The most important Tampa Bay Buccaneers player is Jameis Winston. That’s an uncontroversial, obvious statement, so not a particularly interesting one. But despite a general sports writing affinity for the obvious, Sports Illustrated still decided to rule out quarterbacks when they polled writers to ask them about the most important players on each team.
So that’s why they conclude that Mike Evans is the most important Bucs player right now, even though none of their writers gave Evans a number-one vote on those most-important-player rankings.
A first in our polls: a player claiming the top spot for his team without actually being ranked No. 1 by any of the pollsters. The honor belongs to Mike Evans, who topped out with a pair of No. 2 votes (Feldman and Kaplan). He landed third (Vrentas), fourth (Single) and fifth (Jones) on the remaining ballots, and the cumulative points were enough to propel Evans past the three Bucs who did score first-place votes: Donovan Smith (Single and Vrentas), DeSean Jackson (Feldman and Jones), and Gerald McCoy (Kaplan).
Basically, there’s an obvious split here between viewing an NFL team as a result of the best players’ efforts, or as the result of the worst players’ limitations. The former leads to Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Gerald McCoy. The latter to Donovan Smith, Doug Martin and Vernon Hargreaves—players who, if they collapse, could take the entire team with them.
I think that risk is a bit overstated, though. The Bucs have depth, and there’s reason to believe Donovan Smith is a lot better than people give him credit for.
I don’t know who the most important non-quarterback player on the Bucs is, but I tend to lean toward the best players. Gerald McCoy having a career season could lift the entire defense. Mike Evans taking the next step will allow the offense to hum even with poorly-functioning parts elsewhere.
Excellent play at some positions can often compensate for weak points elsewhere, while a lack of excellent play can’t really be compensated for: it’s hard to have a really good team without excellent players, while there are always a few subpar players on every very good team.