It’s impressive if you ask Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports as well as three of those players landed on his Top-25 NFL players under 25 list.
The three players? Devin White, Antoine Winfield Jr., and Tristan Wirfs. Here’s what Benjamin had to say - or write, I suppose.
21. Buccaneers S Antoine Winfield Jr. (22)
“He’s got room to improve, and his size (5-9, 203) will always be something to keep an eye on. But he sure didn’t play like a rookie in 2020, bringing both confidence and toughness to Tampa Bay’s secondary. He’s an early fan favorite for a reason.”
19. Buccaneers ILB Devin White (23)
“No one ever doubted his athleticism, but under Todd Bowles’ watch in 2020, White emerged as more of a legitimate chess piece for a championship defense. Nine sacks and 140 tackles as an inside linebacker? It helps he plays alongside such a solid core, but the pieces are there for him to become a decade-long staple.”
12. Buccaneers OT Tristan Wirfs (22)
“Rookie tackles don’t always fare well out of the gate, but Wirfs was an absolute anchor on a line that helped keep Tom Brady upright for yet another Super Bowl run. The Iowa product used his mammoth size to his advantage, never once missing a snap on the right side, and has the upside to be one of the NFL’s best at his position for the next decade or so.”
Starting with Winfield Jr., the 2020 rookie never really looked like a first-year player on the field, and a lot of the credit for this needs to go to Todd Bowles and Bucs safeties coach, Nick Rapone.
Still, Winfield himself deserves a lot of credit for digesting a defensive scheme which has caused other young players some headaches in diagnosing and being in the right place at the right time.
His iconic two-fingered celebration at the expense of Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill has certainly helped cement his fan-favorite status, but his play put him in position to earn it first.
Coming in here behind Quinnen Williams of the New York Jets seems fair at first, but given Winfield brings production and upside to his analysis while the other player is all upside still, I think I’d put the two in reverse order on my own list.
Moving on to Devin White now. This ranking might actually make some fans of the Buccaneers angry, but lets remember there were some clear moments White lacked in pass defense, which is where he needs to improve the most moving forward.
Even defensive coordinator Todd Bowles recently acknowledged the unit needs to get better as a whole. That being said, nineteen is still too low, even with the room White still has to grow.
Some players ahead of White are getting some elevated rankings because they play around others who don’t help elevate the overall unit. Players like D.J. Moore (WR, Carolina Panthers) and Jessie Bates (S, Cincinnati Bengals). My argument there lies in the fact White is not only playing around other good players, he’s leading them, voted by his teammates as a captain.
Also coming in ahead of White is another Panthers player in edge rusher, Brian Burns. Through two seasons each, Burns - a pass rushing edge defender - has five more sacks than White - an inside linebacker.
Take it a step further and White’s sacks per 16-games average right now sits at 6.6 while Burns’ is at 8.5. Less than two sacks per full season separating the two? I think White wins this battle.
Finally, there’s Wirfs. I don’t know if any rookie had as big an impact on his team in 2020 than Tristan Wirfs did on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Andrew Thomas was the expected pick all spring last year as the projected fourth top offensive tackle off the board. Instead, he was the first one, and arguably the most disappointing.
The New York Giants’ misfortune was Tampa Bay’s lottery strike, and it literally helped carry the team to history.
Wirfs should’ve been Top-10 on this list, easy. But there are some hard decisions to make in this type of game, so I won’t go too hard on Mr. Benjamin.
Overall, it’s a good list. The future of the NFL is bright. But with three players in this group on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster, it’s a little brighter in Florida. Well, in Tampa, Florida anyway.