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Bucs’ biggest position battles for the 2022 season

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won’t be returning every starter like they did last offseason, but they’ve reloaded with veteran replacements and another promising rookie class, as they look to avenge last year’s early playoff exit.

There will be some fresh faces in the starting lineup this time around, but some of those positions aren’t set in stone just yet.

Here are our picks for the Bucs’ biggest position battles heading into the 2022 season:

Wide Receiver

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The top of the depth chart is loaded, led by two Pro Bowlers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, as well as a new addition in Russell Gage. Things get muddy after that, as a crowd of pass-catchers will be vying for the remaining spots on the active roster.

Tampa Bay has wide-ranging skill sets throughout the rest of the group, which could make for a compelling battle throughout training camp and the preseason. Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson are young talents who have shown flashes at times, but have been inconsistent. Breshad Perriman and Cyril Grayson Jr. had their moments last season, and appear to have built some valuable trust with Tom Brady.

Even if the Bucs decide to carry seven receivers heading into Week 1, somebody like Jaelon Darden (last year’s fourth-round pick) could still end up getting left out.

Left Guard

(Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Tampa Bay lost both of their starting guards this offseason, with Ali Marpet’s surprising retirement after just seven dominant seasons, and Alex Cappa getting a huge payday in free agency with the Cincinnati Bengals.

One of those spots was filled with a steal of a trade, as the Bucs acquired veteran Shaq Mason from the New England Patriots for only a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft, but the left side should see a competitive battle in training camp.

It was already going to be a tight race between familiar faces like Aaron Stinnie, Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett, and that was before the Bucs traded up in the second round of this year’s draft for Luke Goedeke. Experience and familiarity will obviously favor the returning players, but Goedeke might be the most talented blocker of them all, and could steal the starting job.

Quarterback

(Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Tom Brady is back for another year as the starter, but what happens behind him on the depth chart this season?

Even after spending a second-round pick on Kyle Trask last year, the Bucs opted for the more experienced veteran in Blaine Gabbert to be Brady’s backup, making Trask inactive for every game of his rookie season.

Tampa Bay is obviously still in win-now mode, so they could take the same approach this season with Gabbert staying ahead of Trask in the pecking order.

That said, will it end up stunting Trask’s growth if he’s still the No. 3 for another full season, sending him into the third year of his four-year rookie contract with no meaningful reps? And if he can’t beat out Gabbert this year, will the Bucs regret spending such a high pick on a player who doesn’t touch the field for two years, while they’re trying to win another Super Bowl?

Running Back

(AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

Leonard Fournette is obviously the featured back in this offense, especially after signing a three-year extension this offseason. Ronald Jones II left in free agency after an inconsistent four-year tenure in Tampa Bay, opening up the race for the No. 2 spot in the backfield this season.

Those reps will likely be split into different roles, between an early-down runner to spell Fournette, and a pass-catching specialist for Brady on third downs. Ke’Shawn Vaughn could be the front-runner for the early-down work, while veteran Giovani Bernard and third-round rookie Rachaad White should fight for the passing-down role.

All four should make the active roster, but training camp could go a long way toward determining how the roles and snaps are split up.

Kicker

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Veteran Ryan Succop was a welcome source of stability and consistency during Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl run two years ago, but that wasn’t the case last season, which should lead to an open competition in training camp.

Jose Borregales will be the primary challenger, and could easily wrangle the job away from Succop with a strong training camp and preseason.

Borregales is just 24 years old, while Succop will turn 36 just after the regular season begins. If the competition is close, and the Bucs want to go younger and cheaper, Succop could end up on the outside looking in.

Cornerback

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Much like the wide receiver group, the top three spots on the depth chart are fairly set in stone here. Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean are locked in on the outside, while Sean Murphy-Bunting is still the front-runner for the nickel spot.

After that, there should be a spirited competition between returning veterans like Ross Cockrell, Dee Delaney and Rashard Robinson, as well as a promising rookie challenger in fifth-round pick Zyon McCollum. Experience favors the incumbents, but McCollum brings rare athleticism to the table, and was a huge bargain on draft weekend.

Depending on how well McCollum does on special teams and when absorbing the playbook throughout the offseason and into training camp, he could end up playing a bigger role in the defense than many might expect.

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