Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5 Bucs to Watch vs. New Orleans

Week One brings its share of storylines, but here are a few players to watch as the Bucs take on the Saints in New Orleans to start the 2018 season.

2018_BestofPreseason_KZ_0019

1. WR Mike Evans

A big topic of conversation this week has been the matchup between the Bucs' number one receiver in Mike Evans and Saints' second-year cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Evans is notorious for outmuscling defenders in his snatching of impossible throws that come his way. He's fresh off a new contract that keeps him a Buccaneer for the next five years and he, predictably, had a great camp as he leads one of the Bucs' deepest units into 2018. Evans may be the number one receiver, but opposing defenses are going to have a tough time focusing on him when the likes of DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries are lined up along with him. Presumably, it will be up to Lattimore to take Evans one-on-one and it's a matchup the Bucs will be looking to exploit, which could mean a big game for Evans.

2. DT Gerald McCoy

Gerald McCoy is one of the best defensive tackles in the league – if not the best. He's also going into his ninth NFL season and has faced Drew Brees and the Saints 13 times in his career. In fact, he sees Brees even more often than that. The two train together in the offseason and are close friends. Despite the camaraderie in workouts, you better believe McCoy is gunning for Brees in game action and doing everything possible to get to the veteran signal caller on the field. The problem is that Brees has one of the quickest releases in the league – helping him to evade pressure and subsequent defensive linemen in the hunt for sacks. The Saints' propensity to throw a lot of screen passes also adds to the general quickness in which the ball leaves Brees' hands. He doesn't sit in the pocket waiting for a play to develop. A short drop and a flick of the wrist in a matter of seconds means he's evaded McCoy more often than not. However, what McCoy possesses that most don't is his get-off. It is both powerful and quick. He's over the line of scrimmage before some offensive linemen can blink. With a bolstered front four that will force more one-on-one matchups for McCoy, look for him to use that get-off and bee-line straight ahead to get to Brees on Sunday.

3. CB Vernon Hargreaves

Vernon Hargreaves has had a great preseason and has seemingly built up his confidence in playing both inside and outside. While he seems to be the starting nickel corner, he will also be lining up outside opposite cornerback Brent Grimes. The Bucs' utilize their nickel package quite often, which will bump Hargreaves inside, but he won't stay there. Hargreaves should get some looks against Saints' veteran receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and the key will be to remain disciplined with his eyes, making sure Ginn doesn't pull a double move or get over top of him. The good news is that Hargreaves plays physical enough to keep Ginn in his place while outside. Hargreaves has now looked comfortable at both positions this preseason so keep an eye out for where and how often he's used at each.

4. WR Chris Godwin

While Mike Evans is the number one receiver, second-year pass catcher Chris Godwin will be looking to carry over some momentum from last season. In the final game of the 2017 season, Godwin had a breakout game, scoring his first NFL touchdown and recording 111 yards on seven receptions. Godwin has also caught the attention of fans and NFL experts alike with the kind of preseason he's had. Circus catches in practice were routine and he has developed a great chemistry with both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston. Expectations are high and Godwin will be looking to have that breakout year many are predicting he is poised for, starting with the last team he faced as the Bucs travel to New Orleans.

5. LB Kwon Alexander

Speaking of players poised for great years, Kwon Alexander is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance after last season and has taken the honor to heart. He has emerged as a leader on the defense in the form of hype man. This preseason, Alexander was the first to slap a teammate's helmet after a good play and was always encouraging others on the sidelines. On the field – he was an absolute monster. His intensity during training camp was palpable as he led the physicality train for the rest of the defense. As middle linebacker, it's his job to help direct the defense and for a group that has a ton of new faces going into 2018, there doesn't seem to be a better guy for the job. Sunday will be Alexander's first chance to establish himself as that leader and elite linebacker in his quest for a second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. Not to mention, it will be him and the Bucs' linebackers that will likely be charged with containing the Saints' running back Alvin Kamara, who is often on the receiving end of those aforementioned screen passes from Drew Brees to get him into space. It's there that both Alexander and linebacker Lavonte David will have to make their stops. If you want to read more about this 'signature play' between Brees and Kamara, check out Scott Smith's first edition of his Signature Play series here.

Advertising