Antoine Winfield Jr. needs an interception.
Now, I'm not saying that Winfield is lacking anything on his resume. He's had picks before. He had four in his first three seasons, plus another one in a little game they call the Super Bowl. That's kind of big. What I am saying is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' budding-star safety does not yet have a pick this year, and that's (temporarily) keeping him from having one of the most glorious all-around defensive stat lines in the NFL.
Actually, it's still pretty glorious. Through just four games, Winfield already has 31 tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks, three quarterback hits, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. You know who else in the entire league has at least 30 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and four passes defensed so far? Nobody, that's who. As soon as he gets his first pick of the season, Winfield will have made a mark in every defensive stat category the Buccaneers track. That's what we call "filling out a stat line."
Now, Winfield's exploits through the first quarter (sort of…stupid 17th game) are flashy enough to draw plenty of attention, but I'm particularly invested in what he's doing. That's because, for two years running, I've predicted before the season that he will earn first-team Associated Press All-Pro honors for the first time in his career. Here's the proof from this summer; I wasn't right in 2022 but Winfield might prove me prophetic in 2023.
Right now, Winfield ranks first in the NFL among safeties in fumble recoveries, tied for first in forced fumbles, tied for second in passes defensed, third in sacks, tied for fourth in quarterback hits and 10th in tackles. And, as I said above, his combination of those stats is unique, not just among safeties but among all NFL defenders.
If Winfield does earn first-team All-Pro honors, he'll be the first Buccaneers safety to do so since, of course, Pro Football Hall of Famer John Lynch. Here's all the players at each position who have taken home first-team AP All-Pro honors in franchise history:
Running Back: Doug Martin (2015)
Fullback: Mike Alstott (1997, 1998, 1999)
Tackle: Tristan Wirfs (2021)
Defensive End: Lee Roy Selmon (1978), Simeon Rice (2002)
Defensive Tackle: Warren Sapp (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002), Gerald McCoy (2013)
Linebacker: Hardy Nickerson (1993, 1997), Derrick Brooks (1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005), Lavonte David (2013)
Cornerback: Ronde Barber (2001, 2004, 2005)
Safety: John Lynch (1999, 2000)
Obviously, those are essentially the biggest stars in team history. (The list is glaringly missing Mike Evans, who has one second-team AP selection, as does Chris Godwin.) It would say a lot about where Winfield's career is headed if he can join them.
Now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me any time 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 email@example.com.
What's your thoughts on "preseason doesn't matter" when our preseason studs (Thompkins, Izien, Palmer) are balling out?
- @the_diabeast_ (via Instagram)
That's a great question and a great observation. It might be a bit of a strawman argument, though. Who exactly is saying that the preseason doesn't matter.
I'll grant you that a lot of coaches around the league are saying with their actions, not their words, that preseason games don't matter for veteran players. Todd Bowles, for instance, really only played his starters for part of one half over the course of three preseason games this year, and that was with a team trying to install a brand new offense. I don't know if the Rams' Sean McVay has ever put a starter into a preseason game. The league has definitely tilted hard in recent years towards believing the risk of injury to starters outweighs the benefit of what they may get from a handful of live snaps in games that don't count towards the standings.
I would argue that coaches are some of the biggest proponents of preseason games because they need that tape to determine which players among the 60 or so in training camp who are not established starters will best fill out the 53-man roster for the regular season. And that's exactly why we're talking about Deven Thompkins, a second-year player with five career games and five catches before this season, and rookies Christian Izien and Trey Palmer here. Thompkins was an undrafted free agent in 2022, Izien was an undrafted free agent this year and Palmer was a sixth-round draft pick. I know they seem like obvious locks on the regular-season roster right now, but that wasn't necessarily the case coming into training camp.
All three of those guys were, in particular, showy standouts in training camp practices. Thompkins and Palmer made spectacular catches on a regular basis and Izien jumped right to the head of the line in the wide-open battle for the slot corner job. But practice and games are not even close to the same thing. Plenty of young, unheralded players have had impressive training camps, or even just a week or two of standing out, but then didn't produce in the same way in live games. Thompkins, Palmer and Izien did. Palmer, in particular, seemed to make at least one dazzling catch in each preseason game, and that has carried over into the regular season.
There's been a bit of a trend in recent summers towards joint practices, which coaches often tout as being more useful than actual preseason games because you can purposefully script certain situations and matchups. That has led some to predict that the league will eventually whittle the preseason down even further (it's already gone from six games in the 1970s to four for most of the modern era and three in the last three years), but I'm not so sure. This year there were multiple instances, including one with the Bucs and the Jets, when a planned run of two joint practices was shortened to just one to lessen the amount of actual hitting and resulting chippy moments it produces. And it's not like a player can't get hurt in a full-speed practice just like he can in a game – sadly, look at Russell Gage this year. I'm wondering if the joint-practice train might be losing some steam going forward.
In any case, I agree with what I think you are saying. Preseason games are useful, but not necessarily all that important for established players.
Who is the shortest on the team?
- @ashtyngold123 (via Instagram)
Oh, I imagine you mean among the players. Going by the listed heights on the Buccaneers' official roster, that would be Deven Thompkins, who we were just discussing above. He's listed at 5-8, and whether or not that's exactly accurate or not, I think it's true he is currently the shortest Buccaneer. That's likely the reason he wasn't drafted despite putting up 102 catches for 1,704 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior at Utah State. And that's also why he's a very easy guy to root for as he continues to prove his lack of height won't stop him from being an impact player in the NFL.
Again, going by their listed heights, the next guy on the list would be the 5-9 Antoine Winfield Jr., followed by safety Christian Izien and running backs Sean Tucker and Ke'Shawn Vaughn, all listed at 5-10. In case you are wondering, the tallest player currently listed on the Bucs' roster is outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, at 6-7.
By the way, the NFL released its annual breakdown of all the teams' 53-man rosters after the first week of games were played, and the Bucs are listed as having seven players under six feet tall. That's not even close to the most of any team in the league; the Houston Texans had 13 such players on opening day, and the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins had 12 each.
The Bucs had eight players who weighed fewer than 200 pounds; the NFL high is 13, by Denver. Conversely, the Bucs had nine players who weighed more than 300 pounds; the NFL high was a whopping 15 for the New York Giants. The average height and weight among all players on those 53-man rosters was 6-1.9 and 244.17 pounds. The Bucs were pretty much right at those averages with an average height of 6-1.9 and an average weight of 244.25.
The one category in which the Bucs ranked near the top was the number of rookies and first-year players on the roster. (A first-year player is one who was in the league prior to 2023 but had not yet accrued a season of free agency credit – a good example is defensive lineman Mike Greene, who was on the Bucs' practice squad as a rookie last year.) The Bucs opened the season with 15 rookies and first-year players. That wasn't the most in the league because the Packers had 17 of them, but it was tied for second with the Rams and Seahawks.
How has Baker changed the atmosphere of the team?
- @lynley.jano (via Instagram)
It's fair to say that the last three Buccaneers seasons were defined by the presence of Tom Brady, and that era will be very fondly remembered. It's still hard to believe that Brady came here after all those years in New England, but it actually happened and it was a wild ride. Three playoff appearances, two division titles and a Super Bowl championship, not to mention some of the most prolific passing attacks the franchise has ever seen.
But that era did come to an end when Brady retired this past January, and that was necessarily going to lead to a very different sort of atmosphere at team headquarters. Not necessarily better or worse, but definitely different.
And, you know what? So far, so good! The Buccaneers have gotten quite a bit younger in quick fashion – see the note above about the number of rookies and first-year players on the roster – and they have had to put that roster together under some difficult salary cap circumstances. Head Coach Todd Bowles has noted on several occasions that there are a lot of good young players on the team whom fans simply don't know much about yet. In many ways, it's a team that's growing up together.
Mayfield has fit right in, and as the starting quarterback he was inevitably going to be looked at as a leader. It's clear already that the rest of the players on the Bucs' offense absolutely love playing with him. He's a natural leader and a guy who plays with both a fiery spirit and the kind of grit that teammates love to see in action. As I'm sure most readers are aware, the national expectations for the 2023 Buccaneers weren't particularly high. There were many more predictions that the Bucs would be battling for the first pick in the 2024 draft than for the NFC South title. That team has shot out of the gate with a 3-1 record and has obviously embraced a "nobody believes in us" attitude. Since Mayfield himself is rising back out of a dip in his career, he is a perfect illustration of that ethos.
There's a long, long way to go in 2023 and a 3-1 record doesn't guarantee a team anything in the long run. But this is a team that is clearly having a lot of fun, and Mayfield is a big part of that, in my opinion.
Who was your favorite player growing up?
- @joshuakalarical (via Instagram)
Well, I can tell you that it wasn't a Buccaneer, Josh, because I wasn't a Tampa Bay fan as a child. In fact, I knew almost nothing about them. Until I started working in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1991, I didn't know a whole lot about any team in the NFL, except maybe the Cardinals since I grew up in St. Louis. Even then, I pretty much knew who the quarterback, running back and receivers were, and that was about it. Like the majority of people in St. Louis, I was a much bigger baseball fan (and I'm still a diehard baseball Cardinals supporter).
I now know Buccaneers history very well, including the years before I got here in 1992. If I had been a Tampa Bay fan, it would have been a bit of a rough go since my sweet spot for paying attention to the NFL would have been in the mid-80s, which weren't kind to the Buccaneers. I'm pretty sure I would have loved Lee Roy Selmon like pretty much everyone in Tampa did back then. My favorite position has always been cornerback, so I'm guessing I would have liked Ricky Reynolds a whole lot, maybe Mike Washington before that.
As for the Cardinals, like I said my knowledge wasn't particularly deep and my fandom wasn't terribly strong, but I do remember liking wide receiver Mel Gray a whole lot. And running back Ottis Anderson, who really was more famous as a Super Bowl champ with the Giants. My favorite quarterback from back then was Neil Lomax. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Josh!
What's your favorite creamsicle memory? Mine is when we beat the packers in 2009.
- @dan_the_man_loves_sports_ (via Instagram)
This mailbag is about the Bucs, not me, so I don't like to answer too many of this type of question. However, this is really just an opportunity to bring up some great moments from the team's past, and since we're about to head into Creamsicle week, it's a fitting topic to discuss.
As I noted above, I got here in 1992 and had virtually no history of paying attention to the Buccaneers before that. So I've got five seasons of in-person memories of the team wearing its Creamsicle uniforms, plus four previous throwback games, one of which Dan notes in his question. Here are some of my fondest memories from that span (1992-96), in no particular order other than how they came to mind:
- Mike Alstott's first career touchdown, which was a catch by the way. In retrospect, it's kind of surprising it took him until his sixth game to get into the end zone, but he sure made a habit of it after that. And this particular score is a perfect encapsulation of what was to come because he powered through three Vikings defenders to get it in.
- Also, that Alstott touchdown came for an 0-5 team that beat the 5-1 Vikings – Tony Dungy's former team – for Dungy's first victory as the Buccaneers' head coach in 1996. That was cool.
- Warren Sapp's pick-six against Atlanta in his 1995 rookie season.
- The Bucs' Week Two win over Green Bay in 1992, which was just the second game I worked. It's memorable because it was the start of Brett Favre's run for the Packers when Santana Dotson knocked Don Majkowski out of the game just before halftime with a sack. I also remember Vinny Testaverde having a shot at what was then the NFL's single-game record for completion, as he was sitting at 22-24 (91.7%) late in the game. If my memory is accurate, I think we tried to call down to the sideline to let them know Vinny had the record, but we didn't get the word out in time and he threw one more incompletion to finish at 22-25. Also, if you ever want to wow someone with a trivia question, ask them who caught Brett Favre's first career completion. The answer: Brett Favre, as Ray Seals batted it in the air and Favre caught it and was tackled for a loss of seven.
- Vernon Turner recording the first punt return for a touchdown in franchise history against the Lions in 1994 – breaking an unbelievably long drought – and Special Teams Coach George Stewart running down to the end zone to hug him.
- Dave Moore catching a touchdown pass in Denver the day after Christmas in 1993, on a play in which he purposely fell down while making a block so the defense would forget about him. I really don't know why that one sticks with me, because it was a fairly unremarkable game (the Bucs won, 17-10), but it does.
- Tyji Armstrong catching a pass against the Rams on a Sunday night appearance (rare for the Bucs back then) and having two defenders hit him at the exact same moment from opposite sides. Both defenders bounced right off and Tyji kept running for an 81-yard touchdown.
- Horace "Hi-C" Copeland's backflips in the Georgia Dome.
I might come up with a different list if asked tomorrow, but that's what comes to mind today. Hopefully, we'll be making some great new memories in the Creamsicles this Sunday!