If you ask old school scouts what is required to field a championship contender, they will quickly tell you that it takes eight to twelve blue-chip players to compete for a title. This premise has been the standard for general managers around the league and I rely on it to help me identify the players to watch on game day.
With that in mind, I thought I would take a little time to identify the players to watch on the Cowboys' first opponent. Here's a quick report on the current blue-chip players for the Bucs, led by arguably the greatest player to ever wear an NFL uniform.
Tom Brady, QB: The seven-time Super Bowl champ continues to defy the odds as a 40-something quarterback playing at a high level. While questions persist about Brady's focus after a brief hiatus from training camp, the veteran is a clutch performer with a knack for being at his best when the game is on the line. Despite the injuries an ever-changing supporting cast around him, Brady remains a threat to carve up any defense with surgical precision.
Mike Evans, WR: The big-bodied pass catcher has topped the 1,000-yard mark in eight straight seasons while serving as the Buccaneers' WR1. Evans' superior size, strength, and leaping ability make him a challenge to defend on the perimeter, particularly in one-on-one matchups. If the Cowboys fail to pay extra attention to No.13, the veteran could have a banner day as the featured playmaker in the Buccaneers' offense.
Chris Godwin, WR: The former Pro Bowler is working his way back from a season-ending knee injury, but he could make an appearance in Week 1 as the Buccaneers' WR1b. Godwin has been an effective "chain mover" opposite Evans in the past, but a slow recovery from his knee injury could rob him of his explosiveness at the beginning of the season. How well the veteran moves around could alter the Cowboys' defensive tactics and their ability to attack Brady with a variety of coverages and pressure packages.
Tristan Wirfs, OT: The one-time Pro Bowler is a monster on the edges with a combination of size, strength, and pop to crush defensive ends at the line of scrimmage. Wirfs not only excel at moving bodies in the running game, but he is a standout pass protector with the outstanding balance, body control, and hands. The standout edge blocker is capable of pitching a shutout against elite pass rushers and his battle against Micah Parsons and Co. could decide the outcome of the game.
Vita Vea, DT: It is rare to find a 350-pound defensive tackle with running back-like movement skills. That's why Vea is viewed as a unicorn in NFL circles due to his size, strength, athleticism, and versatility. The fifth-year pro creates chaos at the line of scrimmage as an interior penetrator with the capacity to "two-gap" or outmaneuver blockers in close quarters. As a mammoth block destroyer with a nose for the ball and a nasty demeanor, Vea is the tone setter for a defense that has top 5 potentials.
Akiem Hicks, DT: Adding another space eater to the lineup has made the Buccaneers' frontline a nightmare to deal with at the point of attack. Measuring 6-foot-4, 352 pounds with strong hands and a wide base, Hicks is an immovable object at the line of scrimmage. He combines dominant run-stopping skills with a handful of crafty pass rush maneuvers that enable him to destroy offensive game plans from the interior.
Shaquil Barrett, EDGE: The ultra-explosive pass rusher has the potential to take over the game as a sack artist. Barrett's first-step quickness and closing burst can overwhelm edge blockers, particularly a rookie making his first NFL start. If the Buccaneers elect to move the veteran around to take advantage of a favorable matchup, the one-time single-season sack leader could disrupt the game as an edge rusher.
Devin White, LB: The Buccaneers' "MIKE" linebacker is a tackling machine with freakish sideline-to-sideline ability and rare pass skills for the position. White is a monster on the second level with the instincts, awareness, and diagnostic skills to make a variety of splash plays that impact the outcome of the game.