Antonio Brown’s Bad News Presents a Massive Opportunity for Tom Brady’s Newest Protege to Prove Himself

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The NFL equivalent is one man’s potential absence — in this case, Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown — is an opportunity for other players to step in and take advantage.

A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Brown could miss the Buccaneers’ Week 3 game after going on the COVID-19 list. What is bad news for the four-time first-team All-Pro honoree and his fantasy football managers has the opportunity to work in rookie receiver Jaelon Darden’s favor.

Jaelon Darden could see increased snaps in Week 3 if Brown is out

The Week 3 showdown between Tom Brady’s Buccaneers and Matthew Stafford’s Los Angeles Rams is a potential preview of this season’s NFC Championship Game. Although Brown may be in the lineup come any rematch in January, he’s reportedly unlikely to suit up in the September matchup.

As of publication, the Buccaneers had not ruled Brown out. However, the short turnaround between his going on the COVID list and the game being on Sunday, Sept. 26, could make it difficult for him to play in Week 3.

Luckily for the Buccaneers, perennial Pro Bowler Mike Evans and the explosive Chris Godwin are each healthy. Rob Gronkowski, who has spent the last few weeks chugging liquid from the Fountain of Youth, scored four touchdowns in the season’s opening two weeks.

Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller, each of whom flashed at points in 2020, are each favorites to earn increased snaps in Brown’s potential absence. Miller, a third-year receiver from Bowling Green, didn’t have a single target in the season’s first two weeks after hauling in 33 catches for 501 yards and three touchdowns a year ago. Johnson had a 5-yard catch in a Week 2 victory over Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.

Football fans should also prepare to see an added dose of Darden, a fourth-round pick from North Texas who didn’t play in the team’s first two games. If you’re still unfamiliar with the speedy All-American, now is the time to learn his name and consider adding him to your fantasy roster.

Darden could parlay a big game into more opportunities down the line

Since arriving in Tampa Bay ahead of the 2020 season, Brady has taken several of the team’s younger offensive players under his wing. Darden, an elusive 5-foot-9 weapon who scored 31 touchdowns in his final 21 games at North Texas, is no exception.

The 129th overall pick in this spring’s draft didn’t play in the first two weeks because of roster limitations. Brown’s potential absence and the Buccaneers’ love of rotating receivers into the game could present Darden with an excellent opportunity to prove himself and show he deserves to be active each week.

Darden told NBC Sports’ Peter King in August that Brady began mentoring the rookie after the draft.

“He said, ‘Hey Jaelon. Happy to have you on the team. I studied your film.’ What an honor. Then he took time to teach me how to win against coverages. Like, ‘When the corner plays you here, I’m gonna have the ball at this exact spot.’ Every day, I put my hard hat on and work and learn.”

Jaelon Darden

If there was ever a time to show what Darden learned after wearing his hard hat, now seems like the best chance to do so.

Brown’s future in Tampa Bay isn’t guaranteed beyond this year. Although he remains a reliable target in the passing game, he’ll also play the vast majority of next season at 34 years old. Godwin, a Pro Bowl selection in 2019 who has grown into an excellent No. 2 receiver behind Evans, will hit free agency next spring.

Brady has shown no urge to retire anytime soon, much to the displeasure of 31 other teams and their fans. The legendary quarterback will need young receivers going forward and Darden, who is also an option to return punts, has the chance to establish himself as someone worthy of that role.

Johnson and Miller also stand to benefit from Brown’s potential absence

A year ago, the duo of Johnson and Miller combined for 45 catches, 147 yards, and five touchdowns in the regular season. Miller added four catches and 80 yards in four postseason outings.

The two are still waiting for a legitimate opportunity this season. Their experience, especially Miller’s, will work in their favor when head coach Bruce Arians wants to take Evans out for a play or two. The veteran head coach knows what each receiver is capable of and what they’ve done in his system.

Both should also have selfish reasons for wanting more snaps and targets. Miller will hit free agency after the 2022 season at 25 years old. He needs as many highlights as he can to have the best opportunity of earning a significant contract, whether it’s with the Buccaneers or the still-suffering New York Jets.

All eyes will be on the Buccaneers-Rams game in large part because it involves Brady and Stafford. Others will have one eye on the quarterback and another on the receivers potentially tasked with filling in for Brown. If that’s the case, let’s hope, for thier sakes, that they’re not spending Monday morning calling an ophthalmologist.

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