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Donovan Smith was a top-ten pass-blocker over the second half of 2016

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The Bucs’ left tackle had a promising final eight games.

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NFL: Oakland Raiders at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith has caught a lot of flak this season. There have been many, many critiques of the Bucs’ decision not to upgrade their offensive line this offseason, and most of those have focused on Smith, who’s generally perceived to have been a weak performer this past year.

Most of that assessment seems to have fallen squarely on Pro Football Focus’ shoulders, to be honest. I’ve seen very few evaluations of Smith’s play that didn’t at least start there, and most of them ended there—which isn’t really fair to Smith, because it’s not like PFF are perfect evaluators.

Interestingly, though, PFF did pick up on one thing: Smith really got better as the year progressed. In fact, they now say that he turned into a top ten pass-blocker over the final eight games of the 2016 season.

Smith did improve as the year went on, improving his pass block efficiency (PBE) from dead last (90.4) to eighth out of 55 qualifiers (96.6) over the second half of the season.

That was evident on film, too—at least, the fact that he improved as the season continued. Mostly, he got rid of a lot of the inconsistencies he’d shown before. There were fewer whiffs in pass protection, and that accounts for most or perhaps even all of that improvement.

If Smith’s second half performance is a quality indicator of how he’ll play going forward, the Bucs should be just fine. And clearly that’s what the team is counting on: they brought in no one to push him, and there’s really no one except for maybe do-it-all lineman Kevin Pamphile who can be counted on to take over at left tackle in the short term.

Here’s to hoping the Bucs are right in their evaluation, and Smith can keep Jameis Winston healthy.