In contrast to years past, NFL Network decided on a marathon special to begin their reveal of the 2021 Top 100 list. On Sunday, six Buccaneers were among the list of players ranked No. 100 to No. 41.
The first player highlighted was second-year offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, making his Top 100 debut at No. 89. He's one of just five rookies to make the list this year.The 13th overall pick out of Iowa was the fourth tackle off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft and in his rookie season with the Buccaneers, allowed just one sack in the regular season. Come playoffs, Wirfs and the rest of the offensive line were handed some heavy tasks, facing some of the league's best defensive fronts – including Washington's stable full of first-round picks in the Wildcard Round. Spoiler alert, they prevailed, running through four division winners in their quest for the Lombardi Trophy. With all five starters coming back for the Bucs, and a healthy Alex Cappa next to him, Wirfs should only improve in 2021.
Immediately following Wirfs was teammate Shaquil Barrett, checking it at No. 88 on the NFL list. It was a drop from his previous No. 32 ranking in 2020 but the outside linebacker is part of what has proven to be one of the most feared pass-rushing tandems in the league. And I'll take that any day of the week over an arbitrary ranking. Barrett finished with 8.0 sacks in the 2020 regular season and added an additional 4.0 in the postseason, 3.0 of which came in the NFC Championship against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field. Rodgers was sacked 5.0 total times that night, with the other 2.0 sacks coming at the hands of Barrett's counterpart Jason Pierre-Paul. Barrett also registered eight quarterback hits in the 2020 playoffs, including four on Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
In his first year with the Bucs, Barrett finished the season with a league-record 19.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl for his efforts. He will again be opposite JPP in 2021 and with the addition of 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon to the pass rushing mix, Barrett should be poised for another award-winning year in 2021.
Next on the list came wide receiver Chris Godwin, receiving a No. 81 ranking. This again was a drop, with Godwin making his debut on the list in 2020 at No. 38. Godwin finished second on the team in receiving yards this past season, behind only fellow wideout Mike Evans, catching 65 passes for 840 yards and seven touchdowns. Had Godwin played a full season (he missed four games due to injury), he was on pace for 1,120 yards, which would have well surpassed Evans' total of 1,006 and who knows? Maybe would have given him a bump on this list. On the way to the Bucs' Super Bowl LV victory, Godwin had 232 yards and a touchdown on 16 catches. He was the workhorse of the NFC Championship on offense, amassing an incredible 110 yards on just five catches for a ridiculous 22.0 yards per reception average.
Outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul made his return to the list this year at No. 59, last appearing at No. 65 in 2019. He was left off last season and apparently didn't take too kindly to that. JPP led the Bucs in sacks in 2020 with 9.5, just barely missing the double-digit cutoff by the end of the season. It still earned him a Pro Bowl selection as he was somehow the only Buccaneer to be chosen this past year. Pierre-Paul also eclipsed the double-digit mark if you include his postseason performance with those aforementioned 2.0 sacks on Rodgers in Green Bay. Regardless of his numbers, Pierre-Paul continues to be one of the most disruptive pass rushers even now being well into his 30s. Just recently, JPP revealed that he played through a lot of injuries up to and including in the Super Bowl but he's going into 2021 feeling fully healthy. That should be a scary thought for the Bucs' 2021 opponents.
Wide receiver Mike Evans makes the list again, this time coming in at No. 48 after starting his career with a now-NFL record seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. It's a surprising drop from 2020's list, where Evans ranked at No. 30, given the whole NFL record thing and the fact that Evans recorded the most single-season touchdowns of his career in the regular season with a very fitting 13 last season. Evans added two more touchdowns and 204 yards on 11 catches in the postseason, which got off to a tough start for the veteran wideout. Evans fought through a hyper-extended knee suffered in Week 17 to play in the Wildcard Round and still ended up with 119 yards on six catches on the night. It was a Herculean performance for one of the toughest receivers in the league. Evans has said this camp that his body feels the best it's ever felt and now, with the expanded regular season, he'll get an extra game to extend that NFL record. Look for his production to go way up in 2021, even with the Bucs' embarrassment of riches in their offensive weapons arsenal.
The final Buccaneer revealed on Sunday night was inside linebacker Lavonte David at No. 43. While it was a large jump from 2020's ranking at No.100, is it wrong of me to still think he should be higher? Answer: no.
Since he entered the league in 2012, David has the second-most combined tackles of any player with 1,124 and has the most solo tackles of any player in that span with 805. His career total of 128 tackles for loss ranks second since 2012, behind only Arizona's J.J. Watt.
And you want to talk about what David did last year? In the postseason alone, David amassed 26 tackles and a sack after registering 117 combined tackles and a team-high 12 tackles for loss in the regular season. David also forced three fumbles and recovered two of them as part of a unit that ranked fourth in the league in takeaways in 2020. He now finally has a Super Bowl ring on his finger and is getting some much-deserved honors after the Bucs' success in 2020 but I'll wait to see if he actually makes an All-Pro or Pro Bowl list this coming season. We're waiting, NFL.