When Jameis Winston isn't throwing the ball to #13, #10 or #84 this fall, he'll probably be looking for #80.
That's the number that new Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard will wear as he begins his professional career. The Buccaneers drafted the Alabama tight end with the 19th overall pick last Thursday night and have big plans for him in what is potentially a very explosive offense.
All of the Buccaneers 2017 draft picks were officially assigned uniform numbers on Wednesday, which they will don for the first time when rookie mini-camp begins on Friday.
If Winston instead wants to get the ball to the Buccaneers' third-round pick, Penn State wide receiver Chris Godwin, he'll need to locate jersey #12. That's what Godwin will wear as a Buccaneer, just as he did with the Nittany Lions.
The Buccaneers have a new running back, too, to go along with #22 Doug Martin, #34 Charles Sims and #32 Jacquizz Rodgers. That's Boise State product and fifth-round pick Jeremy McNichols, who will slot in between Rodgers and Sims at #33.
Tampa Bay also selected three defensive players last weekend, and they were also assigned numbers on Wednesday. Second-round safety Justin Evans, a Texas A&M product, will be known as #21. LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith, another third-round pick, is now #51. And the Buccaneers' final pick in the draft, USC defensive tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, is the proud owner of jersey #97.
Godwin is the only one of the Buccaneers' 2017 draftees who ended up with the same number he wore in college. Howard was #88 at Alabama, a jersey that Luke Stocker has worn in Tampa for the last five years (Stocker was #83 as a rookie in 2011 but gave that jersey up when Vincent Jackson arrived in 2012). Beckwith wore #52 at LSU while Tu'ikolovatu sported #90 at Utah and then #96 after transferring to USC.
Neither Evans nor McNichols could have kept their college numbers even if they tried. Godwin wore #14 at Texas A&M but NFL defensive backs must adopt numbers in the 20-49 range. McNichols was #13 for the Boise State Broncos; NFL running backs also have to be in the 20-49 range.READ: 5 BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR BUCS' ROOKIES
If Howard proves to be as prolific in the NFL as the Buccaneers hope, he could quickly become the most prominent #80 in franchise history. Wide receiver Michael Clayton wore it for the most games and the most starts (84/56). He also had a very strong rookie season, with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns, but he never even got to half that reception total in any of his other seven NFL seasons. Clayton does rank 13th in team history with 221 catches, but Howard is a reasonable bet to surpass that.
Lawrence Dawsey had the Bucs' #80 the next longest amount of time, playing in 57 games with 41 starts. The number was most recently worn in a regular-season Bucs game by wide receiver Chris Owusu in 2014. Wide receiver Kenny Bell had it in 2015 as a rookie but spent the season on injured reserve.
The most accomplished Buccaneer to precede Evans in jersey #21 is cornerback Donnie Abraham, the second-leading interceptor in franchise history. Abraham was a very good player for the Bucs for six years, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2000, but he left for the New York Jets right before the team's 2002 Super Bowl season. Before him, cornerback John Holt wore #21 for five years from 1981-85, starting 53 of the 72 games he played for Tampa Bay. Alterraun Verner has occupied that number for the last three years in Tampa. Of all the regular-season games ever played by a Buccaneer in jersey #21, only one of them was by a non-defensive back. Running back Allen Bradford got on the field for one game in that number in 2011.
The #12 has almost exclusively been worn by quarterbacks in Tampa, which is unsurprising given that receivers have only been allowed to pick in the 10-19 range since 2004. The most prominent #12s in Buc history are Doug Williams and Trent Dilfer, a pair of first-round draft picks and long-term starters. Williams gets the nod because he was the leader of the first three playoff teams in franchise history and is also a member of the team's Ring of Honor. Dilfer did make a Pro Bowl however and, like Williams, won a Super Bowl after leaving Tampa. Three wide receivers have taken on #12 during the regular season for the Bucs – Marcus Knight, Adrian Madise and Jordan Shipley – but only Shipley actually got into a game, and only once. The number was most recently worn by quarterback Josh McCown in 2014.READ: BUCCANEERS.COM MOCK DRAFT REVIEW
Beckwith may get a chance to compete for the strongside linebacker (SAM) job relatively soon, depending upon the state of his injured knee. That makes a lot of sense, as #51 has frequently ridden the back of a Buccaneer SAM. That was the case for Lonnie Marts in 1995-96, Alshermond Singleton from 1997-2002, Danny Lansanah (among other positions played) from 2013-15 and Daryl Smith last year.
However, the three most prominent #51 wearers in team history were Chris Washington (76 games, 52 starts), Broderick Thomas (80/55) and Barrett Ruud (95/68). Washington and Thomas were outside linebackers in 3-4 fronts, while Ruud played the middle in a 4-3. Take your pick as to who can stand atop the Bucs' 51 mountain from among those three.
Photos of the Buccaneers 2017 rookies.
McNichols gets #33, but the question is, will he stay with it. For some reason, that number has often ended up on players with transient Buccaneer jersey experiences. Running backs Reggie Cobb, Mazio Royster, Anthony McDowell, Earnest Graham and Jameel Cook all wore #33 along with other numbers as Buccaneers, most of them starting in #33 before quickly moving on. More recently, cornerback Elbert Mack started out in 43 before getting a switch to the more preferable 33.
As such, there's not a huge history of long-time #33 wearers in Tampa, but that's okay because the very first Buc ever to don it has a stranglehold on the top spot. That would be safety Mark Cotney, who patrolled the Buccaneers' secondary from Day one through nine seasons (1976-84), for a total of 113 games and 92 starts.
Finally, we have Tu'ikolovatu taking on #97, and that one too has a clear leader: Defensive end Simeon Rice. The Super Bowl champion and multiple Pro Bowler is one of the best players at any position in franchise history. He started all 87 games in which he played as a Buccaneer, racking up 69.5 of his career 122 sacks in the process. Rice is the answer to a somewhat unfortunate trivia question: Who is the last Buccaneer to have a 10-sack season? Rice did it in 2005. That's a tall order for Tu'ikolovatu, who is considered more of a run-stuffer in the middle of the line, but perhaps his efforts can help one of his teammates reach double digits. More recently, defensive tackle Akeem Spence wore #97 for the past four seasons.