Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Depth Details | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about wide receiver battles, Giovani Bernard's role, the defensive tackle position and more

mailbag

Here are some names you're going to hear during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2021 season: Mike Alstott, Warren Sapp, Tony Mayberry, David Logan, Ronde Barber, Kevin House.

No, the Buccaneers do not have a ceremony planned to honor some of their all-time greats, but those guys and a few others are going to be part of the conversation when certain current Buccaneers resume piling up their career numbers in September. They are all-time franchise record-setters or placeholders on Buccaneer top 10 lists, and they all could see their records fall or their spots usurped.

For instance, we have the two greatest Mikes in franchise history, Mr. Alstott and Mr. Evans. (No offense to Mr. Washington or Mr. Pittman.) While Evans has already claimed essentially every receiving record in the Bucs' books, he's still got one big mark looming ahead of him. Alstott set the franchise record for touchdowns at a robust 71, and that number seemed safe for years, but now Evans heads into 2021 with 62. That means 10 gets him the record and he's had three double-digit TD seasons plus two more where he reached eight.

On this same list you have the former/current pairing of House and Cam Brate. The first star receiver in team history, House finished his Bucs tenure with 31 touchdowns, which is currently good for fifth place. Brate could supplant him in the top five this year, however, as he comes into 2021 with 29 scores of his own.

It's Lavonte David who is going to evoke the names of Sapp and Mayberry, and all he has to do is stay in the lineup to do so. David already reminded us of Hardy Nickerson's great Buc tenure last year when he passed the former middle linebacker for third place on the team's all-time tackle chart. This year, it will take him just four outings to pass Sapp on the team's all-time games-played list; David starts the year with 137 and Sapp had 140 games played as a Buccaneer. David will also probably pass Shelton Quarles (148) in 2021. As for games started, David has 137 of those, too, to tie Alstott for fifth in team history. Mayberry had 145 starts, so David should move into fourth place by midseason.

Then there are Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett, both of whom start the season already sitting comfortably in the Bucs' top 10 all time in sacks. Pierre-Paul is eighth with 30.5 and Barrett is 10th with 27.5. It would take Pierre-Paul, who has put up those 30.5 sacks in just 42 Buccaneer games, a total of nine sacks to crack the top five, eventually surpassing David Logan (39.0). Barrett, of course, would need a few more than that to get to the same place, but he only needs one more sack to pass Barber (28.0) for ninth.

So get ready for some more broken records in 2021…and get ready to remember some guys. Now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

Could a player like Jaelon Darden get a roster spot over John Franklin? Do we know Franklin's health at this point?

- @iamgio18 (via Instagram)

This is kind of an unusual way to frame this question because it's not as if Darden is battling for Franklin's spot. Franklin first arrived in Tampa in mid-November of 2019 and has since been with the team for 27 game weeks. In only one of those weeks – the 2019 season finale – was he on the active roster. Otherwise he was on the practice squad the rest of that season and on injured reserve all of last year after suffering a torn ACL in training camp.

So, basically, both Darden and Franklin are trying to displace one of the six incumbent receivers from last year – Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson and Jaydon Mickens – or convince the team to keep more than six in the regular season. The most obvious competition there is Darden and Mickens because both would probably get the sixth spot based mostly on winning the punt and/or kickoff return jobs.

And yes, if either Darden or Franklin is going to crack that top six, it seems more likely that it will be Darden based on his return abilities. Plus, the former is a fourth-round draft pick, and while draft status is no guarantee of a roster spot in the long term, it is very rare for a fourth-rounder not to make team as a rookie. Probably even rarer than you would guess. The last Bucs fourth-rounder not to make the active roster as a rookie was defensive tackle Dre Moore in 2008 (he spent that year on the practice squad then made the team in his second year). The last fourth-rounder never to play a game for the Bucs was cornerback Alan Zemaitis in 2006, though he was briefly on the active roster. The last fourth-rounder not to make the team or play in a game was tackle Lance Nimmo in 2003.

As for Franklin, he has not yet returned to the field following his injury last summer. He was in attendance at OTAs this week but was not in action. It is true that the Bucs' coaching staff was high on Franklin's potential after he was converted from defensive back to wide receiver, or more accurately "offensive weapon;" they even got him a carry in that 2019 season finale, which he took for 11 yards. So I am not trying to downplay his chances of sticking around. Assuming he can get back on the field in training camp, he'll battle for a spot on the 53-man roster, and even if he doesn't win one of those jobs there are likely to be very big practice squads again this year so it wouldn't be hard to keep him in the building.

Do you see us adding any more DT depth before training camp starts or do you think the staff is comfortable with our depth there?

- @rotemsh11 (via Instagram)

I know that defensive tackle, or "defensive linemen" as the Bucs label their interior linemen in Todd Bowles' defensive scheme, was a popular mock draft pairing for the team this year. And the Buccaneers did not address the position at all among their seven picks, so I get the motivation for this question. General Manager Jason Licht had mentioned before the draft that this was not a strong class at that position, so in the end that wasn't very surprising. In fact, Licht said that lack of DT depth in the draft was part of the reason the team worked to re-sign not only Ndamukong Suh but also Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Steve McLendon (and Jeremiah Ledbetter as an exclusive rights free agent).

I think that idea of the Bucs drafting an interior linemen came less from an immediate need and more from the idea that the team's main players at that spot, other than Vita Vea, are getting up there in age. Tampa Bay went into the 2021 draft with no real pressing needs and thus could focus a bit on the future with a player or a couple players whose impact might not be felt until 2022 or 2023. But if we look at the picture as it currently looks, I don't think there's a big depth issue at the position. The team's starting trio in the base package to start 2020 was Vea, Suh and Will Gholston, and all three are back and I personally am not expecting a drop-off for Suh or Gholston. Hopefully Vea plays more than the five games he got in last year, which will make a big difference. But the Bucs also still have Nunez-Roches, who moved up to the starting lineup and played quite well in Vea's absence.

After Vea went down and Nunez-Roches got a bigger role, the Buccaneers made a trade for McLendon, the former Jet, restoring the depth at the position. Now they still have McLendon and that's even more depth with Vea healthy. In addition, the team drafted Khalil Davis in the sixth round last year and he got very little playing time as a rookie. He might still have a logjam ahead of him, but the Buccaneers like his pass-rushing ability, which makes him a different sort of reserve than Nunez-Roches or McLendon.

Then there's Ledbetter, in whom the Bucs have shown interest for the last couple years, and Patrick O'Connor, who is also a big-time special-teams contributor. Overall, the team currently has 12 interior linemen on the roster, including the ones already named plus Elijah Ponder, Benning Potoa'e, Sam Renner and Kobe Smith. I'd say the depth is just fine.

How is Giovani Bernard looking during OTAs? Can we expect for him to be a big part of our offense or just veteran depth?

- @ddean_48 (via Instagram)

Mostly, Bernard looked busy. With C.J. Prosise off site with his soon-to-give-birth wife and Ke'Shawn Vaughn electing to work out with the Tom Brady group, Bernard was the only running back in this week's OTAs, or at least in the Tuesday practice that was open to the media.

He looked good, too, as far as one can tell in a non-contact practice with mostly very young players. You can see that he is definitely a natural pass-catcher, which was obvious from his career numbers over eight years in Cincinnati. He looked quick and confident with the ball in his hands. But I'm not going to try to oversell it; there's only so much you can really draw from a couple May practices with almost no veterans on the field.

There's two ways to look at this. The Bernard optimist would note that he has always been a high-volume pass-catcher, one of the leaders among NFL backs over the last eight years in fact. Tom Brady had one of those in New England in James White and targeted him a huge amount of times – 376 times over four years from 2016-19, in fact. And Bernard does not seem to be in decline in this regard as his 47 catches last year were his highest total since 2015 and his 79.7% catch rate was the best of his career. While Leonard Fournette has shown good pass-catching ability the last two seasons, it looks like Bernard is the best of the current Bucs bunch in that specific area.

The Bernard pessimist, however, might wonder how many backfield reps there are to go around. As purely a depth-chart matter, Bernard replaces veteran LeSean McCoy, who ended up with just 25 touches during his one season as a Buccaneer. The Bucs still have to figure out how to divvy up carries between Fournette and Ronald Jones, who was the starter for most of last season, and might also want to find out more about what they have in 2020 third-rounder Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Bernard may have a special skill that would work well with Brady at the helm, but how much is he really going to take away from Fournette and Jones, particularly since Fournette can operate as a third-down back?

Frankly, I'm a bit torn between these two outcomes. However, I will note that someone closer to the ground than me thinks the first scenario is what is going to come to pass. That person is quarterback Ryan Griffin, who thinks big things are ahead for Bernard in Tampa.

"I think Gio's huge," said Griffin. "As somebody that specializes in that, I think he's going to have a bunch of catches this year. I think he's going to be a big part of our offense, especially with how safe teams play us. They just drop a lot of guys in coverage, so I think Gio's going to have a lot of opportunities. I think Tom's going to love him."

He makes a good point. I still think there is a lot that remains undetermined about the Bucs' offensive backfield this season, but for now let's side with the Bernard optimist and guess that he's going to get a good amount of work in 2021.

I understand that our Super Bowl winning kicker is a Mr. Irrelevant and we just drafted another.

Has the SB team always made that last pick or does it ever get traded away?

Plus any interesting stats you may have on the M.I. topic.

Thanks.

- Roy Rossell (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

That is correct. Buccaneers kicker Ryan Succop was the last pick of the 2009 draft and thus was that year's "Mr. Irrelevant." That has been the tongue-in-cheek, meant-in-good-fun title bestowed on the final pick of the draft since 1976, and it was the brainchild of former NFL receiver Paul Salata. The Salata family has kept the tradition going ever since, which usually includes a week of festivities in Newport Beach, California.

And yes, Succop now has company in linebacker Grant Stuard, who was selected 259th and last overall by Tampa Bay last month. This is the second time the Buccaneers have made the Mr. Irrelevant pick; the first was in 1993 when they took punter/kicker Daron Alcorn with the 224th and final choice.

Now, if you're any kind of Bucs historian, you'll realize that my last sentence above gives you most of the answer to your question. The Buccaneers were definitely not defending Super Bowl champions in the spring of 1993, so they wouldn't have had that pick naturally. And they were defending champions in the spring of 2003 but did not make the last pick in the draft. So, clearly, that pick can change hands. The Bucs had what proved to be the final pick in 1993 due to a minor trade they had made with the Cowboys the year before.

Actually, the Super Bowl champ was much more likely to land Mr. Irrelevant from 1976 through 1993. That's because the compensatory pick system started in 1994 and routinely added selections at the end of the seventh round. In 2003, the Buccaneers had the last original pick in the seventh round but there were 15 more compensatory picks after that and the last pick was eventually made by the Raiders. The Bucs had already traded away their seventh-rounder the year before anyway.

The Buccaneers were actually the first defending champs to make the Mr. Irrelevant pick since Denver in 2016. That's because this was also the first year since 2016 that none of the awarded compensatory picks were put at the end of the seventh round. Before that, the last Super Bowl-winning team to pick Mr. Irrelevant was New England in 2005, but not in the way you would expect. The Patriots actually traded the last original pick of the seventh round in that draft to Green Bay but then ended up with the final compensatory pick and used it on William Penn tight end Andy Stokes at number 255. By the way, the 250th pick of that draft was none other than Ryan Fitzpatrick.

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