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The 2021 NFL season may barely be in the books, but Dave Richard is already getting a jump on his 2022 preparation by highlighting at least one key statistic to know for each NFL team that had a major bearing on their 2021 performance and could mean a great deal for their 2022 outlook. In this space, Dave dives into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

More Early Prep (AFC): BAL | BUF | CIN | CLE | DEN | DET | GB | LAR | MIN | SEA | NYG | WAS | PHI | NO | TB

More Early Prep (NFC): ARI | ATL | CAR | CHI | DAL | HOU | IND | JAC | KC | LAC | LV | MIA | NE | NYJ

Tampa Bay Buccaneers stats to know

Tom Brady had open receivers constantly in 2021 when the majority of Godwin, Evans, Gronk and Antonio Brown were on the field. Defenses just didn't have the personnel to cover them all and Brady is the best of the best when it comes to dissecting defenses and making good decisions. 

But Brown is long gone, Godwin is coming off of ACL surgery and there are questions about the reliability of bench receivers from Tyler Johnson to Scott Miller to Cyril Grayson. The Bucs needed not just depth, but wide receivers whom Brady could count on. 

Russell Gage offers the Bucs all that while also showing up as a can-play-anywhere type of receiver. He proved his versatility last season once Calvin Ridley left the team. 

  • 2020 snaps: 65% in slot, 35% out wide 
  • 2021 snaps, Weeks 1-7 (3 games): 53% in slot, 47% out wide
  • 2021 snaps, Weeks 8-17 (11 games): 41% in slot, 59% out wide

His size isn't anything special but Gage is a good route-runner who can play through physicality. His speed, while solid, isn't his greatest asset. He won't blow past many defensive backs and he'll have to make a lot of contested catches, which is cool because he ranked 22nd among receivers in contested-catch rate last year (he was 54th in 2020). 

Gage also proved in his 11-game breakout without Ridley that he can be pretty good no matter where he lined up. 

  • out wide: 43 targets, 29-384-2, 13.2 yards per catch, 2.38 yards per route run, 67% catch rate 
  • in slot: 36 targets, 28-291-1, 10.4 yards per catch, 1.98 yards per route run, 78% catch rate 

Of note, he averaged a sensational 16.5 yards per catch specifically when lined up wide to the quarterback's right. That's where Brown lined up the most last year with the Bucs (26 more routes there versus the quarterback's left).

If Godwin is out to start the season, Gage can handle his workload and line up in and out of the slot. When Godwin's ready to play, Gage can line up more outside.

Of course, the biggest issue involves how many targets he'll get -- when Ridley was out he averaged 7.9 per game. There's no way he'll see that many as long as the triumvirate of Evans-Godwin-Gronk are on the field. In eight games when all three Bucs played, the average of the highest target total from any other receiver was 4.3, and that included contributions from Antonio Brown. 

That's the fear with Gage, that he'll be an overpaid No. 3 receiver who underwhelms in the stat sheet. But the longer Godwin figures to miss games to begin the year, the brighter Gage's short-term outlook gets. And even if Godwin's ready to go, Gage carries lottery-ticket potential as an insta-starter if the Bucs incur injuries at receiver, just as they did in 2021. 

Round 8 is the time to start considering Gage in full PPR, and a round later in other redraft formats. His arrival shouldn't shake the value of Evans or Gronkowski, but if he works smoothly with Brady, he will give the Bucs reason to let Godwin take his time in his recovery. It's enough to make Gage one of the top receivers to go after if you miss out on wideouts earlier in drafts.