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Buccaneers rookies gaining more national attention, becoming keys to successful second-half

Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr. continue to gain attention and influence on the 2020 Buccaneers

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hit it big when Tristan Wirfs fell to the thirteenth pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. They doubled-down when they nabbed Antoine Winfield Jr. in the second-round. Both rookies were big contributors to a 6-2 first half of the season, and will continue to be as the team looks to rectify the 0-1 start to the back half.

Something else they’ll continue doing is gaining national attention for their efforts, aided in part of course by the arrival of quarterback Tom Brady, but also by their own play on the field.

Nine games in with six to go in Antoine Winfield Jr.’s rookie year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the young safety is part of a suddenly struggling defensive unit, but still fully in the running to be the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year for the 2020 season.

According to Sports Betting Dime, Winfield is seeing average odds set at +275 while former LSU linebacker Patrick Queen sits at +300 for his performances with the Baltimore Ravens thus far. Washington Football Team’s edge defender Chase Young leads the talented trio with +170 odds entering Week 10.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Las Vegas Raiders Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

These latest odds may not be as high as Bucs fans would like to see them - meaning Winfield’s performances would have been even more impressive than they have been already - but they’re quite the improvement over +5500 odds in April and +3100 prior to Week 1.

His first career interception in Week 7 in a win over the Las Vegas Raiders certainly helped his chances, and more takeaways would go a long way towards securing the first-year award for Tampa Bay’s favorite young safety.

In addition to the takeaway Winfield was credited with a forced fumble in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers, and has 51 total tackles ranking third on the team behind linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David.

Back in May, CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso put Winfield in sixth-place among defensive rookies he projected to compete for the award, writing,

“Winfield was seriously injured in multiple seasons at Minnesota, then, with a clean bill of health in 2019, intercepted seven passes for the Fighting P.J. Flecks while making 83 total tackles. He was all over the field. Every game.

Like his dad, Winfield is ultra-authoritative against the run and stellar instincts when it comes to reading route concepts allows him to super fast on the field. But he’s not just a cerebral safety. He ran 4.45 with a 36-inch vertical at the combine.

Without much fanfare, the Buccaneers fielded a quality (elite?) defense under Todd Bowles last season, a unit that finished fifth in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA, and they’re basically returning everybody worthwhile.”

Now, as many NFL team prepares for a back season push into the playoffs, others are beginning their plans for the 2021 NFL Draft where they’ll try to find impactful players like the Buccaneers did in 2020’s.

So impactful in fact Tampa Bay was represented by two rookies in Pro Football Focus’ Midseason NFL All-Rookie Team.

PFF on Tristan Wirfs: “While Wills may have a slight edge in terms of pass-blocking grade, Wirfs has been the more impressive rookie considering the competition each has faced. He’s had to face Cameron Jordan twice, Za’Darius Smith, Joey Bosa, Brian Burns and Khalil Mack already. To have only allowed 16 pressures on 390 pass-blocking snaps at this point is incredible.”

PFF on Antoine Winfield Jr.: “Winfield has been around the ball a ton for the Buccaneers’ defense and is in the conversation for rookie of the year. He’s got two sacks, a pick and two pass breakups so far on the season. The bigger thing is that he’s rarely been caught out of place, with only one catch allowed that went for over 20 yards this season.”

Many fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may not find themselves in the mood to celebrate such midseason accolades as the team has strung together two not-so-stellar Primetime match-ups.

However, if the team is going to get back on track looking like playoff favorites, these two rookies will be a major part of the corrective action, and one of them at least also has the chance to bring Tampa Bay some post-season hardware in the form of a Defensive Rookie of the Year award.