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S.S. Mailbag: On Nassib, Playoffs and Draft Hindsight

In the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week 14 loss to New Orleans, tight end Cam Brate staked the Buccaneers to a 14-3 halftime lead with a pair of touchdown passes. They were the 22nd and 23rd scores of his career and, like 18 of the previous 21, they were thrown by Jameis Winston.

The 20 touchdowns between Winston and Brate prompted me to look up the date that resulted in this tweet:

As several Bucs fans noted, some of them rather sourly, that's not a particularly high number to be a team's all-time QB-WR (or QB-TE) touchdown combination. That's true, but I still found it to be an interesting note, particularly because Winston could conceivably take over the top mark with two different pass-catchers on the other end, should he remain the team's starting quarterback into the foreseeable future.

Obviously, the reason that the Bucs' top TD combination has a relatively low total (as compared to say, the 112 that Peyton Manning threw to Marvin Harrison), is that the Buccaneers haven't had one quarterback hold onto the job long enough throughout franchise annals. Trent Dilfer has the most QB starts in franchise history, at 76. Turnover under center means even the best pass-catchers in team history have only had a limited amount of time with the same quarterback.

That research sent me down a rabbit hole and I eventually reversed it to this question: Which player in Buccaneer history has caught touchdown passes from the most different passers? I won't make you wait for the answer; it's a three-way tie between Morris Owens, Jimmie Giles and Michael Clayton, all of whom caught scoring tosses from six different Buccaneer teammates. I word it that way because Owens caught one touchdown pass from a running back on a trick play…which just happened to be the first touchdown pass in franchise history. Running back Louis Carter was the passer on the play, at Seattle on Oct. 17, 1976.

Owens caught touchdown passes from Carter, Parnell Dickinson, Gary Huff, Mike Rae, Steve Spurrier and Doug Williams. Giles also caught TDs from Rae and Williams, then added ones from Steve DeBerg, Chuck Fusina, Jack Thompson and Steve Young. Clayton is the most surprising name on the list because he only had 10 touchdown catches, total, as a Buccaneer but they came from the following six men: Josh Freeman, Jeff Garcia, Bruce Gradkowski, Brian Griese, Brad Johnson and Chris Simms.

If you got to the end of that, then you followed me all the way down to the bottom of that particular rabbit hole. Now it's time to climb back out and focus on 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. As you'll see from time to time, I also unilaterally appropriate for myself – as any good pirate captain would – questions I like that are meant for our Insider Live show or are simply responses to one of my previous tweets. I've also taken to stealing emails meant for our Salty Dogs podcast. As always, if you specifically want to get a question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

Actually, Alex, the Buccaneers didn't sign Carl Nassib at all. They claimed him off waivers on September 3 after he had been waived by the Cleveland Browns during the league-wide roster cuts down to the regular-season limit of 53 players. When a team is awarded a player on waivers they also inherit whatever contract he had with his previous team, which is what happened here.

Had Nassib gone unclaimed (passed through waivers), the Buccaneers or any other team could have signed him to a new contract, and likely would have structured it for either one or two years. Often teams will sign players in that circumstance to two-year deals so that if the acquisition does work out they don't have to compete to sign him again for the following season.

Anyway, Nassib was a third-round pick by Cleveland in the 2016 draft, and like all players selected in Rounds 2-6, he received a four-year contract to start his NFL career. That contract runs through 2019, so when the Bucs claimed Nassib they got his deal for this year and next. So you don't have to worry, Alex, Nassib should be back for at least the '19 season.

And, yeah, that seems like a really good thing. Nassib had a combined 5.5 sacks in his first two seasons with the Browns but already has 6.5 this year to rank second on the team to Jason Pierre-Paul. He has also assumed a starting role, something that initially came about because Vinny Curry was out with an injury but has continued due to merit. There's no doubt that the Bucs are getting more pressure out of JPP and Nassib than they have out of any pair of starting ends in a very long time. Head Coach Dirk Koetter speaks very highly of the former Brown, citing not only his obvious production but the intensity with which he plays. The Bucs just had their first run of three consecutive games with four or more sacks since the days of Simeon Rice, and though that streak was snapped last Sunday when the Bucs got Drew Brees down just once, it was Nassib who did the honors with a strip-sack that led to a Tampa Bay touchdown.

Gerald McCoy is doing his usual thing, bringing pressure up the middle, and he's reached six sacks for the sixth straight season. But the last time the Buccaneers had two defensive ends account for as many as 18 sacks (that's Nassib's total plus 11.5 for Pierre-Paul) was 2005, when Rice accounted for 14 on his own and Greg Spires pitched in with four. The output of the JPP-Nassib duo is more like what Rice and Spires did in 2004, when the former had 12 and the latter eight for a total of 20. Pierre-Paul and Nassib have three games left to match that…and fortunately those likely won't be Nassib's last three games in Tampa.

Okay, so now all the teams we wanted to lose last week actually did: the Panthers, Falcons, Redskins, Eagles and Vikings. So where do we stand now? Who do we want to lose this week? (Other than the Ravens, of course.)

- Rusti Chaney (via email to saltydogs@buccaneers.nfl.com)

This was part of a longer email that Rusti sent in to be discussed on this week's Salty Dogs podcast, and she will get her wish on Wednesday, but I clipped this part out because it's worth hashing out here, as well.

Rusti is clearly choosing to take the glass-half-full approach here and is going to believe the Buccaneers have a shot at the playoffs until they are officially eliminated. And that's perfectly fine. It's also perfectly fine to be very skeptical of the playoff chances of a 5-8 team. Koetter didn't even discuss the Bucs' remaining playoff chances with the players on Monday after the loss to New Orleans on Sunday. Instead, Koetter takes this approach:

"I think you just play them. We talk about playing the best we can every week and wherever it falls, it falls."

So, yeah, you just play them. You need to win them all, almost certainly, and even then you're going to need a lot of help. And then you let the chips fall where they may, and if everything works out to get the Bucs into the playoffs, then great! And some people, like Rusti, would like to know what else needs to happen for this dream scenario to become reality.

First of all, other than the Bucs' own game, Week 14 went great for the Buccaneers. Seattle put a very tight grip on the first Wild Card spot, but that's okay because in the process it kept Minnesota (6-6-1) from pulling away from the crowd in the race for the second Wild Card berth. Meanwhile, Carolina, Washington and Philadelphia all lost to fall to 6-7 and fail to pull away from the Buccaneers. Yes, Green Bay, Detroit and the New York Giants all won to catch the Bucs at 5-8 (or move slightly ahead at 5-7-1 in the Packers' case), but our first and main concern is with the teams ahead of Tampa Bay.

So Tampa Bay didn't actually lose any ground to the Vikings or the three 6-7 teams, but they lost time. They had four weeks to make up the difference before and now they only have three. That's why the Bucs' playoff odds are so low – Football Outsiders has it at 0.6% - as an awful lot has to happen with not just one other team but four or five for it to work out.

So we'll just start with this week, because that's what Rusti asked for. If everything goes right for the Bucs, we can look at the rest of the picture in the next mailbag.

The good news is, there's nothing complicated this week. Your rooting interests should be fairly obvious. To put it simply, we're rooting against Minnesota Carolina, Washington, Philadelphia and Green Bay. Those are all the teams ahead of the Buccaneers in the race for the sixth seed, and I'm happy to report that none of them are playing each other. It's a little less important, but you should also root against the Lions and the Giants, since they are tied with the Buccaneers. Again, there is no overlap between any of these teams.

More good news: The Packers, Eagles, Redskins and Lions are all playing on the road this week, in Chicago, Los Angeles (Rams), Jacksonville and Buffalo, respectively. Those are particularly tough draws for Green Bay and Philadelphia. The Panthers are also at home but have their own tough draw against the visiting Saints. The Vikings are at home against Miami and the Giants are at home against Tennessee, but you can't have everything.

This would all be a little more exciting, given how well everything fell out around the league on Sunday and Monday, if the Bucs would have held onto their 11-point lead against the Saints. Alas, it was not to be and the road to the postseason got a lot muddier. But if you want to hold out hope, you know who to be rooting for and against this weekend.

Scott…

All the players the Bucs just missed out on in the draft this year seem to be killing it - Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, Quentin Nelson. I mean, wasn't it widely believed that if enough quarterbacks had gone early enough to make any of those three last to number 7 that the Bucs would have taken them? In retrospect, should the Bucs have traded up to get one of those guys instead of trading back as they did. I know hindsight is 20/20 but it seems like all of those players are living up to the hype and would really help the Bucs. What do you think?

Thanks!

Keith Rollins…displaced Bucs fan, formerly of Clearwater (sent via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

I'll admit, I think there's a very good chance the draft could have unfolded as Keith describes had four quarterbacks been taken among the first six picks. The Buccaneers were picking seventh and weren't in the QB market, so that would have meant that at least one of the three consensus top non-quarterbacks – as Keith notes, that's Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Indianapolis guard Quenton Nelson – would have still been available when the Bucs were on the clock.

Alas, only two quarterbacks were drafted in the first six picks, and even when Cleveland shocked the rest of the league by taking Ohio State cornerback with the fourth pick, that still wasn't enough to knock any of those three players all the way down to #7. Barkley went second overall to the Giants, Denver took Chubb at #5 and the Colts, picking right before Tampa Bay, snapped up Nelson. The Buccaneers then traded down to pick #12, picking up two extra second-round picks in the process, and selected Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea. The Bills, their trade partner, used pick #7 on the third quarterback of the draft, Wyoming's Josh Allen.

We'll never know if the Buccaneers would have stayed at pick #7 and taken Barkley, Chubb or Nelson if any of them were there because that's not the sort of thing that team decision-makers talk about after the draft. I do think it's a reasonable guess, however. At the time, the Buccaneers were also very happy with what they did instead, as they had Vea as a prime target and were able to add picks that allowed them to address the secondary with the second-round selections of M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis.

And Keith is right that those other three players have all had great rookie seasons. Barkley has 1,753 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns with three games to go. Chubb has 12.0 sacks to tie for sixth in the NFL. And while there are no easy individual stats for offensive linemen, the Colts O-Line is widely viewed as being vastly improved this year, leading the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play, with Nelson as its new anchor.

Yes, any team in the NFL would like to have any of those three players. Keith, in what he admits is hindsight, now wonders if the Buccaneers could have tried harder to get one of them by trading up. My answer is, how do you know they didn't try very hard? You have to have a willing partner for a trade, and the other teams in the top six were thinking the same thing the Bucs were, I imagine, about the value of those top three prospects. It probably would have taken a big offer to move up even a spot or two, and I don't think any team would have done that except to get a quarterback. The Buccaneers had a lot of needs – that was obvious then and still is – and giving up picks would have been difficult, especially after their third-rounder was already spent on the Jason Pierre-Paul trade.

It will be some time before we know if the Buccaneers would have been better off with one of the Barkley/Chubb/Nelson trio than with Vea, Stewart and Davis. But even if one of those former three proves to be of more value than that latter trio, it still wouldn't be a fair comparison because the Buccaneers would have only gotten that lone player by giving up additional assets.

So even with hindsight, Keith, no I don't think the Bucs would be pulling off a trade up the board in the first round of this year's draft.

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