The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.

This week’s topic: Biggest Surprise Bucs Player In 2020

Scott Reynolds: RT Tristan Wirfs

When Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht traded up one spot to draft Iowa right tackle Tristan Wirfs in the first round, even he could not have imagined how well the 6-foot-5, 320-pounder would play during his rookie season. Wirfs played 702 pass downs in the regular season and allowed just one sack and seven QB hits in 2020, while committing just three penalties. Simply outstanding play from Wirfs – and doing so without a rookie mini-camp, a mandatory mini-camp, any OTAs and even a preseason due to COVID-19.

Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs
Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Wirfs’ first training camp was truncated from five weeks down to three weeks due to the virus and he was tasked with the challenge of squaring off against five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan, who was coming off a 15.5-sack season, in New Orleans in Week 1. Wirfs made Jordan looked like a spectator rather than a participant – not just once, but in all three games against the Saints. Wirfs was not just the best rookie right tackle in the NFL last year. He was arguably the best right tackle in the league – period.

Did I think Wirfs would be good? Yes, especially against the run, which is what they do at Iowa. But against the pass? To surrender only one sack – and to All-Pro Khalil Mack no less – in 799 pass snaps? Nobody saw that coming. Certainly not me. Then Pro Football Focus said that Wirfs had the highest grade of any offensive lineman in the Super Bowl since 2006 with a 91.7 grade. That’s ridiculous – just as ridiculous as Wirfs having the second-highest PFF grade (84.5) of any Buccaneer in their 2020 Super Bowl season right behind quarterback Tom Brady (93.5). Wirfs is simply ridiculously good – and he’s way ahead of schedule and just getting started.

Mark Cook: QB Tom Brady

Yes, I know he is the greatest quarterback of all time. Yes, I am aware he had won six Super Bowls prior to coming to the Buccaneers. And yes I know he holds a ton of NFL records and will be a first ballot hall of famer. But when I watched him walk off the field against the Tennessee Titans in January of 2020 after throwing a pick-6, I assumed Tom Brady was done. Washed up. Spent. 13 months later, I might have been just a tad off in my assessment.

Bucs QB Tom Brady
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today

I, like many, assumed the Buccaneers would give Jameis Winston a one-year deal or maybe the franchise tag and another year with Bruce Arians and this Tampa Bay offense. I mean he has just thrown for 5,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. He was just 26 and the team had invested the No. 1 overall draft pick in him back in 2015. But again I was wrong and as the Brady talk heated up I was intrigued. I went back and watched some games from Brady’s last year in New England and saw a quarterback with few offensive weapons, yet still put up solid numbers. But it was the first day the media was allowed to view the Buccaneers on the field back in July that I then realized Brady was far from washed up. And in just that short hour or so of a fairly unorganized without coaches present workout, I knew he was a different player than I has witnessed in my years of covering this team.

The “Brady Effect” is real. Everything about Brady oozes perfection, and it spills over to everyone in the organization. From the players, to the front office to the janitor who sweeps up the halls, no one wants to let Brady down. And to do it in a pandemic season without any real offseason makes it even more unbelievable when you stop and think about the accomplishment we saw take place last Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium.

Jon Ledyard: CB Carlton Davis

When the story of the Bucs 2020 season is written, Carlton Davis won’t be one of the headliner names, but he should be. Very few teams in the NFL have a cornerback they can trust to lock down an opposing team’s No. 1 wide receiver with consistency, but in 2020 the Bucs did. Yes, Davis struggled on an island again Tyreek Hill, but good luck squaring off against that speedster with no deep help, as Davis did for most of the game.

Bucs CB Carlton Davis III
Bucs CB Carlton Davis III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

When the scheme gave him a chance, Davis excelled, playing a huge role in shutting down Michael Thomas three times on the season, while also posting excellent performances against Keenan Allen, Allen Robinson, Davante Adams and Justin Jefferson. Despite being banged up for a lot of the season, rarely getting safety help, consistently matching up against top receivers and playing lots of off-man and zone instead of playing from his desired press alignment, Davis was arguably the Bucs most valuable defensive player for much of the regular season, especially when you consider how Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting struggled for much of the year.

Watching his 2019 tape, I did not expect Davis to play like a top ten cornerback in the league this season. The third-year cornerback finished the season with four interceptions, tied for 7th in the NFL, and 18 pass breakups, tied for 2nd. The development of Davis’ ball skills has turned a decent corner with good upside into one of the more promising players at his position in the entire league. The Bucs would be wise to think about a contract extension sooner rather than later, as Davis enters a contract year in 2021.

Matt Matera: S Antoine Winfield Jr.

Winfield was considered the steal of the draft by many for the fact that the Bucs were able to select him in the second round of the NFL draft. Anytime you have a rookie that is one of the focal points of your defense, that’s surprising. What a great one-two combination that Jason Licht hit with tackle Tristan Wirfs in the first round and Winfield in the second.

Bucs FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill
Bucs FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill – Photo by: USA Today

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has often said the safety position is the key for what he likes to do on defense. Getting Winfield helped solidify that back end of the Bucs’ secondary and take the defense to the next level. He came into the league as a smart player with intangibles because of his dad being a veteran in the league, and after one season he’s well on his way to carving out his own legacy. Not only is Winfield good in pass coverage, he also has a nose for the ball and can rush the passer as well. His 94 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, six pass breakups and one interception speak to his versatility.

Another one of the top traits he does well is make the splash plays when needed. You can look no further than the postseason for that. Winfield had a clutch forced fumble on Jared Cook in the third quarter of the divisional round that helped the Bucs tie the game up.. In the Super Bowl, it was Winfiield that had the first turnover over the game when he intercepted Patrick Mahomes’ pass after a deflection from Mike Edwards. He later put the exclamation point on a blowout Super Bowl win by throwing up the peace sign as payback to Tyreek Hill. Winfield will be a staple of the Bucs’ defense for a long time.

Taylor Jenkins: RG Alex Cappa

What a transformation it’s been for Alex Cappa over his first three years in the NFL. As a rookie in 2018, drafted out of Division II Humboldt State, Cappa played just 106 snaps as a backup to Caleb Benenoch. Two short years later Cappa played 1070 snaps in 2020 as a starting guard between center Ryan Jensen and rookie offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, tasked with protecting Tom Brady and allowing just 27 pressures and no sacks en route to an 11-5 record, the Bucs’ first playoff berth in 13 seasons and a top-five offensive line ranking from Pro Football Focus.

Bucs RG Alex Cappa
Bucs RG Alex Cappa – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Heading into the 2020 there were two units that arguably had the most pressure on them for the new-look Bucs, a young secondary and an offensive line that was now protecting a 43-year-old Brady. With left guard Ali Marpet and Jensen already expected to play at a high level, Cappa, Wirfs and left tackle Donovan Smith were all looming question marks that all rose to the occasion, perhaps none taking a more significant step forward than Cappa. Cappa’s offensive grade, per PFF, has risen each of his three years in the NFL, going from 40.1 in limited action in 2018 to 62.7 in 2019 as a first-year starter to a career-high mark of 67.7 in 2020, including a pass block grade of 67.5 and a run block grade of 62.7.

Cappa has made vast improvements since joining Tampa Bay and while he’s proven his toughness time and time again, even playing through a broken forearm in 2019, he wasn’t able to finish the Bucs’ ride to a Super Bowl after suffering a broken ankle against Washington in the NFC Wild Card Round. But with at least one more year under contract with the Bucs, and expectations remaining sky high, Tampa Bay is surely counting on Cappa to keep up his high-level play heading into 2021.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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FLNative
21 days ago

Is it possible that one positive from this season’s Covid restrictions actually helped the rookies as well as the vets by eliminating the off-the-field distractions they typically face in a normal year?

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seat26
Reply to  FLNative
20 days ago

I was thinking the same thing. We got lucky on that front as well as injuries. We had a few, but it seemed better than in years previous.

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Real Tremblay
21 days ago

DEVIN WHITE.
Quand White a décidé d’assumer son rôle de leader après la pause de mi-saison, la défensive des Bucs est devenue l’une des meilleures de la ligue et elle a surtout enlever de la pression à Brady et son offensive qui était contraint de produire si les Tampa Bay voulait participer à l’après saison.
White n’est pas seul dans cette transformation mais il a été un point d’appuie sur lequel ses coéquipiers ont acquis une confiance pour continuer la route qui allait les mener aux grands honneurs.

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76Buc
Reply to  Real Tremblay
21 days ago

Sind sie eine kommunistich?

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compewterpirate
Reply to  76Buc
20 days ago

Nice effort, but old Tremblay there was speaking French, whereas, for some reason, you were trying (very grammatically incorrectly) to speak German!

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ScottC543
Reply to  Real Tremblay
20 days ago

Translation, for those of us that don’t speak French:

When White decided to take on his leadership role after the mid-season break, the Bucs’ defense became one of the best in the league and it mostly took the pressure off Brady and his offense who was forced to produce if the Tampa Bay wanted to participate in the post season.
White is not alone in this transformation but he was a fulcrum his teammates gained confidence to continue on the road that would lead them to great honor.

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Last edited 20 days ago by ScottC543
Pete Wood
21 days ago

I’m not sure any of the above really surprised me. My two picks would be two guys who I was ready to cut a few months ago. Then they turned their seasons around and helped the Bucs win the Super Bowl.
Donovan Smith and Leonard Fournette.

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FLBoy84
Reply to  Pete Wood
20 days ago

How certain are we/the team that Smith has turned the corner on his erratic performances? Has the TB12 effect taught him how to be a pro, or does he regress back to his norm? Can see every scenario as a possibility this off-season: he gets traded/cut to add picks/save $$, with Wirfs moving to LT; he plays out his contract’s last year and moves on as a FA in 2022; or the team believes he’s matured and turned a corner and is signed to an extension to lower his ’21 cap hit. Will be very interesting to see how it… Read more »

seat26
Reply to  Pete Wood
20 days ago

Agreed. When Fournette started, I thought he looked overrated, but he really came on at the end of the season. Donovan Smith played much better than he has in the last two years previous. The same could be said for Rojo.

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Captain Sly
20 days ago

Biggest Surprise was D Smith! We went from hoping Smith could hold up at beginning of the season knowing we would be replacing him this offseason to now feeling like $14.5mil might be a steal. Exceeding everyone’s expectations Smith and Marpet along the left side is Licht’s hand written signature in being the Bucs best GM.

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FLBoy84
Reply to  Captain Sly
20 days ago

Do find it interesting how low of a bar we set for Smith sometimes lol. He still allowed 6 sacks this year and had 11 penalties, even with Brady’s quick release helping the OL out. No question he played slightly better than he has these last 6 years, but the tackle opposite him only allowed 1 sack with 3 penalties, while playing next to a far inferior G and facing practically all the same DE’s during the course of the game. And Wirfs did all that while making $11M LESS than Smith.

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Captain Sly
Reply to  FLBoy84
20 days ago

Nobody is saying that D Smith is top 5 at his position or anything but a lot can be said about a guy who laces’em up & straps’em down every Sunday. Just Ask Green Bay.

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compewterpirate
Reply to  Captain Sly
20 days ago

Hahaha … well I still wouldn’t go so far as to say that Donovan Smith was a ‘steal’ at $14.5 mill! However, the fact that he is even in this conversation, is a tribute to his transformation as a LT. Is it the Brady effect? I believe so. In my opinion he elevated his game just because of who he was charged with protecting. To have been saddled with the unenviable tag of being ‘the player that ended the GOAT’s career’, would have left an indelible stain on his own career and to his credit he stepped up to the… Read more »

Captain Sly
Reply to  compewterpirate
20 days ago

Sounds as though you were a little surprised Too!

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Spitfire
20 days ago

All of those guys along with White. I think we also realized how important Vea is as he is the only reason Barrett got any sacks this year just about. If Barrett wants to “Break the Bank” he should be giving half of whatever money he gets from the bank to Vea. If Barrett goes to another team with average DTs he will end up up 4 sacks and a bust label. If the Bucs are really gonna have to give Barrett $18-$19 mil I think they should look long and hard in FA first and see if there is… Read more »

FLBoy84
Reply to  Spitfire
20 days ago

Leaning a similar way as well. Unless Barrett is willing to settle for a reasonable deal, which he shouldn’t be really, I’m cool with him walking and us taking the comp pick next year. He’s earned the $$ no question, but believe 3-4 Edge/OLB is a spot we can find a solid replacement for reasonable $$ either in FA or the draft.

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Dman
Reply to  Spitfire
20 days ago

Completely agree. Vea has been instrumental to our top run defense as well. And without him, Barrett was pretty much average all season.

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SaskBucs
20 days ago

The rookies are the biggest surprise for me. Obviously we had all hoped for the best but Wirfs and Winfield Jr were impact players from the jump! Even Tyler Johnson made big plays for this team in pretty big spots.

After that I gotta agree with Pete Wood, Playoff Lenny was a very welcome surprise, since he had multiple games in the regular season where he was plodding for 2-3 yards and not much else.

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Frank
20 days ago

Any body mention how well Aaron Stinnie did replacing Alex Cappa?

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BucRy
Reply to  Frank
20 days ago

Stinnie was great for us in the playoffs and has earned the spot to be our top back up guard.

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Frank
Reply to  BucRy
20 days ago

Agree … didn’t hear his name which is great for an OL

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FLBoy84
Reply to  Frank
20 days ago

He’s an ERFA this year, so he’s practically guaranteed to be back. Solid depth for certain at reasonable $$.

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BucRy
20 days ago

If we are talking biggest surprise, it has to be Wirfs..no one expected him to play at an all pro level as a rookie with no camp. He really solidified our line making them one of the top units in the league.

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PatrioticChief
20 days ago

I don’t see Winfield as a surprise. That’s not 20/20 vision, I pegged the guy as a steal on draft day. Winfield wasn’t great in 2020 but he was a plug and play starter as a rookie on a truncated preseason. He also had a nose for the ball the exact way he did in college. I think the biggest suprises for me were Wirfs and Cappa. I was incredibly supportive of trading up for Wirfs but I would be a liar if I said I expected him to be this dominant as a rookie. I did peg him for… Read more »

seat26
20 days ago

Tristan Wirfs was huge. Probably the best Buc drafted by Since Vita Vea. Antoine Winfield is right behind him. That alone makes our last draft one of the best, as it is likely that both players will frequent the Probowl in the years to come. Alex Cappa no doubt is a big surprise too. He played pretty well last year after not playing at all in his rookie year, but he stepped it up this year. Our OL went from crap to amazing in just one year.

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drdneast
20 days ago

I have busted on Jason Licht long and hard out here so I guess I have to give him his props in putting together a SB team. JPP, Barrett and Suh were excellent trade an FA acquisitions, especially Suh who gave the DL that nasty edge that has been missing for to long while t was being “led” by McCoy. His drafting also improved after that ghastly horrible 2016 draft. Congratulations Licht and thank you for bringing a SB to Tampa. The Bucs could not have done it without you. BTW, Licht’s response to the hysterical daughter who was so… Read more »

drdneast
20 days ago

I never posted this before although it is no secret but an odd fact few people noticed and I didn’t want to mention least I somehow throw a wrench into the Bucs SB run.
But when the Bucs won their first SB, they lost to the Saints twice in the regular season as they finished 12-4, This year it happened again as they finished 11-5.

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compewterpirate
20 days ago

I am going to go with SR in naming Tristan Wirfs. I don’t think anyone would have predicted this guy would have been such a stud in his first NFL season. One sack given up in 20 games, against the edge rushers he faced, was truly outstanding. Plus, as an added bonus, if you have seen his interviews, such a nice, humble, kid. He reminded me of Leroy Selmon and there is no higher praise than that!

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scubog
20 days ago

After spending years cringing, covering my eyes and crossing my fingers every time our latest kicker trotted out onto the field, I’m going with PK Ryan Succop as the Biggest Surprise Player of 2020. I’m pretty sure most of us thought “DraMATTica Gay would continue the place kicking duties and that the veteran Succop was just there as what we thought was just a token competition. Just another participant in the Konga line. As Gomer Pyle would say, “Surprise! Surprise! We finally have a kicker who contributes to the victory instead of being the focal point of the defeat. Please… Read more »

Dman
Reply to  scubog
20 days ago

Great call. Such a weak spot for so long. Succop had an incredible season.

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ScottC543
Reply to  scubog
20 days ago

I agree. And I just read that Succop was Mr. Irrelevant for the draft in 2009. The SB win makes Ryan Succop the greatest Mr Irrelevant of all time.

That makes three GOATs on this team (already).

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drdneast
Reply to  ScottC543
20 days ago

Seventh round is a good place to take a kicker. Let’s hope Licht notices that.

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Horse
19 days ago

Very good Roundtable Gentlemen.

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