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Fantasy Football: Are any Tampa Bay running backs worth targeting?

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

Things went about as perfect as possible for the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Transitioning from Jameis Winston to Tom Brady under center helped the offense finish as the league’s third-ranked scoring unit, while their eighth-ranked defense rose to the occasion more than ever during the team’s Super Bowl victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The only potential downside to last season’s Buccaneers squad was the general performance of its running backs. Don’t get it twisted: Leonard Fournette was brilliant in the playoffs and Ronald Jones largely made good things happen with the ball in his hands all year. Rather, the Buccaneers’ constant usage shakeups at the position made the group a perennial nightmare for fantasy football managers to figure out.

Entering 2021, it sure looks like a lot of the same usage-induced problems exist from a season ago. What follows is a breakdown on the projected role of each of the Buccaneers running backs as well as what to make of their fantasy value ahead of next season.

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This is suddenly a deep running back room

There are basically four main contenders for snaps inside the Buccaneers backfield with all due respect to Troymaine Pope and (especially) C.J. Prosise:

  1. Fournette
  2. Jones
  3. Giovani Bernard
  4. Ke’Shawn Vaughn

First, the artist known as Lombardi Lenny. Things haven’t generally been great for Fournette during his four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buccaneers, but that all changed last January and February when he averaged 112 total yards per game with four total trips to the end zone. Some of the highlights were borderline erotic.

Still, Fournette wasn’t necessarily even an above-average back on the year from an efficiency standpoint.

  • PFF rushing grade: 72.9 (No. 34 among 48 RBs with 100-plus carries, including playoffs)
  • Missed tackles forced per attempt: 0.14 (tied for No. 34)
  • Yards per carry: 4.1 (tied for No. 35)
  • Yards after contact per carry: 2.7 (tied for No. 31)
  • PFF receiving grade: 59.7 (No. 29)
  • Yards per reception: 7.1 (No. 29)
  • Yards per route run: 1.2 (tied for No. 20)

And then we have RoJo, who ranked 11th, 27th, 10th and sixth in the rushing categories above. It was a good thing he was so good as a rusher, because PFF literally didn’t grade another running back as a worse receiver. Jones once caught a touchdown and didn’t even disagree when the ref incorrectly told him that he dropped the ball.

Unfortunately, Jones was hampered by injuries the entire season, missing Weeks 15-16 on the Covid list while also dealing with a broken finger. It was seemingly a calf issue that had him looking like a shell of himself during the brief moments he was afforded during the playoffs.

With all due respect to everything Fournette accomplished during the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl run: RoJo is the best runner of the football on this team.

Of course, this year RoJo and Lenny aren’t alone. Longtime Bengals scatback Giovani Bernard joins 2020 third-round rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn as the top two candidates to soak up a heavy portion of the 89 combined targets Jones and Fournette saw. The mustache should be expected to win out: Gio has caught at least 30 passes in every season of his career and possesses a level of nuance in the passing game that was missing from this roster in 2020. Still, a larger Year 2 role for Vaughn also shouldn’t be discounted.

The good news for everyone involved in this likely multi-back committee is that ….

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