For a team that has gone through the kind of transformation the Buccaneers have over the last few years, they’re finally getting some recognition. At the same time, it’s not quite the recognition they deserve.
When the All-Pro teams were announced, the Buccaneers and their fans had reason to be excited. Mike Evans, Gerald McCoy, and Lavonte David were all given second-team honors, an impressive feat for a team that had two wins just two seasons ago.
Or was it?
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Well, for starters, you had a player like Kwon Alexander who led the NFL in solo tackles yet was snubbed by the Pro Bowl and now the All-Pro announcements. Alexander finished with 108 solo tackels, three sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and an interception that he returned for a touchdown. Include his assists, and Alexander finished with 145 tackles on the season. Those are ridiculously impressive numbers, especially for a 22-year old, second year player taken in the fourth round.
But the voters didn’t care.
Mike Evans got second team honors. First time he’s had All-Pro honors in his young career, which is fantastic. Yet, one can easily make the argument that Evans should’ve been a first team All-Pro, not second. Julio Jones and Antonio Brown were given first team honors, yet Evans’ season was overall more impressive than either one.
Evans finished with 1,321 yards and twelve touchdowns. Julio Finished with 1,409 yards – 88 more than Evans – and only six touchdowns. Brow finished with 1,284 yards – 37 fewer than Evans – and twelve touchdowns.
Then take into account their receptions. Mike Evans had 96 receptions – ten fewer than Brown, thirteen more than Jones. So his yards per catch average was more than three yards less than Julio, but nearly two yards more than Brown. Of those 96 receptions, an astounding 81 went for first downs. The second ranked player was T.Y. Hilton with 66 receptions for first downs. Brown and Jones each had 64.
Then we get to the supporting casts. Brown gets to play with a running back like Le’Veon Bell who takes a lot of pressure off the passing game. Defenses have to account for Bell no matter the down and distance because he’s such a threat from anywhere on the field. Then you saw receivers like Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Eli Rodgers start to come into their own this season in the absence of Martavis Bryant.
Nov 27, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) runs with the ball as Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) tackles during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
On the Falcons’ side, Julio had a supporting cast that included a formidable running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Add to that the big free agent acquisition of Mohamad Sanu and the youngsters Taylor Gabriel and Justin Hardy and the Falcons had some weapons on offense. Matt Ryan is an MVP candidate and had passing touchdowns to thirteen different receivers. That is insane.
Now, circle back to Evans. The only actual weapon on this offense. His help came from players like Cameron Brate (who had an outstanding year, don’t get me wrong), as well as receivers like Adam Humphries, Donteea Dye, Freddie Martino, Russell Shepard. Every one of those guys were undrafted. The running game was largely non-existent. Doug Martin was ineffective when playing, Charles Sims provided no threat, and Jacquizz Rodgers is an undrafted player who didn’t even join the team until after the first game. Defenses game planned around stopping Evans and forcing the Bucs to beat them in different ways. Yet, the Bucs did just that in the second half of the season – and teams still couldn’t stop Evans.
For Evans to only receive six votes while Brown had 43 and Jones had 30 shows that the voters didn’t really pay attention to the players’ individual season, but that they continue to vote based of name recognition and not true performance.
Finally, Brent Grimes. Now, I’m not going to argue that Grimes deserved first team honors. He did, however, deserve second team honors. Grimes led the NFL in pass breakups with 24. He also had four interceptions, including a pick six against the Panthers. The second team corners named were Janoris Jenkins, Malcolm Butler, and Casey Hayward. All of which were deserving, but for Grimes to not even receive a vote is inexplicable.
These are the kinds of things that get under the skin of Buccaneers fans when they talk about not getting respect. With wins comes respect and recognition, but that’s no excuse for the players who busted their butts and deserve to be acknowledged for that to be ignored. We take pride in our players, in our team. A first year head coach took a team that had two wins two years ago and had them in the playoff hunt until the final whistle blew in week seventeen. Players set records, led the league in statistics.
Still, they get over-looked and are under-appreciated. You’ve been put on notice, NFL. The Bucs are coming for you in 2017. And we got a chip on our shoulder the size of the pirate ship in our end zone.