Best Buccaneers Players Of All Time: Top 5 Legendary Tampa Bay Athletes, According To Fans

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Bucs) joined the National Football League (NFL) in 1976 as an expansion team. Despite early struggles and an NFL record 26-game losing streak, the Bucs rebounded to make the NFC Championship Game in 1979 and come within one game of the Super Bowl. Since then, Tampa Bay has won two Super Bowl championships and the organization has won the title every time the team has made it to the big game. Undoubtedly, there have been some great Bucs to come through over the years, but only a select few can be called the best Buccaneers players of all time. 

Speaking of great players coming through an organization, a recent study found that fans prefer championship teams comprised of homegrown talent as opposed to teams stacked with pricey free agents. Researchers at the University of Kansas surveyed 1,500 Americans. They found that sports fans prefer championship teams comprised of drafted or ‘homegrown’ players as opposed to teams with rosters comprised of expensive free-agent players. Apparently, sports fans appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to build a championship team from the ground up

While we’re on the topic of fans, most NFL fans will be happy to learn that attending a live sporting event is also really good for mental health. In fact, a recent study found that attending live sporting events can boost your mental health as much as getting a job. A survey out of England found that respondents who recently attended a live sporting event – professional or otherwise – scored better in terms of ‘life satisfaction’ than those who had not recently been to a game. The survey of 7,000 adults is the first of its kind to examine the mental health benefits of attending sporting events. Overall, sports fans claim that watching live events makes them feel more ‘worthwhile’ and leaves them feeling satisfied. Sounds like a great reason to get down to Tampa and catch a Bucs game in the near future. 

So, which athletes are among the greatest to ever suit up for the Bucs franchise? StudyFinds did some digging, consulting 10 sports and football-oriented websites in an effort to bring you a consensus best Buccaneers players of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed players across these sites. Think your favorite Buc was left off the list? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below! 

aerial photography of NFL logo printed on field
NFL logo (Photo by Adrian Curiel on Unsplash)

The List: Best Buccaneers Players, According to Sports Experts

1. Derrick Brooks

The top spot on the list of the best players in Bucs franchise history belongs to legendary linebacker, Derrick Brooks. He was one of the staples of the vaunted Tampa Two defense developed by legendary coach Tony Dungy, and he’s easily one of the best defensive players of his generation. 

“Widely regarded as the greatest Buc ever, Derrick Brooks is one of the best linebackers that has ever played the game. Brooks spent his entire 13-year professional career with the Buccaneers, forming part of that aforementioned Super Bowl winning roster in 2002. During his time in Florida, he also secured a long list of franchise records. He is the Bucs’ all-time leader for tackles and forced fumbles, while only one player has featured in more games,” explains Bucs Report

Brooks played outside linebacker in legendary head coach Tony Dungy’s Tampa Two scheme. In this style of defense, linebackers play a huge role in not only stopping the run but also in pass coverage in the middle of the field. Other legendary linebackers that thrived in this system include the likes of Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher. Brooks was similar in that he was big, tall, and fast, giving him all the tools he needed to put together a Hall of Fame career as a member of the Bucs.   

“Derrick Brooks is widely regarded as the greatest Buccaneer in franchise history due to his consistent level of play throughout his fourteen-year career. Brooks during his career was a five-time first team all-pro (’99, ’00, ’02, ’04, ’05), four-time second team all-pro (’97, ’98, ’01, ’03), eleven-time pro bowler (’97-’06, ’08) and the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. In 2002, Brooks garnered 118 combined tackles along with five interceptions and scored four touchdowns including an interception returned for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVII. The Pro Football Hall of Fame elected Brooks to their coveted group in 2016 after an elite-level playing career,” notes The Game Haus

Brooks was a tackling machine. However, it wasn’t until coach John Gruden took over the Bucs that the team put together a tough offense to match the play of Brooks and his defensive unit. The result was a stunning blowout victory in the Super Bowl over the Oakland Raiders. That game was never really close as Brooks, John Lynch, Warren Sapp, and the rest of that stellar Bucs defense took the game over right from the start. 

“There was nobody else who could have topped this list other than a man who led Tampa Bay’s defense for more than a decade and became one of the top linebackers of his generation. Brooks played in all 224 regular-season games for the Bucs from 1995 to 2008, and was equally excellent against the run and the pass. He led the NFL in tackles three times and had four defensive touchdowns (three pick-sixes, one fumble return) during his Defensive Player of the Year season in 2002,” furthers The Twinspires Edge

2. Lee Roy Selmon

Next up on the list of legendary Bucs players is none other than one of the first stars of Tampa’s defense – Lee Roy Selmon. He played defensive end and a little bit of defensive tackle in certain situations. Lee Roy Selmon was a fierce defensive pass rusher who had a knack for splitting double team blocks. 

“Lee Roy Selmon was a defensive [end] who played all nine of his NFL seasons for the Buccaneers from 1976 to 1984. Selmon was with Tampa from the very beginning of their franchise, so while he did not have much team success, he put up some great individual numbers,” explains Rookie Road

Selmon was soft-spoken off of the field but an absolute monster when it came time to strap on the gear and play football. Selmon was the top draft pick of the Tampa Bay franchise out of the University of Oklahoma, and he was as fierce a pass rusher as the league has ever seen. 

“From start to finish, Buccaneers defensive lineman Lee Roy Selmon embodied the heart and soul of the franchise. From becoming the Buccaneers’ first-ever NFL Draft pick in 1976 to becoming Tampa Bay’s first Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee nearly 20 years later in 1995, Selmon brought this franchise to new heights, leading the organization to an appearance in the NFC Championship Game in only its fourth year of existence. In 1977, Selmon asserted himself as a superstar en route to registering 110 tackles, five forced fumbles and a single-season career-high 13 sacks,” furthers Clutch Points

Selmon had an amazing career in the NFL and he was a Buc the whole time. Selmon played nine seasons and he was dominant for all of them. Legendary Bucs General Manager Ron Wolf drafted Selmon and later claimed he was a better player than other legends such as Reggie White and Howie Long. Whereas that may or may not be true, Selmon’s greatness was often overlooked because he played for the expansion Bucs. 

“Selmon was the first Buccaneer draft pick and first Buccaneer Hall of Famer. He was also the 1979 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Six Pro Bowls and even has an expressway named after him. I think it is safe to say that Selmon was the first great Bucs player and in my opinion, he is still THE most important player in Bucs history,” adds The Grueling Truth

3. Warren Sapp

The third name on the list of the best players in Buccaneers franchise history needs no introduction – it’s Warren Sapp. He was drafted by the Bucs and moved right up the coast from the University of Miami to Tampa Bay where he became another defensive stalwart along the Tampa Bay defensive line. 

“The Bucs’ third Pro Football Hall of Famer, Sapp proved to be the league’s dominant defensive tackle. He’s the franchise’s (2nd) all-time sacks leader (77) and one of the cornerstones of the unit that propelled Tampa Bay to its (first) Super Bowl victory. In 1999, Sapp was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year after amassing 12.5 sacks and leading the Bucs to the NFC title game. In 2000, Sapp set the Bucs’ single-season record with 16.5 QB takedowns,” notes Tampa Bay Times

Warren Sapp was dominant in college and he continued that greatness in the NFL. Warren Sapp might not have looked as physically dominant as some of the other all-time greats at his position but he was all that and more. Sapp was a football player, and he’s considered one of the best interior pass rushers of all time. Sapp ate blocks and freed up the likes of Derrick Brooks and John Lynch to make big plays on the back end of the legendary Tampa Two defense.  

“Sapp arguably was the leader of the ship Jolly Roger. For a time, he was the league’s top defensive tackle. Sapp logged four first-team All-Pro awards from 1999-2002. He counts seven Pro Bowls on his record. Sapp won the 1999 AP Defensive Player of the Year award. He got inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013,” furthers BVM Sports.

Warren Sapp was drafted twelfth overall by the Bucs in 1995, and he was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1999, which coincided with the Bucs’ first division title in over 15 years. So, it’s safe to say that Sapp helped transform the Bucs into a winning team. Still, Warren Sapp’s game was all about effort. Sapp willed his way into opposing backfields and had a knack for making big plays when he got there. 

“The Super Bowl XXXVII champion served as a dominant force in the middle of a vicious defense. By disrupting opposing offense’s backfields, Sapp eventually became the team’s third Pro Football Hall of Famer… Not only that, but Sapp was tabbed the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 and set the Buccaneers’ single-season record for quarterback takedowns with 16.5 the following year. A force to be reckoned with, Sapp reached seven Pro Bowls alongside four All-Pro selections with the Bucs,” furthers Clutch Points

4. John Lynch

Tackling the fourth spot on the list of best players in Bucs history is legendary strong safety, John Lynch. John Lynch was a big, strong, and smart defensive back who was willing to come down in the box and make tackles on running backs or drop back in coverage to make plays on the ball while it was in the air. 

“A hard-hitting safety, Lynch was a cornerstone of the Buccaneers’ defense and was known for his physicality and leadership on the field,” explains NFL Draft Diamonds

Lynch was the leader of the secondary and probably the smartest player on the field at all times – offense and defense included. After his retirement, John Lynch went on to become the general manager for the San Francisco 49ers and he’s arguably one of the best roster builders of all time. Still, none of that would have been possible without a stellar career as a member of the Bucs defense. 

“Nine-time Pro Bowl safety anchored the secondary in the team’s best years. Lynch represented the Buccaneers in five Pro Bowls and earned two First-Team All-Pro selections. After 11 seasons with the Bucs, he stood fifth in team history in games played (164), sixth in starts (132), fifth in tackles (973) and sixth in interceptions (23). Lynch also built a reputation as a ‘closer,’ someone who consistently made plays late in a game to ensure victory,” notes Tampa Bay Times

Lynch anchored the secondary for the legendary Tampa Two defensive scheme of the late ‘90s and early 2000s. When the game was on the line, John Lynch was at his best. Lynch was born in Hinsdale, Illinois, a small suburb of Chicago, before growing up in California. That led Lynch to play his college ball at Stanford before eventually being drafted by the Bucs in the third round of the 1993 NFL Draft. Lynch was known as much for his brains as he was for his toughness and ball-hawking abilities, making him the ultimate strong safety.  

“Lynch was elected to nine Pro Bowls and another two-time All-Pro choice. To say Lynch was a hard-hitting safety would be a huge understatement. But, he wasn’t just a head knocker he was smart and almost always in a position to make the play,” furthers The Grueling Truth

5. Mike Alstott

Rounding out the list of the best players in Bucs franchise history is one of the most beloved offensive players to ever suit up in Tampa – Mike Alstott. He was a fullback that could easily play running back and he was one of the last of his kind. “Alstott was a huge part of the Super Bowl-winning team twenty years ago. He caught 5 passes for 43 yards plus ran in a touchdown. The 6-foot-1, 250-pound battering ram racked up six Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro awards as a Buc. He was a turbo-charged load coming right at the opposition. The A-Train called it a career in 2006 after 11 years with Tampa Bay,” writes BVM Sports

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a fullback like Alstott on the field in the modern NFL game, but Alstott was more than just a powerful blocker at his position. Alstott could catch, run, pass protect, and do anything else the offense needed him to do. Late in his career, when one of Tampa’s running backs went down for the season, Alstott stepped up and filled that role for the rest of the way, transforming from blocking fullback to thunderous running back without missing a beat. 

“Mike Alstott is widely regarded as the one of the greatest fullbacks of all time during his 11-year career in Tampa Bay. Alstott was drafted in the second round of the 1996 NFL draft by the Buccaneers and immediately became a factor in the Buccaneers offense for his versatility and elite blocking. Alstott was named second-team all-pro in his rookie season in 1996. In his rookie season, he garnered 949 rush yards and 65 receptions… Alstott currently holds the record for having the most rushing touchdowns in Tampa Bay history with 58,” explains The Game Haus

The Bucs are one of the only NFL teams in which a fullback is the franchise’s leader for rushing touchdowns, but that was the power of Mike Alstott. He was a battering ram in goal-line situations and NFL defenses wanted no part of tackling Alstott late in games. “Way, way back in the days when fullbacks ran amok, few were better than the man called ‘A-Train.’ Alstott was part of a terrific backfield with Warrick Dunn (an honorable mention for this list and one of the great humanitarians in football history), and he scored a touchdown in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl XXXVII win over the Oakland Raiders,” furthers The Twinspires Edge

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