Bucs' 2019 Draft Class Rookies No More
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have relied heavily on their 2019 draft class this season, and after a rocky start, most of their first-year players are having a big impact as the team currently rides a three-game winning streak.
Their impact is mostly felt on defense, where the Bucs spent their first five selections in the 2019 draft.
Devin White, the No. 5 overall pick, bounced back from an early knee injury to establish himself as one of the NFL's best young linebackers. His knack for making big plays helped him earn the league's Defensive Player of the Month award in November.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has said multiple times throughout the year that his first-year players aren't rookies anymore, and White is leading that charge as one of the team's top performers, as well as one of its most vocal leaders.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles agrees, and believes White has limitless potential.
You’re not a rookie when you’re playing the whole year, but mentally he has some things to learn," Bowles said Thursday. "But he plays fast and he gets better every day. As long as the mental aspect of the game comes for him – which is coming very fast – his ceiling, if he stays healthy, [is one where] he controls his own destiny. He is a very good player. He has a chance to be a great player if he stays healthy and everything goes well."
White already views himself as a leader on the team, despite playing in just his first NFL season.
"I always tell them, I'm the rookie, but I'm still the vet," White said after Tampa Bay's 38-35 win over the Indianapolis Colts. "At the end of the day, they call the huddles up, they'll be looking to me to say something all the time."
White isn't the only rookie making a big impact for Tampa Bay's improving defense.
Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, the team's second-round pick, leads all NFL rookies in interceptions. Third-round pick Jamel Dean is one of the league leaders in pass breakups despite not playing significant defensive snaps until the second half of the season. Safety Mike Edwards has proven himself to be a versatile weapon in the secondary, while outside linebacker Anthony Nelson has made multiple big plays when healthy and given the opportunity.
Perhaps the most unsung rookie has been kicker Matt Gay, who has quietly put together one of the better kicking seasons across the league. Since missing a heartbreaking field goal in the final seconds of a Week 3 loss to the New York Giants, Gay has been nearly automatic on field goals, despite a few hiccups on extra points.
Wide receiver Scotty Miller, Tampa Bay's lone offensive draft pick this year, is averaging over 15 yards per catch, showing off the speed a big-play ability that caught the eye of general manager Jason Licht and his staff this offseason.
After struggling mightily throughout the early going of their rookie season, this group has come together down the stretch to deliver big plays in key moments. The Bucs will look to keep their winning streak going against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, and fans should expect these rookies-no-more to have their fingerprints all over yet another game.