After allowing just one sack across 20 total starts during his rookie season, it was fair to wonder if Tristan Wirfs would earn All-Pro honors or at least Pro Bowl recognition for his play.
Neither came, other than a second-team All-Pro honor from Pro Football Focus. Barring injury, expect the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America to get on board in 2021.
There is an argument to be had that Wirfs was Tampa Bay's best offensive lineman a season ago, fulfilling a pivotal role in the team's Super Bowl run by helping keep quarterback Tom Brady's uniform clean. Thanks to Wirfs and the remainder of the line's efforts, Tampa Bay gave up the fourth-fewest sacks in the NFL last year.
In addition to giving up five fewer sacks than fellow starting tackle Donovan Smith, Wirfs allowed only 24 quarterback pressures according to PFF, second-fewest among the Buccaneers' starting offensive line. Only left guard Ali Marpet allowed fewer pressures: 16 given up in 17 games played.
Keep in mind, Wirfs faced off against elite pass rushers such as Joey Bosa, Aaron Donald, Cameron Jordan, and Khalil Mack among others throughout his rookie campaign. Only Mack was able to get through for a sack when lined up against Wirfs.
Wirfs also graded out as Tampa Bay's second-best run blocker among the starting five offensive linemen with a 77.1 grade from PFF, only behind Marpet (80.7). Wirfs' PFF run-blocking grade equates to "above average" on the site's scale; his pass protection grade is considered "high quality."
Wirfs was the Buccaneers' most dependable linemen as well as he did not miss a single snap all season long, including throughout the postseason. No other lineman would match that, although center Ryan Jensen came 12 snaps short.
As such, Wirfs found himself on the PFWA's All-Rookie team, although he earned no other official recognition for his play. One would think that the arrow is only pointing up for Wirfs despite how well he played as a rookie, especially after considered that he turned 22 years old in January.
The question is, how much better can Wirfs get?
Wirfs ranked 24th among offensive tackles with 300+ pass-blocking snaps in pressures allowed during the 2020 regular season, which is a ranking that could improve greatly in 2021 by cutting down on just a couple of pressures. Doing so, assuming Wirfs would keep his sack count low by eliminating pressures given up, Wirfs could cement himself as one of the NFL's best pass protectors before his third season.
Although Wirfs has already made a name for himself thanks to his Iowa record-breaking 450-pound hang clean, he should still get stronger as he continues to acclimate to the strength of NFL defensive linemen. Naturally, Wirfs should improve as a road-grading run blocker over time with added brawn, particularly while down-blocking against interior defensive linemen instead of edge rushers.
He could also continue carrying entire trees to gain more power. Whatever works for him.
Wirfs doesn't exactly have the highest upside anymore, which isn't a knock on his skill-set. Instead, it's a testament to how well he played as a rookie. There isn't a ton of room that separates Wirfs from the top offensive tackles in the league right now, and some small improvements in his game should firmly plant him in that discussion before his rookie contract is even halfway over.