If we rewind to 2015 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were praised after they not only made quarterback Jameis Winston the first pick of that year's NFL Draft, but added left tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet in the same draft.
The idea that the offensive line would be able to grow along with the new franchise quarterback appealed to many. But after four years - and at the end of both Smith and Marpet's rookie contracts - the only thing everyone could agree on was that the third player taken in this trio was the best of the group.
Seven years later, Smith is the only one that remains on the roster, and Connor Orr of Sports Illustrated points that out as an underrated fact, for the Bucs.
"Smith has gotten better as a player each year, allowed just one sack in 2021 and never accrued more than five holding penalties (he had three last year)," Orr wrote when naming Smith the most underrated player on Tampa Bay's roster. "While right tackle Tristan Wirfs gets most of the accolades, Smith has been a quiet and steady presence for the Buccaneers since making the All-Rookie team as a second-round pick out of Penn State in 2015. While the Buccaneers prefer to run up the gut most frequently and may prefer Wirfs in gotta-have-it third down situations, it’s interesting that the Bucs have had more success running between the left guard and tackle and the left tackle and end, than the opposite side. Smith nets the Buccaneers roughly a yard per play. As an aside, we obviously can’t put Mike Evans here, but according to NFL GSIS statistics, he makes the Buccaneers a full 1.14 yards better per play just by virtue of stepping on the field. Smith isn’t far behind, though, and he compiled one of the best pass-blocking grades in the NFL a year ago, per Pro Football Focus’s rankings."
The 2018 offseason was a big one for Tampa Bay.
Among other moves, the team opted to stick with Winston's fifth-year option but signed both Smith and Marpet - who had moved from right guard to center, to left guard next to Smith - to multi-year extensions.
At the time, the majority of the fan base didn't want Smith retained while many were split on what the future of Winston should look like.
Regardless, Smith stayed and Winston has since moved on to the New Orleans Saints where he aims at a successful comeback in 2022 after suffering a torn ACL against the Buccaneers last season.
But the anger around Smith's extension eventually subsided into reluctant acceptance, and I'd dare even say Bucs fans are actually okay with the former Penn State standout as their favorite team's left tackle.
If Orr's claim that Smith is in fact underrated at this point is accurate, then perhaps fans of Tampa Bay may actually learn to love their left tackle.