The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are once again bringing back most of their roster that won the Super Bowl just 17 months ago. Many of the key players such as Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett are still some of the best in the league and are primed to lead the Bucs back to the playoffs. However, as much as things have stayed the same it could be a very different feel in 2022.
There were a few important changes in the offseason that will affect the offense in particular. This includes a coaching change following Bruce Arians stepping down and replacing both starting guards Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa.
With defensive mastermind Todd Bowles taking over as head coach, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will be in full control of the offense. It has often been speculated on how much influence Arians had on the offense as a guy who made a name for himself as an offensive coach who loved to air things out. With Leftwich firmly in the driver seat it’s unclear if the team will continue to pass as much as they have, which was more than any other team last season, or it will shift to a more balanced approach.
Filling The Gap
How the Buccaneers filled their open guard positions may also indicate a move to a more run-heavy offense than they were under Arians. General manager Jason Licht traded with the New England Patriots to acquire starting right guard Shaq Mason, who is one of the better run blockers in the NFL. They also drafted Luke Goedeke out of Central Michigan where he helped lead the way for college football’s leading rusher in 2021.
This is just reading the tea leaves, but I am expecting the Bucs to run the ball more this coming season. This could mean starting running back Leonard Fournette could enter a new phase of his career. In short, get ready to meet “Breakout Lenny”.
Fournette signed a three year $21 million contract with the Bucs in the offseason. He’s 27 years old and in the prime of his career. These next few years will likely be his best from a physical standpoint and the Bucs made it clear they want those years to be in Tampa Bay.
And why wouldn’t they? Fournette has been a very good player for the Buccaneers. He’s averaging more yards per carry than he did in Jacksonville and only has three fewer rushing touchdowns than he did with the Jaguars despite 20 fewer games. It’s not a stretch to say he’s been playing the best football of his career.
So now with an offensive coordinator who is accused at times of running the ball too often, a defensive minded coach and a pair of run blocking guards, Fournette could look even better in 2022. On top of that, star quarterback Tom Brady is another year older. Taking weight off the 45 year olds shoulders makes sense for a team that hopes to be playing 20 games or so.
So what is a realistic expectation for Fournette this season?
It’s very possible we see Fournette set a new career high in rushing touchdowns. His current career high is nine, which he set as a rookie. Last season he had eight on 180 rushing attempts (82 attempts fewer than his rookie year). I expect both attempts and touchdowns to go up this season.
In terms of rushing yards, that will depend on how many more attempts he gets. Fournette had 812 yards on the ground last season. His career high is 1152 yards in 2019 on 85 more carries. Keep in mind that Fournette only ran for three touchdowns in 2019.
With a projected increased workload, particularly with Ronald Jones gone, I expect Fournette to rush for over 1,000 yards and double digit touchdowns. He’s in the best situation of his career and has been playing the best football of his career. In 2022 it’s time for him to have the most productive season of his career.
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