Tampa Bay's Most Likely Postseason Award Candidates for 2014 Season
NFL accolades have been scarce in Tampa Bay as of late.
No Buccaneers player has been recognized in any individual category since Cadillac Williams won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2005. Before Williams, Hall-of-Fame-elect linebacker Derrick Brooks won Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, the season the Bucs won the Super Bowl.
The glory days of the late '90s and early '00s whisper taunts in the ears of Bucs fans. It has been many years since any Buccaneers player has been worthy of just mention in a conversation of the top players at the end of the year.
This shameful drought may soon come to an end.
The Bucs' cupboard is no longer bare. Players like defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David and wide receiver Vincent Jackson can count themselves among the best on their respective sides of the football.
The best the Bucs have to offer is now on par with the rest of the league, and they can now be recognized as such. Here are the most likely candidates for postseason honors in 2014.
Most Valuable Player
If there is one Buccaneer who could win Most Valuable Player, it's DT Gerald McCoy.
McCoy is the heart and soul of the Bucs' roster. Lovie Smith's defense will revolve around McCoy's ability to disrupt the line of scrimmage and pressure the quarterback.
As one of the best defensive players in the league, McCoy is a transformative force. He elevates the roster into contender status. If the Bucs make it into the playoffs, it will have started its journey on McCoy's back.
McCoy is the driving force behind the Bucs' success. He may not be a shoo-in for the league MVP, but he is undoubtedly the MVP in Tampa Bay.
Defensive Player of the Year
The Buccaneers have a unique problem that any NFL team would envy: having two players worthy of Defensive Player of the Year honors.
If Gerald McCoy is the core of the defense, then LB Lavonte David is its razor sharp edge. Anyone who comes his way is cut down with precision tackling and superb coverage.
With Lovie Smith taking over the defense, David could join elite company of Tampa-2 linebacker linchpins like Derrick Brooks and Lance Briggs.
The Tampa-2 is a system David was born to play. It appeals to all of David's strengths and might make him the best linebacker in the NFL.
If David continues growing at the same pace he has over the past two years and takes to Smith's defense as is expected, it is by no means out of the question that David could be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Is there really any other player that would be more appropriate here?
The Bucs spent the seventh overall pick in this year's draft to take WR Mike Evans, a big man with a big future.
Not long after he was drafted, the odds-setters in Las Vegas declared Evans the odds-on favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Even NFL pundits like Daniel Jeremiah are proclaiming Evans the top ROY candidate:
My WAY too early pick for offensive rookie of the year: TB WR Mike Evans— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) May 31, 2014
Part of what separates Evans from the rest of the pack is the talent around him. He has the ideal mentor in Vincent Jackson, a player with similar athleticism and exceptional work ethic.
Evans also has a solid veteran quarterback in Josh McCown who is no stranger to big receivers.
Of all the players on the Bucs roster, Evans is the most likely to take home postseason accolades. The Bucs should hope that Evans' work earning those accolades also pushes them into playoffs.
Offensive Player of the Year
As good as Mike Evans could be, WR Vincent Jackson is already that good.
Of all the players on the Bucs' roster, Jackson is most likely to take home the Offensive Player of the Year award. He is by far the most experienced and accomplished weapon the Bucs have on offense.
Jackson also has a superior coaching staff in Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, and it doesn't hurt that he has a new playmate in Evans who will draw significant attention from opposing defenses, opening more opportunities for Jackson downfield.
Still, odds are long that Jackson will win Offensive Player of the Year. There is simply too much competition across the league and the Bucs offense may be limited by a new system and the surplus of options thanks to this year's draft.
Comeback Player of the Year
Comeback Player of the Year is an unusual distinction as it acknowledges how poorly a player's season went the year prior.
Running back Doug Martin's 2013 campaign came to an abrupt and premature end when he tore his labrum in Week 6. The Bucs hoped Martin could return but resigned themselves to his fate and placed him on injured reserve in November.
Martin received clearance to return to the field at the end of March. Now Martin can get back to bouncing off tacklers and continue growing into one of the best tailbacks in the league.
The biggest obstacle standing his way is actually his own team. Per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Jeff Tedford plans on spreading the love between his running backs, including rookie Charles Sims.
However, Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe asked Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune this week what sort of workload the Bucs have in mind for Martin, and Cummings seemed optimistic that Martin would still be "the bell cow."
Only time will tell whether Martin will roar back to the field and contend for Comeback Player of the Year, or if he'll beg for carries in a crowded Bucs backfield.