With a dispiriting 31-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card Round, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' embattled 2022-23 season came to a close. Its conclusion – like many things in life – engenders reflection. Although Tampa Bay fell short of the coveted goal, many players made an impact on the gridiron, whether expected or unexpected. For the purposes of this discussion, Scott Smith and I will be deliberating on two players for the singular honor of the Bucs' distinguished "Offensive MVP."
Two players eclipsed the 1,000-yard marker through the air. Receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans hit the prestigious metric to go with an already impressive resumé. Both became catalysts as the Bucs' relied on a pass-centric attack out of necessity, as the team failed to achieve consistency on the ground. Then, there is right tackle Tristan Wirfs – the team's lone Pro Bowl selection – who anchored the line up front with elite play as both a pass protector and run blocker. He held pass rushers at bay, allowing Brady to get the ball to the aforementioned pass-catchers. There were stars aplenty but only two can be listed in our brief crosstalk.
After analyzing and viewing the season through different eyes, let the debate begin. Since we cannot duplicate answers and getting the first pick will dictate the outcome of the other, we will alternate the order of choices from week to week. Scott, you are up first.
Who should receive offensive MVP honors? Here are our suggestions.
Scott Smith: WR Chris Godwin
Wow, I'm not used to going first. Sometimes it's good not to be the one in charge of these things. Your graciousness is appreciated.
I actually had a tough time deciding between two candidates, but I have a feeling that you will choose the other one anyway. Before I begin, I want to point out that Brianna and I tacitly agreed that this was the non-QBOffensive MVP. Tom Brady did throw for nearly 4,700 yards and 25 touchdowns and the Bucs had the league's second most prolific passing attack. Any time you have a very productive passing game, your quarterback is probably your MVP. He was certainly the most irreplaceable player in the Bucs' offense in 2022.
So, with that aside, I'm going with Chris Godwin, who became just the second player in team history to crack the 100-catch mark in a season and finished third in the NFL with 7.0 receptions per game. Godwin was definitely an inspirational figure for the Buccaneers in 2022, as he came back from a serious knee injury suffered last December to surprisingly suit up in Week One. Though a hamstring injury then caused him to miss four contests, he came back in Week Four and gradually rounded back into his peak form from last season. Even before he was fully back to his old self, he was still the team's most consistent offensive weapon.
In fact, Godwin caught at least five passes in every game from Week Four on, including Monday's loss in the playoffs, when he set a Bucs single-game postseason record with 10 grabs. No matter what strategy opposing defenses took to, say, keep a lid on Mike Evans or take away the middle of the field, the Godwin portion of the offense always worked.
In all, he caught 104 passes (eighth in the NFL) for 1,023 yards and three touchdowns. He gained 52.6% of his total yards after the snap as he repeatedly turned quick passes into successful plays to move the chains. His 26 receptions on screen passes in 2022 were the most by any receiver in the NFL and his 165 yards on those plays ranked fourth.
With his 10 catches in Tampa Bay's lone playoff contest, Godwin finished 2022 with 114 receptions, the most ever by a Buccaneer, postseason included. When Godwin was headed towards a potential look at the free agent market last offseason, the Buccaneers used their franchise tag to keep him in Tampa and then agreed on a long-term deal a few weeks later. In 2022, Godwin showed that he truly is a franchise player.
Brianna Dix: RT Tristan Wirfs
Cannot argue with your selection, Scott. After working his way back from the ACL tear and ensuing surgery, Godwin gradually hit his stride and finished with 104 catches in 2022 – even more impressive considering he missed two games due to a hamstring injury. He deserves all his flowers for repeatedly exploiting cushion in coverages when defensive backs did not challenge at the line of scrimmage. I am going to go with Second-Team All-Pro and the Bucs' lone Pro Bowl selection, right tackle Tristan Wirfs.
Among offensive linemen with 750-or-more offensive snaps, Wirfs has allowed the fewest pressures and the fewest quarterback hurries (two) in the NFL this season, with four fewer than any other qualified player in each of those categories. He is one of five qualified tackles to have given up one or fewer sacks this season and is one of eight qualified tackles to have allowed one or fewer quarterback hits. In elite company, Wirfs sets the standard.
The former Iowa Hawkeye is the highest graded right tackle in the NFL in 2022, according to PFF, garnering an 86.8 overall grade and a 90.0 pass-blocking grade. His pass protection grade ranks second among all offensive linemen and first among right tackles.
This season, Tampa Bay allowed a sack on just 3.0 percent of pass plays – the best mark in the league. The Buccaneers are also tied for the league lead in fewest sacks surrendered (19). Over the past three seasons since Wirfs was drafted, the Buccaneers lead the league in sacks allowed per pass attempt (3.1%), while also recording the most games without giving up a sack during that span (14). Behind its offensive line, Tampa Bay ranks fourth in the NFL in passing offense, averaging 268.4 yards per game. Wirfs becomes the third offensive lineman to receive multiple Pro Bowl selections while with Tampa Bay, joining Tony Mayberry (three) and Davin Joseph (two).
It may not be the flashiest position but it is extremely vital to the offense and its success. Wirfs has established himself as a top-tier tackle in the league, garnering the respect of his peers. Wirfs, the 13th-overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, has started 46 games over the past three campaigns, developing into one of the most dominant blockers in the NFL, keeping edge rushers at bay. As a cornerstone of the franchise, Wirfs is an elite technician with a well-timed punch, is smooth in pass-sets and can extend zone blocks up the field to clear rush lanes at the second level. Wirfs is an invaluable piece of the Bucs' offense and is deserving of the team's "Offensive MVP."