Over the next three weeks, Bucs Briefing will be ranking the 20 best current Bucs. I began with No. 16-20 last week, and I’ll continue with No. 11-15 today. I’ll take a detailed look at the best roster in the NFL, trying to find the best 20 pure football players on the team. They’ll be ranked according to their level of ability too, not their positional or role value to the team.
If you watched Suh in his prime and still watch him now, it’s obvious some of his explosiveness has dissipated. Given how important that attribute is for an interior defensive lineman, it’s remarkable how good Suh remains. His power and mental processing remain among the best in the league at his position.
Suh isn’t a huge factor as a pass rusher, but he’s still able to push the pocket and condense space for opposing quarterbacks to operate in. Most of his rush wins would be categorized as “slow burn”, which is usually all the Bucs need with Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Vita Vea chasing the quarterback. Suh’s ability to manhandle other massive individuals is awe-inspiring.
Ndamukong Suh still has a couple reps a game where he hulks out on some poor soul. John Miller gettin' the business here pic.twitter.com/63ngOdtDVC
Suh’s biggest impact has come in the run game, where the Bucs are the No. 1 ranked run defense in both of his seasons in Tampa Bay. Despite his past reputation as a dirty player, Suh has been nothing but a class act on and off the field for the Bucs. His leadership and wise counsel has guided many young players on the Tampa Bay defense since 2019.
Suh has done all this despite being the second-oldest defensive tackle in the NFL at 34 years old. He played 74 percent of snaps in 2020, which is somehow the lowest mark of his career. Suh has never missed a game due to injury, playing in every contest since 2010 with the exception of the two games he was suspended in 2011.
14. S Antoine Winfield Jr.
Winfield Jr. might not spend many more years ranked in the teens given how he played as a rookie. Playing free safety as a first-year starter requires maturity beyond one’s years, as the position is often saddled with significant defensive communication and rapid processing of passing concepts. But Winfield was built perfectly for the role, giving up just two touchdowns on the season.
Winfield’s best plays on the ball came in the red zone, where he broke up a touchdown against the Saints and Falcons and knocked away a game-tying 2-point conversion against the Giants. He was a monster as a pass rusher with three sacks, including a drive-killing sack of Kirk Cousins to help preserve a Bucs Week 14 victory.
Antoine Winfield times this well and strip sacks Kirk Cousins in the RZ. Shaq Barrett follows up with another sack and forces a 4th and goal missed FG. #Bucspic.twitter.com/xoReUMFBq5
Every time it seemed the Bucs needed a big play, there was Winfield. He punched the ball out of the hands of Saints TE Jared Cook in the second half of the divisional playoffs, beginning the Bucs comeback. Early in the Super Bowl, Winfield defended a third down desperation throw to Tyreek Hill in the end zone. Then in the third quarter, Winfield caught Mike Edwards’ deflection for a nail-in-the-coffin interception.
Winfield showed his versatility in the box too, with 94 tackles while excelling against the run. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will need to decide if he wants to keep Winfield predominantly at free safety in 2021, or if he’ll utilize the Minnesota product’s versatility in the slot. The Bucs don’t have a true slot corner, and Winfield played nickel occasionally in college. As good as Winfield was as a rookie, I believe he can be even better moving forward. There is a higher ceiling to be reached, and it might be locked behind his current usage.
13. LB Devin White
Some would expect White to be higher on this list, but I think this is the perfect spot for him. Could he be a top five Buccaneer after the 2021 season? Absolutely. Was he a top 5 Buccaneer in the final three playoff games? Probably. Was he a bottom five Bucs starter during the 2020 regular season? At times, yes.
The buzz around White has been palpable since he was drafted, and there’s been enough special performances to maintain the hype. But White has been inconsistent and erratic in his play at times too. That isn’t a long-term concern for a second-year player, especially given the way White finished the regular season. The former fifth overall pick’s performance against the Saints in the divisional round was one of the better linebacker performances we’ll ever see.
White has the physical and athletic ability to be the best linebacker in the NFL, and he’s extremely intelligent and highly motivated. All the pieces feel like they are in place for a monster performance in 2021, but White’s trajectory will be dependent upon his progress in coverage. If he can process and anticipate like he did in the playoffs, the sky is the limit.
12. CB Carlton Davis
Carlton Davis might not have been the best defensive player on the Bucs in 2020, but he was the most valuable. Given the scarcity of developed talent behind him at cornerback, his ability to match up with No. 1 wide receivers and the importance of his position, Davis is critical in the Bucs Super Bowl quest.
In the minds of many, Davis’ struggles to stop Tyreek Hill in Week 12 will hold a lot of water. Too much, in my opinion. Yes, Davis struggled at times with speedier, shifty receivers, but in press man against more traditional outside receivers, Davis excelled. He was in his element against Michael Thomas all season, playing a huge role in shutting down the big receiver. Davis also posted monster performances against Allen Robinson and Davante Adams in the regular season, among others. The Auburn product picked up everyone in the Super Bowl, even putting the clamps on Travis Kelce.
Carlton Davis putting the clamps on Kelce. If Bucs play predominantly press man next season he'll vault to the top of the cornerback conversation around the league. pic.twitter.com/5zqA4uo0BY
Unlike many of the game’s top corners, Davis isn’t an athletic freak. He’s fine in that area, but his game is more reliant upon technique, physicality and mental processing. Few corners in the league work as hard as Davis, a relentless perfectionist who pours over the tape. There may always be some matchups that give him trouble, but when attempting to take away a bigger outside threat at wide receiver, few are better at it than Davis.
The biggest thing holding Davis back is his usage. He was far better when the Bucs went press-man heavy than he was as a zone corner. Davis can do it all, but his comfort level is obvious when he can get into a receiver’s space off the snap. If Bowles continues to shift to as much press man as he ran in the postseason, Davis’ stock could erupt.
11. TE Rob Gronkowski
I’ve written at length about how good Gronkowski was in 2020, so I won’t belabor those points here. It took him a few games to get going again, yet by the end of the year he was dominant as a receiver and blocker once again. His production might have been pedestrian by Gronkowski’s lofty standards, but the big tight end led the NFL in deep (20+ air yards) targets and catches in 2020.
Gronkowski has never won on the strength of explosive short area movements. His game is all about build-up speed and creating space with physicality at the top of his route. The most impressive thing about Gronkowski’s 2020 showing as a receiver was how little his ball skills have diminished. That has always been his best trait, and is still such a trump card in a league moving to more space-creating tight ends.
Not everyone has been able to witness Gronk week-to-week this season, but it's been pretty tough to tell the difference between peak Gronk and 2020 Gronk in the passing game this year, especially over the 2nd half of the season. Just a monster. pic.twitter.com/1YbPGexB6G
Lastly, it’s impossible to talk about Gronkowski’s importance without mentioning his blocking. He was an asset in the run game all season long, but pass protection is where he really thrived. For a Bucs offense that asks a lot of their tight ends as blockers, Gronkowski was a perfect fit.
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
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.