Considering the Buccaneers managed to keep their entire Super Bowl-winning roster together this offseason, it should come as no surprise that they are at the top of the 2021 NFL roster rankings put together through the use of the Pro Football Focus database.
In a Wednesday article on ESPN+ (subscription required), PFF’s Ben Linsey ranked the rosters of all 32 teams in the league heading into the new season. Tampa Bay came in at No. 1, with the defending AFC champion Chiefs behind them at two while the Browns, Bills and Ravens rounded out the top five. It’s worth noting that the Bucs were the only NFC team in the top five, with the Packers being the next one in the rankings at No. 6.
Breaking down the Bucs’ biggest strength, Linsey had this to say:
“Biggest strength: Tom Brady only had one wide receiver or tight end clear a 70.0 receiving grade in his final season with New England in 2019, and Julian Edelman (72.4) barely met the threshold. But in 2020, Tampa Bay had six different wide receivers and tight ends record at least a 75.0 receiving grade, including O.J. Howard in limited action. It’s one of the deepest receiving corps in the NFL, extending beyond those six to include promising young players such as Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson and rookie Jaelon Darden.”
It’s hard to argue against Tampa Bay’s receiving corps being called its biggest strength, but then again, you could probably make a case for almost any of the team’s position groups to be in the conversation. The entire defense is full of stars, plus the offensive line proved to be fantastic a year ago. Not to mention, there’s Brady at quarterback.
As for the Bucs’ biggest weakness—and it may be hard to call it a true weakness—it’s the backfield, at least according to Linsey:
“Biggest weakness: Running back Leonard Fournette’s stretch of success last postseason doesn’t change the fact that 19.1% of his carries have gone for first downs or touchdowns since entering the NFL (third lowest among 30 running backs with 500-plus attempts). Ronald Jones II was an effective runner last season (84.7 rushing grade), but he can’t be relied upon on passing downs. Jones tallied just 165 receiving yards on 41 targets in 2020. It’s difficult to find a true weakness on this roster, but the running back position is the closest thing to it in the starting lineup.”
If you have to pick a weakness in the roster, sure, running back may be it. But with the year that Jones just had, the playoff run that Fournette put together and the addition of Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay’s backfield shouldn’t be overlooked. Not to mention, Ke’Shawn Vaughn very well could emerge as a bigger threat in 2021 as well.
Linsey’s X-factor for the Bucs in 2021 is a guy that broke out in a big way last year, especially down the stretch and into the playoffs. You won’t be surprised at this one:
“X factor for 2021: Linebacker Devin White recorded an 83.5 coverage grade across his final five games of the 2020 season, three of which were playoff games. White also came up with 10 quarterback pressures and four sacks over that stretch. The next step in his development is to play at that level with more consistency, like his teammate Lavonte David has done for years. There’s no denying that White’s speed in the middle of Tampa Bay’s defense can be a game-changer.”
White’s coverage ability has been the one knock against him early in his professional career, but he showed late last year that he can do the job just fine. And there’s certainly no way anyone will argue against the idea of the third-year linebacker’s speed being a game-changer in the middle of Todd Bowles’ defense.
In their quest to win back-to-back Super Bowls, the Bucs somehow managed to keep their entire starting lineup together. As hard as it is to win two in a row, it’s just about unprecedented for a championship team to bring back its entire roster. It hasn’t happened in the salary cap era (which began in 1994), and the last team to do it was the 1977 Raiders. Tampa Bay is in good shape heading into its title defense, that’s for sure.
While the Packers (No. 6) are the closest NFC team to the Bucs in the rankings, the NFC South squad closest to the defending Super Bowl champs is the Saints, and they’re all the way down at No. 17. The Falcons (No. 25) and Panthers (No. 27) seemingly have a tough hill to climb if they’re going to enter contention for the division title.
Of course, there’s a reason they play the games. Time will tell whether or not the Bucs’ 2021 roster will last as the league’s best, but starting the year in that top position in the rankings most definitely isn’t a bad thing.