3 Most Surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers Last Season

Coming into a season where they weren’t expected even to make the playoffs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprised everyone by winning the NFC South division title for the third season in a row and winning a playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles before losing against the Detroit Lions in the divisional round and finishing as one of the league’s most surprising teams of the season.

Here are some players who didn’t have high expectations coming into the season but managed to beat the expectations and have excellent numbers this past year.

3 Most Surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers Last Season

Baker Mayfield, QB

Few players in the league had a better comeback last season than Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield. The former first-overall pick had already started to be considered a bust. After two short stints with the Carolina Panthers and the Los Angeles Rams in 2022, virtually no team in the league was willing to offer the sixth-year quarterback a spot on their roster. That was until the Buccaneers decided to sign him on a one-year, $4 million contract as a replacement for NFL legend Tom Brady.

The pressure was high, and the expectations were mundane. However, Mayfield did not let the situation phase him; he recorded career-high numbers in completions (364), completion percentage (64.3%), passing yards (4,044), and touchdowns (28), led the team to its fourth consecutive playoff appearance, and was nominated for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, ultimately losing it to fellow quarterback Joe Flacco. It was a remarkable season for the Oklahoma product, and we should expect more of the same in the upcoming season.

Trey Palmer, WR

Coming into the season, the name Trey Palmer wasn’t one that would resonate with many Bucs fans. The former LSU and Nebraska wide receiver was taken in the sixth round of last year’s draft and wasn’t expected to have much involvement in the Buccaneer offense given their highly talented receiving corps. However, the offseason injury of wideout Russell Gage presented a huge opportunity for Palmer to stand out and earn a spot on the starting roster.

Said and done, Palmer made the most of this opportunity and finished the season with 385 yards and three touchdowns, enough to make him the team’s WR3. This might not seem like much, but for a rookie receiver coming from the sixth round of the draft, getting to start an NFL game is already a big accomplishment. Palmer might not be a household name just yet, but if he has a few more seasons like this one, he could very well be on pace to become a superstar and an integral part of a team’s offense.

Antoine Winfield Jr., FS

Free safety Antoine Winfield Jr. has been an excellent player and an integral part of Tampa Bay’s secondary since he was drafted in 2020, but that wasn’t always the case. He was considered a two-star recruit and didn’t receive many offers before ultimately accepting Minnesota’s offer. Even in college, he wasn’t the brightest spot in the Golden Gopher defense, as he struggled with injuries and forwent his final two years of eligibility before being drafted by the Buccaneers in the second round of the draft. However, he was able to turn things around in the NFL and has since been one of the best safeties in the league and has always had high expectations since his rookie year.

In 2023, he didn’t fail to shatter expectations, as he posted career-high numbers in nearly every single category, including tackles (122), sacks (6.0), passes defended (12), interceptions (three), and forced fumbles (six, a league-high), and was named twice as the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 13 and Week 18, respectively. It was a remarkable effort for the fourth-year safety, and he could be able to improve his numbers even more this season if he maintains the high level of play he has been displaying over the last couple of seasons.

Main Image: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

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