When you compare the 2019 Buccaneers and the 2020 Buccaneers position by position, there aren’t a ton of significant differences. Quarterback is obviously the big one, with Tom Brady replacing Jameis Winston. But second to that change—and perhaps a close second, at that—is Tampa Bay’s upgrade at right tackle.
The team moved on from veteran Demar Dotson last offseason, leaving a gap at the right tackle position that hadn’t been there in years. To address that hole, the Bucs traded up one spot in April’s draft to select Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs—the highest-rated tackle on their draft board—with the No. 13 selection in the first round. And despite being tasked with starting from day one and boosting an offensive line that would have a magnifying glass on it all year, Wirfs hasn’t blinked.
Week after week throughout the 2020 season, Wirfs was one of the brightest spots on the field for Tampa Bay. He looked comfortable from the jump and played some dominant football as a rookie, even though he faced a lot of elite competition. There was Cameron Jordan, Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack and even Aaron Donald at one point, yet the 22-year-old won the majority of his matchups and allowed just one sack all year while looking like a seasoned veteran.
When you list the reasons for the Bucs’ success this season, Wirfs would be pretty high up there. He played at a Pro Bowl and All-Pro level. There’s no arguing against the idea that he was one of the league’s top rookies, too. But when Pro Bowl rosters and All-Pro selections were announced, there was no love for Wirfs. And as different outlets have been naming their rookie of the year, he’s been lucky to even get his name mentioned in the conversation. When the poll for the Pepsi Zero Sugar Rookie of the Year—which Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert won this week—hit NFL.com, Wirfs wasn’t even one of the options. Given the body of work he put out there this year, that feels like a shame.
But when you play offensive line, being overlooked simply comes with the territory. It’s often the most thankless position in football, despite the integral role it plays in determing success. Wirfs knows that, and when asked earlier this week about missing out on Rookie of the Year honors, he mentioned a goal far more important to him:
“I don’t really care too much about individual awards. I mean, this is just me, I think winning the Super Bowl is better than winning something like that. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be cool, but it doesn’t bother me too much. That’s the position I’ve grown up playing, offensive line, you know you don’t get a lot of love. So, it’s all good.”
Spoken like a true offensive lineman, right? Wirfs isn’t about all of the individual recognition. And why should he be, especially now? He has a chance to play for the Lombardi Trophy in his very first year in the league. How can you beat that? If he and the Bucs get the job done against the Chiefs on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, nothing else will matter. Wirfs will be a Super Bowl champion.
Who needs Rookie of the Year recognition when you can say that?