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State of the 2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Will post-Tom Brady era begin with playoff run?

Where does your squad stand in 2023? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the Buccaneers organization, Buccaneers fans around the world and those who have spent their yearly clothing budget on Buccaneers Creamsicle throwback uniform merch. 

I don't think Tom Brady is going to return this season. And let's be honest, trying to run it back one last time rarely seems to work in the NFL. But it's a new day for Tampa Bay. Can the Buccaneers get back to the top of the NFL? Good question. But before we look forward, we need to look back.

2022 rewind

One high from last season: Advancing to the postseason. Despite all the Buccaneers' issues in 2022, they won some must-win games over the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers down the stretch. I know that's not saying much. Like, hey, you won a Golden Globe award. But the point is, they did win their division. Which is always cool.

One low from last season: Losing to the Cowboys, 31-14, in the Super Wild Card Round. The home loss to Dallas was pretty embarrassing. Although, when you're 8-9 and hosting a playoff game against a 12-win team, I don't think chagrin is top of mind. But it was so sad watching Tom Brady walk off the field for the final time. I mean, at least we think that was it. I did wait around for the credits to see if something was going to be revealed, but then I remembered this isn't a movie. At least not yet.

2023 VIPs

Quarterback: Baker Mayfield. That's right, Baker Mayfield is in line to be the starting quarterback for the Buccaneers. There hasn't been a downgrade at the headliner position like this since Rachelle Lefevre was replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard for the role of Victoria in the Twilight series. All right, that's not completely fair. I've always sort of liked Mayfield going back to his time at Oklahoma. And he did play pretty well in his five games with the Rams last season. It would take an absolute cynic to point out he played his best football of the season with Sean McVay as his head coach. I'm trying to turn over a new leaf and bring some positivity. I absolutely won't point that out. He does have some talent to work with in Tampa Bay. I'll keep an open mind.

Projected 2023 MVP: Mayfield. I mean, Mayfield could easily be replaced by former second-round pick Kyle Trask, who is also competing for the starting job. So, let's just say that this award will come down to the quarterback position. There are still good players on defense, but to get back to last year's level, the quarterback will need to play pretty well.  

New face to know: Ryan Neal, safety. The Bucs might have a steal here after signing Neal to a one-year deal in free agency. Neal was able to step in for the injured Jamal Adams in Seattle last season and he played pretty well in 10 starts. This was one of those low-key signings that doesn't make the all the headlines but was still pretty good. He can thrive under head coach Todd Bowles this season, and a defense that was already pretty good should benefit. Especially Antoine Winfield Jr., who will be playing alongside him at safety. 

2023 breakout star: Cade Otton, tight end. Otton recently told reporters that he wanted to be like Rob Gronkowski, which is great. When I'm on the golf course, I want to be more like Jordan Spieth. I think Otton might have a better chance of accomplishing his goal than I do of reaching mine. But hey, I've been chipping well. I kind of like what I saw out of Otton last year. He had 65 targets and ended up scoring a pair of touchdowns. It might not seem like a lot of touchdowns, but that was as many as Julio Jones scored in 2022. And I heard Julio was pretty good. Otton could be a like a better version of Cameron Brate, which isn't as headline-grabbing as saying you want to be like Gronk.

2023 braintrust

Table inside Article
Head coach Todd Bowles
General manager Jason Licht
Offensive coordinator Dave Canales
Run game coordinator/defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers
Pass game coordinator/inside linebackers coach Larry Foote
Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong
  • Man, I sort of feel bad for Todd Bowles here. He no longer has Tom Brady and Baker Mayfield is his quarterback. No disrespect to Baker, of course.
  • Canales was the quarterback coach for Geno Smith, the Comeback Player of the Year last season. He's going to be an NFL head coach if he does the same thing with Mayfield this year. I know I'm coming off as really mean toward Mayfield. I'm trying not to be. But the 42-year-old will indeed be a hot coaching candidate if the Bucs are successful this season. 
  • Jason Licht has been one of the most well-respected GMs in the NFL. As I mentioned previously, I loved the savvy signing of Neal. It is worth pointing out the team did re-sign Jamel Dean, Anthony Nelson and Lavonte David. Keeping those players around for a potential rebuild was a pretty nice stroke of genius.

Roster reshuffling

Below is a rundown of the Buccaneers' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.

Table inside Article
Draft class (round-pick) Key additions Key departures
Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh (1-19) Baker Mayfield, QB Tom Brady, QB
Cody Mauch, OL, North Dakota State (2-48) John Wolford, QB Blaine Gabbert, QB
YaYa Diaby, DE, Louisville (3-82) Chase Edmonds, RB Giovani Bernard, RB
SirVocea Dennis, LB, Pittsburgh (5-153) Matt Feiler, OG Leonard Fournette, RB
Payne Durham, TE, Purdue (5-171) Greg Gaines, DT Julio Jones, WR
Josh Hayes, DB, Kansas State (6-181) Jamel Dean, CB Scott Miller, WR
Trey Palmer, WR, Nebraska (6-191) Rodrigo Blankenship, K Breshad Perriman, WR
Jose Ramirez, Edge, Eastern Michigan (6-196) Chase McLaughlin, K Cameron Brate, TE
Kyle Rudolph, TE
Josh Wells, OT
Donovan Smith, OT
Shaq Mason, OG
Carl Nassib, Edge
William Gholston, DL
Akiem Hicks, DL
Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DL
Sean Murphy-Bunting, CB
Mike Edwards, S
Keanu Neal, S
Logan Ryan, S
Ryan Succop, K

2023 roadmap

Three key dates:

  • Week 1 at Minnesota Vikings. This seems like one of those games where the pundits will overwhelmingly take the Vikings because they are coming off a 13-win season and the Bucs have their problems. But then somehow the Bucs will win. For the record, I'm taking the Vikings.
  • Week 6 vs. Detroit Lions. That's right, former NFC Central division rivals square off. This will be a call back to the old "Black and Blue division" and also mark the return of the Creamsicle uniforms.
  • Week 11 at San Francisco 49ers. Hear me out. Tom Brady returns ... to quarterback the 49ers. Just kidding. This joke would have been better if the Buccaneers were facing the Raiders this season. But it's worth noting the Buccaneers close out the season by playing six of their final seven games against teams that didn't make the playoffs last year.

Will the Buccaneers be able to ...

... run the football? The Buccaneers finished dead last in the NFL in rushing offense last season with 76.9 yards per game on the ground, a huge reason for their struggles. In fact, the Bucs scored just five rushing touchdowns. They were second in the NFL in passing, but you might have heard Tom Brady isn't there anymore. Remind me who the quarterback is again? Oh right, Baker. One of the quarterback's best friends is the rushing attack, and Tampa Bay needs to be better. Canales knows this. His former team, the Seahawks, ranked 18th in rushing (120.1 rush yards per game) last season and finished among the top 10 in yards per attempt (4.8), which really helped Geno Smith. Back in Tampa, Leonard Fournette is gone and has been replaced with last year's third-round pick, Rachaad White, and veteran Chase Edmonds. White has talent. He averaged more than 14 touches over the last nine games last season, but his biggest issue will be holding on to the football. White lost three fumbles last year, the most by a Bucs running back since 2015.

... take advantage of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin? The duo sticks out on this Buccaneers offense, especially since they can make up for Mayfield's shortcomings. Evans and Godwin still make up one of the best receiving tandems in the NFL. There are few I would put ahead of them. (We can debate that on Twitter.) Evans is the only player in NFL history to have at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first nine seasons. Godwin has averaged 78.2 receiving yards per game over the last four seasons. He had 65 receptions from the slot last year, too, which unlocked his game a little bit more. Let's not sleep on this duo.

One storyline ...

... people shouldn't overlook: The defense was pretty good in 2022. It was ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed. I could have just said tied for ninth -- but top 10 sounds cooler. The Bucs' defense was better against the pass (ninth in the NFL) and really good at getting teams off the field on third down (sixth). Going back to what Licht accomplished this offseason -- keeping some key pieces and adding a few new players, like Neal -- the defense should be able to keep the Buccaneers competitive once again.

For 2023 to be a success, the Buccaneers MUST:

  • Make the playoffs? After a disappointing 2022 season, I think Todd Bowles is going to need to make the playoffs, especially in a division as wide open as the NFC South. All four teams must feel like they can win the crown and go to the playoffs. Getting into the tournament is a huge accomplishment. Yet, for teams that demonstrate they are not among the elite, there will be other things to consider. I'm talking about a potentially robust quarterback class in the 2024 NFL Draft. When you have questions at quarterback -- and the Bucs do -- looking for an answer at the position has to be front of mind -- and likely is for fans, too. But again, I think this team should be in the mix for the playoffs because of what the division looks like right now.

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