knows how to at least put his team in position to win, even if it’s by a kick. I’m really excited to see how this former soccer player will light up the scoreboard this season!
Jon: My head might agree with Chris that after everything that’s happened a kicker is a prime candidate, or with Bailey that Antoine Winfield, Jr. could win his way to the fans’ hearts with his playmaking, but my heart says Ronald Jones. It’s time, and I think he has the talent. He flashed last year but very frustratingly spent way too much time on the bench in favor of Barber. Barber was a solid back but just didn’t have the same burst as Jones and consequently left a lot of yards on the field. I have seen articles that think the Bucs have one of if not the worst RB room in the league. If they’re going to prove the critics wrong it will be almost entirely on Jones to do it, and I think he’s capable of it. With Brady being more risk-averse than he used to be — he’s no spring chicken, after all — Jones should get the opportunities in both the run and pass game to show what he can do.
TEAM MVP SLEEPER
Bailey: Give me Devin White here. He may still have some developing to do in year two and Lavonte David is still the leader among the linebackers, but White just has a knack for making splash plays. In addition to being a more consistent and reliable player overall in 2020, I can see him creating an impressive amount of turnovers and making some game-changing plays that either swing momentum—or the result itself—in the Bucs’ favor. I’m talking sack-fumbles, interceptions, fumble recoveries and defensive touchdowns. Big things are coming for White in his second NFL season, as he’ll build off of those back-to-back NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month awards he earned at the end of last season.
Chris: I’m going to go Rob Gronkowski here for a few reasons. I think that Gronk’s ability to run block will really help this run game take off. Watching tape of the running game really showed that a lot of the issues are caused by lackluster tight end blocks. Gronk may be known for his receiving, but he earns a lot of respect through his blocking. Finally, that thing he is known for, will finally make the tight end relevant in a Bruce Arians offense. The potential combination of improving the run game and lighting up all areas of the field led me to choose him as my sleeper MVP.
David: This season is primed for Jason Pierre-Paul to become the leader of the defense. If the Bucs’ defense can build on a successful second-half of 2019, many will point to JPP’s year-long presence in 2020 as a big reason why. In 2018, JPP was praised for his willingness to speak the truth about what was lacking with some of his Bucs teammates. In 2019, his return helped spark a surge in Tampa’s defense. In 2020, he has a chance to become the leader of a unit with still unrealized potential, making him my sleeper to be the team’s MVP this season.
Evan: If Vita Vea takes the next step in Year 3, then there’s no doubt in my mind that he could end up as the team’s most valuable player.
He simply makes everyone around him better, much like Brady. All of it has to do with what he can do on a personal level, too. Vea has the strength, size, speed, and tenacity to not only stuff the run, but collapse the center of the pocket and make life hell for opposing quarterbacks.
The better he gets, the more attention he draws. When that happens, expect the Bucs’ best playmakers on defense —-and there’s plenty of them— to step in and make things happen.
You can only do so much against an elite front seven and Vea’s presence is the driving force behind everything up front for the Bucs. It would be hard to find someone currently on the roster who can do what he does if he were to go down, which only adds to his overall value.
Gil: There’s no way I am not going with Devin White here. Like Bailey, I do agree White still can improve in some areas but that won’t limit his ability to play lights out football this season. We saw him in 2019 have flashes of brilliance and was more consistent with his play during the second half of last season. Could he have been one of the reasons why the defense came on strong as well during that time? Absolutely. And I feel we will get more of that again. The heart of the defense and perhaps of the team could very well be White.
James: I’m gonna side with David on this one. JPP had a heck of a (half) season last year when returning from injury. Coming back healthy and working with Shaquil Barrett for a full slate? That’s downright dangerous. It mimics the Bucs’ offense if you think about it. Is the offense going to get two guys on Shaq? Well, enjoy JPP one-on-one. Doubling JPP? Well, enjoy Shaq one-on-one. Gonna try and get two bodies on each guy? Welp, now you have Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, and Lavonte David/Devin White flying at you up the middle.
Ultimately, though, it boils down to JPP. The pass rush in 2019 was okay when JPP was out, but once he returned the entire defense started clicking. They were racking up sacks, getting pressure on the quarterback, and the secondary kicked it into high gear.
JPP is the glue that holds it all together - and he will be the sleeper MVP.
Jason: I’m going to throw a curve ball here and go down a road that we may not have thought about. What if the signing of Gronkowski tweaked a few more nerves than we thought?
There was a lot of speculation about OJ Howard’s position on the team and if he was going to be traded or not. Now, Coach Arians has come out and stated that the three tight end system will be the base of their offense, which I’m sure will prove to be nothing short of interesting.
How does he fit in exactly? I actually think he’s not only going to find a way to fit in with Gronk, but he’s going to figure out a way to prove he’s the best tight end on the team. There’s no doubt Gronkowski will gather a lot of attention from defenses, and Brady knows that. He can exploit that and check down to Howard all season long. Combined with Howard’s speed, I think it leaves the opportunity wide open!
Jon: Tampa Bay has had the offensive-thing down. I don’t mean by being embarrassing, I mean the yards and the points. The only problem on that side was the turnovers, while the defense has been atrocious for nearly all of the last decade. Jameis Winston is gone, replaced by Tom Brady, and the defense appeared to turn a corner after Hargreaves was let go. The numbers say that how a defense ends the season doesn’t necessarily predict how they will do the following season, but what’s returning largely looks good. All of that is to say that I think Carlton Davis will be a big part — it’s time for the defense to not just be good, but to start the season as a good unit and sustain it throughout the season. That’s why Davis is my sleeper MVP. If he’s having the type of season we hope he does, and he needs to if this defense will meet its goals, no one will notice him because no one will be throwing it his way.
Bailey: As weird as it may sound, I’m picking the G.O.A.T. himself. In the last few seasons, Tom Brady hasn’t been the fantasy hero he used to be, but why can’t he rebound in 2020? Sure, he’s on a new team, but he’s on a new team that has receiving weapons galore. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Ronald Jones II, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson... The list goes on. The Fantasy Footballers and FantasyPros both have Brady ranked as the 11th-best quarterback for the 2020 fantasy season. That’s lower than less-proven guys like Kyler Murray and Josh Allen. And for years, Jameis Winston was a pretty solid fantasy football option despite the turnovers, and that was because he had Evans and Godwin to work with. If you’re in a 12-team league and you land Brady as the 11th quarterback taken, I’m thinking that’s pretty good value.
Chris: I gotta go Gronk here again. While Rob Gronkowski will no longer be the kind of tight end to sneak into the end of the first round of fantasy drafts, he will be well worth the pickup in the later rounds. As I look today, Gronk is showing up as TE10 at the earliest, and TE15 at the latest. He’s currently behind guys like Tyler Higbee and Jack Doyle, which are not necessarily bad options, but Gronk was at one time the consensus TE1 in almost all leagues. I don’t think he’ll be the TE1 in fantasy ever again, but I don’t think he will produce like a TE10 or TE15, I think a later round pickup of the former best TE in fantasy will pay dividends to those that take the risk, especially while Brady is the one throwing him the ball.
David: The best potential bang for your buck this season is going to come in the form of running back, Ronald Jones II. According to The Fantasy Footballers, Jones is a Tier 7 running back with an average draft position (ADP) in the early parts of the seventh-round in your upcoming fantasy draft. This is behind trade-demanding Raheem Mostert, rookies Jonathan Taylor and Cam Akers, and the now Tom Brady-less James White. Jones has been working on becoming a better all-around back for 2020, and Brady knows how to leverage guys who can contribute in the passing game. If Jones earns himself a spot among Brady’s favorite receiving options, his seventh-round price tag will yield great results, making him well worth the risk.
Evan: I’m with David. It’s gotta be RoJo.
Even though he was much better last year, people will still look at his numbers, the fact the Bucs drafted Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Dare Ogunbowale’s playing time, and the Bucs’ questionable offensive line as reasons to pass on RoJo early on.
That’s fine. Let them make that mistake.
Let’s use David’s example of drafting him early in the seventh round. If that were to happen, that means you just drafted a potential RB1 in the seventh round. And it’s not like there are crazy circumstances that have to be met in order for this to work. Things just need to go according to plan. That’s it.
All bias aside: RoJo has a great chance to be that unexpected piece that wins you a championship. That’s what kind of potential this year holds.
James: Yep, it’s RoJo. Jones is currently being drafted at the 6.09 in twelve team leagues. That means he’s being drafted in the same vicinity as James White, Tevin Coleman, Jordan Howard, Sony Michel, and Derrius Guice. None of those guys are going to give you the snap counts, production, or opportunity as Ronald Jones.
And with as much as Jones has been working on his pass catching, I expect his target share to take a meteoric rise as he becomes the safety valve/dump-off option for Brady when the ball needs to get out of his hands under pressure. It will be swing pass and YAC heaven for Jones owners this year and you won’t find another Buccaneers player that will get you a better return on your investment.
Jason: Evan and David are on target. “RoJo 2020!” He lit it up at the end of last season. I’m really excited to see what he could do with Brady at the helm. I think Brady will put Leftwich in a really nice position to give Jones the opportunity, especially in the passing game, to score a lot of touchdowns.
With a suspect offensive line, Brady will need to get the ball out of his hands quickly. RoJo can be the guy that will take this team to another level.
He’s not a first or even a second round fantasy pick, which makes him a great value pick. If you can get him as a 4th or 5th round just ahead of a quarterback, you could be on par for a great fantasy draft.
Jon: I don’t expect anything from Gronk and diminishing returns from Brady, and who knows with OJ Howard, so I will go with Godwin. I think Mike Evans was a great fit for Jameis Winston’s skillset and vice versa. I don’t think the same thing holds true nearly as well for Brady and Evans, and I think Godwin will be the beneficiary of that, who plays that Larry Fitzgerald role in Bruce Arians’ offense. Don’t get me wrong, Evans will get his; you could probably chisel 1,000 yards a season in stone as long as Evans stays healthy. But I feel pretty confident that Brady will generally find someone else rather than throw up so many “50-50” balls and sideline fades and just expecting Evans to come down with it, even if he usually did.
Gil: One word: RoJo
The 2020 NFL season is on the runway and in position for take-off. It looks as if the league and its players are getting more and more worked out to ensure the year gets underway on time.
For your Tampa Bay Buccaneers, these are the players the Bucs Nation writers feel are going to make some noise in 2020, but we want to hear from you. Copy and paste the following into the comments...
...and let us know who you’re eyeing for each spot as we get closer to football in 2020!