There’s only football to go around. Therefore, you have to be judicious when determining who will be on the receiving end. But when you’re the Bucs and have a quarterback like Tom Brady, however, it makes things a whole lot easier.
It’s no secret: Tampa Bay has offensive weapons at its disposal. A lot of them. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, and co. are one of the main reasons Brady decided to play for the Bucs.
As it turned out, the Bucs continued to add to Brady’s arsenal. Next up were the additions of Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette, and Antonio Brown. All of a sudden, the Bucs offense went from very good to stacked.
And they’re all back for another run in 2021.
In terms of the receiving corps, I don’t know if there is a better assembly in the league. Evans, Godwin, and Brown are among the league’s best. But then you have Scotty Miller, who is one of the better deep threats in the league and Tyler Johnson, a second-year player who made some pretty clutch grabs in 2020. Don’t forget about rookie speedster Jaelon Darden. He could very well add some juice to the room in 2021.
Everywhere you look there is a weapon on Tampa Bay’s offense. But there’s one question that lingers above all: Which Bucs receiver will be Brady’s main target in 2021?
Let’s go ahead and eschew the “Brady doesn’t force the ball, he takes what the defense gives” comments. Yes, that is accurate and is a logical approach, but it’s June. This time of year is what these discussions are made for.
2020 targets per game: 6.8 targets/game
Final stat line: 70 receptions, 1,006 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns, 64.2% catch rate
Evans was injured all year long, yet still managed to lead the teams in receptions, yards, and touchdowns while posting a career-high catch rate.
He also established himself as the team’s top red zone target in 2020. Nothing demonstrates this better than his team-high 28.6% target share inside the 20. The next-highest mark was 20.4% and that belonged to Gronk. Evans’ nine-catch-for-nine-touchdowns stat line doesn’t hurt, either.
It’s not illogical to think that he should be even better in 2021 thanks to better health. And that’s scary to think about.
2020 targets per game: 7 targets/game
Final stat line: 65 receptions, 840 yards, seven touchdowns, 77.4% catch rate
Like Evans, Godwin was injured a lot last season. He even missed four games. The Bucs offense -and Brady for that matter- should be much better with a healthy Godwin in the lineup.
Godwin plays the “Big Slot” position in the offense, which is arguably the most important position after quarterback. Not only does Godwin serve as an effective target over the middle, but his ability to run block keeps him on the field for about 95% of offensive snaps. That’s how much he averaged per game when he was fully healthy through 13 games in 2019.
Godwin can also win on the perimeter. And he can be effective in the screen game. He can do it all.
It’s easy to see why he is a key cog on this offense.
2020 targets per game: 7.8 targets/game
Final stat line: 45 receptions, 483 yards, four touchdowns, 72.6% catch rate
The Bucs used Brown in a variety of ways in 2020. But who would’ve thought he would be Brady’s favorite target over the final eight games of the season?
He was able to manage this on a relatively-low 62.8% of offensive snaps, as well. The question with Brown moving forward is easy to ask: Will he see more playing time as he gets more comfortable in the Bucs offense? We already know Brady has lobbied for Brown in the past, who’s to say it won’t stop here?
Brown still has what it takes to be an elite playmaker in the league. Just watch his tape from last year. You’ll see he has plenty of juice left.
If there is a dark horse to become Brady’s No. 1 target in 2021, it’s certainly Brown.
2020 targets per game: 3.3 targets/game
Final stat line: 33 receptions, 501 yards, three touchdowns, 62.3% catch rate
Miller has become the team’s deep threat and a good one, at that. His 11.9-yards before catch per reception and his 15.8-yard average depth of target led the team among receivers with at least four targets.
He was able to make several highlight-reel grabs in 2020. His most famous is the touchdown grab right before halftime against Green Bay in the NFC Championship game.
The third-year wideout is also used in the screen game and every now and then over the middle, but he makes his hay on the perimeter. Unless there is a major disturbance among the Bucs receivers, it’s hard to see Miller becoming Brady’s top target.
2020 targets per game: 1.2 targets/game
Final stat line: 12 receptions, 169 yards, two touchdowns, 70.6% catch rate
It didn’t look Johnson’s 2020 season was going to be much thanks to a hamstring injury that prevented him from participating in training camp, but the fifth-round pick proved himself as the season went on.
He saved his best play of the year for the playoffs, where he made a diving catch to convert a 3rd and 11 against the Saints. There were several moments where he flashed the skillset that provided Bruce Arians’ elation when he became available in the draft.
Like Godwin, Johnson can play inside and out. He’s also very good after the catch. But he still has a ways to go development-wise before he starts to move up the depth chart/target pecking order.
2020 targets per game: N/A
Final stat line: N/A
Darden is the newbie among the Bucs receivers. Despite being green, he and Brady should connect for a few plays in 2021.
But Darden’s main contributions will likely be on special teams. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how he impacts the team this year.
Which Bucs receiver do you think becomes Brady’s go-to target in 2021? Let us know via the comment section below!