The Bucs accomplished their goal in Week 17 of defeating the Atlanta Falcons and locking up the fifth seed for the playoffs, which guaranteed a first round match-up against the lowly NFC East.
But this game may not be as easy as some might think when the Bucs play the Washington Football Team on Saturday night. Washington has some young – but talented – players on both sides of the ball that have made impacts early on in their career and look to be cornerstone players for years to come.
As Bruce Arians said in his press conference on Monday, none of these players can be taken lightly, starting on the offensive side of the ball with wide receiver Terry McLaurin. In just his second season, McLaurin, who was a third-round pick in 2019, has put his name in the discussion as one of the best young receivers in football. He was just outside the top 10 in receiving yards with 1,118 in 15 games to go with 87 receptions and 4 touchdowns.
“Loved him coming out of Ohio State,” Arians said of McLaurin. “Great leader. I think he’s a young captain for them already. He was a heck of a special teams player at Ohio Sate and a great receiver. He was on every special teams, he’s a tough guy that can fly, got good hands.”
Probably most interesting piece of information that Arians revealed was that the Bucs were very close to taking rookie running back Antonio Gibson in the second round, but ultimately they went with Antoine Winfield Jr.
“Loved Antonio Gibson coming out,” Arians said. “In the draft it was really him or Antoine Winfield for us. We decided to go with Antoine, but he can do everything, he can catch, he can play receiver, got great explosiveness for his size.”
Gibson went in the third round as the 66th pick and has been an important part of Washington’s offense. He’s scored 11 rushing touchdowns this season on 795 yards, along with 247 receiving yards. To Tampa Bay’s credit, Winfield hasn’t disappointed with 94 tackles, three sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
The most daunting part of Washington’s prospects that the Bucs will face on Saturday is stout defensive line, led by second-year edge rusher Montez Sweat and rookie Chase Young. The Bucs’ offense has struggled when facing against better pass rushing teams, most notably in their losses to New Orleans and Chicago.
Sweat was second on Washington with seven sacks as a rookie in 2019, and followed that up in 2020 with a team best nine sacks, two forced fumbles and a pick-six. Young is second on the team with 7.5 sacks in his rookie year to go with four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and a defensive touchdown of his own.
“They’re all first round picks,” Arians said. “They’re legit. All the guys. That’s as good a five as you’re going to see anywhere, and they’re all young and they’re very active and they’re athletic. That’s a heck of a building block for Ron [Rivera] right there.”
Young was the second overall pick in this year’s NFL draft and is considered by some to be a generational talent. He’s been a big reason for the four-win improvement in Washington this season.
“It’s kind of what Mike Tomlin was talking about,” Arians said. “You don’t want to draft that high to get guys like that, but you got to play against them. He’s a hell of a player, obviously, making him a captain as a rookie speaks volumes. He’s a handful, but so is Sweat and the rest of those guys.”
Following Washington’s victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football that clinched the division, Young could be seen shouting that he wanted Tom Brady, as you can see in the video below.