Bucs Yes/No: Two Defenders in the Pro Bowl

DevinLavonte

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose Mount Rushmore would probably be four defensive players and still open for debate as to which four, have a rich history on that side of the ball. Their first star was a pass-rusher (Lee Roy Selmon); their first playoff team was driven by the NFL's top defense and their best era of sustained success, peaking in a Super Bowl win, was all about the star-studded "D" as well.

The Buccaneers have never had an Associated Press league MVP or an Offensive Player of the Year, but since they began play in 1976 they've seen three different players collect Defensive Player of the Year award (Selmon, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks). In that same span, only Pittsburgh (with four) and Baltimore can say the same.

So it's not surprising that Tampa Bay's Pro Bowl history is also slanted to the defensive side. Of the 95 all-time all-star berths awarded to Buccaneer players, 57 have belonged to defensive players, versus 34 on offense and four that went to specialists.

Last year, then was a bit out of character. Tampa Bay's only Pro Bowl invitation was sent to an offensive player, the vastly deserving Mike Evans . Even then, you couldn't keep the Bucs' presence off the Pro Bowl defense, as Evans played some snaps as a cornerback and even snared an interception.

The lack of a Buc defender in last year's all-star game wasn't a huge surprise, even though Lavonte David and Jason Pierre-Paul had particularly good seasons, because Tampa Bay's overall results on that side of the ball were not good. Still, the Bucs had two defenders in the game as recently as the 2017 season and have had at least two selected in 14 of the last 22 seasons. Is there a chance the current defense can rebound in 2019 and make that 15 of the last 23? That's what Carmen Vitali and are going to debate today. And as has been the case all week, we're going to have to agree to disagree.

For each of the questions below, Carmen and I are going to say yes or no. We'll find out later this year who was right and who was wrong.

Thursday: Will at least two Buccaneer defenders make the Pro Bowl in 2019?

Friday: Will any Buccaneer defender get 10 or more sacks this season?

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View the top photos of Buccaneers' linebackers during the 2019 offseason.

Yes or no: Will at least two Buccaneer defenders make the Pro Bowl in 2019?

Carmen Vitali: No

I’ve made it a priority to start the Lavonte David Pro Bowl campaign early yet again. He’s been so overlooked in recent years as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defensive scheme, I’ve had to actually make it my bold prediction that David will finally make the Pro Bowl after the 2019 campaign. There are quite a few reasons for optimism though, given that I think David will be utilized in such a way that will allow him more sacks and plays on the ball, which is apparently what matters in Pro Bowl voting. I’m not backing down from any of that and still wholeheartedly believe that will be the case. If you take David as a given, that means only one other Buccaneer defender needs to make the Pro Bowl, which doesn’t seem that farfetched until you realize that recent defensive players to make the cut are no longer on the Bucs’ roster.

The last time the Bucs sent two defenders to the Pro Bowl was actually very recently. It was in 2017 when both defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Kwon Alexander, selected as an alternate, made the NFC’s roster. Both McCoy and Alexander wear different jerseys now but are in fact, still in the NFC. As a result, they will be competing for the same roster spots Bucs players will be hoping to occupy come January.

Now, neither of those two former Buccaneers made the Pro Bowl last season and so it’s entirely possible they don’t factor into the competition here. However, they’re also both on new teams and both have something to prove. McCoy will look to assert himself in the same division as his former team while Alexander will be looking to prove he’s 100% rehabbed from an ACL injury suffered last year. That’s a lot of motivation.

But let’s bring it back home and look at the Bucs defense itself. If you’re dissecting the roster, you’ll notice how young that side of the ball truly is. Newcomer Ndamukong Suh has the longest NFL tenure going into his 10th season, albeit his first one with the Buccaneers. David, who we already mentioned is GOING TO MAKE THE PRO BOWL, comes in second entering his eighth year. Next to David on the field though, is rookie Devin White. Heck, presumably next to Suh on the line is sophomore Vita Vea. The secondary? Their oldest starter is cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III at the ripe old age of 24 (which he turned last month). Now, in the NFL, youth is a great thing when building your team. You have young, eager players ready to be molded to the Bucs’ versatile defense. But it comes at the expense of name recognition, which plays a big role in Pro Bowl voting. So while youth can be a strength on the field, it may not be when it comes to the ballots.

Another strength of a versatile system like the one the Bucs are likely to employ is that there isn’t exactly one star player. It’s a concerted effort that relies on every piece working in harmony together. Pressure comes from every side at every level, therefore spreading out the ‘gaudy’ stats. I expect that the Bucs defense will have a lot more sacks in 2019 but I expect more players to get sacks, not more sacks for a select few. That’s perhaps the biggest distinction to make in my argument against two Bucs defenders making the Pro Bowl this year as much as I’d like to see it happen.

Scott Smith: Yes

This is the toughest sell of the week for me, to be honest. The problem is a relative lack of established defensive stars. Two of the three homegrown players on last year's defense who had Pro Bowls on their resumes are now gone – Gerald McCoy and Kwon Alexander. Pierre-Paul went to two Pro Bowls earlier in the Giants portion of his career and is a well-established name, but the start of his season is in jeopardy due to a neck injury.

David remains, however, and I'm banking on him being one of my two Pro Bowlers. The change in his designation from outside linebacker to inside linebacker means he won't have to compete for spots with 3-4 edge rushers anymore, but unfortunately the path didn't get much easier. The Pro Bowl only takes two ILBs per conference, as opposed to three OLBs, and now David must contend with the likes of Bobby Wagner, Luke Kuechly and the rapidly-rising Leighton Vander Esch.

Remember, though, that two spots can often get spread out over three or four players if one or both of the initial picks has to pull out of the Pro Bowl due to playoff commitments or injury. That's how Vander Esch made it last year even though Wagner and Kuechly were the two first choices. How does David invade that group? I think he needs something approaching his 2013 All-Pro season, when he had five interceptions, seven sacks and a whole mess of tackles, including 21 for loss. In other words, he needs to make his stat line look gaudy. And I think he will, particularly in the middle of a more aggressive defensive scheme that is almost sure to blitz its inside linebackers at times.

So who will join David in the Pro Bowl and prove me right in this debate? I'm counting on it being one of two newcomers: Ndamukong Suh or Devin White.

The vote for Suh is based on name recognition and career Pro Bowl momentum. By that I mean he's already been to the game five times, most recently in 2016, so he's got a reputation as a player who operates on an all-star level. Suh will need Tampa Bay's defense to be much better overall in 2019 to have a real shot, but if his sack total spikes back up to seven or eight, he could get the attention he needs. He's made the Pro Bowl every year that he's had at least eight sacks.

There are three NFC Pro Bowl spots for interior linemen, and last year they initially went to Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox and Akiem Hicks, with DeForest Buckner and Kawann Short later getting called in. Donald isn't giving up his spot, which will probably be reserved for him for the next decade, and Cox has gone to four in a row and thus has a ton of that momentum. But I don't think Hicks, Buckner or Short are so engrained that Suh could unseat them with one more big season.

If it's not Suh, then perhaps Devin White can make an impression quickly enough to gain an all-star spot. The problem there is that I'm now giving both NFC spots to a Buccaneers inside linebacker, and that's unlikely. Still, I'll soldier on here because maybe the combination will be White and Suh if David doesn't get enough love from the voters.

The argument for White is the same as David, in this scheme and with his talents, he's got a very good shot at filling up a stat line. NFL Media analyst Lance Zierlein thinks White is going to do that well enough to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite, and that honor could come paired with a Pro Bowl spot. That's exactly how it went down for Colts linebacker Darius Leonard last year, not to mention Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore in 2017, Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters in 2015 and Donald himself in 2014.

Sure, I'd love it if some other young players emerged as potential all-stars on the Bucs' defense in 2019, like Vita Vea or Justin Evans or Carlton Davis, but those Pro Bowl predictions are a lot more aggressive. I'm going with the ones I think are most likely, and hoping that some combination of two out of Lavonte David, Devin White and Ndamukong Suh get the call at the end of this season.

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