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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Point-Counterpoint: Which Buc Will Win a Major Award in 2023?

Our Fourth of July holiday series of debates continues with a pair of predictions for Buccaneers who will collect some sort of significant honor at the end of the season


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' lone representative at the reimagined "Pro Bowl Games" this past February was all-world offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs. That Wirfs would be selected as an all-star participant would not have been difficult to predict last summer. After all, he had not only made the Pro Bowl but been named a first-team Associated Press All-Pro in 2021, just his second year in the league, and there was no reason to believe his play would fall off in 2022.

What has been far less predictable has been the Buccaneers' overall Pro Bowl recognition in recent years. Three Bucs made it in 2019 despite the team's 7-9 finish. In 2020, Jason Pierre-Paul was the one and only player from the team that won the Super Bowl to get picked for the all-star game. That tied for the fewest selections ever for an eventual league champ. Then a year later, a whopping nine Tampa Bay players were Pro Bowl selections after another strong season. The Bucs won the division again last year, albeit with an 8-9 record, but Wirfs had no teammates in Las Vegas for the new-look series of events.

Thus, it feels like a fool's errand to try to pick how many and which Buccaneers will get Pro Bowl nods in 2023. But I guess Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I are fools because that's what we're here to do today. (Really, I'm the only fool because this was all my idea.) Or that's sort of what we're here to do. While it doesn't have to be a Pro Bowl selection, the idea in the third entry of our Point-Counterpoint Fourth of July-week series is to predict a Buccaneer who will win a significant award of some kind. Pro Bowl, All-Pro, Comeback Player of the Year, Executive of the Year, coaching awards, etc. Some important postseason honor.

That's it. Simple as that. We're midway through our list of five Bucs-related topics we will be debating this week. Here's the whole schedule:

Monday, July 3: Which Buccaneer player will make the biggest leap in his performance in 2023?

Tuesday, July 4: If Tampa Bay, hypothetically, doesn't win its third straight NFC South title, which team will?

Wednesday, July 5: Which Buccaneer player do you predict will win a significant individual award this season?

Thursday, July 6: What is one statistic you hope to see regarding the Buccaneers by the end of the 2023 season?

Friday, July 7: What one player would you like to steal from another NFC South roster to add to the Bucs' roster?

We won't be duplicating choices this week, so the order that Brianna and I get to attack this question in matters. We've each gone first once so far and now it's my colleague's turn to make the first choice again. Who's getting honored this year, Bri?

Brianna Dix: Shaquil Barrett, Comeback Player of the Year

The Bucs' defense suffered a significant blow last season in Week Eight. Shaq Barrett, the team's leading sack producer of the previous four years, suffered an Achilles tear in the third quarter. His promising campaign came reached a premature end. Barrett recorded a sack and three tackles for loss in that game before suffering the injury. He concluded his fourth season in Tampa Bay with 30 tackles, 3.0 sacks, six tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Barrett consistently commands double teams, creating advantageous one-on-one matchups for teammates to get to the quarterback. His absence in the lineup was felt, and in 2023, I am predicting a stellar season from Barrett. If I had magical powers to manifest this on the gridiron I would, but instead, I am verbally making a commitment to Barrett receiving "Comeback Player of the Year Honors" in 2023.

Barrett originally joined the Bucs with a one-year contract as an unrestricted free agent in 2019 after four seasons in a rotational role with the Broncos. He immediately carved out a full-time role with Tampa Bay and set a new franchise record in 2019 with 19.5 sacks (NFL-high) and played the following season on the franchise tag. This year, I along with Bucs' fanatics, hope to see a comeback for the ages. Barrett, a quick-twitch athlete, wreaks havoc on offenses with a refined repertoire of counter moves in his arsenal. He plays with relentless effort every snap and unleashes a variety of pass rush moves from an explosive get-off. After a grueling rehab process, Barrett will strive to return to peak form in 2023. With high character to match his prowess on the field, Barrett is impossible not to root for. Scott, who do you believe will draw attention in 2023?

Scott Smith: Antoine Winfield Jr., First-Team Associated Press All-Pro

I made this same prediction in a couple different forums last year and, alas, it did not come to be. But I wasn't wrong, just early.

Winfield's All-Pro candidacy lost any wind it had in its sails when the third-year defensive back missed four games in a six-week stretch right in the middle of the season due first to a concussion and then to an ankle injury. He still finished the season with 80 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, six quarterback hits, one interception and one forced fumble. Those numbers just weren't enough to push him anywhere close to the top of a crowded field of standout NFL safeties, a whopping 24 of whom got at least one All-Pro vote.

Winfield, in fact, was one of those 24, and it was the second straight year he got an All-Pro vote. I expected that number to increase quite a bit in 2022, but it's debatable whether his new dual role as both a safety and a slot corner in sub packages kept him from making as many splash plays as he could have. If that's the case, good news: Winfield is going back to playing exclusively free safety, where he will be able to roam the middle of the field, keep his eyes on the quarterback and, hopefully, produce more takeaways.

There's no doubt that the Bucs' coaching staff will still get him work around the line of scrimmage, though, given how good he is in run support and, crucially, his knack for rushing the passer. In three seasons, Winfield already has 9.0 sacks, the most by any safety in Buccaneers franchise history. And that, to me, is the key. How do you distinguish yourself in a field of safeties that includes the likes of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jordan Poyer, Derwin James, Justin Simmons, Tyrann Mathieu, Kevin Byard, Budda Baker and Harrison Smith, all of whom have very sticky name recognition for voters? You put up a combination of stats that can't be ignored. You know how, criminally, Bucs superstar linebacker Lavonte David somehow only has one Pro Bowl invitation through 11 seasons? Well, in 2013, David combined five interceptions with 7.0 sacks and the All-Pro voters couldn't ignore him. He was a first-team selection even without making the Pro Bowl that year.

That's what I'm thinking here. If Winfield's new role allows him to intercept four or five passes and record five or six sacks, that could be enough. Of course, it would help quite a bit if the Bucs were playoff contenders and the overall defense was in the top 10 of the league's ratings. Great players get more recognition when they are on winning teams, and they are a critical part of that winning.

So I'll run it back this year: Winfield's true breakout season in 2023 earns him first-team AP All-Pro honors.

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