Tampa Bay Buccaneers greats Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks already have their gold coats and enshrinement in the National Football League Hall of Fame, but it’s not a crazy idea to think that Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr. may well be on similar paths. Winning a starting spot on any NFL team straight out of the college ranks may not be a signal of future Hall Of Fame status, but it is a start. To do so at the level both Wirfs and Winfield did last season leaves the door open to projection and speculation.
Sure, it’s only one season, and injuries and a rocky home life can take their toll on anyone’s career, just ask Tiger Woods. However to start off your career as they did, and with tremendous room for growth from experience, seeing them in the Bucs slowly expanding Canton corner isn’t beyond reason. Wirfs played the entire season and yielded a grand total of one sack. Winfield came out of the blocks hot and never slowed down. There’s little doubt that they have been the best one-two draft pick-ups for the Bucs since Sapp and Brooks.
More from Bucs Draft
- The Athletic’s early NFL Mock Draft has the Bucs taking a Top 5 QB in 2024
- Bucs front office reveals one thing the team missed during NFL Draft
- Peter King explains simple reason why Bucs passed on drafting Will Levis
- Mel Kiper Jr. hands out his official Buccaneers draft grade
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers undrafted free agents tracker 2023
Both should have been given consideration for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. That they did not get the honor is simply another snub as Buccaneer fans have witnessed since forever, and as we all know, “if you ain’t first your last”, and the scenery doesn’t change.
On the offensive side of the ball, Wirfs had an uphill battle. The NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Winner was Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s hard to overcome someone in the “premier” offensive position when they have had a season as Herbert did. In his first season, Herbert rewrote the rookie QB playbook: 31 TDs, 289.1 YPG, and finished in the top 10 among all NFL quarterbacks.
Wirfs ranked 5th overall. However, for anyone who really watched him play, he probably should have been given a bit higher nod than that. Doesn’t it mean anything for a rookie tackle to play the entire season and have only one sack? Apparently not. As normal, it seems that linemen are often ignored for accolades. Justin Jefferson, Chase Young, and Joe Burrow were ranked 2, 3, 4 in that order. Young and all his talk-about antics never even got so much as a sniff of Tom Terrific Brady when the Bucs headed to Maryland to take on the Washington no-names.
So, which draft was better: 1995 or 2020 would be hard to say? It’s gonna take time to sort it out, and hopefully, Bucs fans will get to see a lot of it over the next decade or so. As to which draft was better?
That’s a different story for a different day. The one we are concerned with is whether Tampa’s top two draft prospects from last season are near the caliber of players that Sapp and Brooks were. Is it possible, do you think, that in the end Wirfs and Winfield Jr. will be fitted for a Gold Jacket and a place in Canton?
The Buccaneers’ big turnaround on their way to their FIRST super bowl undoubtedly was triggered by the 1995 draft class. That brought Sapp and Brooks into the fold. It took a little more time, and a few extra pieces, but the Bucs did eventually get to, and win, SB XXXVI.
For those who can remember that far back, the Bucs had their coming out ceremony (break-out game) in 1997 against none other than the San Francisco 49ers. They won the game 13-6 in what was to become known as “BucBall”, defined as, low scoring, hard-fought, defensive struggles.
The team labored on offense with Trent Dilfer as the quarterback, but the defense was able to keep most of the rest of the NFL from scoring much at all. Still, there’s no denying that Sapp and Brooks set the tone. The Bucs already had John Lynch, a newly minted Hall of Famer, and somewhat further down the line, would add Ronde Barber, who also looks to have a reasonable shot at earning a Hall of Fame selection.
Which brings us back to Wirfs and Winfield. Often in this person’s NFL, we see players come out and light up the world. We have had ours here, Cadillac Williams comes to mind, but the injury bug bit him and possibly some overplaying seemed to have shortened his career.
Working in the NFL can be brutal. It can take a toll both physically and mentally, as we all know, but for those few, those that show promise and then fulfill it, the path to fame is still there.
The question is if the Bucs pulled the string on two would-be Hall of Famers last season, and can they do so again this year? Only time will tell.