Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Football Geekery: Youth is Served

Once again this year we channel our inner pigskin nerd and dive a little deeper into the statistics to help illuminate Buc football …This week: First and second-year pass-catchers and more.

Statistics can help illuminate the game of football…or they can take us down a misleading path.  As Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith said: "I believe in stats, but it's [which] stats."

Smith, for instance, doesn't pay much attention to the NFL's defensive rankings, since they are based on yards, which he considers a meaningless measure.  When he shares defensive stats with his team, he focuses on points allowed, takeaways, scoring on defense and red zone proficiency.

Photos from the Bucs' practice on Wednesday, December 23rd, at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa.

Here on Buccaneers.com, we unabashedly love stats, but we also understand the need to wield them wisely.  Sometimes, we can get a better feel for why the team is performing as it is by going a little deeper into the numbers. Other times, we simply want to point out a few numbers we consider interesting, and hope you will find it interesting as well.

That's our goal with Football Geekery.  Each week, we're going to give you a sampling of statistical and/or historical analysis, hopefully in a way that is relevant to the Buccaneers' current state of affairs.  This week, we make note of the unusually high number of first and second-year pass-catchers contributing to the Bucs' offense. We also take a look at big plays gained and allowed and players who are on extended Pro Bowl runs. Let's get started.

1. The Promise of Youth
Tampa Bay's leading receiver this season is second-year player Mike Evans, who is just the second player in league history to post two 1,000-yard receiving seasons before the age of 23. The Bucs' second-leading pass-catcher, with 39 grabs, is running back Charles Sims, who was taken in the 2014 draft two rounds behind Evans.

Fourth on the Bucs' list of pass-catchers this season is Adam Humphries, an undrafted rookie who has played extensively as a slot receiver in the second half of the season and has hauled in 26 passes. Tight end Cameron Brate, a second-year player who was also an undrafted free agent in 2014, is two spots behind Humphries with 21 receptions. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins – the player drafted between Evans and Sims in 2014 – wasn't able to fully deliver on his Week One promise thanks to a persistent shoulder injury, but he returned to action two weeks ago and has a chance to finish the season as strongly as he started it. He has 16 catches and three touchdowns in just five games.

That's an impressive group of young weapons surrounding 21-year-old quarterback Jameis Winston, and it doesn't even include Donteea Dye, an undrafted rookie who has started five games, or Kenny Bell, the Bucs' 2015 fifth-round pick who has spent his rookie season on injured reserve. In fact, it's quite rare to have that many first or second-year players contributing so heavily to a team's passing attack.

First, a look at what all of the Buccaneers' first and second-year pass-catchers have contributed so far this season:

Player

Games

Rec.

Yds.

TDs

Mike Evans

13

66

1,046

3

Charles Sims

14

39

415

3

Adam Humphries

11

26

250

1

Cameron Brate

12

21

232

3

Austin Seferian-Jenkins

5

16

230

3

Donteea Dye

8

6

86

1

If the Bucs get a decent amount of production from the tight end duo of Brate and Seferian-Jenkins over the next two Sundays, they could end up with five first or second-year players with at least 25 receptions and/or at least 250 yards. Brate needs just four catches and 18 yards to join both lists; Seferian-Jenkins needs nine grabs to get to 25, which is an aggressive projection, but just 20 more yards to get to 250, which is likely to happen.

As noted, this would be an uncommon occurrence. In fact, since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only one team has had five 25-catch players in their first or second seasons, and only three have had five 250-yard producers in their first or second seasons. Even if only one of the Bucs tight ends hits either of those benchmarks, they'll still be in relatively rare company. Only 11 teams have had four such players hit the catch benchmark, and only 19 have had four hit the yardage benchmark. Here are both lists, with the column labeled "No." being the number of first or second-year players to hit the mark:

Four or More First or Second-Year Players with 25+ Receptions

Team

Season

No.

Players

NYG

1985

5

Adams, Bavaro, B. Johnson, Manuel, McConkey

BUF

2000

4

Bryson, McDaniel, Morris, Price

CIN

2013

4

Bernard, Eifert, M. Jones, Sanu

CLE

2000

4

K. Johnson, Northcutt, Prentice, Shea

CLE

1986

4

Fontenot, Langhorne, Mack, Slaughter

JAX

2005

4

M. Jones, Pearmon, Wilford, R. Williams

OAK

2010

4

Ford, Heyward-Bey, Murphy, Reece

SD

1988

4

Bernstine, Early, Holland, Miller

STL

2011

4

Alexander, Kendricks, Pettis, Salas

STL

2009

4

Amendola, Avery, Burton, Gibson

TB

2011

4

Benn, Briscoe, Parker, M. Williams

Four or More First or Second-Year Players with 250+ Receiving Yards

Team

Season

No.

Players

NYG

1985

5

Adams, Bavaro, B. Johnson, Manuel, McConkey

STL

2009

5

Amendola, Avery, Burton, Fells Gibson

TEN

2005

5

B. Jones, Roby, Scaife, Troupe, R. Williams

BUF

2000

4

Bryson, McDaniel, Morris, Price

BUF

1984

4

Bell, Brookins, Dawkins, Hunter

CHI

2009

4

Aromashodu, Bennett, Forte, Knox

CIN

2013

4

Bernard, Eifert, M. Jones, Sanu

CLE

2012

4

Benjamin, Gordon, Little, Richardson

CLE

1986

4

Fontenot, Langhorne, Mack, Slaughter

DEN

1986

4

M. Jackson, V. Johnson, Mobley, Sewell

GB

1988

4

Kemp, Scott, Sharpe, Woodside

NE

2010

4

Gronkowski, Hernandez, Tate, Woodhead

NYG

1984

4

B. Johnson, Manuel, Mowatt, B. Williams

NYG

1980

4

Friede, Gray, Mullady, Pittman

OAK

2010

4

Ford, Heyward-Bey, Murphy, Reece

PIT

1970

4

Fuqua, Hughes, Shanklin, Smith

SD

1988

4

Bernstine, Early, Holland, Miller

STL

2011

4

Alexander, Kendricks, Pettis, Salas

TB

2011

4

Benn, Briscoe, Parker, M. Williams

Earlier this week, Smith said he had no problem playing and trusting young players if they happen to be his team's best option. It's interesting to note that one of his teams, the 2009 Chicago Bears, is on the above list. Smith has relied on a youthful group of offensive skill-position players before, and he's done it again this year, with good results.

2. Big Play Differential
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been strong in the big-play department this season, both in producing them on offense and preventing them on defense.

How one defines big plays is arbitrary, of course, but Statspass has a "big plays rushing" category that counts all runs of 10 or more yards and a "big plays passing" category that counts all completions of 25 or more yards. The Buccaneers rank in the top 10 of three of those four categories, only lacking in producing big passing plays. Here are Tampa Bay's totals in those four categories, and where they rank among the NFL's 32 teams:

Category

No.

Rank

Big Plays Rushing

47

8th

Big Plays Passing

20

30th

Big Plays Rushing Allowed

36

t-9th

Big Plays Passing Allowed

17

1st

Statspass has big plays tracked through the 1991 season. Taken as a whole, the 2015 season has been one of the best in that 25-year span in terms of producing more big plays than they have allowed, using the Statspass parameters for those categories. Barring a very surprising turn of events over the next two weeks, this will be just the ninth time in those 25 seasons that the Bucs offense has produced more plays of that variety than the Bucs defense has allowed. Generally, that positive differential has been associated with winning seasons:

Season

BPR

BPP

Total BP

BPRA

BPPA

Total BPA

DIFF

W-L

2007

51

24

75

38

12

50

25

9-7

1998

54

20

74

31

22

53

21

8-8

1999

53

17

70

31

22

53

17

11-5

2000

54

22

76

41

19

60

16

10-6

2015 *

47

20

67

36

17

53

14

6-8

1997

40

22

62

34

15

49

13

10-6

2012

51

36

87

45

37

82

5

7-9

1994

36

30

66

42

23

65

1

6-10

2002

37

16

53

31

21

52

1

12-4

* Through 14 games

3. Perennial Pro Bowler
The NFL announced the initial roster for the 2016 Pro Bowl in February, and it included a pair of Buccaneers: running back Doug Martin and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. It is the second such honor for Martin and the fourth for McCoy.

In fact, McCoy has now been selected to each of the last four Pro Bowls, becoming just the ninth player in franchise history to get at least four all-star nods. The fact that he has been selected to each of the last four also puts him in select company among current NFL players. At the moment, there are only 16 players who have been selected for each of the last four Pro Bowls, including McCoy. That number could go up a bit when players are replaced by alternates due to injury or playoff advancement.  (Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David and guard Logan Mankins have been identified as alternates.)

For now, here are the 16 players who have been selected to each of the last four Pro Bowls, ordered by position:

  • Quarterback: Tom Brady (New England)
  • Running Back: None
  • Fullback: Marcel Reece (Oakland)
  • Wide Receiver: A.J. Green (Cincinnati), Calvin Johnson (Detroit)
  • Tight End: None
  • Tackle: Joe Staley (San Francisco), Joe Thomas (Cleveland), Trent Williams (Washington)
  • Guard: Marshal Yanda (Baltimore), Mike Iupati (San Francisco/Arizona)
  • Center: None
  • Defensive End: J.J. Watt (Houston)
  • Defensive Tackle: Gerald McCoy (Tampa Bay)
  • Outside Linebacker: Tamba Hali (Kansas City), Justin Houston (Kansas City)
  • Inside Linebacker: None
  • Cornerback: Patrick Peterson (Arizona)
  • Safety: Earl Thomas (Seattle)
  • Punter: None
  • Kicker: None
  • Kick Returner: None
  • Long Snapper: None
  • Special Teamer: Matthew Slater (New England)
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