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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Most Improved Buccaneer in 2023 | Point-Counterpoint

Contributors Brianna Dix and Scott Smith continue their weekly series of debates, in this case making the case for two candidates as the Buccaneers' Most Improved Player of 2023


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers walked a tightrope in the 2023 offseason, working within very tight salary cap restrictions while trying to restock the roster and find a way to defend their two consecutive NFC South titles. That they were able to do so speaks to personnel successes at many levels, including a draft that produced a handful of meaningful rookie contributors, a home run of a signing at quarterback and even some important additions among the undrafted rookie pool.

While additions like Baker Mayfield, Calijah Kancey and Christian Izien ended up playing in key roles, the Buccaneers also exceeded expectations in 2023 because some players who were already under contract when the offseason began graduated into larger roles and proved to be positive assets. And that is the topic that Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix are going to discuss next as we continue our seven-week run of Point-Counterpoint debates.

Here's the full list of topics we will be debating between now and the start of free agency.

Monday, February 5: Who was the Buccaneers' 2023 MVP?

Monday, February 12: Who was the Buccaneers' most improved player in 2023?

Monday, February 19: What were your two favorite plays of the 2023 season?

Monday, February 26: Which position should the Buccaneers address in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft?

Monday, March 4: What is the biggest need the Bucs need to address this offseason in order for the team to remain a contender in 2024?

Monday, March 11: If the Bucs are able to do any free agency shopping outside of their own roster, what position should they address?

Specifically, we are attempting to pinpoint the players on the Bucs' 2023 roster who showed the most improvement over their previous contributions. So there is one ground rule here: The choices cannot be new additions like Mayfield or Kancey. None of the 2023 draft class is eligible, so we won't be talking about how, say, second-round guard Cody Mauch showed steady improvement over the course of the season. This is 2023 over 2022.

We won't be duplicating answers, so the order that Brianna and I get to answer each week is potentially significant. I picked first last week so Brianna is back in the pole position. Let's rev those engines, Bri.

Brianna Dix: RB Rachaad White

Under the players who "graduated into larger roles" umbrella you mentioned above, Scott, I am going to select running back Rachaad White as my most improved nominee of 2023. He quickly became a focal point in Dave Canales' offense in his second year and as the season progressed, began hitting holes quicker with vision.

White, the team's workhorse on the ground, finished the year with over 1,000 scrimmage yards and was 10 yards shy of eclipsing the 1,000-yard rushing mark. He accumulated 272 totes for 990 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns and 3.6 yards per attempt. In addition, he showcased his pass-catching prowess out of the backfield with 549 receiving yards on 70 catches for an average of 8.6 yards per reception. White ranked seventh in the NFL and second among running backs in YAC yardage with 625.

He displayed wiggle in the open field, establishing himself as one of the best dual-threat backs in the NFL. White became a go-to target for Baker Mayfield on checkdowns and while the Bucs continued to build their run game through duo and mid-zone principles, the staff was able to supplement the run by utilizing White on screens, sweeps and out of empty packages to simulate play-action. He handled the responsibility of both phases effectively and his versatility did not provide defenses with a tell. Not only did White showcase elite body control as a pass-catcher, but also his development in finishing runs with forward-charge and locating tight creases. White played an integral role in bridging the gap between the run and pass for the Buccaneers in 2023. Scott, who do you select?

Scott Smith: T Luke Goedeke

Well, Bri, I select one of the players who helped White get his 990 rushing yards and his open spaces on the perimeter. That would be second-year lineman Luke Goedeke, who made a successful transition to right tackle in 2023.

Now, I'm not going to be able to wow the readers with an entire paragraph of statistics like my colleague did for Rachaad White above because Goedeke is, you know, an offensive linemen. You don't see them a lot in the stat sheet. But I can tell you that he played all 1,237 offensive snaps for the Buccaneers this year, and that's an offense that tied for the 12th fewest sacks allowed. It's hard to divvy up the credit for that exactly, but given that Goedeke ran a gauntlet of dangerous edge rushers throughout the season, you have to give him his share.

My argument would be more along the lines of: Look how far Goedeke came from 2022 to 2023. The Buccaneers drafted the Central Michigan product in the second round of the 2022 draft with the intention of converting him to guard, which in fact they did. Goedeke showed enough in the preseason to open the regular season as the team's starting left guard. Frankly, it wasn't a very satisfying rookie season for him and the team. The team started to alternate him with Nick Leverett in the seventh game at Carolina and, coincidentally, Goedeke suffered a foot injury in that same contest. That knocked him out for a month, and when he came back the Buccaneers stuck with Leverett at left guard.

In Game 17, the Buccaneers switched up their starting lineups extensively because they had already clinched the division title and the fourth spot in the NFC seeding. Goedeke got a shot to start at his college position of right tackle, and while that was obviously a small sample size, he still impressed the coaching staff.

As such, when the team released long-time left tackle Donovan Smith for cap reasons and switched All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs to the left side, the decision was made to give Goedeke a shot to win the right tackle job on a more permanent basis. There were no free agent additions or draft picks made to push him down the depth chart.

There was no guarantee that Goedeke would thrive at that spot, even though he played it in college. After all, there was a reason why he was seen as more of a guard in the draft process. But Goedeke more than held his own. He also became a tone-setter for the offensive front with his to-the-whistle play and his in-your-face demeanor. And Goedeke finished strong. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he pitched a shutout against Philadelphia's Pro Bowl edge Haason Reddick. Goedeke faced Reddick on 21 pass-rush snaps, including 19 where the two were pitted one-on-one, and did not allow a single pressure.

Luke Goedeke made a big leap forward and potentially locked down a key position for the Buccaneers for years to come. I say that makes him the team's most improved player of 2023.

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