It’s no secret that a lot of the criticism and skepticism surrounding the 2020 Buccaneers has to do with age. Tom Brady is 43. Rob Gronkowski is 31. LeSean McCoy is 32. Some of the key players on defense—Ndamukong Suh, Lavonte David and Jason Pierre-Paul—are 33, 30 and 31, respectively. Now, whether you call that group “old” or look at them as veteran leaders truly depends on your perspective.
But what Tampa Bay’s detractors seem to always overlook is that the team’s roster has plenty of youth—and it’s talented youth, at that. Mike Evans and Ali Marpet will only be 27 when the new season begins, Shaquil Barrett will turn 28 in November and O.J. Howard will only be 26 in November. Those are just some of the Bucs’ key contributors who are between the ages of 25-30, as Ryan Jensen (29), Cameron Brate (29) and Donovan Smith (27) also fit that range.
But if we’re looking at the longer-term future of the Bucs, we should be evaluating the players on the roster who are under the age of 25, right? Well, that’s what ESPN did recently, as it does yearly. The worldwide leader ranked every NFL team based on under-25 talent (subscription required), with the following caveat:
“These ratings consider not just talent under age 25, but also the value and length of those players’ current contracts. This will push up the teams with productive players who have several years left on inexpensive rookie contracts and push down the teams that have already had to, or will soon have to, pay their experienced young talent.”
There’s more on the methodology behind the ratings here, but let’s get on with ESPN’s evaluation of the Bucs’ under-25 talent, shall we?
Well, as the headline of this very article states, Tampa Bay’s 2020 ranking looks no different from 2019. The Bucs still come in at No. 20 in the league, with the team’s “blue-chip players” under the age of 25 being Chris Godwin, Devin White and 2020 first-round pick Tristan Wirfs. Howard, Vita Vea, Alex Cappa and Justin Evans are the team’s notable “graduated” players, meaning they no longer fit the under-25 criteria.
So, based on the ranking, there is some reason to be concerned about the team’s long-term future, right? And that’s understandable, considering 2020 and 2021 are about going “all in” with Brady leading the way.
But when we take a deeper look at the Bucs’ impact players under the age of 25, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic. And the article goes on to mention some of those players, such as Ronald Jones II, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tyler Johnson, Antoine Winfield Jr. and, of course, the talented cornerback trio of Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting.
“Beyond the obvious skill talent, the Bucs have potential plus contributors in running backs Ronald Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn and slot receiver Tyler Johnson. Jones bounced back from a disastrous rookie season with near-neutral rushing (-2.3%) and above-average receiving DVOA rates (9.2%). Vaughn and Johnson are favorite sleepers of Football Outsiders’ BackCAST and Playmaker Score projections. But it’s on defense where the team’s under-25 talent truly shines. Defensive tackle Vita Vea broke out a year too late for this consideration, but linebacker Devin White was an immediate-impact player as a rookie, compiling a top-20 57% coverage success rate that justifies his three-down role. And second-round free safety steal Antoine Winfield should round out a secondary full of excellent young talent, including their three starting cornerbacks, 2019 second-rounder Sean Murphy-Bunting as well as Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis, who put up stellar 63% and 57% coverage success rates in 2019.”
Tampa Bay clearly has plenty of youth to build around. When the likes of Brady and Gronkowski are gone, the Bucs should still be in good shape. Assuming the young talent continues to develop, it’ll just be about finding a new quarterback to come in and lead the way for the foreseeable future. Really, as long as things work out contract-wise, it shouldn’t be hard to attract a free agent quarterback in a couple of years, if that’s the route that decision-makers within the organization want to go.
At No. 20 in ESPN’s rankings, the Bucs are second in the NFC South in terms of under-25 talent. The Panthers (No. 18) lead the way, while the Saints (No. 21) and Falcons (No. 32) trail behind.
What are your thoughts on Tampa Bay’s future, Bucs Nation? Do you think the roster will be in good shape youth-wise once the Brady era is over? Let us know what you think in the comments down below.