1. WR Chris Godwin
Now that Mike Evans broke 1,000 yards and therefore joined Randy Moss as the only players in NFL history to start their careers with six 1,000-yard seasons, we can turn our attention back to Chris Godwin for a second. Though Evans needed just seven yards last game to get to 1,000, Godwin got there first – despite 107 more than Evans to eclipse the four-figure mark. Godwin ended up getting all he needed early in the second quarter and now has the first 1,000-yard season of his career. One of many more if I was a betting woman. His 184-yard, two touchdown performance last Sunday earned him the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Week honor and I can’t wait to see what he decides to follow up that campaign with come Sunday in Jacksonville.
2. RB Ronald Jones
The second-year running back has been on a slow and steady climb all season. He’s developing into a very complete back thanks, in part, to him being eased into the offense. The Bucs had one of their better ground efforts in Atlanta, totaling 133 yards on the ground. Jones was the leading rusher with 12 carries for 51 yards – a 4.3 yard-per-carry average. He has a four-yard-per-carry average on the season as a whole and has an 80% catch rate with 28 receptions for 251 yards receiving. He’s still looking for a receiving touchdown but has five on the ground so far in 2019. Jacksonville is giving up an average of 142.3 yards on the ground, making them the third-worst rushing defense in the league. It’ll be a big opportunity for Jones and the rest of the Buccaneer backfield to balance out the NFL’s third-best passing offense.
3. LB Lavonte David
Speaking of the run, the Bucs’ defense hasn’t had a problem stopping it this season. They’re currently the second-best rushing defense in the league, letting up just 78.7 yards per game, on average. They’ll to contend with one of the league’s best rushers on Sunday in Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette. His 951 rushing yards this season rank sixth-most in the NFL and he has three rushing touchdowns to show for it. He’s also tied for the team lead in receptions with 56, meaning he’s a threat in the receiving game, too. That’s where David comes in. As an off-ball linebacker, David is one of the best at his position in stopping guys like Fournette. David also leads the team in tackles with 83 in 2019. He’ll be crucial in shutting down the Jags’ most potent weapon.
4. OLB Shaq Barrett
Through Week 12, Barrett was tied for the league lead in sacks with 12.5 this season. You can bet he was in on the sack party last week against Atlanta in which the Bucs’ defense tallied six sacks on the day. It got so bad that the Falcons actually pulled quarterback Matt Ryan in the fourth quarter to avoid him getting hit more. Barrett added a sack and forced fumble to his stat line even though he played the least amount of snaps on defense he had since Week Eight. That’s likely through no fault of his – ideally, you want to rotate your pass rushers in and out to keep them fresh, which is what the Bucs were able to do last Sunday. Barrett had five total quarterback hits, too. That was his highest single-game total all season. But, in order to keep his crown atop the sack leader list, Barrett will have to get at least one on Jacksonville quarterback Nick Foles, who returned from injury just two weeks ago. New Orleans’ defensive end Cam Jordan surpassed Barrett’s total of 12.5 on Thursday night in a game against the Falcons where the Saints registered nine sacks, of which Jordan had four to land him in the lead with 13.5.
5. DL Vita Vea
Vea had his most productive day of the year – if not his career – last Sunday when he not only registered a sack and two passes defensed, but also an offensive touchdown when he hauled in a one-yard pass from Jameis Winston at the goal line in the first half against the Falcons. Do I think we’ll see a repeat performance of that? No. I think Vea’s highly publicized score will likely make it difficult for the Bucs to use him like that again, at least for the foreseeable future. But Vea will be needed to do what he does best – help stop the run and get pressure on the quarterback. Vea’s stats may not clue you in on just how vital he is to the pass rush, but make no mistake – he’s essential. The pressure he’s able to create up the middle using his strength helps collapse the pocket and force quarterbacks into quicker throws. He’s also a space and blocker eater, which comes in handy against the run. I dare any running back to find a gap between him and Ndamukong Suh. It’s just not there. So, in order to keep the aforementioned Fournette in check, Vea will be needed in his day job on d