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
Table of Contents
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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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