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Bucs' Roster Filled with Fast Starters

Posted Jan 17, 2018

Current Bucs Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Lavonte David and Donovan Smith all set franchise records for production in certain categories during their first three NFL seasons

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston just finished his third NFL season with a career total of 11,636 passing yards (so far). In NFL history, only Andrew Luck (12,957) and Peyton Manning (12,287) had more during their first three years in the league.

Luck and Manning both started their careers in Indianapolis, of course, and so it is obvious that Winston set the Buccaneers' franchise record in that category. Prior to Winston's fast start from 2015-17, Josh Freeman had set the team mark with 8,898 passing yards in his first three campaigns, 2009-11.

Winston is not the only current Buccaneer who has shot out of the gate in his particular statistical category. In fact, three of his teammates show up when one considers a wide variety of categories (receptions, sacks, points scored, etc.) and finds the Buccaneer who had the most in his first three seasons. The resulting list also includes some of the biggest names in team annals, from Lee Roy Selmon to Mike Alstott to Warrick Dunn, as well as a couple surprises.

Below are 18 statistical categories along with the Buccaneer who recorded the highest total in each category through his first three NFL seasons. Runners-up are also listed. All of the statistics for this list were drawn from Pro Football Reference.

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Games Started

Record-Holder(s): Paul Gruber, Donovan Smith…48

Runner(s)-Up: Mike Alstott, Regan Upshaw, Mike Williams…47

Donovan Smith, the Buccaneers' second-round draft pick in 2015 and their starting left tackle ever since, has impressively matched a feat by the most noted "iron man" in franchise history. Before Smith's arrival, Paul Gruber – another left tackle – was the only Buccaneer to start every game in his first three seasons. Whether due to injury or a slower ascension to the starting lineup, that feat escaped such all-time Buc greats as Lee Roy Selmon, Doug Williams, Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp.

Gruber kept his streak alive for five straight seasons, so Smith has a ways to go to equal his predecessor's total run. In addition, Gruber never missed a snap during those five seasons (1988-92), a streak of 4,850 plays. Smith won't match that, either, but he has been almost as durable, not missing a snap until the 40th game of his career.

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Passing Yards

Record-Holder(s): Jameis Winston…11,636

Runner(s)-Up: Josh Freeman…8,898

Touchdown Passes

Record-Holder(s): Jameis Winston…69

Runner(s)-Up: Josh Freeman…51

Completions

Record-Holder(s): Jameis Winston…939

Runner(s)-Up: Josh Freeman…795

Winston won the starting job to open his rookie season and has mostly avoided injury in the three seasons since, putting him in position to rewrite the franchise's record book for quarterbacks. Freeman was a prolific passer early in his career, too, but didn't step into the starting lineup until midway through his rookie season. Trent Dilfer and Vinny Testaverde, fellow first-round picks, played sparingly as rookies. Doug Williams, the first-ever first-round quarterback in team history, did start right away but missed six games in his rookie season and played in a far less prolific passing era.

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Rushing Yards

Record-Holder(s): Errict Rhett…2,757

Runner(s)-Up: Warrick Dunn…2,620

Rushing Touchdowns

Record-Holder(s): Errict Rhett…21

Runner(s)-Up: Mike Alstott…18

Errict Rhett is a bit of a surprise entry on this list, given his relatively brief run as the Bucs' primary ballcarrier and the slow start he had to his rookie season. He edged out the more prominent "Thunder & Lightning" duo of Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, beating Alstott's touchdown total and Dunn's yardage mark. Rhett finished his debut 1994 season on a smoking-hot streak, then had a second 1,000-yard campaign in 1995 before a holdout in 1996 and the subsequent arrivals of Alstott and Dunn reduced his role dramatically.

Tampa Bay's all-time leading rusher, James Wilder, started out as a fullback and didn't have his two monster seasons (1984 and 1985) until he was in his fourth and fifth years in the league. Cadillac Williams and Doug Martin got off to really quick starts as rookies but were plagued by injuries in the two campaigns that followed. Ricky Bell, the first-overall pick in the 1977 draft had just over 1,100 yards in his first two seasons before a breakout 1979.

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Receptions

Record-Holder(s): Mike Evans…238

Runner(s)-Up: Mike Williams…193

Receiving Yards

Record-Holder(s): Mike Evans…3,578

Runner(s)-Up: Mark Carrier…2,815

Touchdown Receptions

Record-Holder(s): Mike Evans…27

Runner(s)-Up: Mike Williams…23

No surprise here: Mike Evans is now four seasons into one of the best starts ever for an NFL receiver, but even after his first three seasons he was assaulting the Buccaneers' record books. His new three-year marks for receptions and yards are 23.3% and 27.1% better, respectively, then the previous marks set by Mike Williams and Mark Carrier. Williams, however, does have a fairly comparable three-year touchdown-catch total.

Carrier still holds the franchise career and single-season records for receiving yards (although precariously so, given Evans' production), but he needed three years to get his first 1,000-yard campaign. Evans did so in his first season and then increased his output in his second and third years.

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Yards from Scrimmage

Record-Holder(s): Warrick Dunn…4,015

Runner(s)-Up: Mike Evans…3,578

This one is interest as it underscores what a dual threat that Warrick Dunn was in his first five years in Tampa. He ranks third in team history in rushing yard and 15th in receiving yards, and the combined total of 7,690 yards from scrimmage is second only to James Wilder's 9,449. But, again, Wilder took a little while to become a featured player in the Bucs' offense, while Dunn had 1,440 yards from scrimmage as a rookie and made the Pro Bowl.

As such, it is Evans and not Wilder that has come closest to Dunn's total, even though Evans doesn't have a single rushing yard in his career.

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Total Touchdowns

Record-Holder(s): Mike Evans…27

Runner(s)-Up: Mike Alstott…25

Field Goals Made

Record-Holder(s): Martin Gramatica…78

Runner(s)-Up: Michael Husted…58

Points Scored

Record-Holder(s): Martin Gramatica…329

Runner(s)-Up: Michael Husted…246

If you're going to be a top score in Bucs history, it helps to be named Mike. Mike Evans beat Mike Williams's first-three-years mark for touchdown catches and also topped Mike Alstott's figure in total touchdowns. Michael Husted was the Bucs' best scorer and field goal producer in his first three seasons before Martin Gramatica came along. Gramatica had the advantage of working with a better Buccaneer offense than did Husted, though neither one was among the league's most prolific.

Overall, the Buccaneers haven't had too many rookie kickers in their franchise history. Players like Matt Bryant and Connor Barth have done well in their first three seasons in Buccaneer uniforms, but they had previously played elsewhere.

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Solo Tackles

Record-Holder(s): Lavonte David…319

Runner(s)-Up: Marty Carter…310

Sacks

Record-Holder(s): Lee Roy Selmon…29.0

Runner(s)-Up: Warren Sapp…23.0

Interceptions

Record-Holder(s): Aqib Talib…15

Runner(s)-Up: Donnie Abraham…11

These particular marks come with some caveats. Tackle totals have been inconsistently kept through the decades, with it only recently becoming relatively standard to use the exact figures generated by on-site stat crews on game days. Still, David is not a surprise name at the top of the list (former 1990s safety Marty Carter at number two was unexpected). The obvious guess would have been Derrick Brooks, but even by the Bucs' own internal recording from 1995-97, Brooks "only" had 268 solo tackles in his first three seasons. (Pro Football Reference has him at 254).

The issue with the sacks category is more cut-and-dried. Simply put, the sack was not an official statistic until 1982, so databases such as the one on PFR doesn't give players any credit for sacks prior to that season. Still, the statistic was still well-known and widely tracked before it was made official, and the Buccaneers have always maintained a record of Selmon's production. If one chooses to strictly enforce the 1982 cut-off, then Sapp would be the record-holder and Broderick Thomas, with 20.5, would be the runner-up.

There's no such issue with interceptions, and Talib (2008-10) is the clear Buccaneer leader. Donnie Abraham had at least five picks in five of his six years as a Buccaneer, but the exception was a one-interception campaign in 1998, his third year. Ronde Barber is easily Tampa Bay's career leader in this category, and he also owns the single-season Buc mark with 10 in 2001. However, he played in just one game as a rookie in 1997 and had exactly two picks in each of the next three years.

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Pro Bowl Selections

Record-Holder(s): Mike Alstott, Hugh Green…2

Runner(s)-Up: Many tied with….1

AP 1st-Team All-Pro Selections

Record-Holder(s): Mike Alstott…2

Runner(s)-Up: None

Alstott, a second-round pick in 1996, and linebacker Hugh Green, the Bucs' top pick in 1981, had similar early-career trajectories. Both were an immediate success as rookies, leading to Pro Bowl selections in their second and third years. Brooks and Sapp ended up with more overall Pro Bowl invites as Buccaneers, with 11 and seven respectively, but each made it for the first time in 1997, after their third seasons. Selmon went to six straight Pro Bowls, just like Alstott, but the first one was after his fourth season.

And, surprisingly, Alstott is the only player in franchise history to be a first-team Associated Press All-Pro selection more than once during his first three seasons. Selmon and David both were so honored once.