There are no sure things in the NFL Draft, and there are no sure things in NFL free agency. Still, in an effort to increase their success rate in picking the right men in either endeavor, front offices spend a lot of time defining exactly what it is they are looking for in a player, both athletically and between the ears.
Since the end of the 2017 season, Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht and his staff have made a point of re-examining the team's evaluation process and identifying the personal characteristics that are most important to them in a player. On Friday, Licht spoke about one of the key characteristics to which they have chosen to give added emphasis: Resiliency.
The prompt for this discussion was the introduction of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the Pro Bowl pass-rusher the Buccaneers acquired in a trade with the New York Giants on Thursday. Pierre-Paul played eight seasons in New York, the last three of which came after a Fourth-of-July fireworks-related accident in 2015 caused a severe injury to his right hand. He returned to play eight games that season and regained his pass-rush form the past two years, with 15.5 sacks in 28 games.
"You know, one of the attributes that we're looking for in players, that we talked about this offseason, [Director of Player Personnel John] Spytek and myself and [Director of College Scouting] Mike Biehl and [Head Coach] Dirk [Koetter] is resiliency," said Licht. "It's one thing that's been on our mind a lot, what we're looking for as a quality in a player, and Jason defines resiliency. To come back from what he did, it's one of the things – it's the main thing – that made him a big draw for us, why we would go after him."
There was, of course, significant worry that Pierre-Paul's injury would derail his career, less than a year after he had 12.5 sacks for the 2014 Giants squad and received the team's franchise tag. The topic of his accident inevitably came up during his introductory press conference at One Buccaneer Place, and it actually caused the ninth-year NFL veteran to briefly tear up. But he gathered himself quickly and gave credit to his father for instilling in him the drive to overcome obstacles.
"What I learned from my injury was that I'm unstoppable, man," said Pierre-Paul. "I like to thank my Dad for that because my Dad, he's been blind for 29 years and he never complained, not once. From that, I know I'm unstoppable. It's going to take a hell of a lot for me to get off that damn field."
View photos of the newest Buccaneer, DE Jason Pierre-Paul. Photos by AP Images.
The Giants rarely asked Pierre-Paul to come off the field last year, when he played in all 16 games and was in on 91.5% of New York's defensive snaps. His overall defensive snap count of 1,011 was tops among all defensive linemen in 2017. Pierre-Paul wasn't actually aware of that particular statistic, but he said he wanted to play as many snaps as he could get, calling himself an "Energizer Bunny." And he still feels like has a lot to prove, despite his two Pro Bowls, one first-team Associated Press All-Pro honor and 58.5 career sacks.
"I want to actually win another Super Bowl, actually make it to a couple more Pro Bowls," he said. "I have a whole list sheet, man. I actually have my son, which he knows about football know. He knows exactly my number, number 90. For a three-year-old to know that, that's a lot for me. I've still got energy left in the tank, and as long as I'm playing and my son is happy and my family is happy and the organization is happy, I'm fine. I have a lot to prove."
Pierre-Paul's first game back after his injury actually took place on his college home field, and the Buccaneers' haunt, Tampa's Raymond James Stadium, in November of 2015. He had two tackles in the game and says he "played pretty well" in a 32-18 Giants victory. He didn't make a particular point of making his return to action also a homecoming, but the game did mean a lot to him.
"It was just me proving to the world that anything is possible," said Pierre-Paul. "And from that day, anything was possible."
There certainly is no doubting his resiliency.
"I never, ever doubted myself that I would play football again," he said. "I returned back and I had one goal; one goal was, I'm not missing a season, and I came back and actually finished that season. From that point I just knew that can't nobody really touch me when it comes to this sport. In order for me to not play this sport, you've got to take both of my legs, you know what I'm saying, and even then I'll still try to find a way to play."