The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are struggling offensively this season. However, while free-agent additions may not be performing as expected, two rookies are stepping up.
Between the pre-season media storm created through HBO’s Hard Knocks, and the recent allegations against quarterback Jameis Winston, the Bucs have given the national media plenty to talk about. One thing that is not being talked about is the performance of their rookie class.
Tampa Bay made six selections at this year’s draft in Philadelphia. Splitting their focus 50/50 between the offense and defense, the Bucs received a gift in the first round.
Best on the board
According to NFL.com’s draft experts, O.J. Howard was a Top-10 talent in this draft class. Certainly the Bucs were shocked to see him on the board after the Tennessee Titans selected Adoree’ Jackson, cornerback out of Southern California. Yet despite the success of Cameron Brate, and his chemistry with Winston, the front office wrote Howard’s name down as the 19th selection.
“It was a little bit of a pipe dream during the process, that he would get there,” GM Jason Licht said after selecting the tight end from Alabama. “He’s a great kid. He’s one of the top character kids on the board, if not the top. So for multiple reasons we are excited.”
Positions of need
Tight end was not a need, however, Tampa Bay did a nice job of addressing their needs in Round 2 and Round 3. After struggling to find a formidable safety through previous draft’s, the Bucs chose Justin Evans (Texas A&M) at No. 50 overall. Wide receiver Chris Godwin (Penn State) was the selection at No. 84, in the third round, followed by ILB Kendell Beckwith (LSU) as the 107th pick of the draft.
Evans and Beckwith have earned praise as rookies but, it’s the offensive guys that have climbed the rookie ranks.
Strong offensive rookie duo
The Carolina Panthers (Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel) and San Francisco 49ers (George Kittle, Trent Taylor, and Matt Breida) are joined by the Buccaneers as the only teams with multiple rookies in the Top-10 in receiving yards. Yes, the offense is a problem right now in Tampa. But it’s not because of their first-year players.
Here’s a look at where Howard and Godwin rank among NFC rookies in several key stats.
- Howard – 8th (17)
- Godwin – 10th (15)
- Howard – 5th (279)
- Godwin – 11th (189)
- Howard – 2nd (4)
20+ Yard Catches:
- Howard – 3rd (5)
It’s worth noting that the Bucs tight end is the only rookie with 15+ catches and an average of greater than 15 yards-per-reception (16.4) – Godwin is 3rd at 12.6 yards-per-catch.
Kiko Alonso isn’t playing disciplined football. He spends so much time with his eyes in the backfield OJ Howard runs right by him repeatedly. Teams are clearly game-planning to attack Kiko Alonso at this point. pic.twitter.com/KzbeNiCHlY
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) November 20, 2017
Rest of the NFC
While the duo in Carolina has 40 more receptions to date, thanks to McCaffrey’s 57, Samuel is out for the season with an ankle injury. It’s possible (Samuel injury and Kelvin Benjamin trade) that the Carolina running back will finish the season with more receptions than both Tampa Bay rookies combined, but if you took Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson out of the Bucs depth chart the same might be said for Godwin of Howard.
The 49ers have themselves a nice trio of first-year players as well. Breida has received such high regard that GM John Lynch couldn’t avoid trade rumors surrounding free-agent-to-be Carlos Hyde. Kittle (6th) and Taylor (7th) rank just ahead of Breida on the receptions list, and Kittle has just two fewer yards than Howard.
However, much like Carolina, you could argue that the San Francisco rookies are performing out of necessity, seeing far more opportunities given injuries, trades, or position on the depth chart.
That is not the case with this Buccaneers duo. In fact, Howard is at-best the fourth option in the passing attack, while Godwin is fourth on the depth chart at his position.
In addition, quarterback changes are so-often under stated. Since Fitzpatrick took over for the injured (shoulder) Winston, Godwin has seven of his 15 catches. Plus, Howard saw more targets (4) than Brate did last week against the Dolphins. With the news that the Harvard grad could be under center for an “extended period of time”, according to Licht, the Howard-Godwin duo may start to receive more recognition around the league.
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