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Comparing “Sacksonville” to the greats: 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

We keep hearing about how elite the “Sacksonville” defense is and how they can carry what is by all regards a fairly average offense deep into the playoffs, so I wanted to travel back into the annals of history and compare their personnel to some of the legendary NFL defenses of yesteryear.

This is the second of a four-part installment that I will be doing across the month of September, and this episode mirrors the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. Last week, we covered the 2002 Baltimore Ravens.

Below you’ll find 11 head-to-head match ups where I include each player’s statistics at the same point in their career to illustrate how our young players are tracking against some all-time greats.

LDE | Calais Campbell vs. Greg Spires


Campbell: 27.5 sacks; 200 tackles; 4 forced fumbles; 2 fumbles recovered

Spires: 17.0 sacks; 85 tackles; 6 forced fumbles; 3 fumbles recovered

Somewhat of a journeyman, Spires was already on his third NFL team despite being a third round pick in the 1998 draft by the New England Patriots. Spires was never a dominant defensive end, but was a valuable role player who could help set the edge against the run and had the benefit of Warren Sapp and Booger McFarland taking double teams inside. Spires only had 3.5 regular season sacks at left defensive end before adding another pair in the playoffs, and you have to think Calais will soundly eclipse this number in 2018. This battle soundly goes to the Mayor of Duval.

Advantage: Calais Campbell

LDT | Marcell Dareus vs. Anthony “Booger” McFarland


Dareus: 28.5 sacks; 139 tackles; 2 forced fumbles; 2 fumbles recovered

McFarland: 12.5 sacks; 77 tackles; 1 forced fumble; 1 fumble recovered

Now famous for his Monday Night Football gig where he hovers over the field in the Snot Rocket, Booger McFarland was a very valuable nose tackle who allowed Warren Sapp to be the dominant player he was. McFarland only contributed 1.5 sacks in ten games during the 2002 season, but make no mistake about it, his presence as a run stuffer wasn’t reflected in the stat sheet. McFarland missed the first four games of the 2002 season with a broken forearm and then missed the playoffs with a broken right foot against the Detroit Lions, allowing Chartric Darby to get the start. Because of the injury and Dareus having two Pro Bowls under his belt by his fifth season, Dareus gets the nod.

Advantage: Marcell Dareus

RDT | Malik Jackson vs. Warren Sapp


Jackson: 29.0 sacks; 167 tackles; 6 forced fumbles; 3 fumbles recovered

Sapp: 58.5 sacks; 203 tackles; 12 forced fumbles; 6 fumbles recovered

Sapp was Aaron Donald before Aaron Donald, and the seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time first team All Pro was the engine of the defensive line for the Bucs. Malik Jackson may arguably be a top five three-technique this season in the NFL, but Hall of Famer Warren Sapp he is not.

Advantage: Warren Sapp

RDE | Yannick Ngakoue vs. Simeon Rice


Ngakoue: 20.0 sacks; 44 tackles; 10 forced fumbles; 4 fumbles recovered

Rice: 17.5 sacks; 75 tackles; 2 forced fumbles; 1 fumble recovered

As much as we love Yannick in Duval, it’s too early in his career to give him the point in this match up against a borderline Hall of Fame player in Simeon Rice. A third overall pick for the Arizona Cardinals in the 2016 draft, Rice had eight NFL seasons with double-digit sacks and his 122 career sacks puts him at number 20 all-time. Jaguars fans should be highly encouraged about Yannick’s lead in the two year stat snapshot, but he has a tall task ahead of him this season to match Rice’s 15.5 sacks in 2002, which earned him first-team All Pro honors and a Super Bowl ring.

Advantage: Simeon Rice

SLB | Leon Jacobs vs. Alshermond Singleton


The strong side linebacker spot will be a consistent question mark in this series with Leon Jacobs playing as a true rookie, but Singleton had a solid ten year NFL career and racked up over 200 tackles, mainly as a special teamer. In 2002, Singleton had 43 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and an interception if you want to establish a baseline for Jacobs this season at the SAM spot.

Advantage: Alshermond Singleton?

MLB | Myles Jack vs. Shelton Quarles


Jack: 82 tackles; 2.5 sacks; 0 forced fumbles; 2 fumbles recovered; 0 interceptions

Quarles: 10 tackles; 1.0 sack; 0 forced fumbles; 2 fumbles recovered; 0 interceptions

Considering Quarles did not even earn his first NFL start until his third year, Myles Jack is already light years ahead of the former Vanderbilt linebacker. Quarles had a Pro Bowl year in 2002, compiling 74 tackles and two interceptions next to Derrick Brooks, but Jack already has a head start with 10 tackles and a house call in his first game as the full-time middle linebacker this season.

Advantage: Myles Jack

WLB | Telvin Smith vs. Derrick Brooks


Smith: 345 tackles; 6.5 sacks; 4 forced fumbles; 5 fumbles recovered; 7 interceptions

Brooks: 377 tackles; 2.5 sacks; 6 forced fumbles, 1 fumbles recovered, 4 interceptions

Nole on Nole crime! We know Telvin Smith is married to the game, but he’s not married to the Hall of Fame as Derrick Brooks is. While this a no brainer at this point in time, the snap shot comparison between Brooks and the best Florida State weak side linebacker in the NFL since Brooks is… interesting.

Advantage: Derrick Brooks

CB | Jalen Ramsey vs. Ronde Barber


Ramsey: 6 interceptions; 31 pass break ups; 107 tackles

Barber: 2 interceptions; 0 pass break ups; 63 tackles

Barber was a third round draft pick but only played one game as a rookie in 1997. In 2002, Barber had three sacks and two interceptions during the regular season, and if Ramsey doesn’t dismantle those numbers this year, it will be a major disappointment by his standards. If Ramsey is already this good at age 23, imagine where he will be at 27, which is the year Ronde won his ring. I’ll probably catch a lot of flack here from Bucs fans due to the long, steady body of work for Barber, but I stand with our king and they can go argue with their pirate hats.

Advantage: Jalen Ramsey

CB | A.J. Bouye vs. Brian Kelly


Bouye: 12 interceptions; 50 pass break ups; 169 tackles

Kelly: 11 interceptions; 25 pass break ups; 201 tackles

Brian Kelly was a very solid cornerback and I vividly remember his eight-interception 2002 season. Kelly was critical for the Bucs due to the fact that teams were constantly throwing his way to try and avoid Ronde Barber. Kelly did not register his first pass deflection until his fourth season (despite oddly having one interception in each of his first three seasons), but added 21 pass break ups during the Bucs Super Bowl run. Bouye might not match eight interceptions this season, but he may not have to with the other players in this secondary picking up the slack. The match up is very close, but Bouye has one more Pro Bowl than Kelly, so A.J. gets the point.

Advantage: A.J. Bouye

SS | Barry Church vs. John Lynch


Church: 9 interceptions; 415 tackles; 1.5 sacks; 8 forced fumbles

Lynch: 15 interceptions; 388 tackles; 4.5 sacks; 6 forced fumbles

Like Sapp and Brooks, Lynch is a Hall of Famer and so badly beats Church in this match up that they should almost be awarded a second point. The fifteen-year veteran and nine-time Pro Bowler finished with 26 interceptions and over 700 tackles, so Church would have to play another eight years to come close to that type of production.

Advantage: John Lynch

FS | Tashaun Gipson vs. Dexter Jackson


Gipson: 19 interceptions; 243 tackles; 0 sacks; 1 forced fumble

Jackson: 13 interceptions; 219 tackles; 2.5 sacks; 4 forced fumbles

To be quite frank, Gipson and Jackson are very similar ball hawking free safeties with fairly close numbers after six seasons. If Gipson can end up becoming the Super Bowl MVP with two game-clinching interceptions in Atlanta, I will give him the edge, but until that happens, Jackson gets the point.

Advantage: Dexter Jackson

Final Score: Bucs 6 Jaguars 5

The Bucs were truly a formidable defense with Hall of Fame players at each level in Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch. Add in some very good players who had remarkable seasons in Simeon Rice (15.5 sacks), Brian Kelly (eight interceptions) and Dexter Jackson (Super Bowl MVP), and it’s difficult to make an argument that the Jaguars have a better unit. Even Ronde Barber is a Hall of Fame semifinalist, despite that position battle going to Ramsey for the purposes of this article.

Statistically, the 2002 Bucs pass defense may have been the greatest to ever grace the gridiron, and their 155 passing yards per game allowed, 10 passing touchdowns allowed, and 131 first downs allowed are all benchmarks that will be difficult to exceed. To put it in perspective, the 2017 Jaguars allowed 169.9 passing yards per game, 17 passing touchdowns allowed, and 143 first downs allowed. If the Jags can turn it up just a bit this year, they can get close to hanging with the 2002 Bucs, but they are already a little behind after allowing 210 yards to Eli Manning in week one.

Stay tuned for next week’s edition of the All Time Greats when we compare the Jags to the 2013 Seahawks.