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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Point-Counterpoint: Surprise Accomplishment

What unexpected statistical achievement could we see from a Buccaneer player or two in 2024? Brianna Dix and Scott Smith make a couple of bold predictions regarding the safety position and the new kickoff process

Trey Palmer

Last year during our annual Fourth of July week Point-Counterpoint series, Team Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I debated which Tampa Bay Buccaneer players might win major awards at the end of the 2023 season. I predicted that safety Antoine Winfield Jr. would garner first-team Associated Press All-Pro honors…and he did! Don't be too impressed. I made the exact same prediction in the summer of 2022 and that one did not come true, so I'm only shooting 50% on that particular prediction.

I didn't even get the core of the matter exactly right. Winfield had already drawn a handful of All-Pro votes the previous two years, and I thought he could get over the top in the voting by stringing together a handful of prominent stats. Specifically, I thought five interceptions and five sacks would get the job done. Instead, Winfield secured "only" three picks (which still led the team), but he also recorded 122 tackles, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries. 6.0 sacks, eight quarterback hits and 12 passes defensed. He became the first player since data in all categories become available in 1999 to combine 100-plus tackles with three or more interceptions, three or more forced fumbles, three or more fumble recoveries and three or more sacks.

Now, I would have felt pretty foolish predicting that sort of statistical wizardry, but on the other hand, maybe this is the right time to get a little crazy. As training camp approaches, this is optimism time, when every team thinks its best laid plans are going to work and every player expects to have a great season. As we finish up this year's Point-Counterpoint week, we're going to hop on that optimism train, too, and make a couple bold statistical predictions for Buccaneer players.

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

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

The idea here is to make a specific guess of some surprising statistical accomplishment a Buccaneer will make in 2024, such as Winfield's amazing collection of numbers last year. Well, maybe not that surprising, but something that you ordinarily wouldn't see coming. These will be low percentage bets, but not impossible ones. Since we will not be allowed to duplicate answers, the order in which we choose is important, and Bri gets to start our final debate of the week.

Brianna Dix: Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Whitehead Exceed 100 Tackles and Three-Or-More INTs

I am going to manifest this in 2024! Excitement builds for the Buccaneers' safety tandem with Jordan Whitehead's return to the Bay, so with it I am going to shoot for the stars. I predict Whitehead and Winfield Jr. will surpass the 100-tackle mark and will both produce three or more interceptions. Considering Whitehead nabbed three interceptions in one game against the Bills last season in Week One, I think it is a possible feat. The duo would be only the third in NFL history to accomplish the aforementioned statistical feat, joining Steve Atwater and Dennis Allen (Broncos in 91) and Jessie Bates III and Shawn Williams (Bengals in 18).

Sure, a safety duo reaching 100 tackles could seem like a negative, implying that too many runs seeped past the second level. However, the Bucs' have two of the most physical and hard-hitting safeties in the NFL that embrace contact. So, both Winfield Jr. and Whitehead surpassing the 100-tackle marker is more emblematic of their physical prowess on the field and downhill pursuit, rather than a lack of production from the rest of the defensive unit.

In 2023, Whitehead came close to 100 with 97 tackles and he hit a career-high four interceptions, due to his sensational performance against Josh Allen. Winfield Jr. was named a first-team All-Pro after accumulating 122 tackles and three interceptions -both of which were career highs. This tandem has the capability of being one of the most formidable in the NFL and in 2024, they prove it in the stat column. Scott, what is your statistical prediction?

Scott Smith: Trey Palmer Scores Two Kickoff Return Touchdowns

Can two of anything be a particularly bold statistical prediction? Well, when your entire team has gone 13 straight seasons without a single kickoff return touchdown, getting two of them in one season would be pretty remarkable.

The hardest part about this prediction is guessing who is going to be getting the most chances to field kickoffs. That's particularly true since the Bucs are likely to put two men in the landing zone, which means who the return man on any given kick is will depend on which way the opposing team boots the ball. The Buccaneers were cycling through a large number of different receivers and running backs, and even a DB or two, as returners during their recent minicamp, and that job is truly wide open heading into training camp.

I mentioned the "landing zone" above. That's a new addition to NFL terminology, as the league completely overhauled the kickoff and return process for 2024 in an effort to make that play exciting and meaningful again. Without rehashing the whole set of rules, the basic gist is that 10 cover men and nine return-team blockers will be lined up five yards apart and can't move until the ball is caught or hits the ground. Many coaches have suggested that the operation is going to look more like an offensive play from scrimmage than a typical kickoff return.

The hope-slash-concern is that, with almost all of the cover men lined up in a straight line, all it will take to break one for a touchdown is for the return man to find one hole in the coverage line, blast through it and sprint his way down an empty grass field (except for the poor kicker). Some teams are going to figure out how to make this happen better than others, and I'm banking on the Bucs being one of those teams. And since Trey Palmer may be the fastest skill position player the Bucs have, I'm guessing he gets a crack at the return job. If the Bucs can scheme things up just right a couple times, Palmer could be off to the races.

I can't emphasize enough how surprising it would be for one Buccaneer to have two kickoff return touchdowns in the same season. The franchise didn't get its first one until 2007, when Micheal Spurlock broke the seal against Atlanta on the 1,865th kickoff return in team history. Clifton Smith added one in 2008, Sammie Stroughter found paydirt in 2009 and Spurlock got a second one in 2010, marking the last time the Bucs scored on a kickoff return. That's a total of four in team annals. Two more in a single season would probably make my head explode.

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