Buccaneers’ backfield will feast against leaky Panthers defense

Week 2 of this strange NFL season has arrived, and many football fans are wondering if Tom Brady, in just his second game with his second NFL team in his 20-year career, will allow the Buccaneers to fall to 0-2.

What if we told you it likely won’t depend on Brady, it will depend on option No. 2, the Buccaneers’ backfield? Or that there will be a pair of options exploitable for fantasy purposes? Too much of a stretch, you think?

Gimme two seconds. I think I can change your mind. First, Tampa Bay’s top two receivers are dealing with health issues — Mike Evans (hamstring), Chris Godwin (concussion protocol). So this pair of significant passing game weapons could be limited, if they play at all.

Now, take into account the opponent. The Panthers had the most generous run defense to opposing fantasy running backs last season. They allowed an average of 31.9 PPR fantasy points to RBs every game. And that was when the defense was anchored by all-world linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has since retired.

If you thought they would continue to struggle in his absence, you would be right. In Week 1, Carolina gave up 133 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Primary Raiders rusher Josh Jacobs racked up 93 of those yards and all three scores. Lump in four catches for 46 yards, and he finished with a healthy 35.9 fantasy points, most of any running back across the league all week.

But anticipating that Carolina collapse vs. the run was as easy as 1+1=2. For something harder: How do you choose between the two RB options the Buccaneers have when trying to exploit the Panthers this week? Incumbent Ronald Jones got the majority of carries last week (17-for-66). They are just breaking in new addition Leonard Fournette (5-for-5).

An easy choice between the two? Well, yes and no. Of course you’re safe to start Jones against this Carolina defense. But we also submit it is perfectly acceptable to use Fournette this week as well.

We anticipate this eventually will become Fournette’s backfield, but that could take a few weeks. So we expect plenty of work for Jones. Last week against the Saints, Tampa Bay rushed 22 times. We expect that number to easily top 30 this week. Last week, the carries were split roughly 3-1 in Jones’ favor. We expect that to scale back to about 2-1 for Jones — a share that still would likely lend Fournette double-digit touches. And considering the matchup, that puts him in Flex territory.

It will be a two-headed beast too tough to contain. A dynamic duo. Two heads that are better than one. At least, that’s my two cents.

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