Sat, 04 Jul 2020

The Top Buccaneer in Every Jersey: 21-30

Buccaneers
04 Jun 2020, 19:26 GMT+10

Tampa Bay Buccaneers A few running backs ran away with their numbers in this range but a couple of the other 20-somethings were a lot more difficult to figure out

When cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting picked off a pass and returned it 70 yards in Week 15 of his rookie season, it was a notable occasion for several reasons. Most importantly, of course, the interception ended any comeback hopes for the Detroit Lions, who were only trailing by a touchdown with five minutes left at the time. Tampa Bay would go on to win, 38-17.

It was also particularly satisfying for Murphy-Bunting because the game was at Ford Field and he had grown up in a Detroit suburb before playing his college ball at Central Michigan. There was a large contingent of his friends and family in the stands to witness his biggest NFL moment to date.

Then there's the far less important note that perhaps only appeals to me. Murphy-Bunting wore jersey number 26 in 2019, and his pick-six was the first one by a Buccaneer wearing that number since the most famous game in franchise history. In Super Bowl XXXVII, Dwight Smith became the first - and still only - player in Super Bowl history to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game. He wore number 26. In fact, before Murphy-Bunting, Smith was the only player in team history to wear that number while scoring on an interception return, excluding 1987 replacement players.

Read part one of The Top Buccaneer in Every Jersey: 1-10.

Read part two of the Top Buccaneer in Every Jersey: 11-20.

Smith remains one of the most accomplished players to wear the 26 jersey in team history. (The most accomplished? Read on.) Could Murphy-Bunting have eventually challenged him for "ownership" of that number in Buccaneer annals. Well, we'll never know because he has chosen to switch to number 23, starting in 2020. Now his primary competitors for jersey number supremacy include Jeremiah Castille, Marty Carter and Jermaine Phillips instead. Perhaps that will prove to be an easier road to the top.

We're running down the list from 1 to 99 to identify the top player in Buccaneers history in each jersey number, and today we're on the set that will include both of those numbers, as we consider the range of 21 to 30. We will continue to consider only what a player has done in that number as a Buccaneer. And, if a player wore more than one number during his Tampa Bay tenure his argument for any of those numbers include only what he did while wearing each one.

Some of these choices are inevitably going to be tougher than others, either due to too many good candidates or too few solid choices, so we're also noting the "level of difficulty" of each choice. As we move into the 20s were going to mainly be sorting through running backs and defensive backs.

21: CB Donnie Abraham

This number has been worn by a very high volume of players over 45 years, but this was still not much of a competition. It's been worn by somebody on the Bucs' roster every year since 2005 and is currently in the possession of Justin Evans. Cornerback John Holt was the first Buccaneer to make a big mark in the number from 1981-85, and Milton Mack and Mike "Scooter" McGruder were useful role players, but Donnie Abraham took it over from 1996-2001. Abraham became the Bucs' all-time interceptions leader before Ronde Barber surpassed him, and he's still the only person in team history with three straight seasons of six or more picks. Abraham had at least five interceptions in five of his six seasons in Tampa. The most prominent Bucs to wear 21 since Abraham left are Sabby Piscitelli, Juran Bolden and Alterraun Verner. Yeah, no competition.

Level of Difficulty: 1.

This seems like it should be a premium number but somehow Abraham has almost no real competition.

22: RB Doug Martin

Just like 21, this jersey has been worn by 20 different Buccaneers but it still doesn't have a particularly rich history in team annals. Corner Rod Jones got it after he was drafted in the first round in 1986 but his career was neither particularly long or prolific. Thomas Everett and Charles Mincy had it back to back for a total of five years in the 1990s and were good contributors but neither reached the heights that Martin did. Thomas Jones had one good season as number 22 for the Bucs, but that simply launched him into fruitful runs with the Bears and Jets. Meanwhile, Martin is the fourth-leading rusher in Bucs history and he has as many touchdowns as Warrick Dunn (spoiler alert for number 28). Martin made two Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2015. Yes, he failed to crack 500 yards in any of his other four Bucs season, several of which were marred by injury, but his 2012 and 2015 campaigns were marvelous and his 251-yard, four-touchdown game in Oakland as a rookie is one of the greatest single-game performances ever for the franchise.

Level of Difficulty: 2.

The up-and-down nature of Martin's career makes this feel like it shouldn't be a slam dunk, but none of the other 22s mentioned above were serious considerations to unseat him.

23: S Jermaine Phillips

I submit that if I asked a majority of Buccaneers fans who wore Michael Jordan's number the longest for Tampa Bay they would have a hard time coming up with Phillips. His eight-year tenure began at just the right time, as he was a fifth-round draft pick in 2002, and he ended up making 74 starts in 96 total games. That is by far the most of any number 23 in team history, a list that most prominently includes Jeremiah Castille, Marty Carter, Mark Barron and Chris Conte. Castille and Carter were good players but they were stuck on mostly terrible teams while Phillips got a Super Bowl ring and started for the '05 and '07 playoff squads. One might have expected Barron, the seventh-overall pick in the 2002 draft, to make a run at Phillips but he was traded to the Rams seven games into his third season. Phillips accumulated as much AV (via Pro Football Reference) as Castille and Carter combined.

Level of Difficulty: 3.

This is overall not a strong number in Bucs history, which is good news for Murphy-Bunting moving forward, but Phillips was a fairly easy choice.

24: RB Cadillac Williams

Like Martin, Williams ended up with a Buccaneer career that wasn't quite what it could have been, in his case due to two very bad knee injuries. A fierce competitor in any activity he picked up and a very popular man in the Bucs' locker room, Williams burst onto the scene with an NFL record 434 rushing yards in his first three professional games. That landed his cleats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was the NFL's Rookie of the Year in 2005, helping the Bucs get back to the playoffs after two down years, and he is fifth on the team's all-time rushing chart. Weirdly, there weren't any particularly prominent number-24 wearers in the franchise's first 20 years. Safety Damien Robinson was the first to have it for more than three years (1997-2000). Mark Barron also wore this number. Williams' primary competition would come later from two seasoned veteran cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis and Brent Grimes. Revis's one season isn't enough to get him a nod, even if he is Hall of Fame bound. Grimes lasted three years, and in two of those he tied for the team lead in interceptions, but I still don't think that's enough to bump Caddy.

Level of Difficulty: 3.

Grimes at least made me mull this one over for a while.

25: CB Brian Kelly

This one basically came down to Brian Kelly versus Aqib Talib, but Kelly played twice as long in Tampa as Talib, was a starter on the Super Bowl team and is one spot ahead of Talib on the franchise's all-time interception list. Kelly probably didn't deserve to end his career without a single Pro Bowl invite, particularly when he led one of the best defenses ever (the 2002 champs) in interceptions and tied for the league lead that year. While Barber revolutionized the dual role of playing outside and in the slot, Barber locked down the left corner position for a good portion of the 2010s. The fact that Talib had 18 interceptions in five seasons compared to 22 in 10 seasons for Kelly is worth contemplating, but Talib essentially engineered his own departure from Tampa. Kelly's longevity matters.

Level of Difficulty: 6.

I'm glad I'm not being asked to name which was a better cornerback, because than this would be even harder. I should also mention Curtis Jordan, who had the number for the Buccaneers' first five seasons, as well as Tony Covington, Melvin Johnson, Mike James and Peyton Barber. This has been a good number in team history.

26: CB/S Dwight Smith

Someone has worn this number for the Bucs every season since 2001 except for 2013. With Murphy-Bunting giving it up after one year it now goes back to Andrew Adams, who wore it during his first year in Tampa in 2018. It's fair to point out that Smith only played four seasons for the Buccaneers, only two as a starter, but again the competition isn't too fierce. Running back James Owens gets some consideration from the early years but he only finished with 1,192 yards from scrimmage over four seasons. Will Allen overlapped with Smith for one season and then took the 26 jersey when Smith left and ended up with more games played and starts as a Buc. However, Smith set that aforementioned Super Bowl record, then switched to safety and had a total of 12 picks from 2002-04.

Level of Difficulty: 4.

Smith's short tenure means he's not a slam dunk, but his highs were very high and there's nobody with the resume to take this from him.

27: RB LeGarrette Blount

I happen to believe that 27 is one of the best jersey numbers in sports and it pains me that there has yet to be a true Bucs superstar in that number. Seriously, no one has ever worn it in Tampa for more than four seasons in a row, and if I told you the two players who made it to four are Torrie Cox and Johnthan Banks, I think you'd be surprised. (Cox played five seasons for the Bucs but wore 24 for the first one.) Blount is one of only three others to wear it for at least three seasons, along with running back Tony Davis and safety Barney Bussey. Ronald Jones should join them this year and, honestly, if he puts together another three or four good seasons in Tampa this is probably his spot. For now it's Blount, who had a 1,000-yard season as a rookie and another 781 in 2011 before Doug Martin came along the next year. Blount also had some of the more enduring highlight runs in recent memory, including several memorable hurdles over defenders.

Level of Difficulty: 8.

I'm underwhelmed by the choices here. Most of the 27s through the years have been decent but short-term DBs like Bussey, Darrell Fullington and Anthony Parker. Blount didn't play in Tampa long, either, but somebody has to wear this jersey.

28: RB Warrick Dunn

Well, this one was easy. There were some good number 28s before Dunn, like running back Melvin Carver and special teams ace Curtis Buckley, but it didn't take long for Dunn to make it his own. Tanard Jackson had it for one year but he gave it up for Dunn when he came back for one last Buc season in 2008. Since then, the really notable number 28 has been cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, and I doubt many Bucs fans would stump for VH3 over Dunn. Dunn ranks third in team history with 4,986 rushing yards (just 102 fewer than his Thunder & Lightning partner Mike Alstott) and fourth in receptions with 306 (just one more than Alstott). He is second only to James Wilder in total yards from scrimmage, with 7,690. And he surely ranks as one of the most fun Buccaneers ever to watch play, not to mention one of the franchise's biggest community heroes.

Level of Difficulty: 1.

The opposite of trying to tackle Dunn in the open field.

29: CB Ricky Reynolds

Kenny "The Shark" Gant was a fan favorite for three seasons in the '90s and cornerback Leonard Johnson did good work as an undrafted free agent for three campaigns in the 2010s, but those are the only two that can really give Reynolds a run for his money here. And they don't get particularly close. Reynolds was a Buccaneer for seven seasons, and the Bucs' current number 29, Ryan Smith is the only other player on the list with more than three. A second-round pick in 1987, Reynolds was a starter from Day One and he secured nine interceptions in his first two seasons. He would finish with 17 picks as a Buccaneer before moving on to New England.

Level of Difficulty: 2.

It wasn't really difficult but there will probably be some supporters for Gant, who was entertaining to watch on special teams.

30: S Mark Robinson

The knock against Robinson would be that he played only three seasons as a Buccaneer (spending a fourth on injured reserve) and a total of 40 games. But he started all of those games after being acquired in a trade with the Chiefs and quickly became a team captain. He also racked up 12 interceptions in those 40 games, which is a very high rate. And, frankly, the competition is lacking. Only two other Buccaneers have ever worn number 30 for more than one season - safety Donte Nicholson for two (after switching from 28) and safety Bradley McDougald for three (after switching from 49). McDougald gets some consideration here in a sparse field, but he topped out at five interceptions and was only a starter for two years.

Level of Difficulty: 5.

Robinson was very good during his Bucs tenure and would be an easy choice if he'd been around longer. Maybe rookie running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn can work his way into this competition in a few years.

**

That's it for the 20s. Please come back on Thursday to see the selections for the 31-40 range. Bet you can guess the choice at 40!

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