Zero Tampa Bay Buccaneers second-year players are among those NFL Network’s Nate Burleson selected as his top sophomores for the 2018 NFL Season. Despite all the 2017 rookies accomplished, they just don’t figure to top the sixteen names he did list.
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers abstaining from drafting a quarterback and starting running back in 2017, the list was stacked against the team to start. Six of the ten names which made the cut came from either of those two positions.
Good news there, Ronald Jones has a fighting chance to make next year’s list. But back to this one.
Not for nothing, but quarterbacks and running backs are low-hanging fruit, and I’d have hoped to see a list with no more than 20% relegated to the positions.
However, it’s not my list, so instead of knocking his position selection let’s do some direct comparisons.
Starting with O.J. Howard. The rookie tight end was one of only four first-year players at his position to bring in 20 or more receptions.
With those catches (26) he finished third in yards (432), tied for first in touchdowns (6) and had 73% of his catches go for first-downs. Top among qualifying rookie tight ends.
His first down conversion percentage was fourth among all tight ends in the league with 20 or more catches and his six scores placed him seventh in the league behind players like Jimmy Graham, Zach Ertz, Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Tyler Kroft and Kyle Rudolph.
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Keeping company with names like those is pretty impressive for a first-year player who played just over 50% of the offensive snaps for his team.
Assuming his workload increases with improved abilities following a year of on-the-job training, it’s reasonable to think his numbers will likely increase drawing him ever closer to the top-tier of players at his position.
I’m not saying draft him over Ertz just yet, but he’s closer than most realize and he’s just getting started.
Next up, Justin Evans.
Listen, I want to say one thing before I get into this. I absolutely think Adoree Jackson is a solid defender and will likely turn into something big for the Tennessee Titans. But the fact Jackson is on the list in the Top-10 and Evans didn’t even land in the honorable mentions is deplorable.
Jackson appeared on nearly 300 more snaps than Evans did in their rookie campaigns as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ rookie safety had to compete with the likes of Chris Conte and T.J. Ward for snaps in the secondary.
With a 300-snap head start, Jackson compiled four more tackles than Evans and had three fewer interceptions. To be clear, Evans had three interceptions. Jackson had none.
Now, Jackson did have eleven more passes defended, and I don’t have the inclination to look up advanced stats like targeting.
Bottom line is this, Burleson justifies placing Jackson on the list because he showed “glimpses of big-play ability”. Then what did Evans show?
Jackson looked like a solid corner on the NFL’s 25th-ranked passing defense. Evans brought down three interceptions, tying him for second among all rookie safeties from one-year ago.
I know what Burleson would say if he were to respond to this. He’d say something like, stats don’t tell the whole story. Of course, I’m aware of this. And this isn’t a knock on Jackson.
But if the justification is going to be Jackson’s ‘glimpses’ of greatness on a bad defense, then shouldn’t Evans’ actual production – which ranked him near the top of his class – on an even worse pass defense at least get the young man an honorable mention? I think so.
Finally, there’s Chris Godwin. No wide receivers made the Top-10, and I honestly can’t even argue with it. Even for Godwin. He did well and I am like a lot of Bucs fans when I say I’m fully on his hype train. But, in the grand scheme of things, his numbers were rather pedestrian compared to the rest of the league.
However, again, he outshined and outperformed a counterpart who at least made the ‘Just Missed’ section of Burleson’s list. One, Corey Davis.
Davis did play in five fewer games than Godwin to be clear. However, Godwin and Davis finished the season with the same catch total (34).
And while the Tennessee Titans receiver turned his catches into 375-yards and no touchdowns, Godwin turned his into 525-yards and one very big divisional rival killing end of season winning almost walk-off touchdown.
Context matters folks, and Davis simply didn’t live up to his draft position in year-one. Lots of career to go, and I get it he was hurt for some of it. But isn’t availability the best ability? I heard that once.
Godwin on the other hand stepped-up not once, but twice to start in place of a Pro Bowl wide receiver who some consider Top-5 in the league. And he caught a beautiful dagger at home against a division rival.
If Davis get’s ‘Just Missed’ consideration, then so should Godwin.
Oh, not to mention he put a kicker on there too. Come on, Nate!
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Also, yes Dalvin Cook is on the list as a ‘Just Missed’ player. Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have drafted him. We hear you.