ESPN's Pat Yasinskas has been making a neat list of the top 25 players in the NFC South, and despite a down year for essentially every player on the Bucs' roster, three Tampa Bay Buccaneers have featured on the list so far: Adrian Clayborn at no. 24, Josh Freeman at no. 22 and Vincent Jackson at no. 16. Three Bucs so far is pretty good, but we'll undoubtedly see a few more appear on the list. Davin Joseph, Donald Penn and especially Carl Nicks all have a good chance of being selected, while Gerald McCoy, Ronde Barber and Michael Bennett have an outside chance of appearing on the list as well. Of course, the Bucs won't be featured at the top end of the list: undoubtedly Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees are featured up high.
Why he's No. 24 in 2012: Clayborn should only continue to get better and could quickly become the NFC South's best all-around defensive end. Tampa Bay didn't lead often last season, so it wasn't like Clayborn had a lot of sack opportunities and was falling into them. He's had an entire offseason program for the first time in his career. With a new coaching staff comes a new defense. But Clayborn's job isn't changing that dramatically. He's supposed to make things happen at the line of scrimmage and behind it. Clayborn could be helped greatly if defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price are able to stay healthy and generate a pass rush from the interior.
Why he's No. 22 in 2012: The front office and the coaching staff firmly believe Freeman can be a franchise quarterback. They think the physical tools, work ethic and intangibles all are there. The front office already has done its part, signing free-agent Vincent Jackson to be the No. 1 wide receiver, drafting Doug Martin and planning to use him as an all-purpose running back and adding All-Pro guard Carl Nicks to an offensive line that looks like it has a chance to be very good. Freeman's learning a new offense with coordinator Mike Sullivan, but it's an offense that's supposed to put him in a position to succeed. Freeman didn't really have a chance last year because so much was going wrong around him. This year, there are no excuses. It's time to find out what Freeman truly can do.
Why he's No. 16 in 2012: Jackson instantly gives quarterback Josh Freeman a much-needed true No. 1 wide receiver. He's a proven commodity and he allows Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn to step into supporting roles. Jackson's a big target (6-foot-5) and he has shown the ability to get open downfield and to break tackles after shorter catches. He and Freeman seem like a perfect fit. New coach Greg Schiano has said his offense will run the ball a lot and take some shots downfield. There aren't many receivers more worth taking deep shots to than Jackson.