The NFL regular season doesn’t begin for another two months, but it’s never too early to start preparing for the fantasy season, especially if you want to contend for your league’s championship. Excellence never rests.
Wondering which Buccaneers, if any, you should target during your draft? You came to the right place. Here’s how we rank them:
1. Mike Evans, WR
Evans is overshadowed by Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown and Michael Thomas, but that’s to your benefit. He’ll slip to the end of the second round — maybe even the beginning of the third, depending on the size of your league. Not a bad value for a guy who put up career bests in receiving yards (1,524) and catch rate (62.3 percent) last season. Pencil him in for 80 catches, 1,200 to 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns.
2. Chris Godwin, WR
Let’s get this out of the way: Godwin isn’t a sleeper. He was a top-30 receiver in fantasy last season (59 catches, 842 receiving yards, seven touchdowns), and that’s despite playing less than 65 percent of the offense’s snaps. With Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson gone, that percentage is certain to increase. And so will his opportunities. He’ll catch 70 to 80 passes this season and approach 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career.
A Bruce Arians offense has featured two 1,000-yard receivers three times: Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward for the Steelers in 2009, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown for the Steelers in 2011 and Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown for the Cardinals in 2015.
3. O.J. Howard, TE
Howard’s a popular pick to be a fantasy breakout, and understandably so. Before suffering season-ending injuries in the Bucs’ Week 11 loss to the Giants, he was the sixth-ranked tight end in fantasy. Keep in mind, though, that if you think he’s due to break out, chances are everyone else at your draft thinks so, too, especially if they’re Bucs fans.
That means someone will reach for Howard. Don’t be that person. Let the draft come to you. Drafting him early (say, in the fifth round) will negate any potential value. At least wait until Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle come off the board. And if you miss him? Don’t fret. There are plenty of fallback options. Settling for Hunter Henry, David Njoku, Eric Ebron, Jared Cook or Austin Hooper won’t make or break your season.
4. Jameis Winston, QB
If you add Winston to your roster, the hard part is knowing which version you’re going to get. Will it be the version that threw eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his first five games last season? Or will it be the version that threw 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in his final six games?
Though Arians calls himself a quarterback whisperer, temper your expectations. There could be an adjustment period. Only twice has a quarterback thrown 30 touchdown passes in a season under Arians’ direction — Ben Roethlisberger (32) in 2007 and Carson Palmer (35) in 2015.
The upside for a top-10 performance is there, but there are more reliable options. Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees and Deshaun Watson are among the quarterbacks who are most likely to come off the board early, followed by Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Roethlisberger, Baker Mayfield and Carson Wentz.
Winston might be worth stashing on your bench, but if you draft him before any round that ends in “teen,” you’re reaching.
5. Ronald Jones, RB
Best-case scenario is that you avoid asking yourself during your draft, “Ronald Jones or Peyton Barber?” But if you find yourself in this predicament, take Jones. No, that advice has nothing to do with how coaches talked him up during the offseason. It has everything to do with Jones’ age (he’ll turn 22 in August) and Tampa Bay’s investment in him (the No. 38 overall pick in last year’s draft). At this point, Barber is a known quantity; Jones is not.
6. Peyton Barber, RB
Barber proved last season he could handle a primary back’s workload, but he showed little else (234 carries, 871 yards). Eight running backs carried the ball as often as he did; all of them gained at least 900 yards. He ranked 34th in yards after contact per attempt, according to Pro Football Focus (minimum 100 carries).
7. Breshad Perriman, WR
Only if your league has a designated slot for injured players.
8. Cameron Brate, TE
In 2016, Brate caught 57 passes for 660 yards and eight touchdowns. Then Howard arrived in 2017, and Brate’s production has been in decline ever since. He has proven to be a reliable target in the red zone, however. Since 2015, his 22 red-zone touchdown catches are most among tight ends and fifth most among all receivers. Given Howard’s injury history, Brate is worth a spot on your watch list.
9. Matt Gay, K
Don’t do it. Kickers aren’t worth substantial draft capital, in fantasy or in real life.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected]. Follow @tometrics.