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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Four Breakout Candidates for the Buccaneers in 2023 

Here is an overview of four players who could emerge as significant contributors for the Buccaneers this upcoming season

White Breakout candidates

In a post-Tom Brady world in Tampa Bay, optimism builds around the team's current personnel with fixtures in place. Every year across the NFL landscape as a new season sits on the horizon and fans frantically purchase tickets, projections commence surrounding potential breakout stars for all 32 clubs. Star potential is synonymously linked to opportunity. Which players are primed to become game-wrecking playmakers in 2023? With a variety of factors contributing, here are four breakout candidates for the Buccaneers in 2023 to keep an eye on:

Russell Gage Jr.

During the beginning portions of training camp last season, Russell Gage Jr. was described as being "uncoverable." He made his mark between the hash marks on the practice fields at the AdventHealth Training Center, but injuries derailed his first campaign with the Bucs. One of the first calls Tom Brady made following unretirement was recruiting Gage to Tampa Bay. Two days into the NFL's 2022 free agency period, the Bucs signed Gage. He had been a productive pass-catcher for the Falcons, possessing the ability to stretch the field vertically and savviness to excel on underneath/intermediate routes.

The objective was to feature Gage in three-receiver sets with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, working him interchangeably on the outside as well as in the slot. However, injuries limited Gage to 51 receptions for 426 yards and five touchdowns in 2022. He dealt with a lingering hamstring ailment throughout the entirety of the season and before the Wild Card game against the Cowboys, he suffered a severe back injury on a touchdown catch the prior week against his former team, the Falcons. If Gage can stay healthy in 2023, his ceiling is limitless. He is a lethal open field runner on jet sweeps and will add another dimension to Dave Canales' playbook. The coaching staff confirmed that Chris Godwin will split reps between the slot and lining up outside in 2023, which will allow Gage to work the middle with Godwin on the boundary. With hip fluidity and quick feet, Gage has the ability to quickly break off routes in the short-to-intermediate area. He will be one to watch during one-on-one receiver/defensive back drills at training camp.

Calijah Kancey

The Buccaneers selected Pittsburgh's Calijah Kancey with the 19th overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft to bolster the defensive front. Kancey, a three-year starter in the Panthers' 4-3 base scheme, lined up everywhere from nose tackle to the five-technique. He became the focal point of pressure packages with power, twitchiness and elite quickness. Following a stellar 2022 campaign, Kancey became the school's first unanimous All-American since Aaron Donald and received ACC Defensive Player of the Year recognition. Kancey had the most pressures for an interior defensive lineman, with 13 more than second place out of Power 5 schools. He consistently found angles to exploit, terrorizing the pocket.

 Like Donald, questions persisted during the pre-draft process regarding Kancey's size. He became one of the most polarizing players in the 2023 class and the Buccaneers placed a greater emphasis on Kancey's intangibles and tantalizing traits than the undersized knock. With an explosive first-step and urgent athleticism, Kancey adds an infusion of speed to the interior. He will vie for the starting three-technique role in Todd Bowles' attack-styled front. Kancey jumped off the tape in college driving blockers backward with leverage, dictating rushes with imposing burst. The Pitt product rushes with a calculated purpose, a byproduct of dedicated film study. In 2023, he will have the chance to line up next to Vita Vea, the Bucs' standout nose tackle. With Vea eating up blocks and commanding double teams, Kancey will have opportunities to rush the passer.

At the collegiate ranks, Kancey was a bull in a China shop. Due to his size, Kancey must use flawless technique at the point of attack in order to achieve the proper leverage or he will be moved off his spot. The old adage, "low man wins," rings true and for Kancey, it is paramount. In 2023, Kancey will undergo an acclamation period to the NFL and strive to make his presence felt in the Bucs' defensive interior.

Antoine Winfield Jr.

Antoine Winfield Jr., one of the league's best young safeties, will have a specified role in 2023 for the Buccaneers. Heading into his fourth season in Tampa Bay, Winfield will revert back to a full-time role at free safety to maximize his ball skills and improve takeaway production. In 2022, Winfield was utilized in a hybrid role, lining up at centerfield to clean things up on the back end of the Bucs' base 3-4 alignment and served as the team's slot corner in nickel packages. Due to Winfield's prowess as a blitzer and physicality to set the edge against the run, he filled various roles last season. The potential for game-changing plays is there with Winfield's awareness over the top in the post. Free safety had been Winfield's primary position during his first two seasons in the NFL, and in 2023, he will return to that natural role.

He concluded the 2022 season with 80 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, six quarterback hits, one interception, three passes defensed and one forced fumble. The objective behind the move is to generate more turnovers and time will tell if that manifests on the field. Winfield has entrenched his status as one of the Bucs' most consistent defenders and 2023 could be another steppingstone catapulting Winfield forward. In single-high safety looks, Winfield is responsible for providing help to the deep middle of the field so man coverage defenders can play their routes. In single-high looks, Winfield is the last line of defense and the only thing preventing a touchdown.

Rachaad White

With the departure of Leonard Fournette, a revamped offensive line and Dave Canales' new system, it is clear running back Rachaad White will take on a heavy load in 2023 as the team's featured back. White is a slash-back capable of running between the tackles with adept contact balance and vision, making an impact on the edge with burst getting north and is an underrated receiver out of the backfield. Last season, White accumulated 469 snaps (38.57%), finishing his rookie campaign with 481 yards on 129 rushes and a touchdown for an average of 3.7 yards per attempt, despite not accumulating more than eight carries for the first nine games of the season as the Bucs' No. 2 back behind Fournette. In the passing game, White contributed 290 yards on 50 receptions (58 targets) and two touchdowns. His improvement in pass protection allowed him to stay on the field for all three downs. 

During the 2022 season from the opposing sideline while serving as the Seahawks' quarterback coach, Dave Canales witnessed White's lethal stiff arm against Quandre Diggs in Munich, Germany. This season in Tampa Bay, White could become the catalyst of Canales' play-action, run-heavy scheme. The Arizona State product utilizes jump cuts to lose defenders and presents a mismatch for linebackers/safeties as a threat out of the backfield and the slot. He can stack cuts to maneuver around defenders and is patient in letting his blocks develop. White can create on his own with body control to fight through arm tackles, quickly getting to the second level. He will play a critical role in the Bucs' new system and is poised for ascension in 2023 with increased snaps.

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