The Buccaneers’ lack of cap space did not stop them from making big time moves in free agency. In fact, they made one of the shrewdest deals of any team this offseason by signing former Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett to a one-year, $5 million contract.
The former undrafted free agent was a steal for Denver in 2014. Though he was typically used as a rotational pass rusher, Barrett made the most of his time on the field, recording 14 sacks and 35 quarterback hits in the past four years and 75 total quarterback pressures in the past three seasons according to Pro Football Focus.
Barrett’s production dipped last season as he lost playing time to fifth-overall pick Bradley Chubb. In addition to recording just three sacks, Pro Football Focus noted Barrett had just 13 pressures on 127 snaps. The Bucs would likely also rely on Barrett as a rotational player while balancing sufficient opportunities for his pass rush to be effective.
In any case, the Bucs got a true bargain in Barrett. By comparison, the LA Rams paid Dante Fowler more than double what the Bucs paid Barrett though their statistical production over the past three years is comparable. Fowler has 16 sacks and 27 QB hits in 47 games to Barrett’s 8.5 sacks and 23 QB hits in 45 games over the past three seasons.
Quality pass-rushers are hard to find in the NFL and even harder to find when shopping on a budget. The Bucs plundered free agency for a valuable depth piece in Barrett who could help rejuvenate the Tampa Bay defense without stretching the salary cap in 2019.
In an inactive day to open free agency, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reached out to a former player who thrived under Todd Bowles with the Arizona Cardinals.
The day of the legal tampering period saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers subtract three significant contributors in 2018 from the roster. Kwon Alexander signed a four-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers, Adam Humphries inked a deal with the Tennessee Titans, and DeSean Jackson has reportedly been traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Buccaneers were not able to come to an agreement with any free agents yesterday, and one target, Tyrann Mathieu went to the Kansas City Chiefs on a three-year deal. However according to The Athletic’s Greg Auman, Jason Licht did reach out to a former player under Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles during their time at the Arizona Cardinals, Deone Bucannon.
At just the age of 26 years old and having familiarity with Bowles’ defense the Buccaneers must prioritize bringing Bucannon to Tampa Bay. Especially the way that safeties and linebackers have been flying off of the market, bagging a versatile and bargain defensive play, it would be in Tampa Bay’s best interest to make him their top priority.
Bucannon is a box safety who has also played a good deal of linebacker during his time in Arizona, a prototypical player that is becoming a hot commodity in the NFL. Players such as Landon Collins, Jabrill Peppers, and Eric Berry are becoming the way of the future due to the increasing use of the spread offense and speed making its way into the NFL.
While he had a hard time seeing the field under head coach Steve Wilks in 2018, Bucannon thrived under Bowles, and a chance to reunite with his former defensive coordinator could help to reignite his career. On paper, it seems like a win-win situation for both Tampa Bay and Bucannon.
Throughout his five year career in Arizona with the Cardinals, the hard-hitting safety has tallied over 404 tackles, 27 behind the line of scrimmage, hit the quarterback 14 times, and recorded seven sacks. In addition, he had broken up 12 passes and picked off an additional two.
One day after signing his new three-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Donovan Smith sat down with local media to discuss the deal, what it means to stay in Tampa, and the future.
With general manager Jason Licht by his side, Smith fielded questions and answered them with a relaxed demeanor and a smile. It’s a big moment ahead of yet another big season for the former Penn State lineman who was selected along with Jameis Winston in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Early on in the press conference, Smith talked about being a part of the team now and moving forward, saying,
“I love it here in Tampa. The locker room, the guys. The community, the people around. I just couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. It’s just a blessing to be able to get this done and know that I have that security of being here for another three years. I just look forward to great things to come.”
Some fans have certainly made their opinions known about being unhappy with the cost of keeping Smith in Tampa Bay either due to money or due to performance flaws with Smith himself.
Despite this, Smith is certainly taking the opportunity to enjoy himself. On the day of his signing, the fifth-year tackle was in attendance as the Tampa Bay Lighting defeated the Winnipeg Jets with one of his agents and fellow lineman Ali Marpet.
Speaking of Marpet, Smith asked about his relationship with his left guard and how important it was to be staying with him, which Smith replied,“To be able to know that I got my friend that I’ve grown to be my brother over these years, you know, we keep this thing rolling together it’s huge. You know, we just look forward to it.”
Moving on in the conversation, the media in attendance and Smith covered topics like leadership and even more about the future. All eyes are on the future these days, and with one re-signing down, the Bucs and fans alike will certainly have at least part of their focus turned towards linebacker Kwon Alexander.
Getting both Smith and Alexander back would go a long way to helping head coach Bruce Arians in his efforts to reload this Buccaneers roster and take strides to improving on what is already considered a talented group, despite their recent struggles in the standings.
This offseason began largely like any other Donovan Smith had experienced so far. By the end of the day yesterday, however, it became the most significant of his career since he was drafted in 2015 by the very same team that was now inking him to his second NFL contract. The Buccaneers announced a new three-year deal for the left tackle that has started the past 64 consecutive games for the franchise. A deal that means Smith gets to stay in Tampa, the only team his professional career has ever known, along with teammates and a locker room he loves to its core. And for that, he’s grateful.
“I want to thank Jason Licht and the Glazer family for having that faith in me,” Smith said. “It’s a blessing to be able to get that done and have that security that I’m going to be here another three years.”
Looking ahead to his fifth season in the league and now as a bona fide veteran, Smith says going forward he wants to become more of a vocal leader in the locker room. Where before, he would pull a guy to the side or let others do the ‘rah-rah’ stuff, as he put it, he now wants to take on a bigger leadership role, along with some of his other linemates.
“I lead my own way,” Smith said. “You just kind of find your niche and don’t be afraid to step out and try something different. You may get a different response and something like that may trigger some other guys, ‘Oh, Donovan’s talking, he barely talks, that really must mean something.’”
One of those fellow leaders and linemen, and member of Smith’s same 2015 draft class who has already been dealt a long-term extension by the team this offseason, is Ali Marpet. Smith and Marpet held down the left side of the line last season, lining up next to each other at tackle and guard. They were also next to each other at last night’s Tampa Bay Lightning game as Smith celebrated his deal – Marpet was one of the first guys to congratulate his friend once word came through. The relationship between the two of them means a lot to Smith, as does the relationship with all of his teammates, and was a driving factor in him wanting to stay in Tampa.
“You build so much with your guys in the locker room,” Smith said of why he wanted to stay. “I love this organization. I love this locker room, my teammates. One of my greatest things is coming into the building every day. To be able to still be able to do that is huge.”
The first phone call Smith made after the deal was done, though, was to his family. He said he got them on a group-FaceTime, as they’re all scattered between Baltimore and New York. His mother broke down crying, something Smith says is hard for him to see whether it’s happy or sad tears, saying she prayed for this day. His brother and two sisters, including his twin sister, were on the line sharing in the moment, along with his grandparents, too.
Bucs fans have a reason to share in that same happiness. Not only has Smith started 64 consecutive games for the Buccaneers, but in those four years he’s only ever missed 30 snaps. He got hurt in a Week Eight matchup against the Saints in New Orleans during the 2017 season, forcing him to come out of the game. He was back the next week to start up another streak, which now sits at 1,676 after he’s played every snap since, including 100 percent of those in 2018. The physical aspect behind what he’s been able to accomplish as the picture of consistency, to put it simply, is tough.
“It takes a lot. You have to be physically prepared and mentally prepared and just know it’s going to be a battle all game, 60-90 plays, depending on how you’re playing,” Smith said.
That mental aspect may be even tougher. But it’s something that’s been ingrained in him from an early age by one of those people on that group-Facetime: his grandfather.
“My grandfather to this day, he just says you have to keep going no matter what,” Smith said. “He’s obviously getting up there in age and dealing with some health things, but I come home and he’s on top of his garage roofing his garage.”
“Same thing with my grandmother,” he continued with a laugh. “To this day, I’m carrying groceries and she’s trying to pick up groceries. I’m like, ‘Grandma, go sit down.’ But that’s just the mentality of my family, my uncle, you just gotta keep going no matter what because nobody really cares. It’s just been passed down and been instilled in me.”
That work ethic and mentality is one of the reasons it was so important to the Buccaneers’ front office to keep Smith. General Manager Jason Licht, the one who drafted Smith (and Marpet and Jameis Winston, for that matter) back in 2015, made it a point to say that Tampa Bay would be focused on retaining its own players set to become free agents this offseason. After already inking Marpet to a new five-year deal halfway through the season last year, Smith was at the top of the list.
“Donovan, in addition to being a massive… person [grinning], has a great, great combination of athleticism, strength, but more importantly, his intelligence and his desire to be on the field every Sunday,” Licht said of Smith. “It’s always exciting for an organization when you’re able to do an extension with a guy that you’ve drafted, the organization developed and the coaching staff did a good job with.”
As mentioned before, Smith is one of three players now from the 2015 draft class that will remain with the team in 2019. Winston’s fifth-year option had already been exercised to keep him with the team through 2019. The five-year deal for Marpet keeps him a Buccaneer through 2023. What’s more, Winston, Smith and Marpet are the Bucs’ top three picks from that class. Smith and Marpet also join the likes of wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate as players who were drafted or signed by Licht to receive second contracts with the team.
For now, that’s great news for Smith, who gets to stay in a city he loves with a team he loves even more.
“I love the locker room, the guys, the community and I just couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.”
Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves has played his first and last game for the Bucs this season.
undergoing an examination Wednesday by orthopedic surgeon Dr. James
Andrews, it was determined that Hargreaves suffered a season-ending
shoulder injury in the Bucs’ 48-40 win at New Orleans. He will be placed
on injured reserve by the Bucs later today.
It’s a crushing blow
for the Bucs and Hargreaves, the former Florida Gators and Wharton High
School star whose career has been derailed by injury. He missed seven
games last season with a hamstring injury.Advertisement
23, caused a fumble by Saints running back Mike Gillislee that was
scooped up by safety Justin Evans and returned for a touchdown Sunday.
It was a momentum-changing play that gave the Bucs a 31-17 lead with
4:27 remaining in the game.
He also had seven tackles, on forced fumble and one pass defensed Sunday.
injury means the Bucs could be without both starting cornerbacks
Sunday. Brent Grimes has a groin injury and did not travel with the team
to New Orleans last weekend.
Hargreaves has struggled to fulfill
his promise as the 12th overall pick in 2016. He has only one career
interception, which came during his rookie year, when he became the only
player to allow at least 1,000-yards passing.
The hype candidate is an annual tradition in fantasy football. This year, Chris Godwin is one of those players. But you know what? You’re probably going to draft Godwin too high this year.
There’s no denying the fact that Godwin is in a better situation than he was last year. In 2018, Godwin was essentially the Bucs’ No. 4 receiver with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Adam Humphries manning the top three spots. Yet despite being somewhat buried on the depth chart, Godwin broke out and finished as the No. 24 fantasy wide receiver. With Jackson and Humphries out of the mix, Godwin is all but guaranteed to see his role increase, but herein lies the problem.
Perception and reality can be two very different things in fantasy football. Given Godwin’s position on the Tampa depth chart, there’s a widespread perception among the fantasy football public that he’s going to take a massive step forward. New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians fanned these flames at the NFL owners meeting when he said “I think Chris Godwin is going to be close to a 100-catch guy.”
Let’s be clear that if Godwin catches 100 balls, he’s worth the hype. Godwin is currently coming off the board as the 20th wide receiver as a late-fourth-round pick in DRAFT best ball drafts. The lowest finish from a wideout who caught at least 100 balls last year was Stefon Diggs at No. 11 among wide receivers. So Godwin would be a steal at his current ADP if he’s able to reach that plateau.
But that’s much easier said than done. Last year, there were only eight wide receivers who topped 100 catches. And none of those players is named Mike Evans. In fact, Evans hasn’t topped triple digit catches for a single season in his career. His best effort came in 2016 when Evans put up 96 catches.
Tampa, we have a problem.
If the Buccaneers’ top target isn’t a strong bet to hit 100 catches, what makes us think their No. 2 receiver can hit that mark? Sure, it isn’t completely unprecedented for a team’s No. 2 to out-catch the No. 1. Last year, JuJu Smith-Schuster racked up 111 catches, which was seven more than Antonio Brown (of course, Brown played one fewer game). But the likelihood of this occurring isn’t very probable.
But let’s just say in theory that Godwin does catch 100 balls. In order for him to do so, that would require roughly 161 targets, given Godwin’s career catch rate of 62%. Even an increased efficiency of 70% would still require 143 targets. Last season, only four wide receivers had 161-plus targets and just seven wideouts topped 143.
Godwin finished last season with 90 targets, which tied for 36th among wide receivers. For him to see the necessary workload to hit triple-digit catches, Godwin would have to see anywhere from a 59% to a 79% increase in his target workload depending on his efficient. Any way you slice it, that’s a massive jump.
But let’s just say he does see that increase in volume. In his five years in Arizona, Bruce Arians offenses average 589.6 passing attempts per season. That means anywhere from a 24 to a 27% target share for Godwin. Last year, the Bucs running backs combined for 14% of the team’s targets, which is a fair expectation for this season. Tampa also has two strong pass-catching tight ends in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. That duo could feasibly account for 25% of the team’s targets.
We’re now at 64% of Tampa’s shares if we give Godwin a 25% share. Evans is still the heavy favorite to be the top target, so we’ll give him 1% more than Godwin at 26%. That leaves us with just 10% to distribute among the rest of the Bucs wideouts. Sure, the likes of Justin Watson, Breshad Perriman, and Bobo Wilson aren’t going to strike fear in opposing NFL defenses, but 10% simply isn’t enough. Even without upgrading in the draft, the Bucs Nos. 3-5 receivers are likely to see at least 15% of the team’s targets.
The math just doesn’t add up. With this estimate, we come in 5% over. And when we look through the target shares, there’s one player who’s seeing a larger-than-likely share: Godwin. If we subtract that extra 5% from Godwin’s share, we get a far more reasonable 20% share for Godwin. That translates to 118 targets, which is still a healthy 31% increase from last season.
For Godwin to catch 100 balls on that sort of workload, he’d need to put up a Michael Thomas level of efficiency and catch nearly 85% of his targets. I won’t say that can’t happen, but the likelihood is extremely slim. Godwin’s NFL career catch rate of 62% would translate to 73 catches. Even with an increased efficiency to 70%, Godwin would max out at 82 catches.
There’s no disagreement that Godwin is an exciting young player who is poised to take a step forward in his third professional season. But 100 catches is a far-fetched expectation. The hype surrounding Godwin has forced him up into the fourth round of best ball drafts, which is simply too high. Godwin is fine as a fifth-round selection and is a value any later than that. Keep this in mind when you build out your draft boards. That will help you avoid spending too much draft capital on Godwin.
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Justin Evans in the 2017 draft I remember seeing confused fans on social media wondering who in the world this guy was. I was excited, Evans was one of my favorite safeties in the draft.
A big hitting, playmaking, intimidating presence is something the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have needed for many years in their secondary. He is an athletic safety who was tagged as having a reputation of punishing defenders who crossed the middle.
By nature, Evans is a quiet playmaker. His persona and reputation fits in well with the Bucs.
The most remembered play of Evans career thus far is probably when he went toe-to-toe with Derrick Henry and came out on top. Not many players can say that.
Evans has a knack for making big plays. Another play which pops out from his collegiate days was his athletic interception against UCLA which ended the game. Evans seems to make plays you remember, and he continued to do so when he was drafted into the NFL.
Justin Evans wasn’t handed the starting job. He was set back briefly by an injury, but once he earned the job he never looked back.
Evans’ knack for making memorable plays continued, his first career interception was off the G.O.A.T himself: Tom Brady.
It was the storybook beginning to a career any defensive back could ask for. His next big play came when Evans came up big to end the Dolphins drive at the goal line.
The Dolphins were carving up the Bucs’ defense and Evans’ interception completely changed momentum. Tampa seized the momentum, and never looked back.
Jason Licht’s secondary steal finished his rookie season with 66 tackles and three interceptions. He may not get the national recognition like Jamal Adams or Malik Hooker but fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers know him well.
There are multiple players on the current roster who don’t really get the national respect they deserve. The first players which come to mind are Lavonte David and Brent Grimes.
Both of those players are highly productive and among the most underrated players in the league at their positions. Evans fits right in with them.
If you watch an interview with Evans he is much like Grimes and David. They are men of few words and would rather let their play do the talking for them.
He has a long way to go to be an elite player, but the potential is there. As they say, winning solves everything. If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can finally find a way to win, then credit will be due, and stars may be born.
Coach Bruce Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” philosophy on offense hasn’t been big on tight ends. But that might change in 2019 as Arians takes the reins of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have former Alabama standout O.J. Howard available at tight end.
In his second NFL season, Howard caught 34 passes for 565 yards and five touchdowns before an ankle injury ended his 2018 campaign prematurely.
In his 14 previous seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator or head coach, Arians has had only three tight ends who exceeded the receiving yardage that Howard compiled in 10 games in 2018, and none of Arians’ past tight ends ever matched Howard’s per-catch average of 16.6 yards.
During a press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine, Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht said Howard had Arians excited about tight end.
“When I pointed out O.J. to Bruce, one of his first days in the office, OJ was rehabbing out on the field,” Licht said, “and Bruce’s eyes got about this big, so I know he’s excited.
“He’s a big guy. He can run. He can block. He can catch. He was averaging — what? — 17, 18 yards a catch before he got hurt. So I know if you want to draw up a tight end and what you want him to look like, it’s O.J. Howard, so I know that Bruce is excited about that.”
Jenna Laine of ESPN has speculated that Arians might use Howard as he used wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald during his five seasons as coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
Fitzgerald already had played nine NFL seasons when Arians arrived in Arizona in 2013. Under Arians, Fitzgerald often lined up in the slot, ran routes like a “glorified tight end” and caught plenty of passes. In Arians’ five seasons with the Cardinals, Fitzgerald caught 470 passes for 5,132 yards and 33 touchdowns. He caught at least 107 passes in each of the final three seasons.
After the Buccaneers selected Howard with the 19th choice in the 2017 NFL Draft, he caught 26 passes for 432 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie.
In 2018, Howard was on pace for 904 receiving yards when he was injured. The Tampa Bay single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end is 884 by Kellen Winslow II in 2009.
Both of Howard’s NFL seasons have ended early because of ankle injuries, and each injury came when he was tackled after a big play. In 2017, it was a 30-yard touchdown reception. In 2018, the injury occurred at the end of the 24-yard gain.
Even though he missed six games, Howard finished 14th in receiving yards among the NFL’s tight ends in 2018.
Howard’s average of 56.5 receiving yards per game was exceeded by only three tight ends — the San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle, Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and Philadelphia Eagles’ Zack Ertz (the three tight ends with 1,000 receiving yards in 2018) — and none of the tight ends ahead of him in receiving yards could match Howard’s average gain of 11.77 yards per target, thanks to a 70.8 percent catch rate.
Before playing on Alabama’s 2015 CFP national-championship team, Howard earned All-State recognition three times at Autauga Academy — as a linebacker in 2010, in the athlete slot in 2011 and as a tight end in 2012.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns in the Steelers’ 30-27 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night.
But Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter isn’t down on the Bucs’ secondary, particularly rookie cornerback Carlton Davis.
“I thought Carlton Davis was outstanding in the game,” Koetter said. “I think for the guys he was having to cover, he showed no fear. The game wasn’t too big for him. He didn’t back down. Played a lot of press coverage. Got right up in their face.”
By the time Tampa Bay selected Davis from Auburn with the 63rd choice in the NFL Draft in April, eight cornerbacks already had been chosen.
Three weeks into the season, only one of those cornerbacks has played more than Davis. As a starter in every game this season, Davis has been on the field for 93.8 percent of the Bucs’ defensive snaps — 196 of 209. The only one of the cornerbacks drafted before Davis who has played more than the former Auburn standout this season was the first to come off the board — Denzel Ward, who went to the Cleveland Browns with the fourth choice. Ward has played 98.6 percent of the Browns’ defensive snaps.
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But Davis’ workload is in danger of a decline on Sunday, when Tampa Bay visits the Chicago Bears. Davis showed up on the Buccaneers’ injury report as a limited participant in Friday’s practice, and a groin problem has him listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
Davis’ absence would be another blow for the Tampa Bay secondary. Starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves has gone on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, and starting safety Chris Conte joined him this week after getting hurt against the Steelers.
The Bucs’ other projected starting cornerback, Brent Grimes, got on the field for the first time this season against Pittsburgh. The injuries have contributed to Davis’ quick climb into the lineup and also brought two other rookies, cornerback M.J. Stewart and safety Jordan Whitehead, onto the field against Pittsburgh on Monday night.
“For a good part of the game when we were in nickel defense, we had three rookies out there,” Koetter said. “Is there going to be some growing pains with three rookies in your secondary and right now two of our starting four to-start-the-year DBs are out? Yeah, there’s going to be some growing pains. But at the same time, we really like what those guys have shown so far.”
In addition to Roethlisberger, Tampa Bay’s young secondary faced Drew Brees in a 48-40 season-opening victory over the New Orleans Saints and Nick Foles in a 27-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 16.
“We’ve been very pleased with how they’ve worked for us thus far,” Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. “They’ve been battled-tested, that’s for sure. Faced two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and a guy who was the MVP of the Super Bowl. They haven’t had any slack, that’s for sure.”
When Davis joined Tampa Bay, Koetter cited the cornerback’s size as one of his most attractive attributes, particularly important with the Bucs facing big receivers Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons, Devin Funchess of the Carolina Panthers and Mike Thomas of the Saints twice each season.
“He’s a big, strong corner who plays well when he’s closer to the line of scrimmage than when he’s off,” Smith said, “and I think we’re seeing that as the games start getting put in the books.”
But against the Steelers, Davis often matched up with wide receiver Antonio Brown, who’s 5-foot-10 but also a four-time All-Pro. Brown finished Monday night’s game with his smallest stats of the season with six receptions for 50 yards, but he did catch a touchdown pass.
The Buccaneers and Bears are scheduled to kick off at noon CDT Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago.
While Tampa Bay’s 2-1 start could be considered a little surprising with quarterback Jameis Winston missing the three games while serving an NFL suspension, Chicago also is 2-1 for the first time since 2014 and is the only NFC North team with two victories this season.
TAMPA, Fla. — Up until last week’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hadn’t seen the return on investment they were expecting from their 2018 draft class.
Defensive tackle Vita Vea, the Bucs’ No. 12 pick, notched his second sack and three tackles for a loss against the 49ers, and strong safety Jordan Whitehead turned in a team-leading 11 tackles (10 solo) and two pass breakups, suggesting there is some hope with this rookie group after all.
Prior to his breakout performance, Vea had recorded just three tackles and one sack in eight games, a tough pill to swallow for Bucs fans who instead were clamoring for former Florida State’s Derwin James. The Los Angeles Chargers drafted the safety at No. 17 and he is a strong contender for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Vea’s pro career got off to a rough start when he missed all of training camp and the first three games of the regular season with a strained calf muscle. He also had to trim 15 pounds from his 347-pound frame, a concern for some teams ESPN spoke to prior to the draft.
He drew some comparisons to 6-foot-2, 345-pound Danny Shelton, whom the Cleveland Browns selected 12th overall out of Washington in 2016 but traded to the New England Patriots last year. In 46 games with the Browns, Shelton recorded 1.5 sacks.
Vea credits Sunday’s performance, which included plowing through All-Pro offensive tackle Joe Staley, to “not thinking so hard” for the first time this season.
“I wasn’t thinking; I was just playing,” he said. “It’s really just going out there and playing, just playing, letting loose. You’ve gotta keep it simple and stuff like that … just running. They say good things happen when you’re just running to the ball.”
As for Whitehead, the Bucs’ fourth-round pick, he has had to step up as the Bucs have been without starters Chris Conte (injured reserve) and Justin Evans (toe). Whitehead also was dealing with injuries, including a hamstring strain and a concussion, which he had to clear the protocol in a week’s time in order to play last week.
“I thought Jordan played well overall,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said. “You know, we played a lot of man coverage, especially in the first half when we were in base defense against their 21 personnel. Jordan, not only was he down in the box as a run player, he was the primary guy covering [tight end George] Kittle, and I thought he really stayed close to Kittle for the most part. At least three times that I can remember when they were running those against-the-grain boots [roll-out passes], he was right there.”
Over the past two weeks, Whitehead has led NFL rookies with 17 solo tackles. The Bucs were missing three starting linebackers and the 49ers were checking it down repeatedly, but Whitehead still had to put himself in position to make those tackles.
Another rookie pressed into action early has been cornerback Carlton Davis, a second-round draft pick who took over as a starter when Vernon Hargreaves went on injured reserve. Davis has had his share of injuries this season and has encountered some growing pains.
On one play Sunday, Davis was juked by Dante Pettis while lined up against Pettis in the slot. Pettis caught him guessing wrong with an inside release for a touchdown.
Davis also gave up a 41-yard catch to Odell Beckham Jr. two weeks ago. Against the Carolina Panthers, he drew a costly 15-yard penalty for taunting after getting in Devin Funchess’ face after a fourth-down stop.
To make matters worse, Christian McCaffrey leaped over Davis during a 32-yard gain; and on the very next play, Davis surrendered a 32-yard gain on an end around by DJ Moore. Davis has three pass breakups and has yet to record an interception, but as the game starts to come to him, the hope is that he can use his physicality at the line of scrimmage and his length to counter the NFL’s big-bodied targets.
As for the rest:
Cornerback M.J. Stewart has missed the past four games with a foot injury, but he also has had his share of rough moments, as has second-round running back Ronald Jones II with a hamstring injury. Prior to Jones’ injury, he was a healthy scratch the first three games, and his longest run was for 9 yards against the Browns.
Offensive guard Alex Cappa, a third-round draft pick out of Humboldt State, saw his first game action last week and performed, according to Koetter, “like a guy getting his first NFL snaps.” Meanwhile, wide receiver Justin Watson has primarily been used on special teams, the result of the Bucs’ depth at the position.
Sixth-round pick Jack Cichy suffered a season-ending torn ACL against the Browns in Week 7.
Only one starter? It could be worse
Vea has three starts this season, Davis has 10 because of Hargreaves’ injury and Whitehead has six because of Conte’s injury. A closer look at other NFL teams’ recent drafts (or even the Bucs’ own 2016 class) suggests it could be worse.
In 2016, the Bucs had one starter emerging in Hargreaves, defensive end Noah Spence barely seeing the field and kicker Roberto Aguayo getting cut after one season.
Injuries wiped out the Patriots’ four-person draft class in 2014.
Of the New York Jets’ picks through the first four rounds in 2014, just one remains on the roster.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ first three picks in the 2011 draft — guard Danny Watkins, safety Jaiquawn Jarrett and cornerback Curtis Marsh — combined for just 20 starts in three seasons.
The Browns had nine first-round draft picks from 2011 through 2016. Not one is on the team.
So while Tampa Bay’s pedestrian production from its 2018 class is not ideal, it is far from a worst-case scenario.