These are, to put it simply, some of the Buccaneers' unsung heroes in 2015. Let's take a look at three of them: tight end Cameron Brate, offensive lineman Kevin Pamphile and defensive end Howard Jones.
Brate was the one that almost got away.
Brate went back to the Bucs' practice squad but was released the next week and signed by the Saints' to their practice squad. However, he ended up following the team back from New Orleans after less than a week in Louisiana. After the Buccaneers finished off a Week Two win in the Superdome but saw tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins sustain a shoulder injury in the process, they quickly signed Brate back to their active roster. His job was never in jeopardy again.
That's because Seferian-Jenkins' injury absence stretched to 10 weeks and Brate emerged as the Bucs' top pass-catching option at tight end in the interim. He ended up with 23 receptions for 288 yards and three touchdowns, falling just one shy of the team's TD reception lead.
Seferian-Jenkins was second on that same list, averaging 16.1 yards per catch on 21 grabs. The 2014 second-round draft pick opened his second season in promising fashion, with 110 yards and two touchdowns on five catches in Week One but lost significant time to injury for the second year in a row. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, Brate was there to make sure the tight end position didn't become a black hole in the offense.
Pamphile's second NFL season made a strong effort by General Manager Jason Licht in his first Tampa Bay draft look even better.
Neither Edwards nor Herron is still with the team, but that's not terribly unusual for third-day selections. Pamphile, who was acquired after Licht traded a 2014 seventh-round pick and a 2015 fifth-rounder in order to get another choice in the fifth round in '14, didn't see much action until late in his rookie season, when he began filling in as an extra blocker on jumbo packages.
That role expanded for Pamphile in 2015 but he also showed that he may have a future as a starter on the Buccaneers' front line. That was most prominently on display in a Week Five win over Jacksonville for which Mankins was unavailable due to injury. Though he spent the season listed as the Bucs' backup left tackle – the position he played at Purdue – Pamphile may have found his future on the interior of the line. He had a strong game against the Jaguars, helping the Bucs run for 183 yards in a 38-31 victory.
In 2014, the Buccaneers happened across an out-of-nowhere pass-rusher by the name of Smith. In 2015, they found another one by the name of Jones.
Following in the footsteps of '14 breakout player Jacquies Smith, Howard Jones arrived in Tampa in the days before the opening game, bearing virtually no NFL playing experience, and quickly turned into an important part of the team's pass-rushing efforts. Smith, an undrafted player out of Mizzou who had spent a couple years trying to make it Miami, New York and Buffalo, did so with a 6.5-sack season for the Buccaneers. Jones, an undrafted player out of Shepherd who went to two Steeler camps, produced a 5.0-sack campaign.
Those were his first two NFL games. In his third, Jones sacked QB Matt Ryan and forced a fumble in overtime that, while not recovered by the Bucs' defense, was critical in the final stop at midfield that preserved a 23-20 win for Tampa Bay. Those first three outings proved to be the best run in Jones's debut season, but his body of work as a whole was enough to make him an intriguing prospect heading into next summer's training camp.