The Buccaneers had one of the best offenses in the NFL in 2020, finishing third in scoring, and that was great news for Tom Brady, who threw 40 touchdowns for just the second time in his career and finished as the No. 7 QB in Fantasy last season. However, it wasn't necessarily a great offense for Fantasy otherwise, especially at running back, and the reported signing of Giovani Bernard Monday makes a crowded backfield look even worse.
According to reports, Bernard has agreed to a one-year deal with the Buccaneers after being released by the Bengals last week. He spent the first eight seasons of his career in Cincinnati, catching at least 30 passes in each season, including 47 for 355 yards and three touchdowns in 2020. He joins a backfield that already includes Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette, the latter of whom recently re-signed with the Bucs after a terrific postseason run. Bernard fits in well with what the Bucs needed given his pass-catching chops, but his addition to an already crowded RB room makes it awfully hard to see how anyone is going to stand out here.
Because, for one thing, it's not clear which of Fournette or Jones is likely to be the lead back. As we saw last season, there wasn't a whole lot of room for both of them to thrive. While the duo combined for 1,345 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns, and 398 receiving yards on 64 receptions (89 targets), it was tough to trust either of them for Fantasy -- there were only two stretches where either had consecutive 15-PPR point games. It figures to be more of the same in 2021, as they'll likely split rushing work and ride the hot hand, but the addition of Bernard likely takes out a significant part of their potential production.
Or at least, he should. Tampa's passing game was excellent, but they got very little out of their running backs. Including Ke'Shawn Vaughn and LeSean McCoy, they combined for just 533 yards on 118 targets -- a paltry 4.5 yards per attempt. Brady still leaned on his running backs as the safety valve when pressure came, but the Buccaneers might have had the worst group of pass-catching backs in the league.
Enter Bernard, who has averaged 6.3 yards per target with a 74.8% catch rate for his career. He represents a significant upgrade on the incumbent options, and it's not hard to see him filling that James White role from back when Brady was in New England. I wouldn't expect an 80-catch season from Bernard, but I would guess he leads the RB group in targets and probably deserves the bulk of the obvious passing situations -- at the very least.
Which means Fournette and Jones may be stuck splitting carries with very little in the way of passing game work. If one of them were to emerge as the true lead back -- say, 60% of the RB carries -- they could still be a viable Fantasy starter in an offense that should provide plenty of goal-line opportunities.
However, it's not clear why the Buccaneers would do that. Jones was much more effective than Fournette in the regular season, and at one point Fournette was inactive as Jones got to be a true lead back. However, Jones struggled with injuries late and Fournette rushed for 300 yards on 64 carries in the Bucs four-game postseason run, so I'm not expecting them to just move away from him either.
Which means you're probably looking at the two splitting 300 carries and maybe 50 targets, with no real sense of who might be the lead back in any given week. That seems like a recipe for a Fantasy headache, and one I'm happy to avoid unless I'm looking for a Zero-RB build and need someone in the eighth-round range.
None of these three backs ranks in the top 36 at the position for me at this point, and unless we get some major signs in training camp that they're going to favor Jones or Fournette over the other, I'll probably be sticking clear.