Tampa Bay BuccaneersThis week, Bucs fans have questions about rookie of the year candidates, the growing connection between the Bucs' quarterbacks and receivers, and more//Scott Smith
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their second consecutive NFC South title in 2022, marking the first time in team history they recorded back-to-back first-place finishes. That and the Super Bowl LV championship in the 2020 season constitute the most successful run in franchise annals.
It is also undeniably true that the Buccaneers finished 8-9 in 2022. The season tipped over to the sub-.500 record in Week 18, after Tampa Bay already had the division clinched and chose to prioritize the avoidance of injury prior to the start of the playoffs. The final regular-season game in Atlanta was played mostly by reserves and ended in a 30-17 loss to a Falcons team they had beaten five straight times before that Sunday.
As such, the Buccaneers joined a short list of teams that made the playoffs with a record below .500. There have, in fact, now been six such occasions, though for the purposes of this discussion we can eliminate two of them. In 1982, a players' strike shortened the season to nine games per team and prompted the NFL to do away with division designations and conduct what was called a "Super Bowl Tournament." The top eight teams in each conference made the tournament, and that included the 4-5 Cleveland Browns in the AFC and the 4-5 Detroit Lions in the NFC.
The other three teams on the list made it in the same way the Bucs did, topping a division in which all four teams struggled to sub-.500 records, and those instances have all occurred since 2010. They were, in order:
The 2010 Seahawks, who won the NFC West with a 7-9 record, getting in on a tiebreaker over the 7-9 St. Louis Rams. San Francisco finished 6-10 and Arizona was 5-11.
The 2014 Carolina Panthers, who finished 7-8-1 to edge out the 7-9 Saints. The Falcons were 6-10 while the Bucs dropped to 2-14.
The 2020 Washington Football Team, which prevailed in the NFC East with a 7-9 mark, one better than the 6-10 Giants and Cowboys. The Eagles finished 4-11-1. (The Buccaneers, may recall, started their Super Bowl run with a Wild Card round victory in Washington.)
The 2022 Buccaneers, whose 8-9 record was just ahead of the three 7-10 squads in the NFC South.
Now, if you've paid any attention to power rankings this offseason, either of the 32 individual teams or the eight NFL divisions, you've probably noticed that the national media is not particularly bullish on the NFC South. Here are three such rankings that put the Bucs' division in the eighth spot. Now, I don't necessarily agree with these assessments - in particular, I think some people may be sleeping on the talent on the Buccaneers' roster - but I understand them. Four sub-.500 teams in 2022 and all four are going to have a different Week One starting quarterback than they had a year ago. If anything, that definitely makes the fate of the NFC South in 2023 hard to predict.
What we shouldn't do, however, is assume that a division that produces a sub-.500 first-place team one season is definitely going to remain downtrodden the next year. In fact, that very much was not the case the three previous times this has happened, as noted above.
After Seattle won the NFC West with a 7-9 record in 2010, the division produced the second seed in the conference playoffs in 2011, as San Francisco went 13-3. Arizona also finished 8-8/
After Carolina's 7-8-1 record was good enough to take the South in 2014, the Panthers ascended to 15-1 in 2015 and made it to the Super Bowl. The Falcons were also 8-8.
And after Washington took the NFC East in 2020 at 7-9, that division produced two playoff teams in 2021, the 12-5 Cowboys and the 9-8 Eagles. In other words, things can turn around very quickly in the NFL, not only on an individual-team level but for entire divisions. Let's not assume the NFC South is going to be easy pickings in 2023.
Now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to email@example.com.
Looking at the Bucs' draft this year, do you see any players who you think have a shot at winning offensive or defensive rookie of the year? Could Yaya Diaby be a sleeper? It seems like he could get a lot of playing time, especially if Shaq isn't back from his injury. Thanks!
- James Warner (via email)
The Buccaneers selected eight players in the 2023 draft and hopefully all eight will find significant roles as rookies and turn in great seasons. Realistically, some will probably have a big impact right away while others may take a while to get into the lineup. And while it is indeed nice to think about outside linebacker Yaya Diaby being one of those rookie breakouts, history suggests that Calijah Kancey is the only Buccaneer who would be worth betting on as a Rookie of the Year recipient.
Over the last 20 years, 34 of the 40 players who won either Offensive or Defensive Rookie of the Year awards from the Associated Press were first-round draft picks. Of the other six, four were second-round picks. The two exceptions were Saints running back Alvin Kamara, a third-round pick in 2017 and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick in 2016. None of the last 20 DROTY winners were taken any lower than the 36th overall pick.
There is some logic here, and I don't mean that the players taken higher in the draft are automatically and always going to be better than the ones taken in later rounds. There's a higher success rate among first-round picks but there are still plenty of later-round selections who become stars as well as first-rounders who don't pan out. What I'm talking about is that, in the first couple rounds, teams are usually drafting very heavily for need. They are trying to find a great player at a spot on their depth chart where they could use an immediate starter. These first and second-rounders are more likely to get in the lineup right away, and thus have the opportunity to put up the numbers that will draw rookie of the year votes.
Before we get to Kancey, let's look at the rest of the Bucs' draft class. I think second-round pick Cody Mauch has an excellent chance to be in the starting lineup as a rookie, and maybe he'll be great right away. Here's the problem: An offensive lineman has never won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. I looked at the last 20 years in terms of draft status because I felt like that was a big enough of a sample size to make my point, but the OROTY award goes back to 1973 and has never gone to one of the big men up front. In fact, it's never gone to a tight end either, so that's tough news for fifth-round pick Payne Durham.
As for Diaby, logic would tell us that if he did get a lot of playing time and turned in something like a 10-sack season, voters wouldn't be looking at where he was drafted but would only be considering his merits. That makes sense. However, you have to go back to 1988 to find the last time the DROTY went to anyone but a first or second-round pick. That was Jets safety Erik McMillan.
As for the rest of the Bucs' 2023 class, I've already mentioned Durham and while the other four - fifth-round linebacker SirVocea Dennis, sixth-round cornerback Josh Hayes, sixth-round wide receiver Trey Palmer and sixth-round outside linebacker Jose Ramirez - all have reasonable paths to some rookie playing time it seems unlikely they will play enough this year to compete with all those first and second-rounders getting regular starts.
So we come back to Kancey. The good news is that the positional bias is not quite as strong on the defensive side of the ball. Over the last 10 years, for instance, the DROTY award has gone to three cornerbacks, three defensive ends, two defensive tackles and two off-ball linebackers (one of whom was the Cowboys' Micah Parsons, who was more of an edge/off-ball hybrid as a rookie). And Kancey wouldn't necessarily have to have a huge season in terms of quarterback sacks to prevail. The Jets' Sheldon Richardson only had 3.5 sacks when he won the DROTY award in 2013.
And Kancey should get the necessary playing time. Nothing will be handed to him, but I think it's very likely that he'll be in the starting lineup as a rookie. And playing next to Vita Vea, with their complimentary strengths of speed and power, Kancey could be the man on the Bucs' interior line who is most often wreaking havoc in the backfield. His Pitt predecessor, Aaron Donald, won the award in 2014 after a nine-sack debut campaign. If Kancey could duplicate that output, I think he would have a really good shot.
By the way, if Kancey did take home the DROTY award, he would be the first to do so in team history. Given how many great defensive players this franchise has had - including FIVE who are now in the Hall of Fame - that's kind of surprising. Meanwhile, the Bucs have had two Offensive Rookie of the Year award winners, Warrick Dunn in 1997 and Cadillac Williams in 2005. Go figure.
How's the chemistry looking between Baker and our receiving core? How much does OTAs matter for building chemistry?
- mrmigulspesina (via Instagram)
I would say that both Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask, the two quarterbacks vying for the Bucs' open starting job, are still in the very early stages of building chemistry with the team's receivers. As of the time I'm writing this, they have had all of five OTA practices, each of which was about two hours long. They will eventually spend many, many more hours together on the field.
And honestly, the development of that chemistry is probably a little overstated at this point in the offseason. For one thing, some of the receivers who will likely see the most playing time are not yet participating in the voluntary OTAs due to injury or the desire to pursue their own offseason regimen elsewhere. The most important goal of this part of the offseason is installing the offensive and defensive systems, especially for new and/or younger players, so that everyone can hit the ground running in training camp.
Now, these players are surely forming or strengthening bonds right now. Baker Mayfield, for example, is getting to know Chris Godwin, how he approaches his profession, the things that are important to him, just what kind of person he is. And Godwin is learning how Mayfield approaches his job and how he leads other players, as quarterbacks have to do. Et cetera. But what I think you're probably asking me about is on-field chemistry, like Mayfield figuring out exactly how Godwin runs a certain route and Godwin seeing what kind of pass Mayfield throws. Maybe he puts some extra zip on certain throws and takes a little off on other ones. Yes, that's the beginning of building chemistry but I don't think that will really pick up in earnest until training camp, and particularly when they start playing games together.
With the return of the Bucs throwback jerseys, who was your favorite player to wear the Creamsicle uniform?
John P. (via email)
Full disclosure: Before I joined the Buccaneers in 1992 I didn't know much about the team or its history. I have since learned it very thoroughly, but my point is that I didn't actually watch many of the greats in the orange jerseys who played between 1976 and 1991. So while I know that Lee Roy Selmon was not only a fantastic player but also a wonderful human who was beloved in this community (and I did get the pleasure of meeting him several times), he wouldn't be my personal choice. Nor would I go with James Wilder, David Logan, Richard Wood, Cedric Brown, Kevin House or any of the other standouts from before my time.
So it has to be somebody who played between 1992 and 1996 (and then possibly beyond after the 1997 uniform change). So that rules out my actual favorite Buccaneer, Ronde Barber, who arrived in 1997. But it doesn't rule out Mike Alstott; he may have only one year in orange but I can still picture him making some of his signature highlights in that jersey.
Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp were awesome, obviously, and are in the Hall of Fame, but even though they had two years in orange I still picture them in pewter and red. John Lynch, another Hall of Famer, had four years in the original color scheme but those weren't his best years. So if it comes down to players I think of primarily in the orange uniforms, who were both great on the field and a pleasure to be around off the field - and if I'm not considering those aforementioned Hall of Famers - I think it would come down to Hardy Nickerson, Paul Gruber and Tony Mayberry. And if pressed to pick just one, I'd probably go with Hardy. He was every bit the culture-changer that he got credit for being after his arrival in 1993. He was a very fierce competitor between the lines but he was a lot of fun to be around during weekdays at the facility.
How do you feel about pineapple on pizza?
- Samestrada_4 (via Instagram)
Is this a thing now, asking me for my food takes? I've already revealed my favorite sandwich, and now we're moving on to pizza. Well, this is going to be short and sweet - I don't know how I feel about pineapple on pizza because I've never tried it. I guess that in itself does reveal how I feel about it because I have never wanted to order it. I do not think I would like it, but I'd be willing to give it a try.
Now, you need to be cautious about taking any advice from me on pizza. You see, I loooooove St. Louis style pizza, and I have been told by virtually everyone I know who is NOT from St. Louis but HAS tried its signature pizza that it is garbage. My good friend Casey Phillips, the Bucs' Team Reporter, has made that point to me countless times, and it really hurts my feelings.