Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2020 Schedule Roundtable: Top Rookie Opponent

The Bucs won't face Joe Burrow or Chase Young in the 2020 regular season but they've still got some talented rookie opponents on their schedule…Which one is the biggest threat?

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have to contend with Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford in 2020. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers' offense will run up against such dangerous defenders as Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Danielle Hunter, Cameron Jordan and Cory Littleton.

However, without Cincinnati on the schedule, Tampa Bay's defense will not get a shot at rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, the first-overall pick in last month's draft. For that matter, without Washington on the schedule either, the Bucs won't find out how hard it is to contain the second¬-overall pick, edge rusher Chase Young. Still there are plenty of prominent rookies lying in wait on the Buccaneers' 2020 schedule, and that's the topic for today's Roundtable discussion.

Team Reporter Casey Phillips, Staff Writer Carmen Vitali and I are combining forces this week to discuss five different topics regarding the recently-released NFL schedule. Here's the Roundtable list for the week:

View pictures of all the Buccaneers' 2020 opponents.

Tuesday, May 12: Who is the top rookie opponent on the Bucs' schedule?

Wednesday, May 13: What is the most significant challenge for Tampa Bay's defense?

Thursday, May 14: What is the most significant challenge for Tampa Bay's offense?

Friday, May 15: What is the toughest stretch of games on this year's schedule?

We're rotating the order of our picks from day to day and following a no-duplicating rule. As with tied teams in the NFL draft order, whoever is last rotates up to the top and the others move down a spot, which means I'm first today, followed by Carmen and then Casey. So which opposing rookie could cause the Buccaneers the most trouble in 2020?

Scott Smith: WR Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos, Week Three

Alabama's Jeudy wasn't the first receiver off the board in the 2020 draft; that honor went to his 'Bama teammate, Henry Ruggs III, who blinded the Raiders with his blinding speed. And the Buccaneers will face Ruggs in 2020, too, when they head to Las Vegans in Week Seven. However, I think Jeudy is poised to be the top rookie receiver this fall.

I base that thought on a combination of Jeudy's NFL-ready game and the perfect situation into which he's been placed in with the Broncos. I'll concede that the quarterback situation in Vegas is more of a sure thing than in Denver, where second-year man Drew Lock looked very promising in five starts but is obviously not a, uh, lock to excel. That said, John Elway has surrounded Lock with a speedy and talented corps of pass-catchers, so he's definitely got all he needs to succeed. And all of that talent around Jeudy will make it tougher for opposing defenses to focus on him.

Every scouting report on Jeudy says the same thing: He's a masterful route-runner. He also has very quick feet, can beat the press and can surprise defenders with his sudden speed. Jeudy can play all over the formation for the Broncos, kind of like the Bucs' Chris Godwin, but he might be most dangerous out of the slot. Tampa Bay's pass defense improved significantly over the second half of last season as young corners Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean found their footing, but it was still occasionally hurt by slot receivers. Detroit's Danny Amendola caught eight passes for 102 yards against Tampa Bay in Week 15 (though it was on an Amendola route out of the slot that Murphy-Bunting picked off a pass and sealed the win with a 70-yard touchdown return).

Of course, the Broncos also drafted Penn State's K.J. Hamler, who is definitely best suited in the slot, so Jeudy will get plenty of work on the outside, too, opposite 2019 breakout receiver Courtland Sutton. With those three and the tight end pair of 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant and speedy rookie Albert Okwuegbunam, the Broncos will be able to flood the field with difficult matchups, and Jeudy might end up being the toughest one of them all.

View pictures of the Buccaneers' 2020 draft picks.

Carmen Vitali: DT Derrick Brown, Carolina Panthers

I think this is made worse by the fact that the Bucs will have to face him not once, but twice. Brown is one of the most highly rated prospects coming out of this class period. His NFL.com Draft & Combine Profile had him listed as a 'Pro Bowl talent' already. It's for good reason, too.

At Auburn, Brown absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage with a combination of power and speed. His quick get-off allows him to rush gaps and collapse the pocket as he blows past opposing offensive lines. He's effective against the run and gets into the backfield, too. Brown registered 33.5 tackles for loss across his four-year Auburn career and was a unanimous All-American selection in 2019. The Panthers wasted no time scooping him up with the seventh overall pick and wasted even less time in signing him to a four-year deal.

Brown will anchor a Panthers defensive line that will pair him with veteran Kawann Short on the interior and give him edge help from Stephen Weatherly, who the team signed in free agency from Minnesota, and Chris Smith, who the team signed from Cleveland. Though their record didn't reflect it, Carolina was really good at getting to the passer last year. They had the second-highest sack total in the league behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers, registering 53.0 sacks. Now, the coaching staff is all new and a lot of the roster changed over, but the bones are still there. If the Panthers can still be effective in the pass rush, Brown now gives them an edge against the run – where Carolina ranked 29th last year. That's bad news for the Bucs who are still working on establishing a consistent ground game. They hope they'll be able to do it this year with a combination of Ronald Jones, Dare Ogunbowale and newcomer Ke'Shawn Vaughn. The offensive line also got an upgrade with the Bucs' first-round pick Tristan Wirfs. That unit will be put to the test against a guy like Brown and the help he got in free agency along the line.

Of course, Brown and the Panthers' front seven will also be seeing a new face under center, Tom Brady, who is notorious for being able to get rid of the ball quickly. It won't leave them much time to break through the pocket, especially if a top 10 offensive line last year that only got more help this offseason, has anything to say about it. We won't have to wait long to see who wins out. The Bucs play the Panthers at home Week Two and then again during Week 10 at their place.

Casey Phillips: CB Jeff Okudah, Detroit Lions

Jeff Okudah is the highest drafted corner since 1997. And by all accounts, he deserves that honor. His Ohio State coaches say his work ethic was astounding, particularly when it came to studying film and the mental side of the game. There are stories of him spending an all-defense movie night asking his coordinator questions about NFL wide receivers throughout the movie. Lion's coach Matt Patricia said in this unconventional offseason when teams may not get the normal contact with their rookies, it was imperative to bring in someone they trusted to be ready to hit the ground running.

Okudah has size, quickness, length. He has been drafted to replace Darius Slay, which is not an easy task. And he has been compared to Patrick Peterson, something Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians surely won't take lightly having gotten the chance to see up close and personal how talented Peterson is. Okudah has proven he can play outside and in the slot when he's asked to shadow someone. Plus he plays with incredible discipline. You may have heard his response to the reporter at the combine who called his play occasionally "sloppy." Okudah reminded everyone that in his last year at Ohio State he committed zero holding or pass interference penalties while still racking up 35 tackles, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles. If he can continue that kind of clean play in the NFL, he will be a force to be reckoned with. But I don't care how much praise a corner has been given, I will take the Buccaneers' wide receivers in a one-on-one situation any day of the week. When the Bucs play the Lions, that's going to be a true test for the rookie as he has to face the likes of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

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