Picking just five players to watch during Week One is a fool's errand… which I guess makes me a fool. In reality, none of us really have enough eyes to pay attention to every single storyline as the 2020 Buccaneers take the field for the very first time together. Oh, in a hostile environment. Against a division rival. In an epic battle between two of the games most prolific quarterbacks. And a clash of what could end up being two of the league's best defenses.
Regardless, I tried to give you the highlights. See below for *some* of the Buccaneers to keep an eye on as they take on the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. on FOX.
1. QB Tom Brady
It's been nine months since Brady has played a football game. The last time around was with a franchise he'd been with for 20 years. A lot of success came within those two decades but he decided this offseason it was time for something new. Now, he's in sunny Tampa and hearing him call the Saints 'our division opponent' in media availability this week was yet another surreal moment to go along with the whirlwind past few months that followed his decision.
Not to mention Brady is 14-3 in season openers. He also has the highest regular season win percentage in the Super Bowl era and among active quarterbacks. He's got the second-most passing yards and touchdowns of all time, behind only the guy he'll be dueling with come Sunday.
So, for countless reasons, he's the number one Buccaneer to watch for Bucs fans, NFL fans and probably sports fans in general this weekend.
2. TE Rob Gronkowski
It's been 19 months since this guy last played a football game. Gronkowski took a year off football in a short-lived retirement to get his body healthy and in better condition. Now, he says he feels better than ever but that won't mean he won't have some rust to shake off. During training camp, the Florida heat humbled even him, forcing him into shape amid swamp-like humidity whether he liked it or not.
"Suck it up," Head Coach Bruce Arians told him. Multiple times.
With a couple months' experience with his new team now and a familiar face throwing him the ball, Gronkowski's learning curve should be more manageable than someone else attempting a comeback like his. And while his relationship with Brady has been evident all camp, this is the first real test as they face a good team with an excellent defense. But it's a defense that hasn't had to prepare for Gronkowski since Week Two of 2017 in the one and only time Gronkowski has ever played the Saints. He's a new wrinkle for the familiar opponent and it will be very interesting to see who New Orleans deploys to cover a dual-threat player like him.
3. WR Chris Godwin and/or WR Mike Evans
Arians said on Friday that Evans, who missed practice all week before participating in a limited capacity on Friday would be a 'game-time decision' for their battle in the Bayou. As much as we love to see Evans matched up with New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore in one of the more fun back-and-forths in the division, if he's not 100%, it's not like you don't have other guys that can pick up the slack.
Like Godwin. The other half of perhaps the best wide receiver tandem in the league, Godwin had quite the game in the Saints' house last year, catching seven passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Especially if Evans can't go, Godwin might be leaned on to lead the passing offense with some help from fellow offensive weapons like the aforementioned Gronkowski, tight ends Cam Brate and O.J. Howard and running backs Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy. In fact, just keep an eye on this entire offense.
4. ILB Lavonte David
The road to recognition starts on Sunday. After years of David going overlooked for being one of the best off-ball linebackers in the league, this season, and all the national attention that comes with it, could be the rest of the league's opportunity to finally see what they've been missing. David is coming off another solid season in 2019 where he again led the team in tackles. He has the second most tackles of any active player since 2012 behind only Seattle's Bobby Wagner and actually leads all players in solo tackles in that span with 717. He has the most fumble recoveries since 2012 with 14 and is littered on countless other defensive leaderboards in the top five.
Against a back like Saints' Alvin Kamara, David can really shine. His quick instincts and football IQ can help him read exactly where Kamara is about to go. His familiarity with a division opponent should help his recognition as a whole, too. People are going to notice Lavonte David this season, even if I have to put him on this list every week for them to do it.
5. ILB Devin White
David is also going to be helped out by the guy right next to him. Second-year inside linebacker Devin White was named a captain of the Bucs' defense this week, voted on by his peers, which has to feel good. White showed tremendous leadership all throughout camp and proved to be the perfect complement to strong-but-silent-type David. White is vocal and encouraging and maybe even a little musically inclined.
Oh yeah, he's also from Louisiana. Going back to New Orleans is a big deal for him and the Superdome is a special place. Not the he needs any extra, but he'll be bringing the juice against the Saints. Tampa Bay is going to look for him to pick up right where he left off on the field last year, which was with back-to-back rookie of the month honors, oh by the way.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 1 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.