Six months ago, things looked bleak for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Their quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions had fallen short, and quarterback Tom Brady had subsequently hung up his cleats. The heartache didn’t last long, however, as the 45-year-old reversed his decision in March and immediately returned the Buccaneers to contender status.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been changes, highlighted by the retirement of Brady’s longtime favorite, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and the signings of free-agent wide receivers Russell Gage (Atlanta Falcons) and Julio Jones (Tennessee Titans). With Brady having passed for 10,949 yards and 83 TDs over his two years with the Bucs, it’s a good time to look at his top options and how the pie might be divvied up in 2022.
In terms of usage and yardage, Evans was better off under current New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston, who used him like a true No. 1 receiver. Brady has been content to spread the ball around more, which has led to peaks and valleys in production for Evans.
One area where the veteran wideout has shined, though, has been in the red zone with 27 touchdown catches in the last two seasons. With Gronk gone it’s not implausible to think the 6-foot-5, 231-pounder would be even more heavily involved around the goal line.
Despite missing the final three games of last season with a torn ACL, Godwin (knee) still led the Bucs in receiving (1,103 yards) and targets (127). He’s proven to be a nice safety net for Brady, providing a consistent presence on underneath and midrange routes.
Godwin is still working his way back from his knee injury suffered last December, and although he could still miss a game or two — or at the very least be eased back into the rotation — there is no reason to think he won’t be full go fairly early on.
In terms of name value, the Jones signing was big news. In terms of actual impact, let’s pump those brakes. Once viewed as an elite receiver, the 33-year-old has struggled to stay on the field over the last two years, appearing in just 19 of a possible 33 games with Atlanta and Tennessee, respectively.
His tenure with the Titans was so uninspiring they cut him after one season despite giving up second- and fourth-round picks to acquire him. He only topped 60 yards in a game once in 2021, and on a team full of talent in their prime he feels more like a contingency plan. Provided he makes the final roster, Jones could be used as a deep threat more than anything else.
While his signing didn’t make the same kind of mainstream splash as Jones, Gage seems more likely to fill a consistent role for his new employer. The LSU product was a mainstay in the slot for Atlanta over the past couple of seasons, averaging a 69-778-4 line.
He was durable during his time with the Falcons, missing just four games, though three of them came last year. There have been reports out of training camp about the budding chemistry between Brady and Gage, which can only be viewed as a positive for the 26-year-old wideout. It should be noted, Brady himself courted Gage to sign with the Bucs.
Fantasy football outlook
Evans and Godwin are the stars here, though Godwin’s recovery timeline, including how quickly they’ll let him play full-time snaps, clouds his season-long value.
For Evans, he fits in right on the borderline of the WR1/WR2 divide. With Godwin, you might have to weather a few weeks where he’ll need to ride your bench before delivering WR1 value down the stretch, so we’ll average out Godwin as a low-end WR2 for draft purposes.
Gage might be the inverse, posting bigger numbers in the early going before tapering off as Godwin gets up to speed. Then again, the Bucs are one of the few offenses that can create three playable fantasy wideouts. It might pay dividends if you can draft Gage as your fourth or fifth receiver. As for Jones, take a flier on him late in drafts as a lottery ticket, but he shouldn’t be relied on.