Whether you agree with their methods or not (or fall somewhere in between like me), Pro Football Focus is at its’ core a player evaluation site that carries major weight in the sports media industry. For this reason it is always noteworthy when they release their 101 best players from the NFL season, with four Bucs making the 2020 list.
Quarterback Tom Brady unsurprisingly led the way, with a fourth-place finish amongst all players for the 2020 season. PFF grading has been a little bit higher on Brady than more advanced metrics were all regular season long, and Brady’s play in the playoffs proved their methodology to be pretty sound. I think quarterback evaluations are the position group that most lends itself to PFF’s grading methods, so I do put a good amount of stock in their results at that position at the end of each year. Brady landing at No. 4 overall, despite not making PFF’s top 101 a year ago, is nothing short of remarkable.
Rookie offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs was the second Buc to crack the list, coming in at No. 69 overall. According to PFF, Wirfs had nine games this season where he allowed one or fewer pressures. I really believe he was the second best player on the Bucs team this season, so seeing him recognized this way by PFF is very accurate.
Ten spots after Wirfs was left guard Ali Marpet, who did struggle at times in the playoffs, but was one of the best guards in football during the regular season. Marpet allowed zero sacks and just ten pressures in 13 games during the regular season, while also providing the best run blocking of his career. I would have called Marpet the second best Buc after Brady before the postseason, but Wirfs superior play in the playoffs gives him the slight edge. Both offensive linemen were elite this season.
The last Buc to make PFF’s Top 101 was linebacker Lavonte David, who slots in at No. 93. David missed a few more tackles than normal this season, but his ability in coverage remains elite at a position without many great coverage players. David’s ranking did fall from his 36th place finish after the 2019 season, but his play in my eyes remained relatively the same. He was easily the Bucs best and most consistent defender this season.
Wide receiver Mike Evans was identified in another PFF article as just missing the cut, largely due to the fact that he played a chunk of the season noticeably hurt. I agree with that assessment from PFF, as this was clearly not Evans best season, but he was still good enough to warrant strong consideration for the final 101. He and Chris Godwin’s grades were very similar on the year, and I would expect them both to bounce back with healthier, more consistent campaigns in 2021.
It should be noted that Antonio Brown, O.J. Howard and especially Vita Vea graded high enough to qualify for the Top 101, but didn’t play enough snaps to make the final list.
On defense, Shaq Barrett and Jamel Dean couldn’t have been far off PFF’s top 101 based on their final grades, as both graded well for the analytical website this past season. While Devin White was sensational from Week 15 on, it wasn’t enough to make up for his poor grading through most of the regular season. I don’t agree with PFF’s graded evaluation of White, but I also don’t think he was a top 101 player in the league when taking the whole year into consideration. Next season, however? Look out.
How about Jason Pierre-Paul, the Bucs lone Pro Bowler this season? PFF liked him, didn’t love him, and graded him as such. Not a top 101 consideration. I agree.
As for Carlton Davis, his absence from consideration represents one of my struggles with PFF player grades: they don’t take into account the difficulty of assignment within the scheme, or the difficulty of the individual matchup. For example, every Bucs fan knows Davis was better than Dean this season, but Dean grades higher for PFF. That’s because Davis is constantly matched up against No. 1 receivers on an island, and rarely is even given safety help over the top, with the Bucs predominantly playing as a single-high team all season long.
Given those facts, and the Bucs mis-use of Davis as a zone or off-man corner for much of the year when he is FAR superior in press-man situations, I think his PFF grade is probably least representative of his current level of play than any Buccaneers player who suited up this season. That’s ok, too. It’s difficult to numerically quantify every variable that should be considered in sports, that’s why PFF grades, like all numbers and stats, are most helpful in context with what tape shows us – and Davis’ tape showed a star-in-the-making this season.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft