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FAB 1. 5 Bucs That Must Bounce Back

I’m back from my early summer vacation and ready to roll with another edition of SR’s Fab 5. This is officially the first SR’s Fab 5 of my 25th year of Bucs coverage, as I began my career as a Bucs beat writer for Buccaneer Magazine (which later became Pewter Report in 2002) on May 19, 1995 – just six days after graduating from Kansas State University and moving to Tampa.

And since SR’s Fab 5 has become my signature column, I thought it only fitting that I start each of the four main sections with my analysis of five Bucs players. Let’s start with five Bucs that need to bounce back after some trials and tribulations last year.

TE O.J. Howard

Howard’s 2019 tape wasn’t great, but it wasn’t the huge step back that some think it was. In his third year in the league, Howard caught 34 passes, which tied his career high from 2018, for 459 yards, which was the third straight year that the former first-round pick has topped the 400-yard receiving mark. The problem was that many expected Howard to take a big leap forward in his third season in the league with perhaps 700 yards and at least a handful of touchdowns. That didn’t happen because head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich directed the ball more towards to Pro Bowl wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin due to their reliability.

Howard saw a reduction in his number of touchdown catches from five in 2018 to just one last year, and his yards-per-catch average fell from 16.6 to 13.5 thanks in part to the fact that he didn’t have a catch longer than 40 yards for the first time in his brief NFL career. Mistakes were also a problem as Howard also had a fumble and saw two potential catches turn into interceptions in 2019. That led to fewer opportunities until the last four games of Howard’s season where he caught 16 passes for 226 passes (14.1 avg.).

The arrival of Rob Gronkowski in a trade with New England will demote Howard to the No. 2 tight end and reduce his playing time. Yet with fewer opportunities, Howard actually has the chance to do more, especially in the red zone where Tom Brady should find his 6-foot-6, 251-pound frame appealing. A 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends, two receivers) grouping in the red zone with Evans, Godwin, Gronkowski and Howard could result in some real favorable coverage match-ups for the Alabama product. Howard could catch 34 passes again in 2020, but wind up with five or six touchdowns and a higher yards-per-catch average as he serves as the understudy of Gronkowski, a five-time Pro Bowler, for a year or two. That would be a nice bounce back season for Howard.

S Mike Edwards

More was expected from Edwards, one of two third-round picks by Tampa Bay last year, during his rookie season. Edwards started seven games for the Bucs in 2019 and recorded 45 tackles, three tackles for loss, six pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and one sack. His 58.2 grade from Pro Football Focus was underwhelming, but accurate. Tampa Bay thought that Edwards would be more of a playmaker and ball hawk like he was at Kentucky where he recorded 10 career interceptions.

Bucs DB Mike Edwards
Bucs DB Mike Edwards – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Edwards was used a lot at free safety, but was eventually replaced by Andrew Adams after the Bucs secondary gave up several 300-yard passing games early in the season. Edwards showed his versatility by starting at nickel corner against New Orleans where he recorded a sack on a blitz from the slot, and he could see more action at strong safety in 2020 and play closer to the line of scrimmage with the arrival of Antoine Winfield, Jr., the team’s second-round pick. The instinctive Winfield would probably play more center field at free safety, putting Edwards in position to compete with Jordan Whitehead for the strong safety role. Wherever he plays, Edwards needs to make more plays on the ball and play tighter in coverage.

TE Antony Auclair

At first glance it might seem as if Auclair would get less playing time with Gronkowski’s arrival in 2020, as the Canadian tight end is now fourth on the depth chart behind Gronkowski, Howard and Cameron Brate. But Auclair played 172 snaps last year before a midseason toe injury ended his season. In 2018, Auclair played 325 snaps on offense as Tampa Bay’s primary run blocker. With the logjam at the tight end position, Auclair might see a snap count closer to 200 than the 325 snaps he saw in 2018.

Bucs TE Antony Auclair - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs TE Antony Auclair – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

However many snaps he receives he needs to really dominate as a run blocker, which was something that he struggled with last year at times, as pointed out by Jon Ledyard in a recent Bucs Briefing column. Tampa Bay’s running game did struggle without him in the line up down the stretch, and if he returns to health and becomes more effective at the point of attack, Auclair could help key the Bucs’ ground game. Auclair has never been much of a receiving threat, catching a career-high seven passes for 48 yards in 2018 before hauling in one pass for 11 yards last year. So any improvement in this area would be welcomed too.

OLB Anthony Nelson

There are high hopes for Nelson’s second season in Tampa Bay within the organization. With the Bucs expecting Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquille Barrett to have big years in 2019, it seemed likely that Carl Nassib would be the odd man out, so the team drafted the similarly built Nelson, who stands 6-foot-7, 271 pounds, to replace him. Nelson suffered a knee injury in training camp that caused him to miss the preseason and then missed six weeks with an in-season hamstring injury that really stymied his development during his rookie year.

Bucs OLB Anthony Nelson
Bucs OLB Anthony Nelson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

As a result, Nelson saw action in nine games last year with one start at left outside linebacker, posting eight tackles, one pass defensed and one forced fumble. Nassib, who was in his fourth year, was far more productive and experienced than Nelson was last year, and posted 34 tackles, eight tackles for loss, six sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery as the Bucs’ third pass-rushing outside linebacker behind Barrett and Pierre-Paul. Is Nelson capable of putting up those types of stats in 2020? The Bucs better hope Nelson stays healthy and rises up this year – and that Barrett and Pierre-Paul stay healthy, too.

K Matt Gay

Gay finished his rookie season in awful fashion with three painful misses in the south end zone at Raymond James Stadium in a 26-22 overtime loss to Atlanta in the 2019 season finale that prevented the Bucs from finishing the year with a .500 record. His 77.1 percent field goal percentage to end his rookie year was not bad, but entering Week 17, Gay had connected on 27-of-32 field goals for 84.4 percent, which was mighty impressive for Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick. Had he connected on all three of those final kicks, Gay would have nailed 85.7 percent of his field goals as a rookie, which is even more impressive.

Bucs K Matt Gay
Bucs K Matt Gay – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Gay needs to follow head coach Bruce Arians’ advice and use the offseason to figure out the south end zone at Raymond James Stadium where he also missed a potential game-winning 34-yarder against the New York Giants in Week 4. Unfortunately those four misses are what Bucs fans remember the most, but Gay’s 27 made field goals, including an impressive 5-of-8 from 50 yards and beyond, contributed to Tampa Bay finishing with seven wins, which was two more than the team posted the previous year.

I’ve got a feeling that Gay will enter the 2020 season with a better mastery of the swirling winds in the south end zone at Ray-Jay and build on a rookie season that was better you think it was. In fact, I think Gay goes down as one of the best Bucs kickers of all-time when it’s all said and done – up there with the likes of Martin Gramatica, Connor Barth and Matt Bryant.

Do you like this edition of SR’s Fab 5? Please donate to PewterReport.com today to help our business overcome the financial hardship due to COVID-19. One-time donations start as low as $10 – or you can donate monthly for as low as $3 per month. Thank you for your support! CLICK HERE TO DONATE

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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: [email protected]
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danielob

Glad your back,Scott, I always look forward to the Fab 5, it makes my week. Also glad you mentioned James Wilder, one of our most under-appreciated Bucs from the 80’s when the Bucs were really bad and you expected a 2 win season and got them! Wilder always gave maximum effort in many a losing cause but you always knew he would play his heart out for the team. It would be great to get his name on the ring of honor, it would be well deserved.

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bucballer

James Wilder was a beast for sure! He deserves to be in the Ring of Honor. Tony Mayberry was a consistent and durable leader as well. He deserves a solid look as well. Rice was dominant too for us it’s just I don’t know if he will make the Ring of Honor.

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bucballer

Oh yea, Hardy definitely deserves to be in the Ring of Honor too. He was a beast of a leader with the Bucs. Lead by example and was vocal. He even kept Sapp on task… nobody messed with Sapp… on the flip side… Sapp didn’t mess with Hardy either! Hardy changed the culture and locker room. He belongs in the Ring of Fame!

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Dman

Completely agree. And you hear those same sentiments from Brooks and Sapp.

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rrsrq

I really liked Hardy, he was a leader, but ROH worthy, I disagree, had he stayed in Pewter, maybe, but he left on his own. Just because you are a leader, doesn’t make you ROH worthy, Barrett Rudd was a leader

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Hockey Duckie

Cappa emerged as a starter at right guard during his second season in the league, but still has a ways to go to become a solid lineman in the NFL. Cappa earned a pedestrian 62.7 grade from Pro Football Focus in 2019 and that is not totally unexpected given the fact that he played left tackle at Humboldt State and had to make a quick transition to not only playing a different position but also against a far steeper level of competition. Sounds like an excuse to me. Remember, GM Licht traded up for Cappa in the bottom of the… Read more »

geno711

I am confused by your analysis. Dalton Risner and Alex Cappa are the same age. They had essentially the same grades in PFF. Risner was taken with pick 41 overall and Cappa was taken with 94 overall. They each only started last year and Cappa got his rating despite playing with a broken arm for part of the year. It was a horrible draft last year for offensive lineman and I am glad we did not reach for Dalton Risner. I personally don’t need both Risner and Cappa on the team to duke it out. Further, SMB played better and… Read more »

Dave

His analysis is always the same. The line is complete garbage, and they were responsible for all our offensive problems last year. Barber ranking last or 2nd to last in every single stat possible was a mirage. It was all on the line. Jameis continuously holding onto the ball too long, never throwing it out of bounds, or checking down, was also a mirage. It was all the OLine

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Dave

So you pick the one guy on our line that graded below a 70. Lol. Pretty impressive. He’s been in the league 2 years dude. And he made significant strides from year 1 to year 2. Rookie year had a 40 grade, last year a 62.3 grade. Unless you seriously were expecting him to be an all pro in year 2. How about you let him continue to progress as he’s done so far

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Spitfire

3rd Round Olinemen are not high draft picks. Who cares if we traded up in the 3rd to get him, you don’t expect to find Pro Bowl Olinemen in the 3rd Round. So him becoming a starter last year and making progress sets him up perfectly for continued progress and it should be seen as a positive that he was drafted so late yet could develope into a solid starter, not a negative on his progress so far.

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Dave

Seriously. Most 3rd round OLineman, If they end up being, at best, a consistent league average starter, is a successful pick. Anything more is a bonus

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FireLichtMovement

Are you really telling us, that because in your opinion, a 3rd round pick(Dean) is playing better than a 2nd round pick(Bunting) there is something wrong with the scouting department? No excuse for MJ Stewart in my eyes. Terrible pick, but moving up 1 spot for Wirfs killed you huh? That 4th rounder really hurt us, when we got Gronk with the other? Licht knew Staley was retiring. It really is as simple as that. Not one so called draft expert had a problem with it, because it wasn’t a bunch to give up. Antoine Winfield can now play the… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by FireLichtMovement
Dman

I’m really pulling for Edwards. Coming out of Kentucky I expected him to step in as a starter and solidify the spot by season’s end. Hope last season was just making the transition from college to the NFL. And same with Nelson. Jon’s analysis of him revealed some struggles to overcome, but really need him to step into Nassib’s shoes. Other than the obvious TB, Gronk, Wirfs, the guys I really want to see are Winfield and Tyler Johnson. And Johnson could be the receiving threat that emerges to give defenses nowhere to hide. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00… Read more »

fredster

I’m not sold on Gay. He was terrible end of last year. Just no consistency to him. He cost us That Giants game missing 34 yards? Crazy. Who misses 34 at home with good weather?

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plopes808

True, he did cost us a couple games and the misses are definitely more memorable than the kicks made. For the most part though, he was pretty good, especially for a rookie. This was the first year in a while that I actually had faith in our kicker going out there. Hopefully he figures out that South endzone and continues to develop.

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fredster

I hear ya on the overall. I’m just way more concerned with his consistency than his ability to hit over 50 at times. Missing multiple extra points in a game and missing game winning 34 yarder at home to Giants was bad. Very bad.

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plopes808

I can’t wait to see our young secondary out there. They played very well the end of last year and will only get better with more experience. The addition of Winfield may be the biggest difference maker from this draft. Wirfs and Johnson both have shots at that title as well and I look forward to watching them battle it out.

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bucballer

This fan thinks the Bucs have hit paydirt with Wirf, Johnson and Winfield. I expect all 3 to be starters for the Bucs and contribute nicely. That and the Brady effect on all of our players will be interesting to watch. It’s time for our young players to come of age and continue to contribute to the very special season that I believe the Bucs will/can have this season… at least I hope so!

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scubog

Seems everyone wants instant stardom. Haven’t we learned yet that players develop at different rates? Some right away (Donnie Abraham) and others maybe never (Marquis Walker). Some whose light shines bright initially, flame out just as quickly (Michael Clayton). Some look like they might not make the team, then make the Bucs signature play (Ronde Barber) and perhaps the HOF. Looking forward to Training Camp and hopefully being able to attend a few practice sessions with my friend Pinkstob. Other than the players Scott mentioned, who we all are anxious to see, I’m curious to see Blaine Gabbert, whose preseason… Read more »

Horse

Happy 25th Scott. Another good Fab 5.

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FireLichtMovement

Great Fab 5 Scott. Can anyone please tell me how a QB, who throws for 2500 yards and a 21:11 TD to INT ratio makes the Pro Bowl? Trent Dilfer was terrible lol, but I guess the rest of the league wasnt that great either. The guy never threw for over 3000 yards at any point in his career! Mayberry deserves the Ring of Honor, even being a long shot. If these young corners on the Bucs roster improve after gaining great experience last year look out! Dean, Davis, and Bunting all have a good shot. This roster is looking… Read more »

hamilton

Edward’s an nelson

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hamilton

Edwards an nelson were rookies, give them a chance.

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BigSombrero

I think the 2nd group of 5 represent players who can have the biggest impact on the team.

Davis, Bunting and Dean need to have good seasons and create more turnovers.

RoJo should have more touches and impact with Brady at QB. Hopefully he stays healthy. While RoJo is an average RB, the dropoff behind him is significant.

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bucballer

Too soon to tell about the RB stable. We don’t even know what we have yet. I do know that it is not necessary to have a top draft pick at RB in order for them to succeed. At least this seems to be the recent trend. Let’s give the young draft picks at RB a chance before we doubt their abilities. People didn’t think much of a young 6th round QB out of Michigan and he is now referred to as the GOAT and has 6 SB rings.

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bucballer

LB Anthony Nelson is really a wild card for the Bucs. At 6’7” and 270 he is a physical beast. The Bucs could really use him this year. If he could play up to his potential… yep, there’s that “p” word again…then he could be a hidden gem for the Bucs. U can’t teach size and he has that in spades and more. If he balls out this year… I believe this was thinking when they let Nassib go… well that and money. Really hope he starts to put it together this year. It would really make that Linebacker core… Read more »

BigSombrero

Nelson has some size but has had poor production. He was a late round pick for a reason. Ledyard did a pretty good piece on him. I sure hope Barrett and JPP stay healthy.

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buclover1988

Ledyard is ok when it comes to player assessment. Really not that impressed by him and his assessment of Vaughn is what did it for me. Nelson is a beast. He has all the tools needed to be a force. Had he stayed at Iowa he would have been a high pick this year. His sack numbers went up every year at Iowa and I’m pretty sure he would’ve put up double digits sacks had he stayed for his senior year. The kid can play. Just got hurt last year. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please… Read more »

bucballer

Poor production??? This is the kids 2nd year. He went on IR after just a couple games. So for u, 3 games should tell us if he’s going to be productive or not? Give the kid a chance before u cast aspersions to him being unproductive!

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BigSombrero

He is actually much slower to react than Nassib. He isn’t fluid in coverage in ANY way. He cant get off blocks to get to the QB on time. He gets leveraged easily against the run. He is a guy that creates a weakness on the defense when he is in there. He is a late round pick. Hopefully he can contribute on special teams, but Im not holding my breath.

Other than those things, Nelson has a bright future.

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Agreed big & slow, block eating role player. Not a playmaker.

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