For years now, the Buccaneers have fielded a lot of young talent. Due to other holes on the roster and coaching turnover, that hasn’t quite turned into winning. But regardless, there is a solid young nucleus there. That’s why it’s not surprising to see Tampa Bay represented on NFL.com’s All-Under-25 Team.
Around the NFL’s Marc Sessler put together his breakdown of the All-Under-25 Team position-by-position, naming two Bucs in the process. The first was 24-year-old tight end O.J. Howard, who was a first-round pick in 2017. Sessler had this to say about Howard:
Before you ask, San Francisco’s George Kittle already hit the quarter-century mark in October. Howard, however, fits here — and remains my choice over the also-inviting David Njoku (22) — after a tantalizing second season that saw him emerge as a strong-handed pass-catcher who now owns 60 receptions, 997 yards and 11 touchdowns over 24 tilts. In a post-Gronk universe, Howard is a candidate to fill that unfillable space. Questions linger over his usage in an offense led by Bruce Arians, who has historically deemphasized tight ends, but the Bucs coach never housed a toy like this in Arizona.
Howard has averaged 16.6 yards per catch over his two NFL seasons, providing Jameis Winston with yet another big-time pass-catching option. His success as a receiver combined with his blocking abilities have made him into one of the better tight ends in the league, much less one of the best under 25. Sessler mentions the uncertainty about Howard’s place in Bruce Arians’ offense, but the bigger question is the tight end’s ability to stay healthy. He has missed eight games in his first two seasons, including six in 2018. For him to take the next step as a top guy, he’ll need to stay on the field in 2019. For now, though, he is more than deserving of being recognized as the best at his position under the age of 25.
The second Buc to get some recognition from Sessler was 2018 first-rounder Vita Vea, who was included at the defensive tackle position. There wasn’t much said about him, but he still got a mention for this under-25 squad:
More people should know [Kenny] Clark, the somewhat anonymous Green Bay anchor who played well against the run and pass in 2018. Tampa’s Vita Vea (24) deserves a mention here, too, while Chris Jones (turning 25 in July), Leonard Williams (turning 25 in June), DeForest Buckner (25) and Sheldon Rankins (25) all missed out due to age.
Vea managed to impress as a rookie in 2018 despite having to play catch-up in the early part of the season. He missed training camp, the preseason and the first three games of the regular season, which is tough for a rookie to do. But once he got some reps on Sundays, the Washington product proved to be a solid addition to the Buccaneer defense. In 13 games (eight starts), he totaled 28 tackles (21 solo), four tackles for loss and three sacks. Under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Vea should be poised to have a breakout year in 2019. Getting some attention from NFL.com could just be the start.
It’s hard to argue against Howard and Vea popping up on the under-25 team. But they aren’t the only two deserving guys on Tampa Bay’s roster. There is another Buc that you could make a case for. Chris Godwin, who just turned 23 in February, has a case. In two seasons, he has caught 93 passes for 1,367 yards and eight touchdowns. He has averaged 14.7 yards per catch over the first 32 games of his NFL career. Sessler gave the nod to Carolina’s D.J. Moore instead, while also mentioning Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley as “equally deserving.” It can certainly be argued that Godwin is more deserving than both, but with him stepping up into what should be a bigger role in 2019, he could prove that he belongs on this list. Maybe he’ll do enough to be on next year’s.
Mike Evans (25), Jameis Winston (25), Peyton Barber (25), Donovan Smith (25), Ali Marpet (26), Carl Nassib (26) and Shaquil Barrett (26) wouldn’t qualify for the list, but can all be considered “young talent.” Plus, there are second-year guys like Carlton Davis, Jordan Whitehead and Ronald Jones II that could be on the rise, as well as 2019 rookies like Devin White, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards that could make a splash in year one.
Can all of this young talent put it together under Bruce Arians and his star-studded coaching staff? We’re only a few months away from finding out.