Tampa Bay. Home to a booming cigar industry, beautiful beaches, and the 2021 Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. But the team that took home the Lombardi trophy after a convincing 31-9 win over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs 2 seasons ago is going to look a lot different heading into this year after a disappointing 2022 season that fell well short of expectations. Gone from the sideline are the talented offensive minds of Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich. Gone are offensive weapons like Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, and Cameron Brate. And most importantly, gone is the greatest QB to ever play the game, Tom Brady (Happy Retirement, GOAT!).
This year’s Bucs’ offense is currently loaded with question marks as it looks to shake off last year and move into the post-Brady era on the right track. The question we’re going to dive into in this article, though, is the running back position. Will Rachaad White be able to fill the Leonard Fournette-sized hole in the Bucs’ backfield? Let’s take a look at some key factors to help us figure this one out.
REASONS TO SELL
Data and analytics tell the story of what is actually happening on the field, and the numbers were not exactly favorable for White in his rookie year. Among qualifying running backs in 2022, White ranks as below-average to poor in several metrics.
Avg. Rush Yards After Contact – 58th out of 60 RBs
Explosive Run Rate – 57th out of 60
Rush Grade – 53rd out of 60
Rush Yards Over Expected per Attempt – 42nd out of 48
DVOA – 34th out of 42 (minimum 100 rush attempts)
In addition, he ranked 65th in the league in true yards per carry with 3.6, according to PlayerProfiler.com. All of this leaves a lot to be desired when talking about White as a runner, and his yards per reception number of 5.8 is well below the NFL average for running backs of 7.3, according to StatMuse.com. If he is going to turn into the kind of player you feel comfortable putting in your lineup every week, White will need to take a big jump forward in his efficiency in both rushing and receiving.
Let’s be honest, there is no world where you must replace the greatest quarterback of all time and not expect a drop-off. Tampa Bay’s quarterback situation heading into the 2023 season is looking much worse than Bucs’ fans would hope for, however. Whether it is Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask at the helm, you shouldn’t expect high-quality play from the Bucs’ signal caller. Bad quarterback play will inevitably lead to a stagnant offense that is unable to move the ball. With yards and touchdowns being crucial to scoring fantasy points, it is hard to see any Buccaneer being an elite contributor to your team if the quarterback can’t consistently move the offense down the field. From a long-term perspective, most early projections are pointing towards the Bucs taking a quarterback in the first round of the 2024 NFL draft, meaning there will likely be some rookie growing pains to work through next season. With the reasonable expectation that high-level play at the quarterback position is at least a season and a half away, it’s looking like it is going to be a little while before we can trust the Bucs’ offense to get anywhere near the dominant unit it was during Brady’s time there.
REASONS TO BUY
Opportunity & Volume
Despite the negatives, there is a clear path to a high volume of touches for Rachaad White. At the moment, Baker Mayfield seems to be in the driver’s seat for the starting job in Tampa. I know, I know, I just talked about how bad the Bucs’ quarterback play could be this season but hear me out. Since coming into the league, Mayfield has been in the top 10 in targeting the running back position. It’s easy to chalk this up to him playing alongside elite pass-catching running backs like Kareem Hunt and Christian McCaffery, but it might surprise you to know that White actually fits into that mold pretty well. As a prospect coming out of Arizona State, White was 1 of only 5 running backs that averaged 90+ yards rushing AND 40+ yards receiving per game over the course of a full season while playing for a Power 5 program. The other 4? Christian McCaffery, Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, and Joe Mixon. That is some very good company to be in when talking about White as a 3-down workhorse type of back. After finishing with 50 receptions on 58 targets while splitting time with Fournette as a rookie, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if White sees 70-80+ targets with Mayfield as his full-season starting quarterback this year. As for his rushing usage, Tampa Bay brought in effectively no competition, with a declining Chase Edmonds and career backup Ke’Shawn Vaughn behind him on the depth chart. This gives merit to OC Dave Canales’ statements about Tampa expecting White to be their every down running back. The opportunity is there for him this season to be, at worst, a volume-based RB3 with potential for RB2 numbers.
Improvement in Efficiency/OL Improvement
While I mentioned how poor White was in certain metrics in 2022, I failed to mention a huge piece of the puzzle that contributed to that. The Buccaneers’ 2022 offensive line was horrendous, and that’s putting it mildly. They began the year losing 2 of their top starters in Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa (Marpet to retirement and Cappa to free agency). The personnel problems only got worse for them when they lost 2 more key starters, Ryan Jensen and
Aaron Stinnie, to significant knee injuries. Finally, rookie Luke Goedeke went down later in the year with a foot injury. All of this led to a Bucs’ offensive line that finished 2022 ranked 28th in Adj. Line Yards, 25th in Stuffed Run Rate, and 25th in Power Success Rate. It is a huge ask for any running back to put up good efficiency numbers when they are consistently being met at or behind the line of scrimmage, and an even bigger ask for a rookie. There is reason to believe that the Bucs’ offensive line will be much improved in 2023 and beyond, though. Ryan Jensen and Aaron Stinnie are both back and healthy to anchor the line alongside Pro Bowl tackle Tristan Wirfs (3/5 starters from the 2021 SB team that was considered a top unit in the NFL), and all 3 are under contract until 2025. Luke Goedeke and Robert Hainsey are also signed for the next couple of years and should be expected to take a step forward this year. Newcomers Matt Feiler and rookie Cody Mauch will also provide some much-needed help. After the disaster that was the 2022 season, this offensive line has nowhere to go but up and all reports indicate that they are heading in that direction. Expect Rachaad White to have a much more efficient season running behind a line that is due for some positive regression, and will be together for the duration of White’s rookie deal.
A lack of competition, the support of his coaching staff, and the clear upside if things work out make this a no-brainer. In today’s NFL, workhorse running backs are few and far between, and White is currently undervalued due to how the community views Tampa’s projected 2023 offense. While I understand the concern in Redraft leagues to some extent, that actually works in our favor for dynasty purposes. White, 24 years old, should be heading into 2024 with an elite prospect as his new quarterback in either Caleb Williams or Drake Maye. When that happens, the optimism should cause his value to skyrocket. This offseason, however, he can be bought for the cost of players like Diontae Johnson or Hollywood Brown who both have some pretty big question marks of their own and could cause managers a lot of headaches over the next 2 years. Owners of aging RBs with efficiency or volume concerns like Joe Mixon and Aaron Jones can reload at the position by offering their older back + a late 2nd or early 3rd for White if the trade situation is available. I know the Bucs’ offense this year can seem a bit scary to invest in, but don’t overthink it. Buy yourself some Rachaad White. You won’t regret it.
As a long time NFL and NCAAF fan, dynasty fantasy football just seemed like the fantasy format for me. Every conversation about fantasy football from start/sit decisions to trade debates to the upcoming rookie class got me more and more hooked, and eventually writing about dynasty has become a passion of mine. When I’m not writing articles to help your fantasy team or deep in trade negotiations of my own, you can find me with the headphones on working on audiobooks, hanging with my family and my dog, or at the felt deep in a game of poker.