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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Point-Counterpoint: Biggest Leap in 2024

Brianna Dix and Scott Smith suggest that DL Calijah Kancey and CB Zyon McCollum are the two young Bucs most likely to take a big step forward this season


We've entered the Fourth of July week, which means many Americans will have barbecues, fireworks and red, white and blue garb on tap. Here at, we have another annual tradition for this patriotic week: our Point-Counterpoint series. We take this relative lull in the football schedule – all of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' players and coaches are enjoying one last bit of rest and relaxation before the start of training camp later this month – to look ahead at the upcoming season.

The Buccaneers have won three straight division titles for the first time in franchise history and are confident they will be prime contenders again in 2024. That, of course, is the primary storyline for the season: After managing to re-sign all of their critical free-agents-to-be, the Buccaneers are bringing back much of the same team that captured the NFC South crown last year, with some key additions in the draft. With a rejuvenated Baker Mayfield at the helm of a newly-imported offense under Liam Coen, plus a defense that allowed the seventh fewest points in 2023, can the Bucs hold off a Falcons team that added Kirk Cousins, a Panthers squad that expects a big leap from Bryce Young and a Saints unit that always goes all in?

There are plenty of other topics worth discussing, however, and we've picked five of them for our Point-Counterpoint week. Today, we kick things off with a look at which players on the Bucs' 2024 roster could take the biggest steps forward in their careers. Team Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I are each going to choose one candidate and argue our side. We'll then tackle a new topic each day through Friday.

Here is the full schedule for this week's Point-Counterpoint series:

Monday, July 1: Which Buccaneer will make the biggest leap in 2024?

Tuesday, July 2: What player would you steal from another NFC South roster?

Wednesday, July 3: What headline would you like to read at the end of the preseason?

Thursday, July 4: What specific statistical goal would you like to see the Bucs achieve in 2024?

Friday, July 5: Which Buccaneer will have the most surprising statistical accomplishment in 2024?

Last year, for example, one could argue that Luke Goedeke, in his second NFL season, took the biggest leap forward in his career of all the players on the Bucs' 2023 roster. An offensive tackle in college, Goedeke was asked to fill the left guard spot as a rookie after being drafted in the second round. He eventually lost that job to Nick Leverett, but after a promising one-game cameo at right tackle at the end of the regular season, he got a chance to take permanent possession of that position in 2023. Goedeke not only held onto that job but handled it quite well, and there is no question who will start at right tackle for the Bucs in 2024. From reserve guard to entrenched starting tackle – that's definitely a big leap to make in one season.

Who can make a similar advancement this season? Let's state our cases. Since we will not be allowed to duplicate answers, the order in which we choose is important, and Brianna gets the first pick today. Take it away, Bri.

Brianna Dix: Defensive Lineman Calijah Kancey

There are several names that would have made sense to focus on for this prompt, but I am going to go with defensive lineman Calijah Kancey. With a year under his belt in the NFL, I believe he will reach new heights in 2024. Kancey, the Bucs' first round draft pick in 2023 out of Pittsburgh, produced a stellar rookie campaign in Todd Bowles' complex defense.

He finished the year with 10 tackles for loss, which tied for second among rookies with Texans' Will Anderson Jr. Kancey also had the fourth-highest stuff rate among defensive tackles (minimum 150 snaps) per Next Gen Stats, routinely imposing his will in the trenches. Kancey logged 577 snaps for the Bucs in 2023 as a starter, predominately lining up as Tampa Bay's three-technique. He posted 4.0 sacks and quickly asserted himself as a disruptive force. Kancey created a dynamic duo with nose tackle Vita Vea and the tandem could be one of the most formidable come fall. One of Kancey's perceived weaknesses coming out of the college ranks was his undersized frame. On numerous scouting reports, the question raised was, 'Can he hold up at the point of attack?' Well, he proved the answer is a resounding yes.

During his first season, Kancey showed up in critical moments with timely momentum-shifting plays to galvanize the defense. Against the Lions in the Divisional Round, Kancey helped spearhead the attack. He made multiple splash plays in the first half to hold Detroit to 10 points, including a third-down pass deflection on the Lions' first possession that led to a subsequent three-and-out, and a third-down sack on the Lions' last drive of the half. With a rare first-step, high motor, elite contact balance and top closing speed, Kancey terrorized the backfield last season. Now, Kancey has a year of film to review in order to enhance his craft for the 2024 season. Repetition fosters growth and Kancey will build off last year's debut performance. I look for him to take a significant leap in Year Two. Scott, who do you select?

Scott Smith: Cornerback Zyon McCollum

I'm going to go with a young defender, as well. I'll admit that a part of this is wishful thinking, because the Buccaneers need McCollum to have his best season yet.

It's obvious that Todd Bowles and the Bucs' coaching staff believes in the third-year corner, whom the team selected in the fifth round in the 2022 draft. That was clear when they agreed to trade one of their starting corners, the well-established Carlton Davis, to Detroit for a third-round pick in the 2024 draft. Bowles already thinks of McCollum as an established starter after he opened nine contests last year while Davis and Jamel Dean dealt with various injuries. Now he's going to be out there for, hopefully, every snap over the course of a full season, and he does have durability and youth on his side. After he was inactive for the first four games of his rookie season for non-injury reasons, he has gone on to play in the Bucs' last 30 outings.

McCollum clearly has the physical tools to develop into a top-notch corner, which is why the Buccaneers traded away a future fourth-round pick in 2022 when the Sam Houston State product unexpectedly slipped into the fifth round. At 6-2 with a wingspan of almost 74 inches, he has the size and length to compete with the NFL's biggest receivers. He's blazingly fast, as demonstrated by the 4.33-second 40-yard dash he ran at the 2022 Scouting Combine. And his "athleticism score" of 99 at the Combine was the maximum attainable and just the fifth such achievement by a cornerback since 2003.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, McCollum excelled in zone coverage when he got a chance to play last year, allowing -3.5 receptions over expected, ninth best among NFL corners. His completion percentage allowed over expected on all plays was also promising, at -2.6%. He also had nine passes defensed and two forced fumbles on the season while seeing his playing time on defense increase from 33% as a rookie to 70% last year.

What McCollum didn't have in 2023 was any interceptions, and he's still looking for the first pick of his career. This is where I think McCollum can make the leap in 2024. Every member of the Bucs' secondary is focused on creating more takeaways this season, and I think McCollum is primed to lead the way in that regard. If he can snag between four and six interceptions while also making gradual improvement in his coverage skills and overall understanding of Bowles' defensive schemes, I think that would constitute a big leap forward.

There is precedence for this. Carlton Davis, a second-round pick in 2018, had just one interception in his first two seasons, though he had started to show signs of developing into a high-level corner in his second year, breaking up 19 passes. In his third year, Davis broke out with a career-best four interceptions while also breaking up 18 passes. I could see McCollum following the same trajectory.

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