With the Buccaneers’ regular season opener against the Dallas Cowboys less than two weeks away, now is a good time to start looking at some players who could be big contributors on offense. Here are my top 5 breakout candidates that could help Tampa Bay win a second consecutive championship.
No. 5: Giovani Bernard, RB
Bernard was a new addition for the Buccaneers this offseason after spending eight seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. His ability to both run and catch the ball makes him very versatile, and probably the main reason Tampa wanted him. Reports suggest that Bernard will be a third-down back for the team, something he’s done well throughout his career.
He’ll likely be more of a receiver than a runner in 2021, which is perfectly fine given what the Buccaneers already have. If he can reach 400 receiving yards (and 300-ish rushing yards as well), Bernard should be looked at as a great pickup. This would actually be around the same amount of yardage he totaled in 2020, but for a running back that’s almost 30 years old, it’s still above average.
No. 4: Ke’Shawn Vaughn, RB
Vaughn was a third-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2020, following five productive years at Vanderbilt. Since Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette combined for almost 1,400 rushing yards, however, Vaughn was not a big part of the backfield in his rookie season. This could change in 2021, even if he remains the RB3.
His YPC averages were pretty low in the preseason, but that shouldn’t scare fans. Vaughn may end up finding most of his carries in the redzone, which wouldn’t give him many yards, but could give him a good amount of touchdowns. He could also be a third-down back and complement Giovani Bernard’s role. If Vaughn is able to get four or five scores on the ground this year, it should be considered a success.
No. 3: Scotty Miller, WR
Miller was a sixth-round draft pick by the Buccaneers in 2019, and in 2020, he looked like one of the biggest steals from that class. Miller averaged 15.2 yards per catch in the regular season, and was a big contributor in the playoffs as well. His 39-yard touchdown catch in the NFC championship against Green Bay was crucial in helping the team get to the Super Bowl. Miller could turn into a serious deep threat for Tampa in 2021, becoming Tom Brady’s go-to guy for throws over 20 yards.
No. 2: Antonio Brown, WR
Brown signed with the Buccaneers in the middle of last season. He was decent in his role, but not quite the receiver he had been through most of the 2010s. It’s unlikely that Brown ever gets back to that point, but the Buccaneers certainly give him the best shot of doing it. Even 75% of the production seen in his prime could make a huge difference.
No. 1: Leonard Fournette, RB
I know this is the third running back on the list, but after Fournette had a burst of production late in 2020, he looks ready to put up numbers comparable to his two best seasons in Jacksonville (2017 & 2019). If that ends up being the case, Fournette could be the RB1 in one of the NFL’s best offenses. A breakout list without a guy like that simply wouldn’t make sense, making this final pick pretty self-explanatory.