After the 17th game came to fruition, we don’t truly have a midseason anymore. It’s more like 47 percent, but a title like “Best, Worst Buccaneers through 47% of the season” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.
Nevertheless, the Buccaneers will come out of the bye week looking to make the most of their final 9 games. Many members of the roster will look to continue their high-level play, but others could definitely use some better consistency moving forward to maximize the team’s chances at a repeat Super Bowl.
So, who has surprised with good play through 8 weeks, and who has been more of a let down? Let’s take a look.
Surprising: LT Donovan Smith
We are all guilty of Donovan slander. If you say otherwise, you’re either a liar or, much less likely, someone of tremendous patience and faith.
Smith has been one of the team’s longest-tenured players since Jason Licht took over as GM. Drafted in 2015, he’s received a second contract and gradually improved as time has gone on.
He’s always shown glimpses of dominant run blocking, but pass protection has left a lot to be desired at times — especially against elite pass rushers. Per Pro Football Focus, he never achieved a grade higher than 68 prior to 2019. Since then, he’s graded out at 70.4 in 2019, 71.8 last year, and now he’s top 5 through 8 weeks with a 79.5 mark.
Smith has allowed just one sack, and he’s been a monster road grader. While penalties and occasional pressures are still an issue, nobody can deny that he’s been more dependable than ever defending Tom Brady’s blindside.
Highest PFF pass-blocking grades through Week 8:— Mike Kennedy (@MikeKennedyNFL) November 3, 2021
1) James Hurst, 88.5
2) Tyron Smith, 87.3
3) Kolton Miller, 86.7
4) Andrew Whitworth, 85.7
5) Andrew Norwell, 84.4
6) Donovan Smith, 83.9
7) Isaac Seumalo, 82.9
8) Charles Leno, 82.8
9) Max Garcia, 82.7
10) Joe Thuney, 81.4 pic.twitter.com/aa0KsaBSS9
Disappointing: RB Ronald Jones
You all had to see this one coming.
We’ve been waiting 3.5 years for RoJo to showcase the talent he clearly possesses on a regular basis. Last season looked very promising, and he served a huge role on a championship team.
However, he cannot eliminate these mental mistakes that clearly agitate Bruce Arians and Co. Whether it’s fumbles, dropped passes or subpar pass protection, Jones’s lapses subtract from his above-average running ability.
He’s taken a backseat to Leonard Fournette as the latter has seized nearly all of the snaps at running back. Jones has failed to play more than 19% of the offensive snaps since Week 2, when he played 41% against Atlanta.
Fournette has been above average this year, totaling nearly 700 all-purpose yards and 4 touchdowns, so RoJo’s struggles haven’t hurt the team much. That said, having a strong stable of running backs is useful down the stretch, and the team will need a decent run game to lean on at times. We’ll see if Jones improves, or if it’s someone else like Gio Bernard or Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
Surprising: DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches
Struggles and injuries have befallen every level of the defense, including the defensive line, but Nunez-Roches has stood out as a strong contributor. “Nacho”, like fellow defensive tackle Vita Vea, doesn’t stuff the stat sheet but plays a key role nonetheless.
He’s Vea’s primary backup at nose tackle, and he fills in other spots. Nacho has essentially forced Steve McLendon into an emergency reserve role. He’s averaging 30.5% of the defensive snaps through 8 weeks as part of the line rotation, and he’s playing plenty on special teams as well. His PFF grade of 65.1 is actually the second-best on the line behind Vea (74.3).
He filled in admirably for Vea most of last year due to the latter’s injury, and it’s clear Nunez-Roches has taken a step up as an energetic cog in Todd Bowles’s defense.
Disappointing: LB Devin White
We called on White as someone who needed to be a critical factor against the Saints, and he was...just not for the right team.
After stumbling through what was possibly his worst performance as a Buccaneer, which included several unacceptable personal fouls and unfinished plays, White goes into the bye week as someone who needs to get himself right.
PFF currently has him graded at an abysmal 35.7, and he’s among the league leaders in missed tackles with 11. He’s not producing impact plays at the same clip as year’s past either.
We all know how good White can be, and he’s not lacking in motivation nor talent. He’s got some time to figure it out, but the Bucs absolutely need better from the former top 5 pick.
Someone who I think will surprise the rest of the way: S Antoine Winfield Jr. Winfield has been perfectly solid this season, but he missed two games with a concussion. Well, he produced arguably his best outing on Sunday in New Orleans, and it could easily be a springboard to an excellent second half.
Highest PFF graded safeties through Week 8:— Mike Kennedy (@MikeKennedyNFL) November 3, 2021
1) Kevin Byard, 90.6
2) Jordan Poyer, 89.2
3) PJ Williams, 88.5
4) Amani Hooker, 82.9
5) DeAndre Houston-Carson, 80.1
6) Antoine Winfield, 77.8
7) Marcus Williams, 77.7
8) Adrian Phillips, 77.6
9) Vonn Bell, 76.5
Micah Hyde, 76.5 pic.twitter.com/TUUDdb0OhB
His versatility needs to be a stabilizing force for a secondary that has experience far too much tumult. He already has two forced fumbles, an interception, and a sack. Keep an eye on Winfield to make a late Pro Bowl push.
It's early but I think Antoine Winfield Jr. is making the leap. pic.twitter.com/k0imshD9GJ— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) November 5, 2021
Someone who I think won’t hit their stride: CB Richard Sherman. Between his advanced age, early injuries, and limited time to learn the defense, Sherman was unfairly asked to be a savior. He hasn’t been a total disaster while on the field, but it’s been pretty clear his best days are behind him.
With Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting hopefully returning at some juncture, where will Sherman get snaps? I don’t think he’s going to sap too many from Jamel Dean. That’s also presuming no further injuries befall the unit, of course. His experience and locker room presence should benefit the defensive backs room, which is absolutely valuable, but I really wouldn’t expect much in the way of significant on-field contributions.
What say you, Bucs Nation? Who are your picks for most surprising and most disappointing Buccaneers so far? Let us know in the comments below!