It's happening. Buccaneers rookies reported today ahead of their veteran counterparts, who are scheduled to open training camp July 28. Quarterbacks joined the young players on Thursday, too. Yes, including new Tampa Bay signal caller Tom Brady. However, there isn't much on-field action to report quite yet. Teams are easing into camps amidst the coronavirus pandemic, which will hopefully make it easier on these rookies, especially. Unfortunately, the uncertainty the virus has caused will undoubtedly make an already tough transition to the pros even tougher.
Still, some positions or players may be better equipped than others as they enter their first NFL training camp. Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith and I are going to continue our Camp Countdown series with that exact question today.
This series is meant to pass the time as we count down the days to training camp action. Each day, Scott and I will be answering one of 10 questions, the schedule for which is below:
Wednesday, July 22: Which undrafted rookie are you most excited about?
Thursday, July 23: Which draft pick do you see making the smoothest transition?
Friday, July 24: Which player on the camp roster faces the toughest challenge over the next couple months?
Monday, July: 27: Which unit will get off to the fastest start in camp?
Tuesday, July 28: Other than Tom Brady, whose absence for an extended period would be the toughest for the Buccaneers to overcome?
Wednesday, July 29: Who do you think is most likely to fit into that third receiver role?
Thursday, July 30: How do you see the offensive backfield shaping up?
Friday, July 31: Who will be the first player to intercept Tom Brady in practice?
Monday, August 3: Which player on the roster will make the biggest leap from 2019 to 2020?
Tuesday, August 4: Who 'wins' training camp? Offense or defense?
Today's Question: Which draft pick do you see making the smoothest transition?
Since I have the luxury of going first in this, I'm going to cut right to the chase and say offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs. The fact that his program at Iowa is a factory for trench-dwellers, which routinely churns out pro-ready prospects has to be the first reason I think Wirfs will be immediately successful. Plus, Head Coach Bruce Arians and General Manager Jason Licht are very familiar with his former head coach and even his offensive line coach as they mentioned following their selection of the Iowa Hawkeye. Wirfs is coming out of college already familiar with an NFL-type scheme because of the kind of program Iowa is. More than that though, I think Wirfs will be ready because the Bucs need him to be ready.
Tampa Bay traded up one spot in the first round after seeing three of the 'big four' offensive tackles come off the board in the first 11 picks. Knowing Wirfs was no consolation prize, the Bucs went up and got their man. He was a prospect both Arians and Licht were very high on throughout the draft process, which was only solidified by his crazy Combine performance. But he also happens to play a position of need, with right tackle being the biggest question mark for the Bucs heading into the draft. It's Wirfs' athletic ability that I think will carry him through training camp and help him get acclimated. He's very instinctual and should be able to survive on talent while he gets his feet under him. They are feet the Bucs will need to solidify their offensive line and protection of newly minted Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. Wirfs will be learning from a largely veteran line with quite possibly the greatest quarterback of all time behind him. Brady also happens to be able to get the ball out pretty quickly, which doesn't hurt when you're trying to stand up in pass protection. So while the pressure is there, so are the resources.
It's fine with me that you went first, Carmen, because Wirfs would not have been my first choice anyway. That's not due to a lack of confidence in him, and it's a good point about Iowa linemen being pro-ready, but that's still a very difficult position at which to transition from college to the NFL. There aren't too many rookies who step right in and are well above average in their first seasons. Hopefully he's one of those few but the question was about smooth transitions and Wirfs is going to face a serious challenge.
In contrast, running back is generally considered the easiest position (relatively speaking) to step right in and make an impact as a rookie. There are rookie running backs who put up big numbers pretty much every season in the NFL. I know that wasn't the case for the Bucs recently with Ronald Jones, but it sure was with Doug Martin, not to mention Cadillac Williams and Warrick Dunn. Yes, those were all first-round picks but there are plenty of examples of third-rounders coming on strong in the NFL as rookies. Alvin Kamara springs to mind. Kareem Hunt and Demarco Murray. David Johnson by the end of his rookie season.
Of course, the Buccaneers don't need Vaughn to produce like Martin or Kamara. They will be pairing him in the backfield with Jones, and they also still have last year's third-down back Dare Ogunbowale. They can get him on the field, find out what he does best and how much of the workload he can handle and go from there. I tend to think he's going to gradually carve out a significant role, perhaps emerging as the top pass-catching back in the bunch. As long as Vaughn can prove trustworthy in pass protection, I think the stage is set for him to make a smooth transition into the NFL and into the Bucs' offense.