Great players typically come out of the chute on fire, a raging bull kind of player, and Devin White certainly fits that mold. However, there are other factors that can determine which player gets selected for honors like Defensive Player of the Year. It’s not just about being good. If it were just about being good, then Lavonte David would have a room full of post-season accolades and honors. Not so. So why?
As fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we all know the why. Sure, you do, just put your cream sickle hat on and think back to how often very competitive players got looked over for post-season honors. Pro-Bowl players were few and far between before Hardy “Hardware” Nickerson came on the scene and started that competition with your former favorite player, Derrick Brooks. Brooks took the bait that Hardware was chumming the waters with. Interestingly enough as the two linebackers started that internal competition, it led to some external success.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Suddenly, the team who appeared in more NFL commercials staring in the loser role began to show up on more SportsCenter snippets than most other teams. Yes, the NFL Media started to smell what Tampa had cooking with Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, and Ronde Barber. Mr. Nickerson, who arguably had as much to do with the Bucs’ defensive rise to power as did defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, also got accolades along the way. As with all post-season accolades, those posting votes need to see the players doing their thing on the field in prime time.
The point is, it’s not just about being good. Being on a successful team has a lot to do with it, and making big plays in nationally televised games has a lot to do with it. Believe it or not, by the time the pundits “discover” another great player, it’s usually well after the rest of the league has figured it out.
Enter White. A number five pick for the Bucs, who nearly gloated about getting that selection. Okay, so maybe they did openly gloat about getting White. In the end, it appears the team’s draft gurus got it right. Sure, there were a ton of naysayers at the time. The pundits all seemed to think that Jason Licht and company had flipped their lids. Picking a linebacker in a spot that should more generally fall to a quarterback, edge rusher, or even a top-notch tackle would have been a wiser choice.
However the Buccaneers, as usual, had done their homework. They knew exactly what they were getting when they pulled the trigger to add White to what was a meager defense at the time. Sure, they were solid up front, but the entire backfield was in dire need of resuscitation and we go grab a linebacker.
In some ways, the NFL draft is like playing the stock market. Although, good analysts will tell you it isn’t playing with stocks, and others will tell you that draft realities often hit home quickly, and sometimes feel like a gut punch. But again, the Buccaneers had done their homework. In White, the draft crew saw the next great NFL linebacker. He was big, he was strong, and he had 4.37 speed. He was a composite of Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor. They saw the next version of Derrick Brooks.
And so, we fans watched. We liked what we saw in year one, and had it not been for an injury, we might have had the Defensive Rookie of the Year. We watched in year two, as he continued to impress. But all the stats besides, it wasn’t enough to get him an All-Pro nod. He got second-team in the Pro Bowl, but his statistics spoke louder than that. The pundits just didn’t believe it or were too much in love with some other, likely good, linebacker.
So, what did White need? He needed to be able to turn some heads. He needed to make his mark in a high-visibility game. Face it, Tampa is not, or at least was not, the team that got slotted for national viewership very often. Of course, that changed when one Tom “Terrific” Brady came on board, but there still had to be those moments when the pundits had to become believers. And that did during the playoff run Tampa made.
White was everywhere on the field. He was making tackles for loss on improbable plays. He displayed his speed, he displayed his football acumen, and he totally turned the heads of the NFL pundits as if they were Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
Now, with one Super Bowl championship bundled up and another on the horizon, the pundits will likely see a ton of White. Already, NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger is already in love with the way White plays. Asked about which NFC Defensive players he was looking at, he pointed to White.
Baldinger said that due to his speed and his ability to read plays, White is a defender that every team that will play Tampa has to game plan for. And even then, Baldinger suggested, it won’t really matter because White was often too fast for the rest of the league, and had a nose for the football.
Relax for a minute Buc fans. This is well before the preseason, but already the pundits are pointing out White. Already, the film they are looking at shows a player who ought to be an All-Pro. And, with his ability to take over a game, as he did against the Packers in the NFC Championship game, is it too hard to see him picking up that DOY award in 2021? Seems like there are many out there, who are in a position to make that happen, are already in his camp. It won’t surprise any Buckaroo to see that honor finally fall to a Tampa player again.