Byron Leftwich has long been viewed by many in the NFL world—especially Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians—as a rising star in coaching. Heading into the 2021 season, Pro Football Focus would seem to agree, as it recently ranked the 41-year-old as the league’s sixth-best offensive play caller.
Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur, Buffalo’s Brian Daboll, Kansas City’s Andy Reid, Las Vegas’ Jon Gruden and Carolina’s Joe Brady make up PFF’s top five before Leftwich comes in at No. 6. Here’s what Eric Eager had to say about Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator:
“The former Jaguars first-round pick returned to Florida and helped acclimate a new (albeit Hall of Fame) quarterback, a veteran tight end, a rookie right tackle and a couple of secondary receivers en route to the Bucs’ first Super Bowl title since 2002. That the offense overcame injuries to Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin and the interior of the offensive line at times, and improved as the season progressed, landed Leftwich in this spot. The team earned the second-most wins above replacement per dollar in the passing game among NFL teams in 2020.”
When talking last week about where he would personally rank Leftwich among play callers, PFF’s Charles McDonald called the former Jaguars, Falcons, Steelers and Bucs quarterback “underrated” while praising the work he did in 2020—especially as the season progressed.
Where would you rank Byron Leftwich among offensive play callers in the NFL? pic.twitter.com/tFUXBgFTG2— PFF (@PFF) June 10, 2021
Somewhat unfairly or not, Leftwich received plenty of criticism in his first year as the Bucs’ play caller in 2019 and even got some more flak throughout the 2020 season as the team transitioned from Jameis Winston to Tom Brady under center. But as the season went on, the Arians-Leftwich philosophy and Brady’s tendencies came together and everyone on the offense got a little more comfortable with what they were doing. It was then that the criticism for Leftwich shifted to praise. Tampa Bay started scoring bundles of points week after week as it rolled to eight straight wins, with the eighth coming in Super Bowl LV.
Even amid struggles in 2019 and 2020, Arians continued to keep his faith in Leftwich. And given what we saw down the stretch of last season, it’s not hard to see why. The 68-year-old head coach said earlier this spring that it was a “farce” that his offensive coordinator didn’t get any interviews for a head coaching position during this last cycle. Leftwich, though, has maintained that he’s in no rush to be a head coach and is happy where he is. Why wouldn’t he be, especially when he’s working alongside the greatest quarterback of all time?
Brady, who had to adjust to a new city, team, scheme, and coaching staff when he arrived in Tampa last spring, has only had good things to say about his new offensive coordinator. The two seem to work exceptionally well together, despite Brady actually being almost three years older than his coordinator. The two share a mutual respect, and it has shown over the last year and a half.
Actually having a full offseason together could mean this Buccaneer offense is even better under Leftwich’s direction this fall. If things continue to click the way they were late last season, Tampa Bay is going to be very hard to beat.