It's not a secret that the Buccaneers' rookie class is something special. Led by quarterback Jameis Winston, the Bucs have gotten 52 starts out of their rookies, the most of any team in the NFL. All four of the Bucs' top draft picks started the team's first eight games, something that no other club had accomplished. Additionally, Winston has already broken Tampa Bay's rookie passing record.
"We traded up to get Ali [Marpet]," Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "We took Donovan [Smith] right at the first of the second round. Donovan is right outside of a first-round pick. We were fortunate to get those two guys where we did in the draft. I said before we hit the jackpot when we got Jameis [Winston] and those two guys in one draft. It's come together."
Of the eight rookies on the Bucs' roster, five have been called on to start at a point in time this year. Naturally, the group has gotten to be pretty close off the field, in addition to gelling on it.
"We've got our own group message," Winston said during a press conference on Wednesday. "We chat with each other all the time. Last week we rented out a laser tag place, just the rookies playing laser tag, having fun. That just shows that's family. You don't do that stuff in the NFL any more. In college you saw the guy in the locker room say, 'Hey, I want to go get a bite to eat or something,' but we're doing that on our own.
"(Director of Player Development) Duke (Preston) is heading it, but we are doing it on our own. We're taking initiative like we need each other. 'I don't know if you're going to be gone to this team next year, I don't know if you're going to be somewhere else the next year but right now what we have, we got to find a way to make it work.' I believe that our rookie class has definitely stepped up."
Winston, as the No. 1 pick, is the cornerstone of the class and, through 12 games, is putting together a case to be this year's NFL Rookie of the Year. So far, he's been named the Rookie of the Week three times, more than any rookie in the league.
Photos of QB Jameis Winston in a victory over the New Orleans Saints on September 20th.