1. S Jordan Whitehead
The second-year safety has laid some hard hits this season and even recorded his first career interception against the Rams in Los Angeles last week. Primarily used as a box safety, Whitehead will be a big part in the Bucs' containment of the Saints' running game, especially. New Orleans is notorious for their unique offense that uses running backs, more specifically Alvin Kamara, in a lot of ways. It works because Kamara is as versatile as they come. He can run routes like a receiver, with Mark Ingram now gone, he could run up the guy on you. He gets paired with another tailback in the backfield to confuse defensive assignments. It'll be all hands on deck, and while the Bucs have one of the best coverage linebackers in the game (change my mind) in Lavonte David, Whitehead as a box safety will have to be weary as well. They're going to need help on the outside and Whitehead will have to keep his eyes open. The good news is, it also sets him up for some great opportunities to make some big plays.
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2. DT Vita Vea
Speaking of stopping the run, nose tackle Vita Vea has been clogging the interior and beyond all season. He's obviously a big body at nearly 350 pounds. What makes him especially dangerous against the run though, is how agile he is. Vea can move. I still can't forget the time in training camp I saw running back Peyton Barber take a swing pass to the outside and look like he was going to have a lane along the sideline before Vea came from the opposite side of the formation and ran him out of bounds. It happened right in front of me and let me tell you – Vea barreling in your direction with the intent of doing everything in his power to stop you is not a comfortable sight. That athleticism is going to be needed not only against the aforementioned Kamara, but against guys like quarterback Taysom Hill and containing starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Back to how unique the Saints' offense is – they can run an actual two-quarterback system because of Hill.
"He can throw the ball too, so it's a little different than most wildcat guys where they use running backs," Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles said. "He is a true quarterback at times, he's a wideout, he's a fullback, he's a tight end, so we've got to just understand when he's in the ball game – that's all. We've got to make sure we understand they have two of them in the ball game."
Vea may have to be one of those using his lateral skills to prevent Hill from doing a lot of damage. New Orleans offense thrives on the outside between Hill and Kamara, so here's to those two, among others, being the ones to see him barreling their way on Sunday.
Worth noting as well, Vea is a blocker-eater. Opposing offensive linemen are having to double-team him up front just to keep him from getting to the quarterback in pass protection. It's helping the outside guys, like Shaq Barrett, tremendously, which Barrett continues to emphasize.
"It's not just me," Barrett said of his success. "We've got the back end playing good coverage. They've got Carl [Nassib] at the other end getting pressure. The middle guys – [Ndamukong] Suh, Vita [Vea], Will [Gholston and] Beau [Allen] – everybody in there is just getting the job done. I'm just beating my one-on-ones at the right time."
3. TE O.J. Howard
After an insane game by wide receiver Chris Godwin that followed an insane game by wide receiver Mike Evans, you have to think the Saints are going to try to contain both of those guys as much as possible on Sunday. Plus, the Bucs received news on Friday from Coach Arians that wide receiver Breshad Perriman has been ruled out for this weekend's matchup.
Enter Howard. It's no accident Godwin had a big day against the Rams because most of LA's coverage resources were taken up by Evans. He was double-covered a lot of the game. And when they didn't double cover him, they learned their lesson. Another receiver taking the heat off Evans was actually Howard. Look here, again on that 67-yard touchdown, Winston realizes the safety comes down to take tight end O.J. Howard one-on-one instead of dropping deep to help cornerback Marcus Peters with Evans. Once Winston sees Evans one-on-one with no safety help overtop, he knows it's an easy touchdown.
So, while a lot has been made about Howard's 'lack of involvement', teams are still respecting him as a receiver and therefore he's contributing much more than the stat sheet shows. Now that the Bucs will have to do a little bit of shuffling with their third receiver spot, Howard will probably help to fill in.
4. RB Ronald Jones
Running back Ronald Jones was very comfortable last week in his old collegiate stadium. He had his best day as a Buccaneer in it and scored a rushing touchdown, his first of the season. Statistically, he had 80 yards but had two big-time runs nullified by penalties. One was for 24 yards, which alone would have given Jones his first 100-yard game as a Buccaneer, and the other was a killer that he took for 54 yards as he cut his way up the middle and through tackles to the outside down the field.
But the good news is that while those didn't count, Jones and the rest of the offense still got the confidence that plays like that can work. With the pass rush what it is in New Orleans, I'd expect the Bucs to try out a few of those come Sunday and it could be just enough to get Jones over 100 yards this season.
5. LB Devin White
This is an easy one. White is coming back from an MCL sprain, so how much he'll play remains in question. He wasn't ruled out for the game as of Friday and he's talked about hoping to return in his home state of Louisiana. If he does get to play, he should be juiced up to do it in a place that he's relatively familiar with. In 2017, the LSU Tigers played inside the Superdome against BYU. The game was supposed to be played in Houston, but with the city underwater following a hurricane, the game was moved to the Superdome. White also grew up in Louisiana, and while he said he wasn't a huge Saints fan, his favorite player was Drew Brees – so he paid attention. He won't get to face off against his former favorite player (Lavonte David said he's White's favorite player now) because Brees is still out with a thumb injury. It should still be a special day though and if he is indeed full-go, he should have a great game.