Wed, 29 Jun 2022

Rosters and Recoveries | S.S. Mailbag

Buccaneers
20 May 2022, 19:26 GMT+10

Tampa Bay BuccaneersThis week, Buccaneers fans have questions about the receiving corps in 2022 and Chris Godwin in particular, possible additional moves in free agency and moreScott Smith

The NFL's full 2022 schedule dropped last Thursday and we've been obsessing over it ever since (as has Tristan Wirfs). We've done a series of Roundtable discussions on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' schedule, specifically, including a look at the toughest stretch of the season. We've looked a little closer at some inequities in the Buccaneers' slate of games, both good and bad. We've broken down five key things to know about that schedule, including Tampa Bay getting five prime-time games for the third year in a row.

When we were pinpointing that most grueling run of games on the Buccaneers' schedule, we didn't have to look far. Two of the three writers involved in the Roundtable discussion pointed to the first four games of the season, during which the Buccaneers do in fact face the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL. Like the one out four dentists who doesn't recommend Crest, one of us dissented just for the sake of dissention. It's pretty clear that the Buccaneers will run a very demanding gauntlet to start the 2022 campaign.

Within that challenge is the sub-test of starting the season with two straight road games. It does provide a little bit of historical symmetry. The Buccaneers will be playing their 25th season in Raymond James Stadium this year, and their very first one also started with two road games. That was 1998, and in that case the Bucs actually played seven straight games outside of Tampa, including five preseason contests, before officially opening their new stadium in Week Three of the regular season. This season even offers some similarities to that long road jaunt, as the Bucs will also play the last two of their three preseason contests away from home.

Overall, this is just the sixth time in 47 seasons that the Buccaneers have been given a schedule that starts with two straight road games. It also happened in 1998, as mentioned, as well as 1984, 1995 2001 and 2016. And the 2022 Buccaneers have an opportunity to accomplish something no previous team has done in franchise history: win two games on the road to start the season. The 1984 and 1998 team started with two road losses and the other three opened with a 1-1 road split.

That would be a glorious beginning for this team, especially since the first two home games are then against prime Super Bowl contenders Green Bay and Kansas City and their MVP quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. A 2-0 start with eight of their next 15 games at home and one in Munich, Germany would certainly put the Buccaneers in a good position to chase a second consecutive NFC South title.

So the Buccaneers have never done it before, but just how common are such starts? Well, since the 1970 merger, it has happened less than once per season. In those 52 campaigns, 41 teams have managed the 2-0 road start to a season, most recently both Denver and San Francisco last year. It's actually happened six times over the last four seasons, but before that it had only occurred six times in the previous 16 years.

Those 42 teams finished their seasons with a combined winning percentage of .594, which when applied to a 17-game season would be almost exactly a 10-7 season. Last year, every team that won at least 10 games made the playoffs, including the aforementioned 49ers, who went all the way to the NFC Championship Game. On the other hand, the aforementioned 2021 Broncos did not win 10 games or make the playoffs, finishing 7-10. It's probably worth noting that not all 2-0 road starts in the first two weeks of a season are created equal. Denver opened last year with wins at the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars. Those two teams combined to go 7-27 last year.

Overall, of the 42 teams since 1970 that have started their season with two road wins in the first two weeks, 23 went on to make the playoffs, which honestly isn't as high as I would have expected or hoped. Five went on to win the Super Bowl, most recently Kansas City in 2019. The Chiefs beat San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV, and the 49ers also started that season with road wins in Weeks One and Two. The 2019 49ers are one of three teams on the list that made it to the Super Bowl but lost.

So, no, the Buccaneers won't start printing playoff tickets if they manage to win their two road games to start this season. (Nobody really prints tickets anymore, anyway.) There will be a lot more work to be done at that point. But at the very least, instead of worrying about this being a particularly tough way to start a season, we can look at it as a golden opportunity.

And now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

How many receivers will the Bucs carry going into the regular season?

-dakota.banks (via Instagram)

The target number will be six, I'm sure. That's pretty much been the default number for the Buccaneers through the past three seasons, and even though Todd Bowles has replaced Bruce Arians as the head coach most of the same coaching and personnel staffs are still in place. Now, it can and does fluctuate from time to time during the season, dipping down to five or going up to seven for a while, usually due to injury circumstances. But it usually ends up settling back at six after a week or two.

The number of receivers on the roster is also usually impacted by whether or not one of those players is also the primary punt returner, kickoff returner or both. In 2019, The Buccaneers started the season with six receivers on the 53-man roster and stayed there for six weeks until Bobo Wilson was waived. Wilson had been handling punt returns but the Bucs then gave that job to running back T.J. Logan, who had already been the man on kickoff returns. After that, Tampa Bay just rolled with five receivers into December, when a rash of injuries through everything into disarray for the last three weeks. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller all got hurt, as did Logan, which opened the return job back up. The Bucs then fluctuated between six and seven while adding the likes of Cyril Grayson, Spencer Schnell, John Franklin and Jaydon Mickens.

The next season, Mickens was the return man from the jump and the Bucs started the season with six receivers again. They stayed at that number until the addition of Antonio Brown in Week Nine, after which they briefly carried seven until Mickens went on the COVID list and then was subsequently moved to the practice squad. Mickens came back to make it seven again for the final regular season and the rest of the playoffs.

In 2021, the Bucs once again started with six receivers, stayed at the number when Scotty Miller landed on IR and Mickens came up from the practice squad but by Week 10 were down to five with Miller still out and Mickens no longer on the 53-man roster. At the end of the season it was back six, with Brown and Chris Godwin out, Miller back and Grayson and Breshad Perriman up.

So, like I said, six is pretty clearly the target but five is possible if none of the receivers is making a contribution on special teams, either as a return man or as a cover man, as with Justin Watson in recent seasons. On the flip side, I don't think seven is out of the question, at least to start the season if not for the whole thing, if the return man is a receiver - such as Jaelon Darden - but not necessarily heavily involved in the offense.

I say that because it's not that easy to look at the current wide receiver depth chart and get it down to five plus a sixth as a return man. For argument's sake, let's say Darden is the return man but isn't a big part of the offense. Then you start with the obvious duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Wide Receivers Coach Kevin Garver said last week that it's a wide open competition for the spots after that, but I have a hard time seeing the Bucs not keeping their free agent acquisition, Russell Gage.

After that, can you whittle it down to just two more from among Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Cyril Grayson and Breshad Perriman? It's not easy, at least it isn't for me. Miller and Johnson have been roster locks the last two years but Grayson really came on strong at the end of 2021 and Perriman has done a lot of good things for the Bucs over two different seasons. Also keep in mind that Godwin is not a lock to be ready to go by Week One as he returns from last year's late-season knee injury. If he's going to miss some time but not enough to put him on the PUP list for the six-week minimum, the Bucs may carry a seventh receiver at least until Godwin is ready to go.

And all of this is without considering whether any of the young, unproven receivers on the roster will somehow force his way into the picture with a strong camp and preseason. That's more of a long shot occurrence most seasons, but you never know. That group includes holdover Travis Jonsen, January signee Vyncint Smith and undrafted rookies Kameron Brown, Kaylon Gieger, Jerreth Sterns and Deven Thompkins. On paper at least, Sterns is particularly interesting after he won the receiving triple crown at Western Kentucky last year, leading the nations in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. He also might have some added value in the return game.

So I'll stick with my original answer of six, dakota, but I'm glad I'm not the one who has to pick which six.

Speaking of which...

How is Chris Godwin's recovery coming along?

-randomraysfan (via Instagram)

We are squarely in the Starved for Information Zone on this one and likely will remain there until the start of training camp. All we have to go on to this point are some thoughts by Godwin himself back in March when he signed his new long-term deal and Bowles' very brief comments on the matter earlier this week. Neither of them were willing to lay out any specific timetables. Said Godwin:

"I'm doing really well in my recovery. I'm very pleased with this process so far. Obviously, it's a long one. So, can't really project too far into the future. I just try to take it day-by-day, just like I have with my entire career. But, I like where I'm at right now. I'm feeling confident about this season, I'm excited that we're getting a lot of the guys back. It's a long road here, and I'm ready to be a part of the whole thing."

This was on March 21, three months and two days from the game against New Orleans in which he got injured. Players differ in their recovery time for a variety of reasons but in a vacuum the recovery time from an ACL injury is usually estimated at around nine months. That's why his availability for the start of the season is in question. Godwin said back in March that he had not at that time set a date that was his goal for a return to action.

"I don't have one in mind quite yet," he said. "Thankfully this is my only time now going through this. I'm not really sure what those kind of timelines look like. I just try to take it a day at a time. It's a long process and I feel like when you start projecting real far in the future it can be a bit daunting. [I'm] trying to keep my positivity. Trying to enjoy where I'm at now and enjoy the little victories."

Almost two more months have passed since those comments were made, and on Tuesday Bowles sounded a similar note:

"He's coming along. Obviously, he's better than where he was. But, he's not where he needs to be. He's coming along - he works hard."

And Bowles also eschewed the idea of a specific return date goal:

"When he's ready to go, he's ready to go. We don't put a timetable on it."

Players who are recovering from a previous season injury and are not ready to get back into practice are usually placed on the active/physically unable to perform list (PUP). This does not take them off the 90-man roster and they can return to practice at any time. The sole purpose of giving a player the active/PUP designation is to gain the option of putting him on reserve/PUP when the season starts, if necessary. So our first clue will be whether or not Godwin goes on active/PUP - and it would be extremely encouraging news if he did not - and then we'll be waiting to see when and if he gets into practice in training camp. Until then, I don't think we're going to hear any additional information that's going to clear the matter up.

Hi, Scott --

Of all the NFL and Buccaneer milestones within Tom Brady's reach this season, which do you consider the most noteworthy?

Also, any chance we'll see a return of the league's best-ever draft contest? (Yours, that is.)

Don Lee, St. Pete (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

Flattery will get you everywhere, Don, my old friend.

Yes, we used to run a pretty entertaining draft contest on Buccaneers.com, one in which you had to make a lot of different predictions about what would happen, and not just fill out a first-round mock. I believe Don won the whole thing at least once, IIRC. I'm sorry, Don, I haven't had a conversation with anyone in years about bringing it back, so I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you. But I'll never say never!

Anyway, as for Tom Brady it's hard to believe there are any milestones that he hasn't already put in the rear view mirror. It felt like he was breaking some new and incredible record every week over the past two seasons. What's left? He's already the all-time leader in both the regular season and the postseason in all the counting stats - attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. With Drew Brees retired there's nobody close enough to catch him on any of those lists anytime soon, so it's almost as if Brady will be setting new records every time he unleashes another pass this season.

There are niche ones. With the game in Germany in Week 10, he'll have the opportunity to become the first quarterback to win four International Series games (he's 3-0) and the first to win in three different countries in that series. He's previously won two games in London and one in Mexico City.

At this point, I think what people will be paying attention to are when he hits some impressive round number in one of the counting stats, and there is one very big one that is well within reach if you add his regular season and postseason numbers together. When you do that, you get 8,428 completions in 13,172 attempts for 97,569 and 710 touchdowns. The one in play this season is the yards; if Brady throws for 2,431 yards in 2022 he will hit 100,000. I know there are some who think that type of milestone is arbitrary - 99,999 career yards wouldn't be any less impressive. But when he hits a big round number like that it just reminds you how incredible the numbers are overall. Personally, I like this one.

Will Brady get it? Barring an injury, it would seem like a lock. He threw for 4,633 yards in 2020 and 5,316 last year. He could get there by midseason. Brady has averaged 301.5 passing yards per game during the regular season as a Buccaneer. At that rate, he would need about eight games and four minutes of the next first quarter to rack up enough yards to get to six digits.

Are there any positions on the team where you could see some more depth added before the beginning of the season?

-mj.herring (via Instagram)

I'm just going to hit this one quickly because I answered a similar question in last week's mailbag. Since then, the Buccaneers have made a few additions to get the roster to exactly the 90-man offseason limit and Todd Bowles has said this about the team's satisfaction with the roster as it is:

"We like the roster the way it is, but there's some spots we're looking at that we can possibly bring in."

You'll often hear coaches, and GMs for that matter, say something along the lines of, "We're never finished working on the roster," and "We're always looking to upgrade at every position, if possible." Bowles' comments, while obviously very brief and noncommittal, were also just a teeny bit more specific, as he said there were certain positions at which the Buccaneers were taking a look at making additions/upgrades.

Bowles did not say which positions, of course, but I'll guess the same few I did last week: defensive lineman, inside linebacker and outside linebacker. And I'd probably put them in that order of priority.

Obviously, the Buccaneers made defensive lineman Logan Hall there first pick last month's draft and they gave Pro Bowler Vita Vea a long new contract in January and re-signed Will Gholston for another year in March. So it's not like the cupboard is bare. But at least as of now Ndamukong Suh and Steve McLendon have not been re-signed, and they represent about 1,110 defensive snaps on the line from last year's team. Somebody has to pick those up and right now you're looking at Hall, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and a handful of guys that haven't yet played very much. If the Bucs could find a steady veteran at the right price to give them 400 or 500 snaps, I would like that investment.

At inside linebacker, Kevin Minter has also not re-signed and he has been the player to step into the lineup every time Devin White or Lavonte David has missed time over the last three seasons. It's quite possible that the Buccaneers think 2021 fifth-round pick K.J. Britt is ready to take on that role, and I would certainly like to see that happen, but as of right there are no off-ball linebackers with any experience of note behind David and White, unless you count safety Keanu Neal. Neal played linebacker for the Cowboys last year but very much seems intent on going back to safety this year. Even if Britt is first in line for the main reserve role, the Bucs could probably still use some depth in addition to him, special teams ace Grant Stuard and undrafted rookies J.J. Russell and Olakunle Fatukasi.

With the selection of Andre Anthony in the seventh round, the Buccaneers may not have as pressing of a need at outside linebacker as the other two spots. The Bucs generally carry five OLBs and play four of them fairly regularly. Last year that was Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Anthony Nelson and Cam Gill. Pierre-Paul is unsigned but Tryon-Shoyinka should be ready to join Barrett in the starting lineup. Anthony Nelson came on very strong at the end of last season and appears to be a very capable third man in the rotation. So the Bucs could be alright if Gill can give them more snaps in the rotation this year and Anthony can show enough to be kept around as the fifth guy. Still, one more veteran at the spot isn't the worst idea, again if the price is right.

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