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: Who Is Playing The Best On The Bucs’ Defense
Scott Reynolds: ILB Devin White
Bucs middle linebacker Devin White gets an absolute “A” for effort in the first two games of the 2020 season, and he’s been the Bucs’ best defender. White has been like the Tasmanian Devil – an absolute whirling dervish on the football field, roaming sideline-to-sideline at close to 100 miles per hour it seems while racking up 26 tackles – 17 solos – in two weeks, which leads the NFL. Speaking of lead, White also earned a “C” on his chest this year as he was voted as a team captain in just his second season in the league.
Former Bucs director of player personnel Jerry Angelo told me that when it comes to linebacker play, you can’t always scout from the stats sheet, and he’s right. Just because a player has a high amount of tackles doesn’t mean he is always effective, or even a great player (former Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud comes to mind). But it does mean that defender is around the ball and are actually making tackles rather than missing them. After recording 11 stops at New Orleans, White had a career-high 15 tackles in Tampa Bay’s 31-17 win against Carolina, including many downfield in coverage against receivers.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said that White should have had 20 tackles, and he did miss a few opportunities by overrunning plays. Keep in mind that White just played in his 15th NFL game after missing three and half games last year due to a knee injury. He’s still learning and improving. We’ll see plenty more tackles from White, and if he stays healthy he’ll smash last year’s mark of 91 stops, as he’s on pace to record 208 tackles in 2020. Hardy Nickerson set the single-season Bucs record with 214 tackles in 1993 – and he was a five-time Pro Bowler and a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team in the 1990s. That’s some fine company for White to be in, and he could get his first Pro Bowl nod this season if he keeps up his quality play.
Mark Cook: DE William Gholston
Hey, sometimes it takes a player eight seasons to figure it out, right? I kid, somewhat. But defensive end Will Gholston has been with the Buccaneers through coaching regimes led by Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith, Dirk Koetter and now Bruce Arians. And while 2019 was probably his best season of his career, Gholston now in his eighth year, is really making his impact felt – at least through these first two games.
Gholston was instrumental Week 1 in keeping Saints running back Alvin Kamara in check, notching seven combined tackles, including two for loss. That was actually third on the team and most by any defensive lineman. Last Sunday against the Panthers, Gholston had a couple more stops, and also something he isn’t really known for – a sack.
In fact, Gholston has only had one sack in each of his previous three seasons and a total of just 13 now in his career. If Gholston could match or exceed his career high of three sacks this year, it would only be a bonus for the Buccaneers, who expect pressure on the quarterback to come from some of the bigger name defenders. Gholston isn’t flashy but every defense needs that guy to do the dirty work and he is thriving in that role in Todd Bowles’ 3-4 scheme, which fits him like a glove.
Jon Ledyard: ILB Lavonte David
I thought about going a different direction with this selection, just to offer more variety amongst our staff picks. Safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., nose tackle Vita Vea and cornerback Carlton Davis III have all had deserving stretches of play through two weeks, but if we’re being realistic, nobody is close to David’s level of dominance snap-to-snap.
At almost 31 years old, David doesn’t look like he’s lost a step at all, chasing backs across the field consistently in run defense while piling up three tackles-for-loss in Week 1 (stats only recorded two for some reason) and making some impressive stops around the line of scrimmage against Carolina. He and Vea are the biggest reasons why the Bucs’ run defense has remained so strong through two weeks.
But what really sets David apart is his ability in coverage. Being an elite cover guy as a linebacker in the NFL is one of the toughest jobs in the entire league, and very few players at David’s position excel at it. He’s consistently able to match up with backs and tight ends in man coverage, while showing a ton of range and diagnostic ability in zone. David is the perfect modern day linebacker and his ninth season is already shaping up to be one of his best.
Taylor Jenkins: ILB Lavonte David
In what should be no surprise to anyone who has paid attention to his career thus far, Lavonte David has been the best player on the Bucs’ defense through two games. David’s 82.5 player grade through two weeks, per Pro Football Focus, ranks him as the highest-graded player on Tampa Bay’s defense and his elite coverage grade of 90.1 puts him in the league’s Top 5 players in coverage.
It isn’t just his ability to diagnose plays and act as a leader on the defensive side of the ball, but David has continued his run as one of the most consistent linebackers in nearly all facets on defense. He’s a sure tackler and is already getting back to his habit creating turnovers with his first forced fumble (which he also recovered) on Sunday against the Panthers. That was the 15th fumble recovery of his career, which is the most in the NFL since 2012, and David’s 22nd forced fumble, which is tied for the fifth most in the league since 2012.
David is one of the league’s leading tacklers to this point in the season with 16 tackles, missing only two. And the former Pro Bowler has allowed just four receptions for 42 yards while adding in a pressure, a quarterback hit – all while helping mentor second-year inside linebacker Devin White.
Matt Matera: CB Carlton Davis III
In his three years in the league we have seen Carlton Davis III take tremendous strides in his progression over the years. He’s gone from being a cornerback that was flagged often for holding and pass interference penalties, to a shutdown corner as the top defensive back on the Bucs roster. Remember when there was a concern about putting too much faith in Tampa Bay’s secondary to continue taking a step forward? Davis has easily calmed those nerves after two great weeks of production.
Davis started off his season by shutting down All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas in New Orleans, which is no easy task. He limited Thomas to just three receptions for 17 yards, and even the receptions he made were difficult catches with Davis draped all over him. Having Davis shadow the opponent’s top receiver has helped the defense with Todd Bowles being able to expand his play calls knowing he can trust his best corner.
The next step in Davis’ progression came in the Bucs’ victory over the Panthers with him making the biggest play of the game for the defense. He came up with a clutch interception in the fourth quarter that gave the ball back to the offense when momentum was not on their side. Davis had only one career interception prior to that, so seeing him step up and make a huge play like that was very important. He’s comfortable in this defense and he knows what’s expected of him. Davis is quickly becoming a Top 10 corner in this NFL, if he’s not there already.