Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Eyeing the Finish Line | S.S. Mailbag  

This week, Bucs fans have questions about franchise records, Week 17 lineup decisions, the 2021 NFL Draft and more

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Tom Brady only played the first half of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week 16 win at Detroit but that was enough time to throw four touchdown passes and break the franchise single-season record in that category. Since one of those four TD tosses, plus another one by Blaine Gabbert in the second half, went to Mike Evans, he also broke his own single-season record for scoring grabs. Brady and Evans could still pad those records on Sunday against Atlanta, but for now the team record are 36 touchdown passes and 13 touchdown catches.

Brady broke a record that had lasted all of 51 weeks. His 36 touchdown passes are three more than the 33 Jameis Winston threw last year for a new and very short-lived team standard. Meanwhile Evans' record-shattering 13th TD catch erased from the Bucs' record book the very memorable name of … Mike Evans. He had already set the record at 12 in 2014 and then matched that again in 2016.

Given the NFL's ongoing pivot to more and more passing, it's not terribly surprising that the pitch-and-catch sections of team's record books are under constant assault these days. Four of the top five individual passing-yardage seasons for Tampa Bay have occurred since 2015. Three of the top 10 players on the franchise's all-time touchdown reception list are on the roster right now. Brady has thrown for the second-most yards in a season in team history but he only ranks fifth in the NFL in that category.

Evans does have a chance to break a record that has stood for 36 years on Sunday. His 13 touchdown catches also match the highest total of touchdowns of any kind scored in a season by a Buccaneer. James Wilder did it first with 13 rushing touchdowns in 1984. Wilder also set the team record that year with 1,544 rushing yards and that still stands though Doug Martin got relatively close in 2012 and 2015. While Wilder's rushing mark won't be easy to break, it doesn't seem unassailable.

View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 17 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.

Which Buc records do seem unassailable, you ask? While passing and receiving records fall seemingly every week, what corners of the Bucs' record book are mostly safe from attack in the 2020s?

Well, one that comes immediately to mind was actually set just last year. Shaquil Barrett's 19.5-sack campaign was so incredible that it beat the previous mark of 16.5, set by Warren Sapp two decades ago, by three full sacks. To break it, Barrett or some other Buccaneer is going to need a 20-sack season, and there have only been 12 of those since the stat became official in 1982. Only J.J. Watt and Demarcus Ware have two seasons with 19.5 sacks or more, so Barrett would be in elite company if he can match or beat his own mark.

Tampa Bay's single-season tackle record has stood since Hardy Nickerson was credited with 214 stops in 1993, and it will probably last for many more years. This is an instance in which the biggest obstacle is not talent or opportunity but simply the way numbers are processed now. Tackles used to be unofficially compiled and released by teams; now they are drawn from official game box scores. Devin White has 140 tackles this year; it's possible that if these numbers were still being compiled and reported by coaches reviewing game film that his total would be a lot higher.

This isn't a single-season record, but Martin Gramatica made 129 consecutive extra point attempts from early in 1999 to early in 2003. Now that extra points are equivalent to 33-yard field goals, kickers rarely go a whole season without missing at least one anymore. Among all kickers this year with at least 20 extra point tries, only the Dolphins' Jason Sanders and the Saints' Wil Lutz remain perfect.

Derrick Brooks scored four defensive touchdowns in the 2002 Super Bowl season (and then another one in the Super Bowl). That's going to be hard to beat. Actually, that's an understatement…it's going to be darn near impossible. I say that because there has only been one time that an NFL player has scored five defensive touchdowns in a season, and that was by the Houston Oiler's Ken Houston back in 1971.

Here's another one that's unlikely to ever be beaten simply because the rules of the game have changed. Bobby Joe Edmonds returned 58 kickoffs for the Buccaneers in 1995. Jaydon Mickens currently leads the Bucs in that category in 2020 with 12. With the touchback spot now at the 25-yard line and the kickoff from the 35 making touchbacks pretty easy for most kickers, there simply aren't going to be 58 opportunities for a kickoff returner in the future.

There are others, but those are probably the records most likely to stand for many, many years. Now on to your questions for this week.

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. 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 tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

Is Tom Brady close to breaking any more franchise records that he could hit this week?

- @austin_powa (via Instagram)

…and…

Will Mike Evans play week 17 to get over 1000 yards or will we rest him?

- @cdvitaliz (via Instagram)

I honestly wrote the introduction above before looking at this week's questions, but these two dovetail quite nicely with my topic of choice. Well done!

Yes, Tom Brady can break one more single-season record with a strong performance against the Falcons on Sunday. After his incredibly productive half of play in Detroit on Saturday, Brady saw his passer rating on the season rise to 101.0. As long as it doesn't fall below 100.5 on Sunday, he will finish with the best single-season mark in that category in team history.

The record is currently held by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is currently practicing his Fitzmagic downstate in Miami. In the 2018 season in which he and Winston were passing the starter baton back and forth, Fitzpatrick compiled a 100.4 rating on 246 passes, the first season in team history above 100. The Bucs' minimum to qualify in this category is 150 passes in a season, so Fitzpatrick's record is definitely valid. However, if Brady breaks the mark with something along the line of 600 passes, that will clearly be the more impressive accomplishment.

What will it take? Well here's a sample passing line that would lead to a 100.9 passer rating for Brady on Sunday: 22 completions in 35 attempts for 250 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Is there anything in that line that seems even remotely unlikely for Brady against one of the NFL's more porous pass defenses? Yeah, I don't think so either. If you add those totals to what Brady has done through the first 15 games, you would end up with a passer rating that stayed exactly where it's at now, 101.0.

As for Evans, all indications are that he will play against the Falcons on Sunday and that the Buccaneers will be cognizant of where he stands in relation to that 1,000-yard mark. For anyone who is not aware, Evans has 960 receiving yards on the season and needs 40 more to become the first player in NFL history to start his career with seven straight 1,000-yard seasons. Evans is averaging 64 yards per season this year, so it won't take an extraordinary effort to get him the 40 he needs. What the Bucs don't want to do, and will surely be careful to guard against, is try too hard to get the ball to Evans, leading to potential turnovers. The main goal is still to win the game.

Bruce Arians says the Buccaneers are playing to win on Sunday and that getting an 11th win and the fifth seed in the playoffs are important goals. I suspect that means all or most of the Bucs' usual starters will be in the game, though it's possible some will get pulled early if the scoreboard becomes lopsided one way or the other. Evans stayed in the game for four quarters last week in Detroit even while Brady was sitting out the second half, and that was pretty obviously to give him more opportunities at the record. Now he's on the brink and I suspect he'll play at least long enough to get it.

What are the chances of getting Vita back for the postseason?

- @u.2smooth

Great question, but there is virtually no chance. Vita Vea suffered a pretty bad leg fracture against Chicago in Week Five, on the night of October 8. It was pretty evident that his season was over at the time, but I understand wondering if the extension of that season into January makes it possible for Vea to return.

Unfortunately, that's not really enough added time to make a difference. Arians said that, while Vea is doing well in his recovery, it is expected to take six months. If we adhere to that strictly that keeps Vea out until April. Sure, there's probably some wriggle room in there but not enough to have him ready by January.

The last time Arians addressed this subject was on November 16. He was asked about the possibility of both Vea and tight end O.J. Howard, who had a ruptured Achilles tendon the week prior to Vea's injury, returning for the postseason. Arians categorically ruled out Howard and then said he would, "doubt it very seriously," that Vea could return. The good news is that the Bucs' defense has held up pretty well without their rising star lineman in the middle, and the better news is that Vea is still very early in his career and should have many great years left as a Buccaneer.

Do you think Damon 'Snacks' Harrison could add to our d-line depth?

- @justcallmescates, via Instagram

First of all, this is a moot point because the Green Bay Packers claimed Harrison off waivers Wednesday after he was given the release by Seattle that he requested after being a healthy scratch in Week 16. So unless the Packers subsequently let him go, Snacks could not add to our D-Line depth.

I'm not particularly torn up by this news. I understand the reflexive move to wonder how any player of note that is released by or is rumored to be on the way out with his current team could help the Buccaneers. Team management didn't exactly quash this reflex when it spent the offseason and part of the regular season scooping up Rob Gronkowski, LeSean McCoy, Leonard Fournette, Steve McLendon and Antonio Brown. The 2020 Bucs aren't afraid to keep adding complementary pieces if they think it will help them win.

But there doesn't seem to be much wrong with the Bucs' interior line depth. Yes, as noted above, Vita Vea was lost after five games, but Rakeem Nunez-Roches has filled in quite well as the new starter and the trade for McLendon restored the original depth at that position. Since then, the Buccaneers have already added Jeremiah Ledbetter from the practice squad and he's been getting some quality snaps lately. And the Bucs have essentially not even used rookie defensive tackle Khalil Davis yet. The Bucs were ranked first against the run when Vea went down and they are still first against the run. Meanwhile, the defense has 47 sacks, third-most in the NFL. Things are going pretty well up front.

An offseason question but what position do we need to strengthen in the draft?

- @aidan.cancassi

The Buccaneers are about to make their first playoff run since 2007 and you're asking me about the draft?! Come on, Aidan!

Just kidding. When is not a good time to talk about the draft? It's midweek and the Bucs are practicing for their Week 17 showdown with Atlanta. Meanwhile, you and I can practice our 2021 draft analysis.

What makes this complicated is that we don't know exactly what the 2021 roster is going to look like. As of right now, the following Buccaneers are not under contract for 2021: Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett, Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, Ryan Succop and…gulp…Chris Godwin, among others. Do I think a good number of those players will still be here next year? I do. Do I think all of them will be back? That's a pretty tall order.

None of us want to talk about this, but what if the Buccaneers are unable to sign, say, David or Barrett or Godwin. A departure by any one of those three would probably significantly alter the team's draft priorities in 2021. For the sake of argument, though, let's say all three of those players get new deals in Tampa. Let's also assume, which seems extremely likely, that Tom Brady will be back for the second year of his two-year deal in Tampa. What then?

Well, I think that even with Barrett back the Bucs could still use an edge rusher, particularly with Jason Pierre-Paul's current contract up after the 2021 season. That's a spot at which the Bucs could fit a new player in next year even with their two starters returning. Both Barrett and Pierre-Paul play a huge percentage of the team's snaps but a three-man rotation with fewer snaps for everyone might actually be a more effective approach.

In addition, I'm always of the opinion that you can never have enough quality cornerbacks. How high in the draft the Bucs might target that position will come down to their post-season evaluations of their young corners, Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting. All three may be seen as the long-term future or the Bucs might want to add another talented player at that spot.

Would Tampa Bay consider drafting a potential quarterback of the future? It's not completely out of the question but given the possibility that the Bucs will still be in all-in mode with Brady at the helm at 2021, it might be hard to justify using a first-round pick on the position. And, of course, we are hoping it is a late first-round pick.

Finally, I could see the Buccaneers adding a dynamic interior-line player. This would be more of a need if Suh moves on and the Bucs need someone to pair with Vea as he returns from his injury. Overall, though, it's clearly too early to know what the team's priorities will be next April.

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