TAMPA — The Bucs have changed quarterbacks three times, produced stretches of historically great offense and historically bad defense and sandwiched two-game winning streaks around an eight-game stretch that saw them beat only the Cleveland Browns.
Still, there have been some defining individual performances. So who has been Tampa Bay's most valuable player so far? We asked our Bucs coverage team. Here are their responses:
The case for Mike Evans
Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer: The temptation is to give it to Jason Pierre-Paul, who has 11.5 sacks and had led the defense from the abyss. It's the most since Simeon Rice in 2005. But Evans is having his best season as a pro. He's doubled more than any wideout on the team and typically draws the opponent's best pass defender. But Evans' consistency is remarkable. He has eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving for all five pro seasons. Only Randy Moss and A.J. Green has done that in NFL history. The offense is king for the Bucs this season. Evans is their most valuable player on either side of the football.
Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs/pro sports enterprise writer: It's easy to say that Evans' numbers make him the team's MVP. He is third in the NFL in receiving yards, logging more than 1,100 yards with four games left. Evans is averaging 17 yards per catch, tied for the best in the NFL among receivers with more than 40 catches. But when you think about what makes a player valuable, it's also the ability to make those around him better. And Evans' ability to be a vertical threat on every play opens up opportunities for Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin. Even on days when Evans doesn't have 100 receiving yards, he is having a huge impact.
Thomas Bassinger, sports data reporter: Despite the inconsistency at quarterback, the Bucs have fielded a top-10 passing offense. That's largely because of Evans, who is having the best season of his already great career. He's one of the hungriest players on the team and is determined to be not only one of the best receivers in today's game but also one of the best receivers of all-time. He might not be among the league leaders in YAC (yards after catch), but he is among the leaders in YAR (yards above replacement). He has been worth about 250 yards more than a generic replacement-level receiver.
Tom Jones, columnist @tomwjones: I kept trying to make a case for Jameis Winston. When he plays well, this team is really good. When he plays poorly, the team is awful. Doesn’t that show you how valuable he is? But he has played too many crummy games this season to name him MVP. You could toss a coin between Mike Evans and Jason Pierre-Paul. But I’ll go with Evans. At the end of the day, the best football player in Tampa Bay.
The case for Jason Pierre-Paul
Martin Fennelly, columnist: It's hard to pick someone from a team that has a whiz-bang pass game and an historically bad defense, but I go with Jason Pierre-Paul. He has delivered on any number of levels and entered the Bucs' forbidden zone of 10-plus sacks. He has been a leader. He has been everything this team hoped for when it traded for him.
Ernest Hooper, metro columnist: The Bucs defense currently ranks 27th in the league. Tampa Bay has allowed 30 or more points in six of its 12 games. But Pierre-Paul's 11.5 sacks and steady performance has slowly set a tone. He's been one of the keys to turning around the team's defensive play, and his locker room leadership has been notable. But one play sums up his value. With Carolina driving for a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter and facing a third-and-5 from the Bucs' 44, Pierre-Paul came up with a critical sack of Cam Newton. The team has longed for such a playmaker, and now they have one.
Mike Sherman, sports editor: Jason Pierre-Paul has maintained an elite level of effort, performance and production in the midst of defensive chaos. Gerald McCoy and Vinny Curry missed games due to injury. The Bucs' linebacking corp was nearly wiped out. The secondary is a collection of guys you never heard of, rookies and a 35-year-old cornerback who doesn't want to play anymore. The one constant on defense has been JPP, which rhymes with MVP. Nice trade, Mr. Licht.
Contact Mike Sherman at [email protected] Follow @mikesherman