BucsWire’s 2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Team Awards

The curtains have closed, the conference championship is set, and after falling 31-23 to the Detroit Lions in the divisional round, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers flip the page and turn their focus to the offseason.

Each season of football is full of ups and downs, but the Bucs’ 2023 season in particular felt more dramatic as each week went by. Several players rose to the occasion when they were called upon, but a select few stood out amongst the crowd.

BucsWire staff has made picks for each game all year, and now that the season is over, we got together to choose our team awards for the 2023 season. See who we picked for each category below:

Offensive MVP

Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Adragna: If this is Mike Evans’ last season in Tampa Bay, what a way to go out. Evans finished the year with 79 receptions for 1,255 yards and 13 touchdowns. He tied Miami Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill for the most receiving touchdowns and ranked ninth for the most receiving yards in the NFL. Evans’ production was historic. In Week 13, the Bucs wideout caught seven receptions for 162 yards to tally his 10th consecutive season with 1,000 receiving yards. Only Hall of Fame WR Jerry Rice, who many recognize as the greatest receiver of all time, has accomplished such a feat.

River Wells: There’s a decent argument for QB Baker Mayfield, but I think Evans should get the nod here. Contract years are contract years, but Evans showed up as a major producer for the Bucs and tied the league lead for receiving touchdowns. On top of his 1,000-yard streak maintaining itself, he was a weapon for the Bucs all year and was a contributor even up to Tampa Bay’s final playoff game against the Detroit Lions, where he went off for 147 yards and a touchdown.

Jason Kanno: By default, MVP awards favor the player who touches the ball the most. Baker Mayfield’s resurgent season was certainly a nice surprise for the Bucs, but none of it would have been possible without Mike Evans. Even at 30, Evans can still dictate a defense and made teams pay for single coverage, leading the NFL in yards and touchdowns against a sole defender. The Bucs offense may have been run by Mayfield, but it worked because of Evans.

Defensive MVP: S Antoine Winfield Jr.

(Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

Luke Adragna: Could this be any less obvious? Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr. had one of the best seasons by a safety in recent history. Winfield recorded 3 interceptions, six forced fumbles, six sacks and 122 tackles. He was notably snubbed from the 2023 Pro Bowl roster when results were released in early January. However, Winfield earned an even more coveted All-Pro nod, which should drastically increase the contract he is expected to negotiate during free agency this offseason.

River Wells: I suspect there will be no dissenters here. Winfield Jr. was the only player from Tampa Bay’s entire roster to be named as a First Team All-Pro, and it was well deserved for his safety play across the season. He was a total gamewrecker and a queen on the chessboard for the Bucs, able to be moved in any way to impact the game. If he’s able to keep that play up going forward, he’ll be a household name in the NFL for years to come.

Jason Kanno: This was not a difficult unanimous call. Antoine Winfield Jr. was Tampa Bay’s best player on defense and arguably the best safety in the NFL. Rarely do defenders single-handedly swing the outcome of a game. Winfield Jr. made it a habit, typically with a forced fumble. Tampa Bay will no doubt reset the safety market with his contract extension, and Winfield Jr. will likely earn every penny.

Special Teams MVP: K Chase McLaughlin

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Adragna: The Bucs haven’t had a reliable kicker for a while, and McLaughlin was the definition of reliable this season. The veteran kicker nailed 29 of his 31 field goal attempts and failed to miss a single extra point. Tampa Bay hasn’t had a kicker with a field goal percentage above 90% since Ryan Succop did so in 2020. McLaughlin’s best moment came in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings. The veteran kicker nailed a game-winning 57-yard field goal, which tied his career high, with 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter to give the Bucs a 20-17 victory.

River Wells: Bingo. McLaughlin not only put in the best shift a kicker ever has for the Bucs in 2023, but his only two misses in regular-season play were blocks. Punter Jake Camarda had his moments, but he was a tad overrated for Tampa Bay in 2023. McLaughlin was almost always clutch when he need to be an definitely deserves this one.

Jason Kanno: Again, there really isn’t much of an argument against the pick. McLaughlin was one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL from virtually any part of the field. The only thing holding him back was the offense’s inability to consistently move the ball into opposing territory. The Bucs’ storied struggles with kickers could be at an end with a contract extension for McLaughlin.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: G Cody Mauch

(Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

Luke Adragna: There weren’t really many outstanding rookies among the Bucs offense. However, G Cody Mauch makes the most sense when selecting the offensive rookie with the highest impact. Mauch immediately took over as Tampa Bay’s starting right guard and gradually developed throughout the year. The first-year guard received a 44.7 grade by PFF this season, which is one of the lowest among offensive guards. However, he is a promising guard overall and could be a cornerstone of the Bucs offensive line going ahead.

River Wells: This will be my first dissenting opinion, it seems. There was a point where Mauch looked solid after his game against the San Francisco 49ers, but he went on a major downturn during the final frame of the season — as such, I’m gonna go with Trey Palmer. He wasn’t perfect, either, but his breakaway speed was put on display and he caught three touchdowns across the year. There’s definitely some potential there.

Jason Kanno: This season Mauch looked every bit the rookie coming out of the FCS. He was always going to be a project and played a major role in the Bucs’ futile efforts in running the ball. Trey Palmer is a much better selection even if he did not play as many snaps as Mauch. Though his stats were modest—39 catches for 385 yards and three touchdowns—his eye-popping speed was on display every week. Down the stretch, it was not unusual to see Palmer pulling away from cornerbacks on deep routes. With a little more time in the offense, Palmer could be a deep threat worth watching every week.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: OLB Yaya Diaby

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Adragna: Despite starting only seven games, OLB Yaya Diaby proved to be one of the most promising defenders from the 2023 NFL Draft class. Diaby got his first start in Week 12 against the Indianapolis Colts and never looked back. He finished the year with 1 forced fumble, 7.5 sacks and 38 tackles. He and DT Calijah Kancey were two of the best defenders to emerge from a loaded 2023 NFL Draft class.

River Wells: Tough to pick between Kancey and Diaby here, but Diaby takes it. His production was excellent despite having not started, and with 7.5 sacks his first year, there’s some potential for a special edge rusher going forward. Diaby’s pass-rushing moves can get a little work, but if he can work on that and perfect his game, his raw power and speed could be a problem for a lot of defenses.

Jason Kanno: Yaya Diaby was very good for the Bucs this season, but Calijah Kancey was better. Despite starting the season off with a bum calf, Kancey came on as one of the best pass rushers in his rookie class. He was a nightmare for guards and centers thanks to his Mary Poppins bag of pass rush moves and a first step that would make Warren Sapp blush. The main thing separating Kancey from Diaby was their postseason performance. Kancey was a game wrecker, notching 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss. He did exactly what a team wants from its first-round picks: make big plays on the biggest stages.

Comeback Player of the Year: OLB Shaq Barrett

(Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
(Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Luke Adragna: I know this leads to the question, “Where is Baker Mayfield?” While Mayfield undoubtedly showed the most improvement from last season, Comeback Player of the Year is traditionally awarded to a player who overcomes a serious injury or life-altering event. Barrett did both of those. Barrett suffered a torn Achilles on Oct. 27, 2022, which prematurely ended his 2022 season. As a 30-year-old rusher, one of the most physically demanding positions in football, the injury likely would’ve been career-ending for a majority of players. And while Barrett may have lost a step, he came back nonetheless. On top of the Achilles injury, the Bucs edge rusher tragically lost his 2-year-old daughter Arrayah Barrett to a drowning accident over the summer. Barrett was outspoken about his mental struggles recovering from the loss of his daughter. When the edge rusher scored a game-sealing pick-six against the Chicago Bears in Week 2, Barrett dedicated the play to Arrayah and blew a kiss to the sky.

River Wells: Shaq Barrett won’t be a Buccaneer next year, and while that’s understandable due to his age and his production, that doesn’t make what he came back from any less impressive. Barrett faced a number of hardships in the offseason, from a torn Achilles recovery he had to undergo after 2022 to the loss of his daughter Arrayah Barrett. Through all that, his teammates rallied behind him and he was able to complete the 2023 season. He didn’t look like the Shaq Barrett of old, no, but in the spirit the award, the adversity he overcame to play on the field at his age and with his surrounding circumstances is incredibly admirable.

Jason Kanno: Imagine having the year Shaq Barrett had and still play 16 NFL games. Coming back from a torn Achilles at 30 is as tough a mental battle as it is a physical one. Losing a child is simply unthinkable. Somehow Barrett was still a worthy NFL starter and arguably the Bucs most reliable pass rusher off the edge, leading the team with 56 total pressures. His contract makes a return unlikely, but his resilience this season is something Tampa Bay will not soon forget.

Story originally appeared on Buccaneers Wire