Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith takes a look at the best player in Buccaneers history to wear uniform numbers 51-60.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have always had a rich history of off-the-ball linebackers, through good times and bad for the team. In the early days there were the likes of Richard Wood, Cecil Johnson, Dewey Selmon and David Lewis. They were quickly followed by Hugh Green, Scot Brantley and Jeff Davis. Later came along such stars as Derrick Brooks, Hardy Nickerson and Shelton Quarles. Barrett Ruud bridged the 2000s and most recently we have Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and maybe soon Devin White.
The Buccaneers have sent seven linebackers to the Pro Bowl, their highest total at any position, and that is not including outside linebacker Shaq Barrett last year. In terms of AV, an all-encompassing evaluative stat calculated by Pro Football Reference, four of the top 12 players and six of the top 25 in franchise history have been off-the-ball linebackers.
The tradition lives on, because David remains one of the best linebackers in the NFL, as he has been since 2012, and his new young running mate looks like a star in the making. With those two, the Buccaneers are in very good shape heading into the 2020 campaign.
But when you judge David against that rich 45-year history of linebackers, some of whom wore the number 54 jersey before he did, is he at the top of the list. Read on to find out.
As we continue our effort to identify the number-one player ever to wear each jersey number in Buccaneers history, we hit the 50s, and that means we also will be tapping into that deep vein of off-the-ball linebackers. We covered number 50 in our 41-50 segment and we actually picked a center at that spot. That will not start a trend as we go from 51-60.
Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith takes a look at the best player in Buccaneers history to wear uniform numbers 1-10.
Some of these choices from 1-99 are inevitably going to be tougher than others, either due to too many good candidates or too few solid choices, so we're also noting the "level of difficulty" of each choice.
51: LB Barrett Ruud
Speaking of which, this was one of those with a lot of nice candidates. In particular, we have to consider linebackers Chris Washington, Broderick Thomas, Lonnie Marts and Alshermond Singleton. Singleton had six seasons in the 51 shirt and was a starter on the 2002 Super Bowl team (though that was his only season in the starting lineup). Washington and Thomas both wore it for five seasons each and hit some highs. Thomas had an 11-sack season in 1991. But if we go by the aforementioned AV stat (explained here), it's not really that close. In his six seasons and 95 games (68 starts) with Tampa Bay, Ruud racked up 42 AV; the next closest on this 51 list is Thomas with 27. Ruud had to wait until his third season to become a full-time starter but then he started racking up tackles at a very high rate while also intercepting six passes and forcing seven fumbles.
Level of Difficulty: 7.
None of the players on this 51 list are among the aforementioned seven linebackers to go to the Pro Bowl as Buccaneers, so it's hard to label any of them as elite-level stars. And that means reasonable minds can disagree between the overall value of Ruud, Washington, Thomas and Singleton.
52: LB Scot Brantley
Maybe it's time for the next great linebacker in the number 52, as there have been none who really lit it up since Brantley ended his eight-year run in 1987. In fact, his top competitor at this spot is a center, Jeff Faine, who wore 52 in Tampa from 2008-11. Brantley was a starter at one of the inside linebacker spots in the Bucs' 3-4 defense from 1982-86 and he snared eight interceptions during his career, which was spent entirely in Tampa. Though it doesn't factor into his selection here, Brantley also spent time as an analyst on radio broadcasts of Bucs games and he has always been a fan favorite. Keith McCants was a high first-round pick in 1990 but never really panned out and was gone after three seasons. The linebackers to wear the 52 jersey the longest since Brantley was Nate Webster (2000-03) but he only started six games as a Buccaneer.
Level of Difficulty: 2.
Faine deserves the mention here but it's not really close. And if it had been close, this hit would have broken the tie. Never forget.
Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith takes a look at the best player in Buccaneers history to wear uniform numbers 11-20.
53: LB Shelton Quarles
Hugh Green went to one more Pro Bowl than Quarles did, but you know what helps put "Q" over the top? Having a statue of him in the lobby of team headquarters. Quarles is one of the players immortalized in the "Moment of Victory" statue at the AdventHealth Training Center that celebrates the team's victory in Super Bowl XXXVII, which was also the season that he went to the Pro Bowl. Quarles had an interesting career in that he kept getting promoted and kept excelling his next job. When he arrived in 1997 after a stint in the CFL he immediately became one of the best special teams player the team has ever had. In 1999 he graduated to the starting strongside linebacker job and, among other exploits, returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown against Green Bay in 2001 that remains the longest score of any kind in franchise history. When Jon Gruden arrived in 2002, the Bucs chose to move Quarles to middle linebacker and that kicked off a very productive five-year run. According to that AV chart, Quarles is the 11th most valuable player in team history. Bet you didn't know that.
Level of Difficulty: 5.
That's not to diminish Quarles' claim to this number. It's just to recognize how good Green was. He made the Pro Bowl in his second and third seasons and had six picks and five sacks in his first three years. Had his last seven years been spent in Tampa instead of Miami, Green would probably have a legitimate claim here.
54: LB Lavonte David
Let's put our cards on the table here: This was Richard "Batman" Wood versus David. And either choice was going to make us feel bad about not choosing the other. So let's start by praising Wood, who came over to the Bucs in their inaugural 1976 season after one year with the New York Jets. He was a critical part of that first great Bucs' defense, playing through 1984 and logging 132 games played and 89 starts. He was the team's leading tackler in four different seasons. And he has one of the best nicknames in franchise history. Even so, it's not enough to top David, who already ranks ninth in team annals in AV and clearly has many good years left ahead of him. David probably deserves more than the one Pro Bowl invite he has gotten, but that's still one more than Wood had. David was also a first-team Associated Press All-Pro in 2013, when he rather remarkably paired five interceptions with seven sacks. David is already fourth on the team's all-time tackle list and he'll be passing Hardy Nickerson for third early in 2020.
Level of Difficulty: 4.
Wood would have been a great choice in the absence of David, and we should mention Ervin Randle, too, which is the only reason this isn't a lower number.
Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith takes a look at the best player in Buccaneers history to wear uniform numbers 21-30.
55: LB Derrick Brooks
Perhaps the best player in franchise history, a Hall-of-Famer, a community hero and by far the team's all-time leader in AV (not to mention tackles). His 2002 season was one for the ages and earned him NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. Need we say more? We need not.
Level of Difficulty: 1.
Read that "1" as "-100." It's interesting that there wasn't a single notable 55 in team history before Brooks, but it's not like it would have mattered.
56: LB Hardy Nickerson
Quarles, David, Brooks and now Nickerson…we told you this was going to be a run through the team's greatest linebackers ever. Unlike Brooks, Nickerson does have some notable competition for his number, particularly Cecil Johnson, who went from undrafted free agent to six-year starter in the franchise's early years. Johnson was very good but Nickerson is second only to Brooks in career AV for Buccaneer linebackers. "Hardware" Nickerson was the first great signing by Tampa Bay upon the introduction of true unrestricted free agency in 1993. He came over from Pittsburgh and in his very first season set a still-standing Buccaneers record with 214 tackles. As noted above in the Lavonte David section, Nickerson currently ranks third in team history in tackles and he also picked off seven passes and tallied nine sacks. Nickerson was the heart and soul of the Bucs' resurgent defense in the '90s, though he didn't stick around long enough to share in the Super Bowl win.
Level of Difficulty: 4.
Cecil Johnson is a worthy competitor here but most Bucs fans think of Hardy Nickerson when they think of 56.
Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith takes a look at the best player in Buccaneers history to wear uniform numbers 31-40.
57: LB David Lewis
Lewis was the first Buccaneers linebacker to make the Pro Bowl, getting the nod in 1980, his fourth season. He was drafted in the second round in 1977 by his former college coach at USC, John McKay, and he quickly stepped into the starting lineup. The primary competitor here is Adam Hayward, one of the better sixth-round draft picks in team history. Hayward played seven seasons in the 57 jersey, two more than Lewis, and he was an outstanding special teams player. But Hayward made a total of 13 starts, and never more than five in a season.
Level of Difficulty: 2.
This isn't the most star-studded number in the 50s for the Buccaneers, but Hayward deserves some attention.
58: LB Jeff Davis
This one was tough. Davis never made a Pro Bowl, while Kwon Alexander went to the all-star game after the 2017 season. Also, Davis's six-year run with the Bucs coincided with probably the worst stretch for the team as a whole. He wasn't a starter during the abbreviated 1982 playoff season, and the Bucs were 16-63 in the five years he did start. Davis had 662 tackles and three interceptions as a Buccaneer; Alexander had 414 tackles and six interceptions. Do we think that Alexander was probably a more talented player than Davis overall? Yes. But it's so close that we're breaking the tie with AV, and Davis has it by a 30-25 margin over Alexander.
Level of Difficulty: 8.
This is about as hard as it gets, and we didn't even mention Quincy Black. Shaq Barrett probably just had the best season ever by a Buccaneer in number 58, and while one season is not enough to win a jersey number slot we can't say we weren't tempted. Alexander would have almost certainly won this number if he hadn't departed after four seasons (and only 46 games played) via free agency, but no one can blame him for signing his big deal with San Francisco.
Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith takes a look at the best player in Buccaneers history to wear uniform numbers 41-50.
59: LB Mason Foster
This is another 50 number that has been worn by a lot of good linebackers but none of the team's enduring stars. Foster's competition was Kevin Murphy, Andy Hawkins and Jamie Duncan, and Murphy comes the closest. This is one case in which we're not going with AV, as Murphy has a slight lead over Foster in that regard. But Foster had more starts, tackles and interceptions, and while Murphy had one six-sack season his lead in that category over Foster is minimal.
Level of Difficulty: 7.
We actually spent some time writing the case for Murphy here before realizing that Foster's overall production was simply better. But it was close.
60: C Randy Grimes
We ended the 41-50 segment with the first player to lock down the center position for Tampa Bay for a long time, Steve Wilson, and we end this one with the player who immediately followed Wilson and also held the job for many seasons. Grimes played his whole 10-year career in Tampa and finished with 118 games played and 104 starts. There aren't many more stats we can throw out here for Wilson, but he also doesn't have a real strong competitor to the throne here. Cosey Coleman, a starting guard on the Super Bowl team, comes closest and Wally Chambers deserves mention but Wilson is the fairly easy pick.
Level of Difficulty: 2.