If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are to accomplish their goal of "going for two" - to repeat as Super Bowl champions this year - a handful of select players will have to be at the top of their games all season long.
Therefore, AllBucs has compiled a list of the ten most important Buccaneers entering the 2021 season, ranked from No. 10 down to the most crucial of the bunch at No. 1. Although this list is unique, the most important Buc - who will be revealed at a later date - may seem fairly obvious.
But, who else needs to make a large impact this year in order for Tampa Bay to reach, and win, Super Bowl LVI? After back-to-back defensive players at No. 5 and No. 4, we will switch back to offense as we enter the top three spots. This next player is someone who is only entering his second year in the NFL but is already emerged as a star tackle and a key piece to the Bucs' offensive line in both 2021 and the future of the organization.
That offensive tackle is Tristan Wirfs.
Most Important Buccaneers, No. 3: Tristan Wirfs
It's hard to believe that Wirfs was only a rookie last season as he played like a seasoned veteran throughout the Bucs' Super Bowl run helping protect true veteran quarterback Tom Brady.
And the numbers back that statement. Across his 20 starts during his first year as a pro, Wirfs only allowed one sack. On top of that, Wirfs allowed only 24 quarterback pressures all last year according to Pro Football Focus, which is second-fewest among the Bucs' starting offensive line.
Of course, this type of performance was expected from Bucs' General Manager Jason Licht when he drafted Wirfs with the 13th overall pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft out the University of Iowa.
At Iowa, Wirfs was named a first-team All-America by Football Writers, Walter Camp Foundation and Phil Steele following his senior season. He was named the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year in the Big Ten Conference and received first-team All-Big Ten by league coaches and media in 2019. So clearly, the talent level was there, but I don't think anyone truly expected the rookie season that Wirfs would go onto have in Tampa Bay.
Wirfs ended up becoming one of the Bucs' most dependable offensive linemen as he didn't miss a single snap during the 2020 regular season and throughout the playoffs. In addition to only allowing one sack, Wirfs was Tampa Bay's second-best run blocker among the starting five offensive linemen with a 77.1 grade from PFF, only behind Ali Marpet.
And he was doing this against top talent on opposing defensive lines. Throughout the year, Wirfs lined up against elite pass rushers like Joey Bosa, Aaron Donald, Cameron Jordan, and Khalil Mack. It was Mack who recorded the only sack Wirfs' allowed.
On top of competing against some of the best rushers in the league, his performance level didn't drop at the highest stage: Super Bowl LV. Following Tampa Bay's 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Wirfs was named the highest-graded player by PFF with an astounding 91.7.
PFF NFL analyst Sam Monson went onto write that Tampa Bay "doesn't win the Super Bowl if they don't draft Tristan Wirfs in the first round last year."
So it's obvious how successful of a rookie campaign Wirfs had. He was able to become a foundational piece at right tackle for the Bucs and one of the best offensive linemen not only amongst rookies but the entire league. And don't take my word for it, take USA TODAY's NFL Editor Doug Farrar's. Farrar ranked Wirfs as the No. 6 overall top offensive tackles in the NFL.
"Wirfs’ combination of play strength, agility to either side, and control around the arc made him a Pro Bowl-level right tackle immediately, from his first game through Tampa Bay’s win in Super Bowl LV, and without a typical camp and preseason (actually, without any preseason at all)," Farrar wrote in June.
The Bucs already picked up Wirfs' fifth-year option and will likely sign him to a big deal once his rookie contract is up following the 2023 season. And he'll be worth every penny.
Barring injury, he has the opportunity to have another special season in his second year, potentially earning All-Pro honors or at least make the Pro Bowl. Wirfs emerged as one of the most important members of not only the Bucs' offensive line but the entire team and it's why he's number three on our list for the 2021 season.
Stay tuned to AllBucs for further coverage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offseason updates, and other news and analysis.