4 Under-the-Radar Bucs to Watch in Training Camp
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally assemble for training camp, the spotlight naturally settles on Tampa's stars, including the newly arrived Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, but it will be the unheralded players whose performances make the biggest difference for their roster chances.
The Bucs have one of the strongest starting lineups in the NFL, but depth remains a serious question mark. Tampa needs their mid- to late-round draft picks and undrafted rookies to make their presence known early.
Particularly on defense, roster spots are ripe for a young upstart to claim during this year's camp. The Bucs have no established depth at outside linebacker, and the secondary, while promising, could always use another talented back.
Here are the four under-the-radar Bucs to watch at camp this month:
OLB Anthony Nelson
Nelson was Tampa's fourth-round pick in last year's draft and backed up stars Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and the now departed Carl Nassib. The former Hawkeye appeared to be the replacement-in-waiting for Nassib as the two share similar physical traits and athleticism.
However, Nelson was not very effective his rookie year, even in limited snaps. He recorded just eight tackles, a forced fumble and a pass breakup, making very little impact as a pass-rusher. Nelson also missed six games with a knee injury.
Training camp will be a vital litmus test for Nelson's progress, who appears to be the primary backup to Barrett and Pierre-Paul. Pass-rush depth is a key trait of championship teams, so the Bucs need Nelson to take a big step forward in his development in order to be competitive in a potential playoff run.
CB Parnell Motley
Secondary depth is another hallmark of championship defenses. Undrafted defensive back Parnell Motley may be the missing piece in the Bucs' defensive backfield puzzle.
The former Oklahoma Sooner was one of the best cornerbacks in the Big 12 last year, named to their all-conference roster on the back of 13 pass breakups, an interception and five forced fumbles.
Motley projects no higher than the Bucs' fourth cornerback, but given his experience defending spread offenses in the Big 12, it may be the perfect situation for him to thrive. Last year, he allowed just 43.4 passes targeting his receivers to be completed, lowest in the conference (from Pro Football Focus):
His penchant for knocking the football loose could also make him a favorite of the coaching staff. The Bucs forced 23 fumbles last season, third-most in the NFL. If Parnell brings this useful skill to defensive and special teams practices in camp, he is sure to make the final roster.
WR Tyler Johnson
The Buccaneers likely have the NFL's best starting wide receiver duo in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, so it may be easy to forget that Tampa got one of the biggest steals in this year's draft when they took WR Tyler Johnson.
Johnson is not an elite athlete, but that did not stop him from becoming arguably the best receiver to ever come out of Minnesota. The two-time first team All-Big Ten receiver recorded 213 career receptions for 3305 yards and 33 touchdowns, the most scores and receiving yards of any Big Ten player in the last decade.
Quite simply, Johnson caught everything that was thrown at him. He's not a burner, but his hands, body control and ball location make him the perfect target. According to Pro Football Focus, only one player caught more contested balls than Johnson since 2018:
Johnson may not get many looks from Tom Brady this year thanks to Tampa's absurd wealth at its skill positions, but his development in camp is key nonetheless. Both Evans and Godwin finished last season on injured reserve. If either of them goes down for the season, Johnson might find himself in a starting role sooner than later.
OLB Cam Gill
Small school prospects are typically long shots to make an NFL roster, but a strong camp at position of minimal depth could give a player like Cam Gill the chance he needs to prove himself worthy.
Wagner College is not exactly a football powerhouse, but that did not stop Gill from playing like a powerhouse himself. The All-American dominated the FCS Northeast Conference, recording 34 career sacks and being named the NEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019.
Dominance in college is a requisite for small school products like Gill looking to make it at the next level. Gill already has his size working against him, undersized for an NFL EDGE at 6'2", 238 pounds.
Gill's size and lack of pedigree make training camp all the more important, especially without any preseason games this year to generate game tape. If his college performance can translate to the practice field this month, Gill will be in the thick of the competition for the Bucs' final outside linebacker position.