Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Presented by

Underrated Bucs in 2021 | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about players we may not be giving enough attention, Throwback Games and more

71mailbag

This weekend, those of us in the United States will be observing the Fourth of July. Many celebrate the nation's birthday in the traditional ways: family gatherings, cookouts and fireworks.

Some families have to double up on the weekend celebrations, however, if they happen to have somebody in the group who, like a real life Yankee Doodle Dandy, was born on the Fourth of July. (Speaking of the Yankees, George Steinbrenner arrived on July 4, 1930.) That happens to be the case for Josh McCown, the well-traveled and popular former quarterback who was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014. Happy upcoming birthday, Josh!

Legendary former Raiders owner Al Davis is another famous NFLer with a July 4 birthdate. Others on that list include 30th U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, famous gangster Meyer Lansky, Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Floyd Little and The Scarlet Letter author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

But is McCoy the only former Buccaneer player with a July 4 birthday, you ask (I'm projecting here)? Why no, he is not. That small and inherently patriotic group also includes Clifton Smith and Randy Young. Smith was a dynamic kick returner who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2008 and is still the only Buccaneer return man to play in the NFL's all-star game. Young was a reserve offensive tackle who saw action in nine games in Tampa Bay's inaugural 1976 season; that was the extent of his NFL career.

So there's the answer to a question you didn't even know you had regarding this weekend's celebrations. As long as I'm delving into this database, let's look at a couple other special dates to see if any current or former Buccaneers enjoy their birthdays on those days. Such as:

- New Year's Eve: Current standout cornerback Carlton Davis just made it under the wire in 1996, arriving on December 31. The same was true for former Bucs wideout Bernard Reedy, born on the last day of 1991. If we include 1987 replacement players, then you can add a defensive back named Torin Clark to this list.

- New Year's Day: Again, we have a current Buc with this birthday. That would be Mr. Jason Pierre-Paul, one of the first babies of 1989. There's also a replacement player on this list, a tight end named Jeff Modesitt, but that's the only other one. We'll give this one to JPP.

- Halloween: Former Bucs' linebacker Jeff Gooch, a fan favorite in part for how fun it was to yell his name, was his mom's treat on Halloween in 1974.

- Christmas Day: Doubling up on the presents on December 25 are Greg Robinson and Leon Pennington. If those aren't exactly household names in your Bucs-loving home, that's okay. Each guy played exactly three games for Tampa Bay, Robinson as a reserve guard in 1986 and Pennington as a replacement player/linebacker in 1987.

- Leap Day: The best birthday of all, February 29, because it means you age four times slower than everyone else. Bruce Hill, a very productive wide receiver for the Buccaneers from 1987-91, was born on Leap Day in 1964 and has thus only technically had 14 birthdays since. And, while I know I'm just focusing on players here, I will also point out that Monte Kiffin, who will be inducted into the Ring of Honor this season, was born on a Leap Day.

Okay, I know what question you're going to ask next because I'm fabricating this whole conversation in my head. That question is: What is the most common birthday of all time for Buccaneers players, past and present? I'm glad you asked; the answer is September 21. Ten different former and Bucs share that birthday, most prominently defensive end Kevin Carter, punter/kicker Dave Green, tight end John Gilmore and linebacker Adarius Taylor. The current Buc with that birthday is wide receiver John Franklin.

And finally, there are 14 out of a possible 366 dates that have not yet seen the birth of a Buccaneer player: January 16, February 9, April 9 and 29, May 13 and 30, July 29, August 11, September 22 and 24, October 5 and November 1, 28 and 30.

And now on to your questions (and Happy Fourth of July!).

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.

Also, the S.S. Mailbag will be on hiatus for the next two weeks but please feel free to continue sending in questions for when it returns on July 22.

How do YOU feel about the future return of the throw back jerseys?

- @patty_shack (via Instagram)

My thanks to Patty for teeing up a softball to get this one started. I mean, come on, OF COURSE I'm thrilled about the potential return of the Buccaneers' Throwback Games. I know it's been eight years since we've had one but I still remember quite vividly how striking the uniforms were, how cool Raymond James Stadium looked all decked out in orange and how much the fans loved it. I'm looking forward to that experience again.

I say "potential" because I think there are still some things to be ironed out here. That said, I have no doubt that we are going to see the orange jerseys again; I'm just not exactly sure when.

If you're not following NFL news right now – and admittedly, there isn't much to follow at this particular time of the year – allow me to provide an update. First rewind to 2013, when the NFL established a new rule requiring teams to fit all of their players with one helmet during training camp, and to only use that single set of helmets all season. The rule was designed to increase player safety. The Buccaneers had held one Throwback Game per season from 2009 to 2012 but now found themselves in a pickle. Their current uniforms are pewter but the ones that go with their Throwback jerseys were white. You couldn't really pair the old uniforms with new helmets, so you couldn't have a Throwback game.

Well, last week the league office sent a memo announcing that, beginning in 2022, teams would be allowed to fit each player with two helmets during training camp. That makes it possible for a team to have a second set of helmets in a different color, which in turn makes it possible for the Bucs to bring back their Throwback uniforms. That's something the Glazer family, eager to give its fanbase more Throwback games, had been lobbying for for quite some time.

That's good news. It's unclear at the moment, though, how soon the Throwback jerseys can be brought back. Technically, we've already passed the deadline by which a team can inform the league that it will be wearing a different uniform at some point in 2022. That would seem to push the Bucs' first opportunity to hold another Throwback Game to 2023. This is nothing but pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if the league might make an exception based on the fact that the helmet rule just got changed and that in turn could change what a team wants to do next season. We'll see.

Anyway, I'm sure we're eventually getting more Throwback Games because, as I said, that's something that team ownership very much wants. And, yeah, it will be great. Personally, I'm very much in favor of alternate uniforms and historical throwbacks for all times. I mean, some of those Steelers throwbacks aren't necessarily all that aesthetically pleasing (in my humble opinion…don't come at me, Yinzers) but it's still cool to see something so different.

And the Bucs' "creamsicle" uniforms are definitely different. That uniform is something wholly unique to the NFL and thus an interesting part of league history. I do think there's been a little rewriting of history in the Bay area in the past quarter-century. I mean, I was there when the Bucs first switched from the original uniforms to the pewter and red and my recollection is that the change was met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction. What I'm saying is that I think the creamsicle uniforms are much more beloved now than they were when the team was actually wearing them. Which is fine. Nothing wrong with a little nostalgia.

Which player are we not paying enough attention to? Anyone you think is heading into the season underrated?

- @adriano.pasco (via Instagram)

Well, the stock answer is always going to be Lavonte David. Ever seen one of those Player A and Player B comparisons? Let's do one now.

Player A was a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, and in his first nine seasons, all with the same team, he has played in 135 games with 134 starts. He has amassed 1,213 tackles, 22.5 sacks, 65 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions, 55 passes defensed, five forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns. He has been voted into the Pro Bowl in each of the last seven seasons and has been named a first-team Associated Press All-Pro six times. He was also a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2010s.

Player B was a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, and in his first nine seasons, all with the same team, he has played in 137 games with 137 starts. He has amassed 1,125 tackles, 24.0 sacks, 128 tackles for loss, 12 interceptions, 51 passes defensed, 24 forced fumbles, 16 fumble recoveries and three defensive touchdowns. He has been to one Pro Bowl and been named a first-team All-Pro once.

One of those players is Seattle's Bobby Wagner and one is Lavonte David. I'd imagine the last sentence in each paragraph gives it away, but Wagner is Player A and David is Player B. If you only had the first sentence in each paragraph to go by, could you think of any plausible reason that Player A has been showered with dramatically more accolades than Player B? I couldn't. And yet here we are, with David – at least finally a Super Bowl champion – somehow year after year remaining one of the most criminally underrated NFL players of this millennium.

But I suspect that's not the kind of answer you're looking for. Buccaneer fans know how great David has been and still is and understand that he's underrated. I think you want me to identify someone who Bucs fans might be sleeping on a bit, right? Okay, let's do that.

This might seem like a strange answer, but one of the first players that comes to mind is Shaq Barrett. I mean, we all know that Barrett is very good, that he was a Pro Bowler in 2019 and that he just got a (well-deserved) contract that indicates he's a player the team was loathe to see leave. All true, but what I think might be lost here is that Barrett might be an absolute superstar in 2020.

Barrett did not repeat his Pro Bowl selection last year and I guess that's because his sack total dropped from a league-high (and team-record) 19.5 in 2019 to "just" 8.0 in 2020. That would seem to put him more in the middle tier of NFL pass-rush standouts, but I think he's a lot closer to what we thought he was in 2019 than what his final sack total in 2020 indicates. Barrett's quarterback pressures, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, were nearly identical in those two seasons and he ranked third in the league in that category in both 2019 and 2020.

As Barrett himself said this offseason, he just needs to be more consistent from week to week and needs to convert more of those pressures into sacks. Outside Linebackers Coach Larry Foote said that Barrett had to figure out how to deal with the extra attention he was getting from opposing blocking schemes based on his huge 2019 season. So he had some stretches last season where he wasn't as effective, but he clearly had it figured out by the end. Barrett was an absolute beast in the playoffs and he led that unforgettable charge on Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl, racking up eight pressures in that game alone.

If Barrett succeeds in translating that postseason level of play to most of the 2021 season, he will absolutely be one of the most feared edge rushers in the game. And, man, is he motivated to do exactly that. The man has set some extremely lofty goals for his 2021 season. Yeah, you probably thought he would be good this season, but I think he's going to outplay even those expectations.

A couple others: Based on what we were seeing in the first four games of 2020, O.J. Howard could put up surprising numbers if he can have a little bit better luck with injuries in 2021. I would put Carlton Davis and Ali Marpet squarely in the underrated category, but I'm not sure if that's the case here in the Bay area. I like Tyler Johnson and think he could put up pretty good numbers if he gets the opportunity, but I'm not sure how big that opportunity is going to be in 2021.

Oh, and Ronald Jones. Last week, I used the intro to my mailbag to look at some of the fantasy football expectations for Buccaneers players in 2021. Every ranking I found had Leonard Fournette higher than Jones, apparently reflecting a widespread belief (at least in fantasy circles) that Fournette is going to surpass Jones as the team's most-used ballcarrier. And certainly that's possible. But let's not forget that Jones was keeping Fournette in the reserve role for almost all of 2020 due to his high level of play. It took some injuries and a virus to give Fournette the clear number-one job, and boy did he run with it. But I can see a situation in which Jones holds onto his lead role and is even more productive in his fourth NFL season than he was in his third, especially with him searching for a new contract in 2022.

With Cameron Kinley not being able to play, will we sign someone prior to camp?

- j13_antiers (via Instagram)

I've answered a question similar to this one before, and I'm a little unsure as to why this remains a specific concern for some fans.

Kinley is an interesting prospect who drew some praise from Head Coach Bruce Arians after arriving as an undrafted rookie in May. He's also a bright and impressive young man who was one of the top students at the U.S. Naval Academy and who know must serve a four-year active duty commitment to the military. He had expected to be given a delay for his commission before signing with the Buccaneers but subsequently learned that request was denied. He was also not granted an opportunity to appeal the decision but is still hoping it will be reversed before training camp.

Arians also said the Bucs would welcome Kinley back for camp if that decision is reversed. For the purposes of this question we're assuming that doesn't happen.

At the very base level of this question, the answer is probably yes. The Buccaneers had 90 players on the roster when they learned of Kinley's issue, and technically they still do. They have not formally made any roster move with the rookie cornerback since that decision was revealed, so he remains on the roster at the moment, and that roster is still at it's camp limit of 90. If it eventually becomes clear that there is no chance of Kinley's return, the team will almost surely want to free up that spot and sign another player so as to be able to bring 90 into camp.

However, what I think I'm being asked here is if the Buccaneers need to sign another cornerback to replace Kinley, and that's not necessarily the case.

Tampa Bay finished the 2020 season with six cornerbacks on the roster, including Herb Miller on the practice squad. Of those six, the only one who is not returning for 2021 is Ryan Smith, and the Bucs subsequently drafted BYU cornerback Chris Wilcox in the sixth round of the draft. It may be some time before Wilcox has a role on defense, but he can probably step right into the role that Smith had occupied. Smith didn't play on defense at all last year but was a top special teamer who excelled at the gunner position; the Bucs think Wilcox has a chance to do the same right away.

The Buccaneers have also signed three veteran cornerbacks with NFL experience – Nate Brooks, Antonio Hamilton and Dee Delaney – and all seem to have a real shot to earn a spot, especially if the team decides to keep six cornerbacks this year. That will likely be decided by special teams concerns, and Hamilton in particular has already proved he can be an asset in that area, as he was for all 19 games with the Chiefs last year.

That's a total of nine cornerbacks on the roster, including returning players Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Ross Cockrell and Herb Miller. The first four on that list were pretty much lucked in as the team's top four corners all of last season and should start camp in the same manner. The Bucs also liked what they saw from Miller as a rookie last year and think he has a shot at the 53-man roster after spending 2020 on the practice squad (with a handful of game day elevations).

Last year the Buccaneers had seven cornerbacks on the roster at the start of training camp. In 2019, Arians' first year at the helm, the Bucs brought eight corners to camp, if one classified M.J. Stewart as a corner and not a safety. At the time, there was some thought of moving him to the latter position. In any case, the Bucs are currently going heavier at cornerback than they have the last two years. That doesn't suggest that they need to add to the position if Kinley can't rejoin the team.

I'm rooting for Kinley's return and he'll be an interesting player to watch if he can report to camp. Even so, as is the case with any undrafted player, it would have been an uphill battle for him to make the regular-season roster. In May of 2020, the Buccaneers signed 13 rookie free agents after the draft. Of those 13, two spent time on the active roster: outside linebacker Cam Gill and cornerback Parnell Motley. Safety Javon Hagan spent the whole year on the practice squad but did get to play in one postseason contest after being elevated for game day.

However, eight of those 13 players did spend at least part of 2020 on the practice squad, helped out by the COVID-related rule revision that gave each team 16 practice squad spots. It's possible that rule will be retained for 2021, as well, but even if it isn't the Bucs will have 12 spots, and that represents a lot of opportunities for young players.

I think that would likely be the outcome for Kinley if he does get to come to training camp: battle for a spot on the practice squad and maybe get a future promotion. And that would be a great outcome, as it would keep Kinley's dream of playing in the NFL – and in the process being an ambassador for the Navy – alive and kicking. Lots of undrafted and late-round players follow that path to a roster spot, first proving over an extended time what they can do on the practice field.

But to return to my point in answering this question, while the Navy's decision is a bummer for Kinley and potentially a reason for the Bucs to have to make a roster move, his absence is not leaving a glaring hole in the Bucs' cornerback room, either in terms of sheer numbers for camp or the competition for spots on the active roster.

Related Content

Advertising