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Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions: The 2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Welcome to Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions for the 2023 fantasy football season. All summer, our analysts, two at a time, will preview all 32 NFL teams for the upcoming season. We’ll pick a pair of sleepers, a pair of busts and a pair of bold predictions. Sometimes they’ll be the same pick! Sometimes they will directly disagree! And that’s fine. Today: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

 

Below, Dan Fornek and Daniel Kelley tackle the Buccaneers, starting with their picks in “The Answers,” then expanding on their picks in “The Explanation.”

2023 Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Answers

Favorite Sleeper

Fornek: Cade Otton
Kelley: Cade Otton

Biggest Bust

Fornek: Mike Evans
Kelley: Rachaad White

Bold Prediction

Fornek: Baker Mayfield is a top-20 QB
Kelley: No Buccaneer finishes as a fantasy starter

The Explanations

Sleepers

Fornek: Cade Otton

The Buccaneers have ample weaponry on the perimeter with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage, but one man going overlooked in their passing attack is second-year tight end Cade Otton. Otton had a solid rookie season splitting time with Cameron Brate, catching 42 of his 65 targets for 391 yards and two touchdowns. Brate is no longer in Tampa Bay, giving Otton a clear pathway to the TE1 job for Tampa Bay.

Things will look even better for Otton if Baker Mayfield wins the starting job in camp. Mayfield struggled with the Panthers to start the 2022 season but put together a solid campaign once he landed with the Rams. In his last two seasons as a full-time starter with the Browns (2020 and 2021), Mayfield targeted the tight end position on 279 of his 904 passing attempts (30%). Otton won’t see a 30% target share, but he should see a steady stream of work in the short to intermediate areas. That’s pretty good considering he’s going off the board as the TE32 with an ADP of 237.9 in early fantasy drafts.

Cade Otton Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2023 Fantasy Football Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions

Kelley: Cade Otton

Mike Evans has never had an aDOT under 13 yards. Chris Godwin’s has dipped the last couple years, though it’s fair to wonder if his injury contributed to that. Prior to 2020 it had never been below 10 yards. And now the Buccaneers have one of the game’s worst offensive lines. Whoever is at quarterback, Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask, is going to have to work in a hurry. That hurry should lead to plenty of dumpoffs, and the primary beneficiary of that should be second-year TE Cade Otton, who had five top-15 PPR weekly finishes last year as a rookie splitting time with Cameron Brate and Ko Kieft. Brate is gone now, and Otton is the clear starter. And considering the offensive line’s woes, Otton’s pass-blocking (he was second in PFF pass-blocking grade among TEs with 300-plus snaps last year) will keep him on the field even more.

Maybe Otton won’t have extreme efficiency, but he has a clear shot at 100-plus targets in 2023, and it would be hard for him not to climb into borderline TE1 territory with that much work.

 

Busts

Fornek: Mike Evans

Mike Evans has been as consistent as they come, surpassing over 1,000 receiving yards in each of his nine seasons in the league. Unfortunately, Evans finds himself preparing to go for his 10th, but with either Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask as his quarterback. If Mayfield wins the job, then Evans could still have a chance. Despite his reputation, Baker Mayfield remains one of the more efficient deep ball passers in the NFL. According to FTN’s advanced stats, Mayfield had the fifth-highest difference in his deep passer rating (92.7) against his normal passer rating (79.2) in 2022.

The issue comes from what a potential Buccaneers offense looks like with Mayfield (or Kyle Trask) under center. Conventional wisdom says that the Buccaneers will lean heavier on their run game without Tom Brady at quarterback, leading to less volume for Mike Evans. To make up the difference in targets, Evans will have to put together a touchdown-heavy season to hit his current ADP (71.7 on Sleeper). There are just too many paths to fail for Evans to hit on his ADP given his role as the vertical threat in the offense. 

Kelley: Rachaad White

Among running backs with at least 50 targets, Rachaad White had the fourth-lowest yards per route run (1.1) last year. Among backs with at least 100 carries, he forced the fifth-fewest missed tackles (14). Among those below him in those categories, four are not even currently on an NFL roster. White’s biggest virtue this season is a lack of depth in the Bucs’ backfield (his backups are Chase Edmonds and Ke’Shawn Vaughn), but given how underwhelming White was as a rookie and his subpar offensive line, I don’t even want to entertain him outside of fantasy roster bench depth.

 

Bold Predictions

Fornek: Baker Mayfield Is a Top-20 QB

There is a path to Baker Mayfield being fantasy viable if he wins the starting job for the Buccaneers. During the final five games of the season with the Los Angeles Rams, Mayfield completed 63.5% of his passes for 850 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. None of those stats jump off the page, but it is worth noting that Mayfield accomplished that behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL throwing to targets like Van Jefferson, Tyler Higbee, Brandon Powell and Tutu Atwell.

The Buccaneers also have a terrible offensive line, but Mayfield will find himself with arguably the best supporting cast at receiver in his career. Evans has nine straight 1,000-yard seasons and is still one of the best contested-catch receivers in the league. Chris Godwin has consecutive 1,000-yard seasons himself despite suffering an ACL tear late in 2021. The Buccaneers also have solid complementary pieces in Cade Otton and Russell Gage (51 receptions for 426 yards and five touchdowns in 2022).

Yes, Mayfield will never hit the potential that was mapped out for him when he was the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. But if he can avoid mistakes and let his weapons make plays, then he has an excellent chance to finish in the top 20 of quarterbacks. That is pretty good value for a guy coming off the board as the QB33 in early fantasy ADP.

Kelley: No Buccaneer Finishes as a Fantasy Starter

Mike Evans Chris Godwin Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2023 Fantasy Football Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions

My take on the Tampa running backs is pretty clear above, and I feel safe in saying neither of Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask climbs into the QB1 ranks. Cade Otton is my breakout pick at the top, but even then his peak is TE10 or so, and I can see him having a mini-breakout and still being the TE13 or TE14.

So no, this take is mostly about the wide receivers, who are the most famous players in Tampa at this point. Mike Evans has played nine years and been at least a PPR WR2 in all nine. Chris Godwin took a couple years to be a big part of this offense, but since 2019, he’s been a WR2 or better in three of four years, falling short in 2020 only because he missed four games to injury. Those were all with some combination of Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Brady, though (plus Josh McCown and Mike Glennon in Evans’ rookie year in 2014), and while that’s a mixed bag of overall QB quality, we know that Mayfield/Trask won’t air it out like those guys. Add in a declining offensive line (and declining play from Evans, who needed a blowup in Week 17 last year to reach 1,000 yards again) and their upside is even lower.

And then there’s the biggest point — while the Buccaneers’ roster has taken several steps back, one place it has not really declined is in the secondary, which still comes in No. 8 in our team secondary rankings. This is a team with a bad offense but competent defense, and that’s a recipe for low-scoring games that don’t produce much fantasy goodness. Just let someone else draft those veteran receivers and struggle watching the unexciting Tampa games.

 
Previous 2023 Fantasy Coaching & Coordinator Breakdown: New England Patriots Next 2023 NFL Team Offseason Roundup: Atlanta Falcons

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