Pundits and fans alike have touted the 2017 Buccaneers roster as the best they have seen in years. How does it stand up against the most accomplished Buc roster ever, the 2002 Super Bowl Champions?
There is a different vibe surrounding the Buccaneers this year. Gone are worries of who is going to win the starting third wide receiver spot, left guard, and the desperate need of a pass rush. These questions have been replaced with more menial concerns of who is going to be the number two QB and does the team have enough corner back depth? Jason Licht and his staff have constructed a top tier NFL roster that has fans and pundits predicting the end of a near decade long playoff drought in Tampa. So it begs the question; is this the best Bucs team on paper of all-time? Could it be a better roster than the 2002 Super Bowl Champions?
At first glance comparing a 9-7 football team that didn’t even make the playoffs to Super Bowl Champions seem laughable at best. I get it. Truthfully I was waffling back and forth on whether to even bother writing such a piece. Then I listened to the What The Buc latest podcast where I heard the following:
It’s in the chat room people are talking about it’s the most talented team on paper we’ve seen. Which is probably true, anecdotally it feels true. – Old School, What The Buc Podcast
And before Derek “Old School” Fournier could finish the sentence, surprise guest Mark “Ginger Bad-Ass” Cook replied.
It’s not even close, it’s very true – Mark Cook, What The Buc Podcast
Mark Cook is the editor-in-chief for the Pewter Report, a media outlet that has covered the Buccaneers for over 20 years. If a guy that has been to every practice and home game since 2011 says, without hesitation, that this year’s team has the best roster, it’s time to have that conversation.
I decided to go on a ten point must system, like in boxing. Most grades will be 10-9, but if a position truly lopsided then a 10-8 score will be given. I will be using the starting lineup that appeared on Super Bowl Sunday for the 2002 Buccaneers and a projected week 17 lineup for this year team, giving this years draft class time to work into starting roles which they might not have in week 1. As the elder statesmen of the group the 2002 player descriptions will always lead off.
Brad Johnson- A top three all-time Buccaneer QB and a two time Pro Bowler. Johnson’s laser focus and calm demeanor was the rock of that 2002 offense
Jameis Winston- Already has one Pro Bowl under his belt and just entering his third year as the unquestioned leader of the franchise. Considered the best quarterback the Bucs have ever had.
Michael Pittman- Underrated as an all-time Buccaneer running back. Never rushed for 1,000 yards as a Buc but had some very good combined yardage seasons, 1,348 was a career high in 2003. Don’t forget Pittman rushed for 124 yards in the Super Bowl victory.
Doug Martin- Yes, I’m using Martin and not Rodgers. I truly believe that Doug will return to the team after he serves the rest of his four game suspension. He is still the best back on the roster. He is a two time Pro Bowler and also was an All-Pro in 2015. Need I go on?
Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, & Joe Jurevicius- All three were very productive for the Buccaneers. Johnson is the most recognizable name, but I think that can be attributed to his personality as much as his play. McCardell and Jurevicius are somewhat underrated in my book with one being a highly productive number two WR and the later always seemed to come up clutch.
Mike Evans, Desean Jackson, & Adam Humphries- Evans statistical trajectory might put him in the Hall of Fame. Jackson has been a big play threat for over a decade. Humphries has a great story, starting out as a tryout player and turning that opportunity into a starting job in just two seasons. Very solid player but nothing special.
I think Evans > Johnson and Jurevicius > Humphries, so it comes down to McCardell vs Jackson. I’m giving the slight edge to McCardell. He is a more versatile receiver than Jackson, so he opens up the playbook more when he is on the field. If I could give a half point win I would, but those aren’t the rules. (Editor’s Note: This will be hotly contested but is a very solid take. People forget what a baller McCardell was in Jax)
Ken Dilger- Long time Colt that signed with the Bucs just in time for their Super Bowl run. Contributed 34 catches and 2 touchdowns in 2002.
Cameron Brate- Might have the best chemistry on the team with current QB Jameis Winston. Stepped up in a big way last season when the wide receiver two position became fluid after week 5. 57 catches with 8 ending in touchdowns seals the deal.
2002 Squad- Hard to get a gauge individual players because finding stats on them is nearly impossible. Pros: Super Bowl Championship unit. Cons: Kenyatta Walker.
2017 Squad- The right side of the line is a question mark for me. RT Demar Dotson didn’t have a very good 2016 season, and RT J.R. Sweezy missed it entirely with a back injury. C Ali Marpet, LG Kevin Pamphile, and LT Donovan Smith are all promising young linemen, with Marpet being the best of the bunch.
If the final total is just a one point difference this whole exercise is a wash. I’m giving to nudge to the this years unit, Mostly based off of potential.
John Lynch & Dexter Jackson- Lynch is on the precipice of being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jackson was the MVP of the Super Bowl. This one isn’t going to be close.
Chris Conte & Keith Tandy- Newly signed J.J. Wilcox or 2nd round draft pick Justin Evans could end up winning starting job, but as I said above, it isn’t close. Let us just move on.
Ronde Barber & Brian Kelly- Barber is eligible for the, you guessed it, Hall of Fame this year. He may have to wait but I think he eventually gets in. Kelly is a top five CB in Buccaneer history. This combo will be tough to beat.
Brent Grimes & Vernon Hargreaves- Grimes might be the best corner the Bucs have ever had, it’s him or Aqib Talib. Vernon has the ceiling to be just as good as Grimes, but is still a few years away from reaching his entire potential.
Derrick Brooks & Shelton Quarles- Derrick Brooks is arguably the best Buccaneer ever. He is in the Hall of Fame and was voted into 11 Pro Bowls. His list of accolades is one of the most impressive in the history of the NFL. Quarles made the Pro Bowl for his 2002 efforts and is a name any Buc fan should get to know. He will never make the Ring of Honor but he brought his lunch pail to work everyday and still work in the Buccaneers organization.
Lavonte David & Kwon Alexander- Going up against one of the greatest linebacker of all-time should make this an easy win for the 2002 squad, but these two make it interesting. On his present pace David will pass Brooks for total tackles if Davis can stick around for another 8 years. Unrealistic but possible. Kwon has become the heart and soul of the defense and led the league in tackles in 2016 with 108. Both of these players are very good.
I’m doing it! Projecting David & Alexander career number just beat out Brooks & Quarles as a duo. I still can’t believe I’m going to publish this take. (Editor’s Note: You will have problems crossing your legs with stones like that.)
10-9 2017 (?)
2002 Squad- Another Hall of Famer, Warren Sapp anchors this group. If Derrick Brooks isn’t the best Buc of all-time then Sapp is, sorry Lee Roy Selmon fans, it’s true. Simeon Rice, a Hall of Fame snub, was the last Buc to record ten sacks in a season. Greg Spires was solid and to be honest I don’t even remember Chuck Darby. That doesn’t matter because Sapp and Rice could take this position by themselves.
2017 Squad- Going from left to right, Will Gholston is a top notch run stopper and Gerald McCoy is the second best defensive tackle the Bucs have ever had. Chris Baker’s NFL career has been vastly underrated, while Robert Ayres is better than most and extremely versatile. I love this squad’s depth but McCoy would be the third best player on the 2002’s line.
*Only 10 players graded. Omitted SAM linebacker and slot corner.
Martin Gramatica & Tom Tupa- Gramatica is the all-time leading scorer for the Buccaneers. Tupa once threw a touchdown pass playing an emergency QB role for the Jets, so there’s that.
Nick Folk & Bryan Anger- I just put in Folks name because it is easier to type. I could make an argument that Anger should of been last years defensive MVP. By continually pinning the opponent deep and forcing them to drive 80-90 plus yards he made the defense look good. Invisible points I call them, and Anger had a lot of them.
In the end, Gramatica’s automaticness trumps Anger. Actual points > invisible points.
On the back of a 10-8 score for the safeties the 2002 Bucs have a 95-94 lead on our current team. So it comes down to the bench. The scoring will be adjusted to a one point or no point system.
I will not be including positions that don’t normally substitute and only include non-starters that would be rotated into the game. These positions are defensive line, running back, wide receiver, and tight end.
Mike Alstott- No player endeared himself to fans more than the A-Train. Oversized shoulder pads that went up to his ear holes and legs as big as round as telephone poles, Alstott was built to dish out punishment and that is what he did. Mike was a 6 time Pro Bowler and a 3 time All-Pro, but to be fair he made those teams as a fullback. Alstott rarely, if ever lined up as the up man in the I formation. Mike was a running back and a good one.
Charles Sims- I chose Sims because he is the best of the rest of the running backs on the current roster. A healthy Sims in space is as dangerous as any weapon on the Bucs. Rookie McNichols may surprise us all in training camp, but at the time of this article he hasn’t participated in any practices. (Editor’s Note: Did Rodgers kick sand in your eye?)
Alstott runs over the competition and get the point for the 2002 squad.
Karl Williams- An excellent punt returner but never much of a receiver is the best way to describe Williams as a Buccaneer. Underwhelming as a fourth wide out.
Chris Godwin- Godwins’ promise as a player is bright enough to outshine Williams contributions.
Godwin is set to step into DeSean Jackson’s shoes as soon as next year if need be. Point 2017.
Ricky Dudley- Only 24 catches for 282 yards and 4 TD in three years as a Buc.
O.J. Howard- Has a realistic shot in topping Dudleys’ career Buccaneer number in his first season.
Howard in a landslide, point for the 2017 team.
This isn’t a fair comparison. Monte Kiffin didn’t believe in defensive lineman rotating throughout the game. That is not to say that the starting four never came off the field, but it was rare. The only player of note that came off the bench for the 2002 squad was Anthony “Booger” McFarland. Viewed as a run stuffer more than a sack man, Booger put in eight solid years with the Bucs before leaving for the Colts.
Jay Hayes is modern D-Line coach, at least he is in how he handles his players. Gone are the Kiffin days of always running with your starting four. The widely accepted philosophy in today’s the NFL is based on a match up/rotational system.
The 2017 team has backup run stuffing and short yardage specialist in Sealver Siliga and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, plus hybrid DT Clinton McDonald. Then there are the pass rushers that come in on third down, and the Bucs have two good ones, Jacquies Smith and Noah Spence.
Was McFarland good enough to offset all of this years depth at defensive line? Absolutely not, final point goes to the promising 2017 roster.
Let’s add it up!
In a late push the 2017 Buccaneers squeak out a victory over the Super Bowl Champions 97-96.
I don’t mind admitting that this came as a surprise to me, and I wrote it! Today’s roster is largely unproven and thin depth wise in some spots. Luckily for them, those spots aren’t regularly substituted in for and that is how they ultimately came out on top.
So what do you think. Feel free to fire away any ideas or comments in the section provided below.
You can follow me on Twitter @Ren_Daxt and I’m always willing to talk Bucs football.
Thanks for reading and supporting the What The Buc site. Until next time, GO BUCS!