Over the next four weeks, Bucs Briefing will be ranking the 20 best current Bucs, beginning with Nos. 16-20 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. I’ll rank them according to their level of ability too, not their positional or role value to the team.
20. K Ryan Succop
Full disclosure, if I hadn’t included Succop on this list, Scott Reynolds would have fired me for sure. Succop was nearly his MVP last season, and for good reason. Scott, like many Bucs faithful, has been scarred by watching the Tampa Bay kicking nightmare over the years, making Succop’s arrival a breath of fresh air.
All Succop did was come in at 34 years old and beat out second-year kicker Matt Gay despite being a late addition to the roster. Succop quickly established chemistry with long snapper Zach Triner and holder Bradley Pinion, even without the benefit of preseason action. From Week 5 on, Succop was 23-24 on field goal attempts, with his only miss coming against Detroit in a blowout victory. He followed that up by going 9-9 in the playoffs, and 12-13 on extra points.
Succop finished the year 28-31 on field goal attempts for a conversion percentage of 90.3 percent, the second best mark of his 12-year career. Succop’s 136 points was the most in a single season in franchise history, setting a new record for the kicker to target in 2021. If the Bucs protection team can give him some more time and space (they allowed one field goal and a couple extra points to be blocked in 2020), Succop could earn his first Pro Bowl bid this season.
Of course, kicker is the most volatile position on a football field, and even Succop’s impressive career track record can’t be relied upon. Nobody knows what is in store for Succop in 2021, but there is no question that he was a huge part of the team’s success in 2020.
19. WR Scotty Miller
You have to be a pretty legit talent to land in the top 20 players of the league’s best roster despite not being a starter. But anybody who watched last season knows you can’t leave Scotty Miller off this list. Through the first half of the season, when Chris Godwin and Mike Evans were struggling with injuries and Antonio Brown had yet to arrive, Miller kept the Bucs offense afloat with his spectacular play.
Over the first seven weeks of the season, Miller went over the 70-yard mark four times, includes a 6-109-1 performance against the Raiders in Week 7. He was the Bucs leading receiver at the midseason point, but the addition of Brown and return of Godwin from injury pushed him back down the depth chart. For weeks, Miller was a forgotten man, barely making a dent in the five games after his breakout performance.
But out of the bye week, Miller made several plays that would live in Bucs infamy. In Week 14 against Minnesota, Miller’s 48-yard touchdown catch gave the Bucs a 7-6 lead after another slow offensive start. Tampa Bay would never look back, winning all eight of their remaining games to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Along the way, Miller added a massive 29-yard third down catch against the Saints to set up a Succop field goal that would give the Bucs a fourth quarter lead they would not relinquish. Then there was the legendary 39-yard touchdown before the half against Green Bay in the NFC Championship game, giving the Bucs a 21-10 halftime lead.
Miller is the perfect player for this Bucs offense, a splash play machine that only needs a few snaps and a few touches to change a game. In a vertical-based offense, Miller’s chemistry with Brady is critical. The two connected for eight 20+ yard pass plays through the air last season, and those results could be even better in 2021. If the Bucs can find a way to get Miller on the field a little bit more often, it could be a big boost to their offense.
18. OT Donovan Smith
Maligned by Bucs fans for most of his career, Smith has steadily gotten better every season he’s donned the red and pewter. A massive tackle who has always possessed rare physical gifts, Smith has played his best football in Bruce Arians’ offense, especially as a run blocker. The Penn State product’s ability to create movement up front is a great fit in the Bucs duo run scheme. Smith’s size and power make him tough for defenders to handle, especially when his technique is right.
Donovan Smith was hammering people all game for the Bucs on Sunday. Defender tries to cross his face and he drives him to the opposite side of the line lol pic.twitter.com/TaF3shqbqL
As a pass protector, Smith will probably always suffer some lapses. He relies on a two-handed punch that is devastating when it lands, but can leave him susceptible to quick counters when it doesn’t. Still, Smith was at his absolute best this past season, earning another contract extension. In 20 games, Smith surrendered just 25 pressures and four sacks, including three pressures and zero sacks after Week 11.
Donovan Smith can certainly have some technical lapses, but I love the intensity and nastiness he's played with this season. If anything, his technique crumbles at times because he's trying to kill shot everyone lol pic.twitter.com/PSKmkC5yLV
Smith’s impressive performance against Washington’s Chase Young will stand out in the minds of Bucs fans for a long time. By playing through injury in the regular season and elevating his performance in the playoffs, Smith’s 2021 campaign went a long way toward swaying his standing in the minds of Bucs fans. Smith may never be the most consistent tackle in the game, but he’s clearly an above average lineman who has turned into an asset for the Bucs up front.
17. OG Alex Cappa
Speaking of offensive linemen who have continued to grow, Alex Cappa was a revelation in 2020. Perceived to be the unit’s weak link entering the season, Cappa instead took a huge leap in year three. The D-II product allowed 22 pressures and zero sacks in 17 games before breaking his ankle against Washington in the wild card game, per PFF.
Cappa’s technical improvement was noteworthy enough, but he also transformed his body to become a physical force in the trenches. The Bucs drafted Cappa largely due to his finisher’s mindset and incredible toughness, both of which were on display in 2020. He’s a tone-setter for the Bucs front five, in pass protection and the run game.
Cappa earned a special place in Bucs fans’ hearts when he attempted to remain on the field against Washington despite breaking his ankle. Actually, fans’ affinity for him probably began in 2019, when Cappa broke his arm in the second quarter of a game, but finished the contest without missing a snap. On a team of elite tough guys, Cappa is still a different breed. The arrow is pointing up for his career, and the Bucs are lucky to have him for at least one more season.
16. EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul
For years, I thought Pierre-Paul was one of the more overrated players in the NFL. Now, three years into a Bucs tenure that has featured the most consistent play of JPP’s career, I believe he’s underrated.
Since arriving in Tampa Bay as a Giants cast-off struggling to overcome injuries that had put his career in jeopardy, Pierre-Paul has done nothing but ball out. In three years as a Buc, Pierre-Paul has recorded 30.5 sacks, 32 tackles-for-loss, seven forced fumbles, ten pass breakups and two interceptions. Yes, Pierre-Paul isn’t a dominant 1v1 pass rusher, but he can take advantage of opportune matchups and has the versatility to move around the defensive front.
If there’s a weakness to Pierre-Paul’s game, it’s missing tackles. He’s a stout and savvy run defender who can rush from multiple alignments and make a positive impact. JPP has also shown a surprising ability to adapt his game and be adequate dropping into coverage for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. That’s something he didn’t do much of before arriving in Tampa Bay.
Pierre-Paul was the Bucs’ lone Pro Bowl representative last year (that’s comical, isn’t it?), and that might have been a little bit of a stretch for him. But PFF didn’t include him in their top 32 edge defenders in the league, and ESPN’s recent list didn’t mention JPP among their top 16 edge rushers. At 32 years old and entering a contract year, I like his chances for a strong season in 2021.
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
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