Sleepers, Busts and Bets: The 2022 Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Dan Fornek and Daniel Kelley continue with the 2022 Sleepers, Busts and Bets series to preview all 32 NFL teams for the upcoming year. Next up: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


Daniel and Dan will list their picks with confidence in “The Answers,” Then expand upon their picks with more details reason in “The Explanation.”

The Answers

Favorite Sleeper

Fornek: Rachaad White
Kelley: Cade Otton

Biggest Bust

Fornek: Chris Godwin
Kelley: Russell Gage

Boldest Bet

Fornek: Mike Evans Finishes as the WR1
Kelley: Mike Evans Has the Second-Most PPR Points of His Career


The Explanation


Fornek: Rachaad White

The Buccaneers chose to let last year’s backup running back, Ronald Jones, hit free agency this offseason, replacing him with Rachaad White in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. White bounced around junior colleges before eventually finding a spot with Arizona State. The rookie split time during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season (42 attempts, eight receptions, 571 total yards, six total touchdowns) before taking over as the lead back in 2021. While White was effective on the ground (182 carries, 1,000 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns), he separated himself in this rookie class due to his pass-catching acumen (43 receptions, 456 yards and one touchdown).

Leonard Fournette will be the unquestioned starter and workhorse back in Tampa Bay in 2022. However, Fournette has struggled with injuries throughout his career, topping 13 games just once in five seasons. White has a chance early to carve out a pass-catching role in Tampa Bay thanks to the Chris Godwin rehab and Rob Gronkowski retirement. Given Fournette’s injury history, the rookie also has a great chance to start multiple games this season and command most of the work in the backfield.

White is currently being drafted as the RB42 in NFC drafts. Given the Buccaneers’ need for playmakers early in the season and a potential role in a high-paced passing offense, White is worth a stash on your bench in the late rounds, especially in PPR leagues. 

Kelley: Cade Otton

The problem with looking at the most famous teams is that everyone’s value gets a bit of an artificial boost for no football reason. Almost everyone on the Buccaneers is valued highly just because of the team they’re on. It’s like trying to bet on the Cowboys — they’re the public team. But Cade Otton might be a sneaky mid/low TE2 in 2022. Assuming Rob Gronkowski doesn’t return at some point in the season, the Bucs will be rolling with Cameron Brate and Otton. Brate gets the most publicity — he’s entering his ninth year, all with the Bucs, and has 33 touchdowns in that time, tied for sixth among tight ends despite basically never being the team’s No. 1. 

All that said, Brate was largely a Jameis Winston creation. Per the FTN Fantasy splits tool, Brate played 65 games with Winston as his quarterback and scored 26 of his touchdowns in those games, averaging 31.5 yards. In 33 non-Winston games (almost exactly half as many), he’s scored 7 and averaged 15.5 yards. Brate’s going to see the field a fair amount in 2022, but expecting a breakout is probably asking too much. Enter Otton, who is essentially the same size as Brate (both 6-foot-5, two pounds apart). He’s a football lifer, which always feels like a boost when paired with someone like Tom Brady. Scouting reports praised his route-running. If Brate fails to return draft value, Otton will get every chance, and given he’s essentially free in drafts, he’s worth a stab.


Fornek: Chris Godwin

Chris Godwin 2022 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sleepers, Bucs and Bets

Recently, reports started to surface that the Buccaneers were “hopeful” Chris Godwin would be ready to start Week 1 of the regular season. Going from a torn ACL in Week 15 of the 2021 season to playing Week 1 of the 2022 regular season would make Godwin a total outlier in terms of recovering from a knee injury of this magnitude.

Godwin was once again Tom Brady’s favorite target in 2021, finishing the season with team highs in targets (127), receptions (98) and receiving yards (1,103) despite playing in just 14 games. The veteran was on a tear right before his knee injury as well, totaling 39 targets, 31 receptions and 297 receiving yards from Weeks 13 to 15 (despite him playing in just 22% of Week 15’s snaps). Interestingly enough, Godwin has been drafted this summer like he was completely fine and ready to begin the season on time.

If Godwin were healthy, his WR22 ADP in NFC drafts would be warranted. However, given the historical recovery time of ACL injuries, it is difficult to justify drafting him ahead of so many players who are guaranteed to be ready to play Week 1. If Godwin were to go on the PUP list (four games missed minimum), it would be extremely difficult for him to finish as a top-24 wide receiver. For that reason, he is the most likely Buccaneers player to bust this season.

Kelley: Russell Gage

This spot really should go to Chris Godwin, but his potential bust status is well known at this point. We might not see Godwin to start the season, might not see him fully unleashed until late. And he’s going as a WR2? No thank you. But also, you know that. So let’s turn to Russell Gage, the most hyped player on the Bucs this offseason. Gage had a late-season breakout last year — he averaged 2.7 receptions for 26.5 yards through Week 10 last year, with one total touchdown, but then over the final eight weeks those averages jumped to 6.3 receptions for 76.4 yards and scored three times. That reportedly led to Brady specifically reaching out to Gage to recruit him to Tampa. He’s set up to be the No. 2 for however long Godwin is out, the No. 3 once Godwin is back.

But let’s broaden our scope here. Gage averaged about 1.5 yards per route run in three years before last year’s mini-breakout. He had 786 yards in 2020, but on 109 targets — among 42 players with at least 100 targets, that was eighth fewest, and only Marquise Brown and A.J. Green had fewer among wide receivers. He had his breakout once Calvin Ridley was lost to the Falcons last year, so maybe he can do better as the No. 1 … but then he’s definitely going to be behind Mike Evans in Tampa, and also behind Godwin at least some of the time. If you draft someone like DeAndre Hopkins, who will miss the first six weeks, and pair Gage with him as a two-part receiver, maybe that’ll work (although it will be using two roster spots to approximate one), but absent that, I don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze.



Fornek: Mike Evans Finishes as the WR1

Assuming Godwin does miss time to start the season, Mike Evans will have a path to finishing as the WR1 in all of fantasy football. Evans just finished his eighth consecutive season with 1,000 receiving yards and is Tom Brady’s favorite weapon in the red zone (27 touchdowns in the last two seasons) despite competing for targets like Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette. Two of those players are no longer on the team, and Godwin may or may not be ready to start the season, so Evans should be poised to explode in 2022.

Evans played in four games without Godwin after he injured his knee in 2021 (including the playoffs). During that stretch, he caught 27 of 40 targets for 372 yards and five touchdowns. At best, the veteran receiver will be competing with Fournette and Russell Gage for Tom Brady’s attention to begin the season. At worst, you can add Godwin into the mix as he works his way back from a significant injury.

Evans has always been able to produce high-level receiving statistics on a lesser target share. However, there is a chance that he will be funneled targets from Tom Brady in an explosive passing attack. If that happens, Evans could surpass any level of production we have seen from him the last two seasons. A slow Godwin recovery would Evans to a higher potential target share, giving him a very good chance to finish as 2022’s WR1.

Mike Evans 2022 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sleepers, Bucs and Bets

Kelley: Mike Evans Has the Second-Most PPR Points of His Career

If there’s one thing you know about Mike Evans, it’s that he’s topped 1,000 receiving yards every year of his eight-year career, the first receiver who can ever say that. He’s never finished lower than WR23, only worse than WR17 once. But despite all his production, he’s never really flirted with the tip-top at the position — he finished as the WR3 with 304.1 points in 2016, but other than that, his best finish was WR9 in 2018. He’s been WR15, WR11 and WR12 the last three years.

One reason for that? He’s basically never had the job to himself. There’s always been a Vincent Jackson, a Chris Godwin, a Rob Gronkowski or Antonio Brown or Adam Humphries. Evans has gotten plenty of work, but not top-of-the-position work. But as I’ve noted above, I’m not high on Cameron Brate or Russell Gage this year, Godwin will miss some or much of the season, and the target tree after Evans is shallower than it has ever been. If he stays healthy, Evans will set a career high in targets in 2022 or close, and that should turn into a solid WR1 finish, at least better than 2018’s WR9 finish and maybe his best season ever.

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