The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have eight rookies on their current 53-man roster, and all eight saw action in the team's 21-15 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week Five. That was true for the first time this season, because fifth-round cornerback Zyon McCollum had been inactive for each of the first four contests. This time, with veteran safety Logan Ryan shelved by a foot injury, McCollum got a helmet on Sunday and immediately made his presence known.
McCollum did unexpectedly get some action on defense, playing the last 13 snaps after injuries knocked both Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting on the game. Though there was not much of note in his play in that phase of the game, the big and swift defensive back was a standout on special teams, according to Head Coach Todd Bowles.
"He didn't get much action on defense but I thought special teams-wise he was disruptive on the kickoff team," said Bowles on Monday. "He was down there about five to 10 yards ahead of everybody else. He had a tackle, he caused two more and I thought he played well his first time out."
McCollum's first NFL tackle came on the opening kickoff of the second half. Falcons return man Avery Williams elected to take the ball out of the end zone, where he had caught it one yard deep, and McCollum made sure the strategy didn't pay off. The rookie defender lined up just to the left of kickoff man Jake Camarda and, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, ran a total of 58.64 yards on the play, reaching a max speed of 19.96 miles per hour. That was close to the 20.97 miles per hour that McCollum got up to on a different kickoff, the highest speed any Buccaneer player hit all day.
On his tackle play, McCollum lined up right on the left hashes and sprinted mostly straight down the field, bending to his right as Camarda's kick sailed a bit off center in that direction. McCollum hit the right hashes at the 30-yard line and stayed on them until the 20 before suddenly veering hard to the right as Williams headed in that direction. McCollum locked up with Falcons safety Erik Harris but got off the block quickly and cut over the top of Harris to get a straight shot at Williams. McCollum then delivered a hard hit that dropped the return man at the Falcons' 18-yard line.
That field-position win helped as the Falcons managed to get a first down but still had to punt it away from their own 36. The Buccaneers scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive to go up 21-0. Overall, McCollum covered 903.9 yards on all his plays combined and was sprinting (over 12.0 miles per hour) on 607.6 of them. The Buccaneers thought McCollum's size-speed combination would make him a useful player on special teams as he developed into a role on defense, and his first NFL game provided evidence that they were right.
Meanwhile, rookie running back Rachaad White continues to play a large role on offense, in this game running five times and catching six passes for a total of 42 yards from scrimmage. Three of those yards were particularly important, as he was called on to carry the ball on third-and-one on three different occasions and successfully converted all three of them.
According to Next Gen Stats, White is just the second running back in the NFL this season to get three carries in a single game on third-and-short (1-2 yards) and convert all of them. Cincinnati's Joe Mixon was 4-for-4 on such carries against Miami in Week Four. White's three third-and-one carries produced a total of seven yards, which was obviously more than enough, but they didn't come easily. In fact, all seven yards were gained after contact, as he had an average Yards Before Contact per Carry of -1.5. White ran to the strong side of the offensive formation on all three carries and it helped that the Falcons did not present a loaded box (8+ defenders) on any of them. The Buccaneers ahd an average number of blockers in the box of 7.33 per play, versus an average of 6.67 defenders in the box. White's average time to the line of scrimmage from the handoff was 2.43 seconds and he reached an average speed of 6.66 miles per hour by the time he got there.
Given that the Buccaneers have had some struggles on short-yardage plays this season – including one earlier failed third-and-one by Leonard Fournette in the first quarter, White's effectiveness in that spot on Sunday was encouraging.