The Buccaneers have boasted one of the best receiving duos in the league for years now, with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both having a case to be ranked as top-10 pass-catchers in the league.
As of late, though, Tampa Bay’s depth at receiver has taken a huge step up. The position group as a whole was loaded in 2020 and played a major role in Tom Brady’s success as he helped lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl season in his first year with the team.
Now, heading into year two of Brady in the Bay, Pro Football Focus has this group ranked as the best in the NFL. Steve Palazzolo, who put together the rankings, called Tampa Bay’s three-headed monster of Evans, Godwin and Antonio Brown “the best trio in the league.”
Of course, Palazzolo had a lot of praise for Evans and Godwin, who have both graded well throughout their careers according to PFF’s system. But the breakdown beyond the top two is full of plenty more praise, starting with Brown:
“Brown was the highest-graded receiver on the team last year despite not seeing action until Week 9. He has been one of the best receivers in the league throughout his career, and he was a key target down the stretch as he got more acclimated to the offense.”
The key there is that Brown got better and better as he adjusted more to the offense down the stretch in 2020. He should be even more dangerous in 2021 after a full offseason to prepare and adapt to the team’s offense.
When you really look at it, there aren’t a lot of teams who have a dangerous trio of receivers on their roster, much less plenty of guys behind the top three who can step in and produce at a high level. Here’s what Palazzolo had to say about the group behind Evans, Godwin and Brown:
“Beyond the top three, Scotty Miller is one of the league’s fastest receivers — he picked up 312 of his 581 yards on passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield. Fifth-rounder Tyler Johnson also made a few key plays, and 2021 fourth-rounder Jaelon Darden adds speed and quickness to the slot.”
Miller was a capable No. 3 before Brown arrived in Tampa last season and had some huge moments during the Bucs’ playoff run. Johnson didn’t get a ton of shine as a rookie, but he still made some big catches—one of which came in the NFC Divisional Round win over the Saints. And finally, Darden has to excite you when you think about the monster career he had at North Texas and how he may be able to bring his electric playmaking abilities to the pros, even as a rookie.
And, of course, what’s insane about the Buccaneer offense is that there is an exceptionally talented group of tight ends to mix in with the receivers as well. Palazzolo made sure to mention the strong pass-catchers the team has at the tight end position as well:
“The tight end room is just as deep, with Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate and the returning O.J. Howard. Gronkowski is no longer the best tight end in the league, but he can turn it on in spurts. He finished with 53 catches for 733 yards (13.8 yards per reception) and nine touchdowns last season. Brate recorded 42 receptions and 457 yards of his own, while Howard earned an 85.3 receiving grade prior to his season-ending injury. This trio is as good as it gets in the NFL. The Bucs are loaded up and down the roster, but their group of playmakers not only has the potential to dominate but has the depth to handle injuries just as it did in 2020.”
Gronkowski and Brate were both phenomenal in 2020 and perhaps even more so during the playoffs. And to think that the offense can get even more loaded with a healthy O.J. Howard in 2021? Defensive coordinators throughout the league have to be losing sleep at night already.
After the Bucs in the top spot, Palazzolo has the Cowboys, Chiefs, Bills and Vikings rounding out the league’s top five. Tampa Bay’s divisional foes aren’t quite as impressive at the receiver position, as only the Falcons (No. 16, with the caveat that a Julio Jones trade is expected ahead of this fall) are in the top half of the rankings. The Panthers (No. 20) and Saints (No. 27) are down near the bottom of the list.