The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had quite a few injuries this season, but still managed two players who played the entire season without missing a single snap. No, not Jameis Winston: right guard Ali Marpet and left tackle Donovan Smith. They were two of just 34 players who didn’t miss a snap this season, per ESPN.
It’s no coincidence that both of them are offensive linemen, as the vast majority of players to play every snap across the league are linemen. Mostly because those players are almost never coming off the field unless they’re injured, while every other position except quarterback is platooned to at least a minimal extent.
But the fact that Marpet and Smith were both second-round picks in 2015 should also not be overlooked. They weren’t perfect last season, but they’re promising parts of what should be the Bucs offensive line core for the foreseeable future. Young players who have some work to do on their quality of play, but who have the potential to be very good.
Smith’s progression this season was particularly impressive, as he got more consistent, especially toward the end of the season, and was caught flat-footed a lot less often than he was as a rookie. Hopefully that improvement carries forward and the team can truly rely on him as their left tackle of the future. Marpet didn’t show much improvement, but that was in part because he was already playing at a high level in 2015.
Of course, we can’t quite rely on their staying as healthy as they were the last two years. Injuries happen in the NFL, which is why depth is so important. The Bucs have solid depth along the offensive line, but that mostly depends on whether they re-sign Joe Hawley, whether they keep Evan Smith, and whether J.R. Sweezy returns to health.
The answer to those questions should determine the team’s free agency strategy, and a little extra depth through the draft can’t hurt either. Particularly at right tackle, where they need to find a long-term solution as Demar Dotson is aging and declining.