The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are right up there with the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and St. Louis Rams as teams who view the NFL draft as their Super Bowl each and every year. The Bucs have not made the playoffs since 2007, picking in the top 10 five out of those nine years and missing out on a first round pick in 2013 because of the ill-advised Darrelle Revis trade. On the bright side, between all the losing the Bucs have been able to hit on a good amount of their picks turning them into franchise players Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Mike Evans, Kwon Alexander, Jameis Winston, and more.
Coming off a 9-7 campaign last year and just missing out on the postseason, the Bucs now have their eyes set on the real Lombardi trophy instead of the draft. This is going to be a crucial class for general manager Jason Licht to nail by picking the right players to complement his current core to grow into a serious threat in the NFC. Now let’s dive into the Do’s and don’ts for Tampa Bay heading into the draft set to take place next Thursday in Philadelphia for the first time since 1961.
Address the safety position in the first round
While almost every mock draft out there has the Bucs taking a skill position player with their first pick at the number 19 slot, the team should go in a different direction by looking to shore up the secondary instead. Last year’s starter, Bradley McDougald, bolted in free agency, leaving an average group of Keith Tandy, Chris Conte, and the newly signed JJ Wilcox as the only safeties on the current roster. No disrespect to any of the three but if the Bucs want their defense to continue riding the momentum that they had to finish last season, they need an upgrade in the middle of the defense at safety. Tandy, Conte, and Wilcox can all be counted on to give quality snaps either in a rotation or for depth purposes, making the occasional big play just like Tandy and Conte both did at times last year. Realistically though, none are the type of game changing, play making safety who can cover ground in the passing game while coming up and being able to make a hit.
Top safety prospect Malik Hooker would be an ideal fit for the Bucs defense and between the uncertainties attached to him ever since he got surgery to repair a hernia and labrum injury, there’s a possibility that he might slide down to the Bucs pick. Jamal Adams and Jabrill Peppers are two other freak athletes who have been rising up draft boards because of the Hooker injury, making them possible options around the Bucs pick as well. In my opinion, the Bucs should target Obi Melifonwu from Connecticut, a big guy who can match up with the bigger receivers in the league while still being faster and more athletic than them. There is also a better chance that he’s going to be around with the 19th pick over the previous three that I mentioned.
Draft a quarterback as a mid-round pick
Football is a violent game where players have to dress in equipment from head to toe just to protect themselves from the daily grind. Injuries are part of the game and happen way too often, usually ending a team’s season if one of their key players goes down (think Derek Carr last year). It’s in the team’s best interests to have enough depth across the board to be able to withstand a freak injury that might occur to one of their starters. In the Bucs case, if franchise signal caller Jameis Winston goes down with a serious injury that forces him to sit out games or even worse the season, you can kiss the Bucs playoff chances goodbye. Last year, the Bucs had the luxury of having arguably the best backup quarterback in the league before Mike Glennon packed his bags for Chicago in free agency, leaving a void behind Winston. Since Winston is such a gamer who leaves it all out there on the field each and every Sunday, it’s entirely possible that his style of play will catch up to his body one day.
Ryan Griffin and Sean Renfree are the only other quarterbacks on the Bucs roster as of now so looking to draft another arm would be a smart idea. Brad Kaaya out of Miami was viewed as one of the top quarterback prospects before the college season started only to get dropped to a mid-round pick after an uninspiring year. Even though he necessarily didn’t live up to the hype, I personally think that Kaaya fits well into head coach Dirk Koetter’s scheme because of his ability to stay in the pocket with his strong-arm while being able to make any throw down the field. Nate Peterman, Josh Dobbs, and even Chad Kelly are other options for the Bucs to consider in the middle rounds to back up Winston.
Take a long look at Joe Mixon
What Joe Mixon did was completely unacceptable and I am by no means endorsing his actions, however every player deserves a second chance and most do when it comes to sports. How many times over the last few years have players that have gotten into serious legal trouble been given another chance to step foot onto a football field again? I can’t even count on both hands how many. Off the field issues aside, Mixon is a dynamic player out of the backfield who has speed that not many players in this draft class can match. His ability to catch the ball and run with it would give Winston another weapon in his arsenal to lead this offense.
Rather than drafting a running back in the first round, the Bucs should address other needs before pulling the trigger on a runner considering they already have three on the roster. Bucs management have already shown that they aren’t afraid to draft players with some baggage when they drafted Austin Seferian Jenkins, Noah Spence, and Winston in years past. Even if it’s not Mixon, Alvin Kamara, Jamaal Williams, and Kareem Hunt are other backs who will be around from rounds 2-5.
Reach for a skill position player
As much as every Bucs fan wants for Licht to pull the trigger on an exciting skill position player in the first round, he would be smart to not listen and should go in the opposite direction. Don’t get me wrong there is some exceptionally talented players that might still be available when it’s their turn to pick but, like I mentioned before, going after a safety or another impact defensive player would be the right move. Leonard Fournette is almost guaranteed to be gone by then, making Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey as the two running backs who the Bucs will most likely have a shot at. Reuniting Dalvin Cook with his old quarterback (Winston) would be a nice feel good story and they might wreak havoc again on a football field just like they did together at Florida State. Only problem is that there’s a ton of other mid round options that the Bucs can look at for better value instead of spending a first round pick on a running back.
No one knows what’s going to happen to Doug Martin other than the fact that he just started working out with the team again, so the Bucs still have the hope that he will come back playing like his old self. Injuries aside, Charles Sims is a productive third down back and season savior Jacquizz Rodgers showed last year that he can handle a workload of carries when needed. This position is definitely not a strength of the team but there is enough there to sustain a solid running attack with the addition of a mid-round back mentioned earlier. At the tight end position, O.J Howard is sky rocketing up people’s draft board, leaving David Njoku as a popular pick to land with Tampa Bay. Njoku has crazy speed for a man his side and uses his big frame to make contested catches, making many to believe he would be a perfect sidekick to Cameron Brate. The thought of the Bucs wasting a first round pick on a position that they have set because of the breakout season from Brate last year is just redundant in a way, even though Njoku would make the offensive more explosive.
Lastly, with the outside receivers set between Evans and DeSean Jackson with Adam Humphries in the slot, another receiver isn’t exactly a necessity. Evans and Jackson might make a run for the best receiving tandem in football if both stay healthy and Humphries developed instant chemistry with Winston, making him a serviceable slot receiver. Mike Williams, Corey Davis, and John Ross are viewed as the top three receivers in this class by a long shot but there are other pass catchers out there in the middle rounds that can turn into solid players. Curtis Samuel out of Ohio State is a burner who can line up as a receiver or in the backfield, a player who can become a valuable weapon to any offensive coordinator who has the opportunity to work with him. The Bucs should target him in the second round so that they can get creative by exploiting him and Jackson’s speed together in the offense. If the Bucs strike out on Samuel, Chad Hansen, Dede Westbrook, and Cooper Kupp are other mid-round options for them to take a look at.
Don’t trade up, hold onto draft picks
Since Jason Licht arrived as the new general manager of the Bucs back in 2014, he has been extremely active in wheeling and dealing on draft day. Licht has made a total of 12 trades in a three-year span with some of the trades working out in his favor and others not so much. Adding Kwon Alexander, Ali Marpet, and Kevin Pamphile would be the good while Kenny Bell and Roberto Aguayo, as of now, make up the bad. The Bucs own all seven of their picks for this year, one in each round, leaving Licht with not as much ammo as he has had in recent years to be able to pull of a move to begin with. If the Bucs fall in love with one of the skill position players I have previously mentioned and want to move up to acquire one of those players, they would not only have to trade away picks for this year but next years on top of it.
If anything, trading down to gain more picks would be the better way off. Tampa Bay football is slowly on the rise and the main players this team consists of are homegrown talent that Licht has drafted over the past three years, making it important for the Bucs to hold onto their draft picks to keep growing from within. As close as the Bucs are to becoming Super Bowl contenders (they are that close), this isn’t a team that is one piece away so by trading away all their future draft capital for one player wouldn’t do them any justice. Management should stay the course, instead of making an irrational trade, and the Bucs should be back to the promise long in no time.
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