We're starting this series a week later than we should have, but alas. Introducing the Buccaneers weekly stock report, which will identify Bucs players, coaches, and all-around factors that are proving themselves as vital to the team's success, as well as ones that are trending in the other direction.
Tampa Bay's 48-25 victory over the Atlanta Falcons featured dominant showings from several players who have seen their stocks raised as such. At the same time, there were a handful of players who failed to meaningfully contribute when they could have, and a lack of depth at one position exudes massive concerns for this team moving forward.
So, whose stock is up and whose stock is down following week two for Tampa Bay?
The hero of the game for Tampa Bay: Mike Edwards' stock is as hot right now as anyone's on the team.
Since his entrance to the NFL, Edwards has been a backup within the Bucs' secondary manning the third safety role. However, starter Jordan Whitehead's absence during the preseason and week one gave Edwards the opportunity to start and contribute defensively - and he's taken complete advantage of it.
After a four-tackle showing in week one, Edwards put up the same numbers in week two and has only missed one tackle on the season in total. But of course, we aren't here to talk about Edwards' physicality (even though it's been consistently solid to start the year) - we're here to talk about his ball-hawking, playmaking ability.
Edwards' two fourth-quarter pick-sixes against Atlanta widened Tampa Bay's lead after the Falcons cut into it drastically in the second half, putting the game out of reach. Edwards is the first player in 24 years, since Otis Smith did it with the New York Jets in 1997, to tally two pick-sixes in a single quarter. He's also the first player to post two pick-sixes in one game since Zach Brown did so with the Tennessee Titans in 2012.
As such, head coach Bruce Arians said on Monday that the team will continue to expand Edwards' role - claiming that Edwards has "earned that right." How the Bucs will make that happen, however, will be worth monitoring as Whitehead is expected to see his snaps increase as he regains comfort on the field.
We mentioned this in our game takeaways story on Monday, but Rob Gronkowski is on pace to smash his career highs in receptions and touchdowns. He's also on pace to break the single-season receiving touchdown record set by Randy Moss (23) in 2007 - and do you remember who was throwing Moss those passes? The same guy that's throwing Gronkowski his - Tom Brady.
Of course, on-pace stats typically don't come to fruition - the measure is often used when a player gets off to a historical start to a season. But as of right now, Gronkowski is on pace for 102 receptions for 1097 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2021. His career-bests all came in 2011, a decade ago: 90 receptions for 1327 yards and 17 touchdowns.
With as many weapons as Brady has at his disposal in the Buccaneers' passing offense, it's difficult to envision Gronk reaching the reception and yardage mark he's on pace for - he may not even set new season-highs for himself. But we do have our eyes on his personal-best touchdown count. Having hauled in all four of his red-zone targets this year, each ending in a score, surpassing 17 scores certainly feels realistic for Gronkowski at this point.
The running backs
Tampa Bay has really struggled to create a rushing presence through the first two games of the season, which has seemingly mattered very little given the way Tom Brady has moved the ball through the air. There will undoubtedly come a time when Tampa Bay needs more from its running game, but as of now, the options aren't all that enticing.
Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II have split lead duties while Giovani Bernard has taken the field for a mere 23 offensive snaps. Neither Jones nor Fournette has done anything spectacular but both are averaging slightly over four yards per carry - the issue is, neither can get into a rhythm given the way the Bucs rotate the two players.
Both have also fumbled once apiece and struggled in pass protection to begin the year, but there's a double-standard there. Jones was benched after his fumble in week one, but Fournette remained on the field after his in week two. Fournette also bobbled a pass into an interception in week one, but his usage in the passing game has yet to decrease - even though he has been inefficient when he does catch the ball.
It seems as though the Bucs prefer Fournette to Jones at this point, although he hasn't done much of anything to warrant being the favorite of the two. Bernard's lack of usage has been confusing, too, as he's considered the third-down back by Arians yet Fournette and Jones have been on the field often on third downs and in obvious passing situations.
All of the confusion adds up to this: The Bucs haven't been able to impose their will in the running game, primarily because their running back rotation has lacked flow and been a bit hypocritical. Each running back's stock is down, as such.
The Buccaneers faced a scary situation when both Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean limped off the field in week two. Davis returned to the game quickly and so did Dean, although Dean dealt with potential injuries twice within the game.
And of course, the team lost nickel cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting to the injured reserve after week one. In his place, Ross Cockrell has not looked the same as he did in training camp and the preseason, when he made a name for himself as a ball-hawk.
It would appear that Davis and Dean aren't bothered by their wounds in week two as they were able to finish the game. But with SMB already sidelined, the Bucs are one serious injury at cornerback away from being down two starters and left with three corners on the active roster - the final one being Dee Delaney, who has played one defensive snap since Week 17 of the 2019 season.
Tampa Bay has expressed interest in free-agent cornerback Richard Sherman recently and added an experienced corner in Rashard Robinson to its practice squad on Monday. Is that enough to make up for a lack of depth right now? How much would the secondary - which already ranks 30th in the NFL in passing yards per game allowed to start the year - regress if Davis or Dean went down?
These are scary questions for a reigning Super Bowl champion to face, but it's the position the Bucs are in right now.
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