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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2024 Schedule Point-Counterpoint: Top Rookie Opponent

After the most offense-heavy first round in NFL Draft history, both Brianna Dix and Scott Smith have chosen a player on that side of the ball as the most interesting and potentially challenging rookie on the Bucs' 2024 schedule

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Last November, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got an unexpected invitation to the coming-out party for one of the most exciting rookies to hit the NFL in years. Houston quarterback C.J. Stroud, the second-overall pick in the 2023 draft had looked quite good over his first seven starts, particularly in terms of his first career interception not coming until his sixth outing.

It was against the Buccaneers in Week Eight, however, that Stroud's rookie campaign went supernova, as he threw for 470 yards and five touchdowns in a wild 39-37 Texans victory. It was nearly a celebratory occasion for the visiting Buccaneers, as Baker Mayfield engineered what appeared to be the game-winning drive, hitting Cade Otton on a 14-yard touchdown pass for a four-point lead with 46 seconds left. Unfortunately for the visitors, Stroud countered with a nearly impossible 75-yard touchdown drive in just 40 seconds, without a timeout.

That's not exactly a happy memory for the Buccaneers from an otherwise encouraging 2023 season, but it certainly is a vivid one. Stroud would end up in the Pro Bowl and in possession of the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year trophy, and it appears as if the Texans have a high-end franchise quarterback on their hands.

It's safe to say that was the most outrageous performance by a rookie against the Buccaneers last season. But before the season began, was Stroud the most prominent, or intriguing, or promising NFL newcomer the Buccaneers anticipated facing? That might have actually been quarterback Bryce Young, who not only was taken one spot before Stroud in the draft but also landed in the Buccaneers' own division as the Carolina Panthers' new starter. That meant the potential of two meetings during the 2023 season.

Actually, Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I discussed this very topic a year ago. She went with Houston's other first-round pick, edge rusher Will Anderson, while I selected Falcons running back Bijan Robinson. Both players had nice seasons, but I would definitely go with Stroud if I had a do-over and my memories of that game in Houston in November. Today, we're going to tackle the same question for 2024, and as it turns out the second-overall pick, another flashy quarterback, is on the Bucs' schedule again. Will Washington's Jayden Daniels be the pick for either of us? There are plenty of intriguing options.

This is the last in our series of five schedule-related debates. Here's the run-down for the whole week:

Friday, May 17: Who is the most interesting rookie the Buccaneers will face on their 2024 schedule?

Brianna and I are not going to duplicate answers, so the order of our debate is important. Brianna has the first pick today.

View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking part in the first week of 2024 offseason OTAs.

Brianna Dix: WR Malik Nabers, at Giants, Week 12

This was a challenging prompt. There were many players I was intrigued by and could have selected. For instance, straight-line speedster Xavier Worthy, who ran a record-breaking 4.21 40-yard dash, will make his debut for the Chiefs in 2024. While he will be a deep threat on a talented roster, the Bucs' secondary is brimming with speed in Jamel Dean and Zyon McCollum. Both will be able to help prevent the big play over the top in Week Nine.

The Bucs will also face heralded pass-catching tight end Brock Bowers in Week 14 as they take on the Raiders. Bowers, a back-to-back John Mackey Award winner, is a yards-after-catch phenom that is touted to infuse life into the Raiders' offense. However, the Bucs have one of the best off-ball linebackers in the NFL with Lavonte David to combat the rookie. David is a tight end eraser over the middle of the field and zone buster. So, for the purposes of this discussion, I am going to go with Malik Nabers in Week 12.

The Bucs will be coming off a bye week – which can have positive or negative effects on a team in terms of momentum – and will travel to MetLife to take on the Giants. Nabers is sudden, with deceptive speed variations at the stem to keep defensive backs off balance. He has gliding, effortless movements and has the ability to make improbable catches possible with high-point capability. Nabers plays with toughness and was effective at all three levels for LSU. He could be the next prodigy for the Tigers. He is at the top of my list of rookie opponents for Tampa Bay. Scott, who are you nervous about on the 2024 slate?

Scott Smith: QB Jayden Daniels, vs. Commanders, Week One

As I noted above, neither of us picked a quarterback last year, even though passers were the first two picks in the draft and therefore highly-touted prospects. I'm not making that mistake again, especially since the first three picks were quarterbacks this year, with another three going by the 12th selection. The Buccaneers aren't slated to play Chicago and number-one pick Caleb Williams, nor do they have New England (Drake Maye) on their schedule. They will play the Broncos (Bo Nix) once and the Falcons (Michael Penix) twice, but there's no guarantee either of those two rookies will be starting when the Bucs are the opponent.

On the other hand, Jayden Daniels, picked second overall by Washington in the draft, is on the Bucs' schedule, and they won't have to wait long to see him. Washington visits Tampa on opening weekend, and I feel confident that Daniels will have already been named the starter by then.

Even in a vacuum, I would have been seriously tempted to put Daniels at the top of my list. It's true, as Brianna notes, that there is going to be an influx of top-level pass-catching talent this year, but that is becoming almost commonplace these days. What isn't common is the type of quarterback prospect that Daniels profiles as. He has been compared in a pretty favorable way to the likes of Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson, the greatest running quarterbacks in league history. Even if Daniels proves to be only 75% of the threat with his legs as Vick or Jackson, he'll still be an incredible challenge for opposing defenses.

Yes, it often takes a rookie quarterback a little while to gain full command of an NFL passing attack. More rookie passers fare more like Young did in 2023 than Stroud. Since the Buccaneers will be the first team Daniels faces in the regular season – and that means taking on a very challenging and aggressive Todd Bowles defense – it's fair to wonder how much of a threat he will be with his arm on that afternoon. But no coach has to teach him how to take off and run, and if the Bucs can't keep him contained in the pocket they could be in for a long day of chasing him around. Whatever happens in that battle, it should be very interesting.

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