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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Several Buccaneers Could Lead NFL

From Cam Brate and his tight end touchdown grabs to Brent Grimes and his passes defensed, a handful of Bucs could end up first in various NFL stat categories with a strong finish Sunday.

Most Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans probably know that Mike Evans has been among the NFL's leading receivers this season, particularly when it comes to finding the end zone. Several of Evans's teammates have also been at or near the top of the league's charts in other statistical categories, including passes defensed (Brent Grimes) and solo tackles (Kwon Alexander). Here's a look at those Bucs who have a chance to finish atop league charts after Sunday's regular-season finale:

Category: Touchdown Receptions by a Tight End


Buccaneer in the Rankings: Cam Brate, 1st with 8
Leaders/Closest Competitors: Hunter Henry, San Diego (7); Delanie Walker, Tennessee (7); Martellus Bennett, New England (6); Antonio Gates, San Diego (6); Jimmy Graham, Seattle (6); Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota (6)
Previous Buccaneers to Lead the NFL: Jimmie Giles, 1985 (8)

Cam Brate has already tied the Buccaneers record for tight ends with his eight touchdown catches, matching Jimmie Giles's total from 1985. Brate got his eighth score last Saturday in New Orleans; unfortunately, he also suffered a back injury in that game and has since been placed on injured reserve. As such, he won't have a chance to pass Giles into sole possession of the Bucs' record, but he could still lead the NFL in TD catches at his position. Obviously, that will depend on the Week 17 performances of all his closest competitors. Keep a close eye on the San Diego game, since both Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates are breathing down Brate's neck.

Chances of Leading the League:Medium. Brate would have a better shot if he was playing in Week 17, but he'll at least finish with a share of the lead if neither Henry nor Walker has a two-touchdown game. Given that neither of those two players has a two-TD game yet this year and there have only been 12 such games by tight ends (one by Brate) in the entire NFL this year, that's a pretty solid bet. Still, there's a very good chance Brate has to share the throne.

Category: Touchdown Receptions


Buccaneer in the Rankings: Mike Evans, 3rd with 11
Leaders/Closest Competitors: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay (14); Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh (12); Davante Adams, Green Bay (10); Odell Beckham, Jr., N.Y. Giants (10)
Previous Buccaneers to Lead the NFL: None

Jordy Nelson probably wrapped this category up when he added two to his total in the Packers' Week 16 win over Minnesota, giving him five TDs in the last four games. Evans was leading the league in this category until Nelson's red-hot December, but now he's fallen to third. If Nelson is held scoreless in Green Bay's Week 17 game at Detroit, there's an outside chance, but Evans would need to have his first career three-TD outing. That's perhaps a bit more likely with Brate out of the picture, but still a long shot. Factor in also that the Packers are playing for the division title, so there's little chance that Nelson will come out of the game early.

Chances of Leading the League:Very low. Evans looked like he might run away with this category when he posted three two-score games in the middle of the season but he has just one in the last four games and it's now Nelson's to lose.

Category: Receiving First Downs


Buccaneer in the Rankings: Mike Evans, 1st with 77
Leaders/Closest Competitors: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh (64); Odell Beckham, Jr., N.Y. Giants (61); T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis (60)
Previous Buccaneers to Lead the NFL: None*

Evans is running away with this category. Considering that he leads his nearest competitor by 13 and the highest single-game total any player in the league has this year is nine (twice by Evans, twice by everyone else). Antonio Brown would probably have to double that number in the Steelers' finale in order to catch Evans, who is likely to pad his own total against the Panthers.

Chances of Leading the League:Dead-lock certain. Evans would almost surely win this category even if he sat out the season finale.

( Data available through 1991 season.)*

Category: Passes Defensed


Buccaneer in the Rankings: Brent Grimes, tied for first with 20
Leaders/Closest Competitors: Casey Hayward, San Diego (20); Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, N.Y. Giants (19); Robert Alford, Atlanta (18); Josh Norman, Washington (18); Marcus Peters, Kansas City (18)
Previous Buccaneers to Lead the NFL: Ricky Reynolds, 1992 (24); Donnie Abraham, 1999 (25); Abraham, 2000 (23) *

Brent Grimes has very quietly remained among the NFL's leaders in passes defensed all season, and with one game to play he's tied with San Diego's Casey Hayward for the NFL lead. Nobody in the NFL is averaging anywhere near two passes defensed per game, so this one is likely going to come down to Grimes and Hayward, even though there are four other defenders with at least 18. The good news for the Buccaneers is that Grimes has been very consistent in this category, recording at least one pass defensed in each of the last five games and in 12 of the last 13.

Chances of Leading the League:Very High. Grimes tends to get involved in several plays a game in which he arrives at the same time as the football. Chances are he'll get at least one on Sunday, and if he gets two the lead will probably be his.

( Data available through 1994 season.)*

Category: Solo Tackles


Buccaneer in the Rankings: Kwon Alexander, first with 102
Leaders/Closest Competitors: Landon Collins, N.Y. Giants (96); Alec Ogletree, Los Angeles (95); Paul Posluszny, Jacksonville (94)
Previous Buccaneers to Lead the NFL: Hardy Nickerson, 1993 (124); Derrick Brooks, 1998 (123); Brooks, 2000 (123); Brooks, 2004 (109) *

As with Evans and his receiving first downs, Kwon Alexander would have a chance to finish with the solo tackle lead even if he didn't play in Week 17. The next closest competitor is the Giants' Landon Collins, who has averaged 6.4 solo stops per game and is six back. And like Grimes with his pass breakups, Alexander has been pretty consistent with his solo tackles from week to week, with at least five of them in 11 of 15 outings. If he gets five more against Carolina he'll almost surely keep the top spot in the NFL.

Chances of Leading the League:Very High. Alexander is finishing the season strong and has averaged over six solo tackles per game over the last six weeks. On the other hand, his three solo stops against Carolina in Week Five represent his single-game low this year, so that's a note of caution.

( Data available through 1991 season.)*

Category: Tackles for Loss


Buccaneer in the Rankings: Lavonte David, tied for seventh with 14
Leaders/Closest Competitors: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles (17); Cameron Jordan, New Orleans (17); Olivier Vernon, N.Y. Giants (17); Jadeveon Clowney, Houston (16); Chandler Jones, Arizona (15); Ryan Kerrigan, Washington (15); Joey Bosa, San Diego (14); Telvin Smith, Jacksonville (14)
Previous Buccaneers to Lead the NFL: None *

We only have available TFL data through the 2008 season, but the Buccaneers have had one of the best in the league in this category since they drafted Lavonte David in 2012. However, David has never led the league in TFLs because the league's top pass rushers always boost their totals through sacks. David has another shot in 2016, however, largely because J.J. Watt has been out of action all year. It's a long shot, since he's three behind the leader, but David has had big games before.

Chances of Leading the League:Low. David is certainly capable of racking up multiple TFLs on one afternoon, but he's averaged a little under one per outing this year so asking for three in Week 17 is a bit much.

( Data available through 2008 season.)*

Category: Third-Down Defense


Buccaneer in the Rankings: The entire defense, second at 35.0%
Leaders/Closest Competitors: Miami Dolphins (34.8%); N.Y. Giants (35.4%); New England Patriots (35.6%)
Previous Buccaneer Teams to Lead the NFL: None

The Buccaneers have never led the NFL in opponent third-down percentage, though the team single-season record of 31.7% in 1998 was very good and out of reach to the current squad with only one game left. This is a category in which Tampa Bay's defense has been very good in the second half of the season, not allowing any of the last seven opponents to surpass a 50% conversion rate. That's an especially impressive feat considering the Buccaneers have faced New Orleans twice and San Diego once and those teams rank first and ninth in offensive third-down conversion rate. The gap between the Dolphins and Bucs in first and second is very slim. Miami has allowed 70 conversions in 201 attempts while the Bucs have allowed 63 in 180. If the Dolphins had allowed even one more conversion in those 201 tries, the Bucs would occupy the first spot on the list.

Chances of Leading the League:High. The key here is that the Dolphins finish up with the Patriots on Sunday, and New England's offense ranks fourth in third-down conversion rate. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers face the Panthers, who rank 20th.

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