July 19, 2024

Position battles to watch in Buccaneers training camp

NFL training camps are almost here. The Buccaneers begin their program with rookies reporting on July 22 at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa and veterans joining a day later on July 23.

Here’s a look at three position battles that could be the most heated.

Left guard

Projected starter: N/A

Players to watch: Ben Bredeson, Sua Opeta, Lorenz Metz, Xavier Delgado

It’s an open competition for the starting left guard role on Tampa Bay’s offense. On the team site’s unofficial depth chart, left guard is the only offensive position without a starter listed.

2024 free-agent additions Bredeson and Opeta headline the competition. In late May, Fox Sports NFC South reporter Greg Auman shared that Opeta began Tampa’s offseason workouts with the first-team offense.

He’s detailed as the projected starter on the team’s Pro Football Focus depth chart, while ESPN lists Bredeson as the No. 1.

Based on both’s production last season, it’s obvious why the Bucs would wait to name a starter.

Bredeson was one of the worst guards in football last season, per PFF. Among 82 guards to play at least 300 snaps in 2023, the former Giant was the 72nd-ranked pass-blocker and 78th in run-blocking. 

PFF data shows that Opeta was only marginally better with the Eagles. He allowed 25 total pressures and three sacks in 311 pass-rush opportunities. His 57.9 pass-block grade ranked 48th, and he received an even worse grade (50.2) as a run-blocker, ranking 64th.

The Bucs added Metz via the league’s International Player Pathway Program and Delgado as an undrafted free agent. While neither has played an NFL snap, could both be that much worse than Bredeson and Opeta were? If so, scouting might be the bigger issue in Tampa.

Outside linebacker (3-4 defense)

Projected starters: Yaya Diaby, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka

Players to watch: Randy Gregory, Chris Braswell

Diaby had an excellent rookie season in 2023, finishing fifth in Defense Rookie of the Year voting after recording 7.5 sacks, forcing one fumble and recovering two. He began the season as a backup but started the final nine games, including the playoffs.

Tryon-Shoyinka, Tampa’s first-round pick in 2021, had a career-high five sacks. However, after starting the first 11 games, he was moved to the second unit and played less than half of the team’s defensive snaps the rest of the season.

The Bucs added former Broncos and Cowboys edge-rusher Gregory in free agency and drafted Braswell in the second round (No. 57 overall) of April’s draft. While Diaby’s spot should be safe, either one could squeeze Tryon-Shoyinka out of a starting role.

Wide receiver (11 personnel)

Projected starters: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Trey Palmer

Players to watch: Sterling Shepard, Jalen McMillan

Evans and Godwin are entrenched as Tampa Bay’s top two wideouts. Evans had his 10th consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2023 and is one shy of matching Jerry Rice’s all-time record for most by a wide receiver in NFL history.

Meanwhile, Godwin has four 1,000-yard seasons since 2019, and his 5,323 yards during that span ranks as the league’s 13th-most, per Stathead.

The battle to watch is the one determining who will be the third wide receiver in sets with one tight end and one running back.

Palmer is the incumbent and finished last season with 39 receptions, 385 yards and three touchdowns. 

The front office took a flier out on Shepard, a former college teammate of quarterback Baker Mayfield in 2015 at Oklahoma. Injuries have derailed his once-promising career, but his rapport with Mayfield can’t be denied. During their season together, Shepard had 86 receptions, 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Rookie McMillan, selected in the third round (No. 92 overall), is arguably the bigger threat to Palmer’s post. In a pre-draft evaluation, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler wrote that while the former Washington Huskie must “prove he can handle the physicality of playing inside at the next level… he has three-level potential as a pass catcher and will be an intriguing option for a team that prioritizes length and speed from the slot.”

While Godwin has primarily filled the slot role during his career, he lined up out wide on 61.6 percent of his snaps in 2023, his highest rate since 2018. If the Bucs choose to keep Godwin on the outside, McMillan could be their best third option.