Bucs Could Fill Immediate Void With Former No. 1 Draft Pick: Analysis

Tom Brady

Getty Tom Brady and the Buccaneers offense could get a big lift from a former No. 1 draft pick.

Amid a devastating injury for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team might not need to settle for a backup or practice squad player.

The Bucs lost All-Pro and Pro Bowl tackle Tristan Wirfs for 3-4 weeks due to a foot/ankle injury according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times on Monday, November 28. Wirfs sustained the injury against the Cleveland Browns in a 23-17 overtime loss on Sunday, November 27.

Tampa Bay could pursue free agent tackle and former No. 1 draft pick Eric Fisher instead playing backup tackle Josh Wells or calling up practice squad tackle Justin Skule. The Kansas City Chiefs selected Fisher in 2013, and he made two Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl along the way before his departure after the 2020 season.

Fisher started 15 games for the Indianapolis Colts in 2021. Pro Football Focus gave Fisher a 68.2 grade for last season and ranked him 46th among 83 tackles. PFF also credited him for seven sacks allowed on 874 snaps.

Bleacher Report listed Fisher as a remaining free agent to pursue in November — albeit for the Saints after an injury to tackle Trevor Penning. However, the same line of thought could apply to the Bucs without Wirfs.

“Fisher didn’t have a stellar season with the Colts,” Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox wrote. “However, it should be noted that Fisher rushed back from a torn Achilles that he suffered in January 2021.”

“Further removed from the injury, Fisher should be closer to the Pro Bowl form he displayed in 2020 with Kansas City,” Knox added. “And because of the injury and underwhelming 2021 campaign, Fisher might be available on a one-year, ‘prove-it’ deal.”

Fisher made $8.3 million with the Colts last season on a one-year deal, per Spotrac. The Bucs have $2.9 million left in salary cap space, per Spotrac, and can at least afford a “prove-it” deal or a little better.

What Do the Bucs Have in Wells, Skule?

Wells, who filled in for Wirfs after the injury, started three games this season in seven game appearances. The former James Madison standout previously filled in for tackle Donovan Smith early in the season.

In the first two weeks of the season, Wells played 63% of the offensive snaps against the Dallas Cowboys and 34% of the snaps against the Saints. The Bucs won both of those games on the road, and the running game produced 224 yards between those two contests.

An eight-year veteran, Wells has 20 career starts between the Bucs and Jacksonville Jaguars. Wells has started as many as five games in one season, which he did last year with the Bucs and in 2018 with the Jaguars.

As for Skule, he started 12 games for the 49ers in 2019 and 2020 before an ACL tear sidelined him for 2021. The 49ers released him in August, and the Bucs signed him to the practice squad in September. The Bucs released him in October but re-signed him  in November.

Bucs Face Dire Situation Without Wirfs

The Bucs must make the best call without Wirfs to save the season.

Tampa Bay holds a narrow lead in the NFC South Division at 5-6 with the Atlanta Falcons right behind at 5-7. Winning the division is the only realistic path to the playoffs for the Bucs.

First, the Bucs need to take care of business against the next 3-4 opponents without Wirfs, and the first two boast two of the best defensive fronts in the league. The New Orleans Saints, which face the Bucs on December 5, give quarterback Tom Brady and company all kinds of trouble. Tampa Bay’s December 11 trip  to face the San Francisco 49ers hold similar pitfalls with a  top-10 defense and a star edge rusher in Nick Bosa.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals await after San Francisco. Both the Bengals and Cardinals feature tough defensive end duos up front.

Only two games with the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta remain after that point. The Bucs lost embarrassingly to Carolina the first time around, the Bucs barely held on against the Falcons.

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