In just a few weeks, the NFL will be transitioning from the off-season into training camp. So now is a good time to explore which players will indelibly play the biggest part in the success or failure of their respective teams. That’s what the Last Word on Sports NFL department is doing in revealing the three most prominent faces of each NFL franchise. Here, the 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are up for discussion.
Faces of the 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Few players in the league are under as much scrutiny heading into 2019 as Jameis Winston. Up to this point in his now four-year career, he simply hasn’t lived up to the billing of a first overall pick in the NFL Draft. Last year was particularly chaotic. After serving a three-game suspension due to an off-field transgression, he made just nine starts and went 3-6 in those games. It included a disastrous four-interception performance in a Week Eight loss to the Cincinnati Bengals where he was eventually benched for a then 35-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Still, the Bucs brass remains confident in him as they picked up his fifth-year option which will pay him $20.922 million in 2019. That puts him in the upper half of NFL quarterbacks when it comes to compensation. It’s hoped that the hiring of Bruce Arians as head coach will work wonders for his development. The two are familiar with one another as Winston attended one of Arian’s quarterback camps while still in high school. Just a few years later, Winston joined Johnny Manziel as the only freshmen in history to have ever won the Heisman Trophy. So there’s much cause for optimism that Winston can bounce back this season.
You can certainly peddle the narrative that Winston hasn’t lived up to expectations. The same can’t be said of Mike Evans. The seventh overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft burst onto the scene as a rookie, totaling 1,051 yards and finishing tied for fourth in the league with 12 touchdowns. In fact, he’s eclipsed the 1,000 receiving yards plateau in all five of his seasons in the league. It’s resulted in him receiving Pro Bowl nods in 2016 and 2018.
Evans also got paid big-time last off-season. The Bucs awarded the impressive start to his career with a five-year, $82.5 million deal that includes $55 million in guaranteed money. He repaid that faith by accounting for 1,524 yards receiving and averaging 17.7 yards per catch. Both were career highs and ranked third best among NFL wideouts. There’s simply no doubting that Evans is absolutely crucial to a Winston resurgence. And he’s certainly a player you should consider adding to your fantasy team in the early rounds if he’s available.
The Bucs were fairly reserved in free agency during the off-season, with Ndamukong Suh their most prominent acquisition. They signed the soon-to-be 10-year veteran to a one-year, $9.25 million contract that’s fully guaranteed. One of the most feared interior defenders in the league, Suh is coming off his first Super Bowl appearance in his lone season with the Los Angeles Rams. And though he’s approaching the tail end of his career, the Bucs are hoping that he can provide a veteran presence on a team that resides in a hugely competitive NFC South.
The addition of Suh gives the Bucs defensive front a healthy combination of youth and experience. He certainly embodies the latter. But the former comes in Vita Vea who will be entering his second season as a pro in 2019. Vea battled a calf injury during the early part of last season but eventually made eight starts, making 28 tackles, three sacks, and four tackles for loss. There’s certainly a lot to be excited about when it comes to him teaming up with Suh on the interior of the defensive line. With a player like Suh to learn from, the sky is the limit in terms of Vea developing into an upper-echelon defensive tackle in the NFL.