There’s an old saying, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’ Despite most of humanity having knowledge of the proverb, plenty of people (and NFL teams) are still guilty of exactly that. The 2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have 46 active players on gameday, but which of those players are carrying the most Buccaneer eggs with them?
Tristan Wirfs- Tampa Bay’s offensive line is coming off its worst season in some time. 2022 was a season full of fans identifying the problem and a few months later, after the season had reached its conclusion, the team identified the same problem. That problem is now employed by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Donovan Smith was the starting left tackle for the Buccaneers through the Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Tom Brady eras for Tampa Bay. In 2022, he underperformed and the drop-off in his play opened the door for Jason Licht to ready up his replacement. The left tackle position was a noted position of need for the Buccaneers all offseason, but the team chose to let it go unaddressed. Rather, they put their faith in All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs. Wirfs will be moving to the left side of the offensive line in 2023, a big change, even for a talented player. Tampa is banking heavily on Wirfs’ skillset translating to the blindside of their next franchise quarterback.
Jamel Dean- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprised a lot of fans and pundits alike, when they came to a long-term agreement with their 2019 third-round pick. Jamel Dean was touted as one of the top free agents on the market at a premium position in 2023 and the Buccaneers were the league’s poster child for being cap-strapped. In a long list of Buccaneer free agents, the team’s starting cornerback seemed among the most likely to be cashing checks elsewhere, come the new league year.
The organization showed a tremendous amount of faith in the growth of their third-round pick, when the two sides came to a long-term agreement. Tampa Bay managed to creatively find the money to keep their former rotational starter, turned quasi-star in Buccaneer red. Dean, for the first time in his pro career, will enter training camp, the preseason, and regular season play with the expectations of high-level performance.
Rachaad White- In the 2022 NFL draft the Bucs spent a third-round pick on a running back out of Arizona State. Rachaad White rewarded them with a rookie campaign worthy of promotion. The former Sun Devil’s first season in the pros was good for just over 1,000 total yards accounted for. Rachaad White had plenty of budding-star moments like his breakout game in Germany against the Seattle Seahawks or his game-winning touchdown against the New Orleans Saints when White proved ‘he-dat.’
Tampa Bay’s 2023 offseason started white hot with the team releasing veterans all across their lineup. One of the veterans to be shown the door was Super Bowl hero Leonard Fournette. Rachaad White, in combination with his own diminished performance, made ‘Lombardi Lenny’ disposable and empowered Jason Licht to hand his second-year runner the reins. Speculation during draft season was very consistent that there was a good probability Tampa would be selecting a running back with a high round pick to share the load with White. The draft started and ended with no running back taken. The Buccaneers have made it very apparent they have the utmost confidence in Rachaad White heading into the 2023 season. No back on Tampa’s roster has had more than 600 yards rushing during any one NFL season. The Buccaneers are clearly expecting Rachaad White to emerge.
Tampa Bay’s 2023 season will have an outcome heavily determined by these three players. Wirfs, Dean, and White will also have a lot to do with what decisions the Buccaneers make moving forward. Good seasons by the three will show Jason Licht and co. were correct to place such responsibility in the hands of their young talent. Seasons that come in under expectations will force the team to reevaluate going into 2024.