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Buccaneers’ X-factor for 2022 NFL season, and it’s not Tom Brady

Buccaneers, Buccaneers X-factor, Mike Evans, Tom Brady, Chris Godwin, 2022 NFL season

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have high expectations for the 2022 NFL season. And with Tom Brady leading the charge, they have Super Bowl aspirations.

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers are just one year removed from a Super Bowl victory. In Brady’s first season with the team, they took down the Kansas City Chiefs, becoming the champs.

Last season, the Buccaneers fell short of reaching the big game. While they finished first in the NFC South with a record of 13-4, they lost in the divisional round of the playoffs. The eventual champs, the Los Angeles Rams, took down the Buccaneers 30-27.

Since signing with the Buccaneers in 2020, Tom Brady has been just as dominant as always. Over the past two seasons, he has thrown for 9,949 yards, 83 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions. He has also posted a record of 24-9 in his 33 starts.

Even with the success that Brady has found with the Buccaneers, it seemed that the quarterback was headed towards retirement during the offseason. But a change of heart brought Brady back to the team.

And now at 45 years old, Tom Brady seems set on leading the team to another Super Bowl.

The Buccaneers have surrounded Tom Brady with some of the best weapons in the NFL. There is elite talent on both sides of the ball.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Buccaneers have some of the NFL’s best players on all three levels. Vita Vea and Akiem Hicks will lead the group in the trenches. The linebacker trio of Devin White, Lavonte David, and Shaquille Barrett is among the best in the NFL. And the secondary is full of young talent in Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Antoine Winfield, and Mike Edwards. The group also has strong depth in Keanu Neal, Logan Ryan, and Sean Murphy-Bunting.

On offense, the Buccaneers could have one of the best groups of skill players in the league. The receiving core is full of star power in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, and Russell Gage. This is arguably the best group of pass catchers in the NFL when fully healthy.

Expectations are also high for this Buccaneers’ running back room. Leonard Fournette will handle lead back duties, but rookie Rachaad White is also expected to make an impact.

Even with Tom Brady leading the offense, it will take one of these other offensive players to help this unit be elite yet again.

Buccaneers X-factor: Mike Evans

As noted, the Buccaneers have assembled an elite wide receiver group. And on paper, they seem set to have a great season.

But when looking past the names on the list, there is more to be discussed.

Chris Godwin is arguably the most underrated wide receiver in the NFL. He has shown time and time again just how good he is. He finished the 2021 season with a career-high 98 receptions for 1,103 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns.

But Godwin’s 2021 season was cut short. The veteran wide receiver went down with a torn ACL.

It seems that Godwin will be ready to go for the start of the season but he is still being impacted by the injury. He is still practicing wearing a non-contact jersey and may need time to catch up to speed.

The addition of Julio Jones seems like a cheat code for the Buccaneers’ offense, but he is not the receiver that he was once.

During his ten seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, he was elite. He steadily put up big numbers and was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro.

But in recent seasons, Julio Jones has struggled to stay healthy. He hasn’t played a full season since 2018. He also happened to lead the NFL in receiving yards that year. But in the three seasons since, he has missed a total of 15 games.

Jones spent the 2021 season with the Tennessee Titans. He played in 10 total games, recording 31 receptions for 434 receiving yards and one touchdown.

With Godwin coming off of injury, and the jury still being out on Jones, all eyes will fall on Mike Evans.

Evans has recorded over 1,000 receiving yards each year in his eight seasons with the Buccaneers. He has racked up 9,301 receiving yards, 606 receptions, and 75 touchdowns throughout his career.

Mike Evans has paired his production with the ability to stay healthy. This is something that this offense will need, especially this upcoming season.

A healthy Mike Evans will serve as a crutch for this unit. He is the reliable option that Tom Brady can always look to.

If Mike Evans can once again be this team’s elite pass-catching option, it will allow for the whole offense to flow.

With the Buccaneers’ current struggles on the offensive line, this group may have a difficult start to the season. But defenses being forced to key in on Evans could make everything a little easier.