Who are the 20 most important Bucs?

by Gary Shelton on July 27, 2016 · 1 comment

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Wednesday, 6 a.m.

Rah, team.

Coaches are big on this stuff, of course. The least important backup is vital. The lowest special teammer ranks. The weakest link sink ships, and all of that.

But it isn't true. As they said in Animal Farm, some players are more important than others. That's true with an NFL team, too. And it's especially true of the Bucs, who can afford some knee injuries more than others, who can deal with some off-seasons more than others, who can overcome some defeats more than others.

So, as you look at this Bucs team as it enters this Bucs season, who are the real most valuable players (and the real most important knees). If this team is

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going to finally end up on the right side of .500, and if it's finally going to flirt with the post-season, who are the most essential Tampa Bay Bucs.

One man's ranking:

1. Jameis Winston: No doubt about this one. If Winston were to miss this season, the Bucs would be contemplating another top five draft choice. Half of Tampa Bay's wins last year were because of Winston's fourth-quarter comebacks. This year, he has to be more mature, more efficient for the Bucs to be a surprise team.

2. Gerald McCoy: McCoy didn't have a great season by his standards last year. But he's still the Bucs' most important player on defense. He has to clog the middle and get penetration. And despite the Bucs' new defensive ends, McCoy is still the player to beat as far as leading the team in sacks.

3. Doug Martin: Martin doesn't have to be second in rushing in the NFL again to have a good year. Anywhere in the top five will do. But Martin does have to be an effective weapon to ease the burden for Winston. If he can be a slashing threat again, he'll be worth his new contract.

4. Lavonte David: David needs to be a surer tackler than he was last year, but few linebackers in the league have the range and potential impact of David. A few splash plays early in a few victories, and David may finally get the attention he has craved.

5. Mike Evans: Evans has to hang onto the ball. Yes, you can defend his catches and his yardage totals, but Evans will admit that he let too many fall to the turf a year ago. For Evans to enter the upper echelon of receivers in the NFL – and, no, he's not there – that has to stop. He also needs more impact than three touchdowns.

6. Dirk Koetter: Is Koetter a better choice than Lovie was? The Bucs are counting on him to be. It should help that Tampa Bay will be in the same offense as a year ago. Koetter's a likable guy, but he'll stay that way only if the Bucs trend upward.

7. Kwon Alexander: There was some criticism of Alexander's impact a year ago, but the Bucs were a 6-6 team with him and an 0-4 team without him. He's a quick, talented linebacker who makes Tampa Bay's defense better.

8. Brett Grimes: Some say Grimes showed slippage last year. Maybe, but the Bucs like what they see so far. He's expected to be the best player in a rebuilt secondary. In a division with Julio Jones and Kelvin Benjamin, that's big.

9. Robert Ayers: Ayers had his best season of sacking the quarterback last year. Does that man it was a fluke, or is Ayers simply a late bloomer? The Bucs have needed pressure from the edge for a long time.

10. Vernon Hargreaves: Hargreaves, like Grimes, is supposed to provide improved pass coverage for a team that was rarely in the picture a year ago. Hargreaves may play some at nickel and some outside. You know, like Ronde Barber used to do for these Bucs.

11. Mike Smith: Smith, the former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, is expected to be solid for the Bucs' defense this year. If he can be the Monte Kiffen of this defense, well, Tampa Bay has a chance. Basically, Tampa Bay wants Smith to coach his way to a head-coaching position.

12. Vince Jackson: Jackson was injured much of last season, but he's still a steadying influence of the Tampa Bay offense. He and Evans are both big targets for Winston, and Jackson still has the ability to get downfield.

13. Noah Spence: The Bucs say they thought Spence was the best pass-rushing end in last year's draft. He's a bit undersized, but he's big enough to take down a quarterback if he can get to him. Even as a rookie, the Bucs need eight sacks or so from him.

14. Donovan Smith: The Bucs thought Smith was a solid tackle last year, but across the league, there are those who are reluctant to concede his season. Smith needs to be steady again this year to give Winston time to be efficient.

15. Roberto Aguayo: A lot of critics had their sport with the Bucs when they picked Aguayo in the second round. But if he can shorten the field with his leg, he'll be worth the price. And those critics will turn into Pro Bowl voters.

16. Ali Marpet: A tough guard coming off a solid first season. No one wonders if he played at a large enough college anymore. These days, they just wonder if he plays on a good enough offensive line.

17. Daryl Smith: Smith should be a terrific leader if he has enough left to contribute to the Bucs. If Smith can still play, the Bucs should have the best linebacking corps in the division, which will go a long way toward helping the offense.

18. J.R. Sweezy: Sweezy has pretty good cleats to fill. He'll be playing for the departed Logan Mankins. The Bucs' offensive line will be vital this year, protecting Winston and enabling Martin. Sweezy is expected to be solid.

19. William Gholston: He isn't the rookie new guy or the veteran new guy. But Gholston will be expected to play a lot of quality snaps for the Bucs. Hey, all of a team's improvement can't come from the outside. Some of it has to come from the roster.

20. Louis Murphy: The better the quarterback, the more important the receivers. Last year, the loss of Murphy was a big one for Tampa Bay, too. If he still has the same separation, then Winston should go over 4,000 yards again.

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Bill Myers July 27, 2016 at 7:43 am



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