Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers 2023 MVP | 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 Valuable Player in 2023


Last week, Brianna Dix and I started our seven week Point-Counterpoint series by debating what was the most pleasant surprise of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2023 season. Brianna suggested it was the breakout season of third-round draft pick Yaya Diaby, who proved to be an even better pass-rusher than the Buccaneers' talent evaluators suspected. I countered with the fact that the kicker the Bucs signed in March, Chase McLaughlin, went on to have not just a good season but a near-perfect one.

We also acknowledged that plenty of analysts would probably respond to that question by pointing to Baker Mayfield's Pro Bowl campaign. (He won the Precision Passing contest at the Pro Bowl Games, by the way.) That's a reasonable choice, particularly if you didn't believe the signing of Mayfield was going to work out for the Buccaneers, as many did not. However, we both felt like we started the season with higher than average optimism about Mayfield's performance so when he did play well it wasn't our biggest surprise.

However, we still have plenty of debate space over the next six weeks to give Mayfield his flowers, beginning here in Round Two. Today's topic: Who was the Buccaneers' Most Valuable Player in the 2023 season? 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?

Obviously, when a team makes it to the playoffs and it's not solely because of an amazing defense, the quarterback is going to be a prime MVP candidate for his squad. And Mayfield is deserving. I'm not going to rattle off his stats here because I'm guessing one of us will be making his case below. Who else is in the running? Antoine Winfield Jr. was the biggest playmaker on defense, Mike Evans turned in his best season in years and tied for the NFL lead in touchdown catches, Tristan Wirfs once again anchored a solid offensive line. Lavonte David played like a man five years his junior. As noted above, the kicker was nearly perfect. There are plenty of good options.

We won't be duplicating answers, so the order that Brianna and I get to answer each week is potentially significant. Brianna went first last week so it's my turn to kick this one off. That means I get my pick of the entire litter.

Scott Smith: Safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

It can't ultimately be proven, but I just can't shake the feeling that the Buccaneers might have lost two or three more games if Winfield hadn't been on the field. Prime example: his stunning forced fumble against Carolina's D.J. Chark a filament's width from the goal line in Week 18. That turned an apparently certain touchdown into a touchback and helped the Bucs win the game, 9-0, without scoring a touchdown.

You know who led the Buccaneers in interceptions in 2023? Winfield. How about passes defensed? Winfield. Forced fumbles and fumble recoveries? Winfield. Tackles and sacks? Okay that was Lavonte David and Yaya Diaby, respectively, but Winfield was a close second in both. Gaze upon this overstuffed stat line:

  • 122 tackles
  • 0 sacks
  • 8 QB hits
  • 3 interceptions
  • 12 passes defensed
  • 6 forced fumbles
  • 4 fumble recoveries

Take it all in because you're not going to see a collection like that very often. You know how I know? Because in the 25 seasons since fumble date started being tracked in 1999, Winfield is the first player to put that collection of stats together, with at least 100 tackles, at least five sacks, at least 10 passes defensed and at least five forced fumbles, plus the interceptions and fumble recoveries. Seriously, if you didn't know the player that created that stat line, would you even be able to guess what position he played?

Hilariously, that somehow didn't earn Winfield a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl roster, which is an atomic-level snub. The Associated Press voters got it right, though, making him a first-team All-Pro, which is a far more exclusive honor. He is the only Buccaneer who landed on the AP's first team in 2023, so that's a pretty good argument for his team MVP status.

If you think, as I do, that the Buccaneers got pretty much equal contributions from their offense and defense in winning a third straight NFC South title, then you should consider the best player on the defense to be as legitimate an MVP candidate as anyone on offense. And in 2023 that was Antoine Winfield Jr.

Brianna Dix: QB Baker Mayfield

Not only did Baker Mayfield exceed external expectations in his sensational 2023 bounce-back campaign in Tampa Bay, but he proved to be a franchise caliber signal-caller in the NFL. He received Pro Bowl recognition for his contributions on the field and once again silenced doubters, winning the Precision Passing contest and Offensive MVP of the 2024 Pro Bowl Games. Mayfield guided the Buccaneers to the Divisional Round of the playoffs with grit, improvisation skills, pinpoint precision and pocket awareness. He showcased his underrated arm talent, layering the football at all three areas of the field.

Mayfield, who was selected as 2023's Most Improved Player by the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA), established career highs in completions (364), passing yards (4,044), passing touchdowns (28) and completion percentage (64.3%). He was one-of-two players this season with 28-or-more passing touchdowns and 10-or-fewer interceptions, joining Cowboys' quarterback Dak Prescott. Mayfield ranked among league-leaders in passing touchdowns (seventh), passing yards (ninth), completions (10th) and passer rating (12th). He became the second player in Buccaneers history to throw for 4,000-plus yards, 25-or-more touchdowns and 10- or-fewer interceptions in a single season, along with Tom Brady (2022).

He led Tampa Bay to victories in five of the team's final six games of the regular season, recording the club's first four-game win streak since the 2021 season. During the streak, Mayfield became the first visiting quarterback in NFL history to post a perfect passer rating (158.3) at Lambeau Field, earning his fourth career Player of the Week honors. He threaded the needle and ripped shots down the seams, exploiting the Packers' use of zone coverage. Mayfield displayed great pocket movement and carved up Green Bay's secondary, taking advantage of gaps in their defensive structure.

In the postseason, Mayfield was the league's leading passer through the Divisional Round, completing 48-of-77 passes (62.3%) for 686 yards and six touchdowns compared to two interceptions for a passer rating of 106.3. Mayfield's 106.3 passer rating represents the highest postseason mark by a quarterback in franchise history, with his six passing touchdowns ranking second.

In 2023, Mayfield put it all out on the field, evidenced by his many hard-fought scrambles and stiff arms to gain additional yardage in critical moments. He commanded the offense with poise and his leadership style/intangibles off the field galvanized the unit. Mayfield is certainly an MVP candidate for his reinvigoration on the gridiron in 2023 for the Buccaneers.

Latest Headlines