The most important undervalued Buccaneers players

Russell Gage, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Russell Gage, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are ready to host the Carolina Panthers this weekend in what has unquestionably turned into both teams’ biggest game of the season. For the Bucs the situation is simple. Win and they’re into the postseason in a very weak NFC. With Brady at the helm, despite all the troubles on the year, there’s always a chance.

But it’s going to take more than just TB12 for the Buccaneers to make another run. It’s going to come down to a whole team effort, and especially to the oft-ignored players that have helped a floundering Bucs team to the verge of another postseason berth. In particular, there are three players who need to step up if the Bucs are going to be in contention in late-January.

1. Akiem Hicks

Hicks isn’t showing up on the stat sheet, a product of the Buccaneers’ defensive line not showing much dominance as a whole, but his presence in the middle of the field has been noticeable. Especially with Vita Vea playing, the difference between the Buccaneers’ ability to stop the run with and without Hicks has been apparent.

And while this run-stuffing ability will be invaluable in the postseason – where the dominant rushing offense of the Eagles, Cowboys, and Niners await, it also needs to flash as soon as possible. This skillset needs to shine now more than ever since the Bucs aim to stop Carolina – who rushed for a team-record 320 yards just last week.

If Hicks can join with Vea and take that reliable play calling away from the Panthers, the Bucs’ postseason hopes will gain a huge boost.

2. Nick Leverett

Much has been said about Nick Leverett’s play in the middle of the Tampa Bay offensive line. Especially after the disastrous tenure of Luke Goedeke, Leverett has been a boon to the effectiveness of the Buccaneers’ offensive line.

And if the Bucs are to make a third straight postseason trip, their offensive line will be the unit tested the most. Teams like Dallas, Philadelphia, and San Francisco make up the class of the NFC – and if the Bucs are to make a run into deep January play they will have to go toe to toe with one of these teams. But they all thrive on overwhelming their opponent’s offensive line.

For the Bucs to live up to their potential, all five members of the line have to hit their peak at the right time. Nick Leverett will need to step up big time.

3. Russell Gage

The Russell Gage experiment in Tampa Bay hasn’t gone according to plan. It was expected that he would provide another quick-strike threat over the middle to pair Chris Godwin, but injuries and a general lack of available targets due to the vastly decreased effectiveness of the offense as a whole have made him an afterthought.

But, to make a run, the Buccaneers are going to need more than one receiver stepping up. And while Chris Godwin has taken over the receiving game, Mike Evans has not stepped up to compliment him. So the Bucs need another threat.

Enter Russell Gage, whose health is improving at just the right time. With must-win games coming up from here on out, Gage has every opportunity to show Tampa Bay fans exactly why the coaching staff was excited about him.

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