Heading into the 2020 NFL season, the hype surrounding the Buccaneers is as high as it has ever been. It’s not hard to see why, of course, considering they signed six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady to play quarterback (still sounds weird, doesn’t it?). They also added future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski, which only means more buzz.
When the league announced the full 2020 schedule on Thursday night, it wasn’t surprising at all to see Tampa Bay given a whopping five prime-time games in addition to a large number of late-afternoon spots that are sure to net even more exposure for the team. The Bucs will play on Thursday Night Football in Week 5 (at Chicago), Sunday Night Football in Weeks 7 and 9 (at Las Vegas, vs. New Orleans) and Monday Night Football in Weeks 8 and 11 (at New York, vs. Los Angeles).
The national spotlight hasn’t been this bright in Tampa in quite some time, save for the Bucs’ appearance on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” in 2017. In fact, The Athletic’s Greg Auman pointed out Thursday that the team has as many Sunday and Monday night appearances this year as it had in the previous five years combined.
Increased exposure, while it can add more pressure, should be a good thing for the Bucs. This franchise, despite its 12-year playoff drought, has often fielded some extremely talented players who have flown under the radar because the wins haven’t been there. With so much losing, the Bucs haven’t really given anyone on the national level any real reason to pay attention to them.
That is changing this year. And while many on the Tampa Bay roster will benefit from a brighter spotlight, we’re going to take a look at some of the guys who should benefit most from having more eyes on them from the national level:
WR Chris Godwin
Heading into 2019, Chris Godwin was given a considerable amount of hype. He did more than live up to it, leading the Bucs in receiving with 86 catches for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. But despite his breakout season, the 2017 third-round pick could still stand to be given a little more shine. It has already started this spring, to be fair, as all of the talk about Brady coming to Tampa has included the fact that he’ll have the likes of Godwin and Mike Evans to throw to. People may think they know how good Godwin is, but this fall, they’re about to see it. With another season like he had a year ago, we could see him in the conversation when it comes to talking about the top tier of receivers in the NFL.
LB Devin White
It’s only been one year since Tampa Bay selected linebacker Devin White with the No. 5 overall pick and this past February, he turned just 22 years old. He was impressive as a rookie, especially in the second half of the season, when he was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month in both November and December. Considering the fact that he finished 2019 with 91 tackles (58 solo), 2.5 sacks, an interception, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns, it’s not a stretch to say he’s always around the football. And with as many splash plays as he makes, he is a fun player to watch. The whole football world is about to see that, plus it’s fair to assume that he’ll develop his game even more as he heads into the second year of his career. The increased spotlight could propel White into being one of the league’s top linebackers of the future.
NT Vita Vea
Vita Vea may have had a slow-ish start to his career, but he sure was a heck of a lot of fun to watch in 2019. His numbers from the nose tackle position may not jump off the page most weeks, but the impact he makes on the interior is a joy to watch. At 6-foot-4, 347 pounds, Vea is an absolute beast, and now the whole world is going to be able to see this dude throw other human beings around on a frequent basis. Not to mention, seeing him get some more snaps on offense and perhaps another touchdown catch—this one from the G.O.A.T.—would be a lot of fun. If you’re a football fan, you should enjoy watching what Vea does for the Tampa Bay defense. And given more attention, he could just grow into one of the more recognizable stars of this defense for the foreseeable future.
OL Ali Marpet
If it weren’t for the final guy on this list, Ali Marpet would probably be the guy with the most to gain from the Bucs’ sudden rise to league-wide fame. Since he was drafted in 2015, the Hobart College product has quietly been one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL. He’s played both guard and center, proving to be Mr. Reliable at either spot. But considering Tampa Bay’s losing ways and the offensive line typically being a big part of the problem, Marpet hasn’t been given the attention he deserves. He was on the PFWA All-Rookie Team in 2015, but has yet to earn any Pro Bowl or All-Pro love. If he continues to play the way he’s been playing for the last five seasons, it’ll be hard for anyone to continue overlooking him.
LB Lavonte David
This is the big one. Ask any Bucs fan about Lavonte David and you’ll get some variation of the same response: “He’s one of the most underrated players in the league.” It’s true. Since he came into the league in 2012, David has been as consistent as they come. In eight seasons, he has 1,008 tackles (724 solo), 116 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks, 21 forced fumbles, 14 fumble recoveries, 11 interceptions and 46 passes defensed. He has gone over 100 tackles in seven of his eight seasons and has truly been one of the league’s best year in and year out. Yet, to this point, the 30-year-old has just one Pro Bowl selection and one All-Pro nod to his name. Consistency has been David’s thing over the course of his career, and while he is beloved and appreciated by fans in Tampa, he rarely gets the credit he deserves nationally. With the Bucs being thrust into prime time this fall, everyone is about to see the excellence we’ve seen week in and week out for the last eight years.