FAB 3. Rookie Foes That Can Make An Impact Against Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers defense had its share of headaches last year. Aside from having the league’s worst pass defense and worst pass rush last year, Tampa Bay also had the dubious distinction of having the worst total defense in 2017, too.
The Bucs had trouble stopping aging greats like New England quarterback Tom Brady, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and Arizona running back Adrian Peterson, but also struggled to stop several top rookies, too.
In just his third game in the NFL, Minnesota rookie running back Dalvin Cook, a second-round pick, rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, in addition to catching five passes for 72 yards in a 34-17 victory over Tampa Bay in Week 3.
In a 30-10 victory over the Bucs in Week 9, New Orleans rookie all-purpose back Alvin Kamara, a third-round pick, rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries, and also had six catches for 84 yards and another touchdown en route to making the Pro Bowl as a rookie and winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Kamara had 44 yards and another TD on nine carries, in addition to catching six more passes for another 84 yards, plus a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a 31-24 loss at Tampa Bay in Week 17.
In a 24-21 loss to Atlanta on Monday Night Football, Falcons rookie defensive end Takkarist McKinley, the team’s first-round pick, had a key sack-fumble in Week 15, just three weeks before notching a sack in Atlanta in a 34-20 victory over the Bucs. McKinley posted six sacks as a rookie with two of them coming against Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay’s defense has been bolstered along the defensive line and in the secondary this offseason, so expect improvement. But that doesn’t mean that some of the league’s top rookies won’t have a decent amount of success against the Bucs this year.
Here is a look at two or three rookies from each team that head coach Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator Todd Monken and defensive coordinator Mike Smith will have to be wary about and game plan for in 2018.
Week 1/14: New Orleans – DE Marcus Davenport and WR Tre’Quan Smith
The Saints mortgaged the future by trading away their first-round pick in 2019 to move up and grab Davenport to help their pass rush. Will he make an impact as a rookie? The Bucs liked Smith, a do-it-all receiver from the third round, who replaces Willie Snead, who was signed away by Baltimore as a restricted free agent.
Week 2: Philadelphia – TE Dallas Goedert DE Josh Sweat
Keep an eye on cornerback Avonte Maddox, but Sweat, the Eagles’ fourth-round pick, was signed to replace defensive end Vinny Curry, who is now a Buccaneer. Goedert, Philly’s first-round pick, teams with Zach Ertz to give the Eagles a one-two punch at tight end.
Week 3: Pittsburgh – SS Terrell Edmunds and WR James Washington
The selection of Edmunds in the first round of the draft raised eyebrows, but he’s likely to start because of his draft status. Washington has sneaky speed and with the trade of Martavis Bryant to Oakland, he’s likely to see time opposite Antonio Brown in the Steelers’ receiving corps.
Week 4: Chicgao – LB Roquan Smith and WR Anthony Miller
While first-round lineman James Daniels will likely start, it’s Smith, the team’s initial first-rounder, that is expected to make the biggest impact for the Bears. Smith is a heat-seeking missile that can play the run and the pass well. Keep an eye on the play-making Miller, who is expected to start in the slot for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
Week 6/17: Atlanta – WR Calvin Ridley and CB Isaiah Oliver
It’s a good thing the Bucs drafted two cornerbacks in M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis because Ridley, Atlanta’s first-rounder who many believe was the best receiver in the draft, gets added to a Falcons receiving corps that already boasts Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Speaking of cornerbacks, Oliver, the Falcons’ second-round pick, is a good one, and at 6-foot-1, has the size to be a better matchup against Mike Evans.
Week 7: Cleveland – QB Baker Mayfield and RB Nick Chubb
Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, will likely be starting by Week 7 barring injury, so Tampa Bay’s revamped defensive line has the chance to tee off on a rookie QB. While fellow first-round pick Denzel Ward will likely start at cornerback, keep an eye on Chubb, the team’s second-round pick that will likely share carries with Carlos Hyde – if not unseat Hyde as the Browns’ starting running back as a rookie.
Week 8: Cincinnati – RB Mark Walton and LB Malik Jefferson
First-round pick Billy Price will undoubtedly start at guard or center as a rookie, but the Bengals are expecting big things from Walton on offense, too. Expect the fourth-round pick to split carries with Joe Mixon as a rookie. Expect the fast and athletic Jefferson to see playing time at linebacker as a rookie and make a splash once he gets some experience.
Week 9/13: Carolina – WR D.J. Moore and CB Donte Jackson
Carolina’s receiving corps continues to get overhauled and Moore is expected to come in and start opposite Devin Funchess to bring some much-needed speed to the Panthers offense. Jackson, who ran a 4.32 time in the 40-yard dash, is a second-round pick that is expected to start in a secondary that needs more playmakers. Look for Evans to exploit Jackson’s skinny frame in jump ball situations.
Week 10: Washington – DT Da’Ron Payne RB Derrius Guice
Payne, the team’s first-round pick, addresses a big need at defensive tackle for the Redskins and will start in Washington’s 3-4 opposite former Crimson Tide teammate Jonathan Allen. Guice has first-round talent, but slid to the second round and has the ability to break tackles and run away from tacklers. He could prove to be a steal and a threat to lead all rookie rushers.
Week 11: New York Giants – RB Saquon Barkley and G Will Hernandez
Barkley was the second overall pick and will be an immediate starter for the running back-needy Giants. Barkley, like Kamara, will be tough to defend on all three downs. Leading the way for Barkley is Hernandez, a big road grader that will prove to be a challenge for Gerald McCoy, Beau Allen and Vita Vea during his rookie season.
Week 12: San Francisco – OT Mike McGlinchey WR Dante Pettis
McGlinchey, the team’s first-round pick, will be switched to right tackle to start opposite left tackle Joe Staley and to protect Jimmy Garoppolo. He’ll get a healthy dose of Vinny Curry, Will Gholston and Noah Spence and the different styles they bring. Pettis, a second-round pick, gives the 49ers speed on the outside as well as in the punt return game and must be accounted for on all four downs.
Week 15: Baltimore – TEs Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews and QB Lamar Jackson
The Ravens doubled down at the tight end position with Hurst, the team’s initial first-round pick, and Andrews, a second-round pick – two big, athletic targets that can catch. Who will throw them the ball? It could be Joe Flacco, but don’t be shocked if it’s Jackson, the final pick in the first round, who has immense talent to throw the ball and also scramble.
Week 16: Dallas – LB Leighton Vander Esch and WR Michael Gallup
Vander Esch is supposed to step in and start at Dallas where he’ll learn from a good one in Sean Lee. The Cowboys defense needs an injection of speed and athleticism and that’s what Vander Esch will bring. Gallup, the team’s third-round pick, helps fill Dez Bryant’s shoes at wide receiver and gives Dak Prescott a vertical threat to throw to.
Will any of these rookies victimize the Bucs the way Kamara, McKinley or Cook did last year? We’ll know the answer by January, but Koetter, Smith and Monken will spend this summer familiarizing themselves with these new future NFL stars to try to prevent that from happening.