With free agency and the draft approaching more quickly every day, we’re going to see a lot of the questions we have about this team answered. Will Chris Godwin be tagged? Will Shaq Barrett be back?
As of now, who knows? One thing we do know however, is that the Buccaneers’ issue at running-back is a major point of emphasis for this off-season. Even though they will most likely lose Leonard Fournette to free-agency, even if he did return, they would still need to find someone who can consistently catch the ball out of the backfield.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, their cap space is most likely going to be occupied with re-signing big name free agents like the aforementioned Barrett and Godwin. For this reason, they’ll most likely have to sign a smaller name guy or draft someone that can fill that need.
While James White and Najee Harris fill the need and would be affordable/draftable options, there are 32 other teams in the NFL who are all vying for talented, pass-catching running-backs. Even though 31 other teams don’t have Tom Brady (which may be a selling point for White), there are many teams out there who would be able to throw more money at White, or have higher draft position to take a guy like Harris.
So, what options do the Bucs have to fill that pass-catching RB need? Well, let’s take a look at a few that might not be talked about a lot.
The NFL is quick fickle if you think about it, especially with running-backs. After 2018, Matt Breida was talked about as a breakout player who had a very bright future after going undrafted in 2017.
He’s a lightning quick, shifty back who can make plays once he breaks the line. More importantly for the Bucs though is that he is able to catch the ball consistently and make people miss once he has it in his hands.
While he never had the high receiving numbers that White had, he was tasked with carrying the ball far more often than White ever was. In the receiving game, Breida has only averaged a little over 100 yds/season, however in Tampa Bay he wouldn’t be asked to carry the ball as often as he has in the past which would give him more opportunities to pick up catches on passing downs.
Compared to Fournette and Ronald Jones II, Breida is a much more polished receiver who just doesn’t drop passes very often. While he had a bad case of the drops in 2017, since then, he’s only had two drops in three seasons (which is far fewer than RoJo’s seven drops during that same timeframe).*
He obviously isn’t a big name free-agent (especially after an unproductive year in Miami), but because of that, Over the Cap has him valued at $1.54 million for the 2021 season, which would leave a lot of room for other signings.
Now if the Bucs sign Jamaal Williams, he’s going to have some explaining to do after his comments about Tom Brady not knowing what down it is. Outside of that though, this would be a pretty exciting signing if you ask me.
In his four years in Green Bay, Williams averaged a little over 240 yards/season in the receiving game, and a little under 500 yards/season in the running game. What impresses me more though, is his reputation as one of-if not the-best RB in the NFL when it comes to pass protection.
Looking at last year alone, we can see that there were numerous incomplete passes and even turnovers that came as a result of bad pass protection in Tampa Bay. While many might be looking to find someone who can catch the ball consistently, they should also be looking at someone who can do that AND protect Brady.
Because of that, Williams is someone I would be more than happy to see in red and pewter and the Bucs wouldn’t even have to break the bank to pick him up. According to Over the Cap, Williams is valued somewhere around $3.8 million in 2021.
While this number might be higher than some other guys I put on this list, his ability to pass protect adds that much more value and would make him worth every penny.
Out of the three free-agents I have on this list, Johnson is by far the most polished as a receiver and he has the stats and longevity to prove it.
In his six-year career, Johnson has racked up a little more than 2800 (466/yr) receiving yards, 12 receiving touchdowns, and 14 drops (only two in last two years).* While 14 drops might seem like a lot, keep in mind that his volume is much higher than that of any other back on this list in the receiving game.
In fact, when compared to Breida, he has almost double the target volume when looking at it from a targets/yr basis. While he doesn’t have a lot to offer in the running game, the Bucs don’t really need that as RoJo is a fairly good and consistent pure-runner. Not only that, but Ke’Shawn Vaughn looked good when he was running the ball so I would expect to see more of him in the rotation.
While Johnson is not a premier talent in the NFL, his consistency in catching the ball and making at least one guy miss is something the Buccaneers need desperately. Even though Johnson made $4.1 million last season, his lack of production in Houston (not really his fault) will drop that number down quite a bit.
As I did with the previous section about free agency, I’m going to list two guys here that are not regarded as the top guys at the RB position. I could sit here and talk about Harris, Travis Etienne, Javonte Williams, and other top guys, but there’s a good chance you already know about them so what good would that do?
I might be showing my bias a little bit here as a UCLA homer, but when you look at this guy play I don’t think being biased about it matters. Felton is a put anywhere kind of play-maker who is extremely electric in both the running and the passing game.
Having a receiver background, it’s obvious to see why he is the receiving back that he is. Even with this skillset though, he really doesn’t have the numbers to back up his ability level. Through four years (only 1 full season), he only has a little over 2000 total scrimmage yards.
Despite not having the numbers to be viewed as a top back in the class, part of this is because he didn’t get a lot of the same opportunities early on. While I do think he’s worth a higher investment than most (definitely the bias), his size is going to be a major limiting factor in where he ends up getting drafted.
At only 5’8” 190lbs, he’s not going to be the guy that takes dive plays on first and second down. But he can step in as a utility player on early downs, or come out of the backfield on third. He’s a good receiver with the speed and route running ability to beat linebackers and safeties but the added bonus is his elusiveness after the catch.
The general consensus at this time of the draft season is that he’s going to be taken some time on day three. If the Bucs can walk away with a receiving back/utility back like this with a day three pick, I think they’d be very happy.
This pick might be more of a hopeful gamble than a sure-fire hit for the purposes of walking away from the NFL Draft with a capable receiving back, but based on the very limited 2020 season for Hill, it looks like he could definitely be a good candidate to fill that roll for the Bucs.
In his first three years at Mississippi State, Hill was primarily used as a runner, amassing 1,500 yards on the ground in 2019 alone. However in 2020, Hill’s receptions, receiving yards, and yards per reception trended way way up.
Sure, he only played three games in 2020 so the sample size is limited. BUT in those three games Hill picked up 23 catches for 237 yards, which was his highest single-season total in both categories. The odd part about this? In one of these three games, he hardly played and only had one catch.
He still has a bit of work to put in as a pass protector, but he isn’t one to shy away from meeting blitzes head on even if he does miss occasionally. After the catch, he shows flashes of being incredibly elusive with good balance, but the sample size is so limited for 2020 that it’s difficult to tell whether or not they’re flashes or the real thing.
Even though he has film from prior years, the production that he had as a receiver in 2020 was not something that was present through his entire collegiate career so I am primarily making my judgements with this year’s tape.
As another potential day three guy (late day two, early day 3), the draft capital needed to take a chance won’t lead to the same risk as if they took him in the first round. It’s just all up to the Bucs to determine whether or not they’d want to chance it with this guy. If I were them, I would.
With so many names being tossed around as potential fits for the Buccaneers, I wanted to look a little bit more outside the box and come up with some options that might not be everyone’s first thought.
While the chances that any of these players make their way to the Buccaneers roster are slim, there is still a chance and they should be more than happy if they’re able to snag one of these guys this off-season.
Whether it be through the draft or through free agency, the Bucs have options, it’s just up to them to figure out which option is best for them.
But tell me what you think, would you want to see any of these guys on the Bucs 2021 roster? Are there other guys you’d want to see on the team? Let me know in the comments/poll below!
Out of the RB’s on this list, who would you most like to see in a Bucs uniform?
This poll is closed
*Per Pro Football Focus