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2017 NFL draft is an important one for Jason Licht and the Buccaneers

Looking to make the ‘playoff leap’, this year’s NFL draft is key for Jason Licht and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

When Jason Licht was hired as the General Manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he promised to build the team through the NFL draft. In his first press conference, Licht laid down the plan. “Our philosophy is going to be to build through the draft.” Licht said. “That’s where we find our stars. That’s where we find the next generation”

Although free agency comes first(March 7th), I will attempt to break down Licht’s tenure in Tampa in regards to his three drafts with the Bucs. Coming off a 9-7 season in which they narrowly missed the NFL playoffs, the Bucs still have a few roster positions that could be shored up this offseason. Licht began his NFL front office career as a scouting assistant in 1995 with the Miami Dolphins, and over the next six seasons, he was in the scouting departments of the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots.

Although Licht’s first draft with the Bucs would probably be considered his worst, he hit a homerun with his first pick. With the seventh pick, the Bucs selected wide receiver Mike Evans out of Texas A&M. Some thought the Bucs would go QB in the first round that year with journeyman Josh McCown and the still somewhat inexperienced Mike Glennon on their roster. With the likes of Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Derek Carr available, plenty of mock drafts had the Bucs going that route. Evans was the right pick, though. With 238 receptions for 3,578 yards and 27 touchdowns, the third year pro has been superb.

After that pick, things went downhill in a hurry. In the second round, the Bucs nabbed tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins out of the University of Washington. Although Seferian-Jenkins flashed big play ability on occasion, constant injuries and some behavioral issues forced the Bucs to cut him during the 2016 season. Charles Sims, a do-everything running back from West Virginia was taken in the third round. Although Sims had a productive season as Doug Maritin’s backup in 2015, the other two seasons were low in production. Particularly troubling, is that the Atlanta Falcons drafted Florida State’s Devonta Freeman 34 picks after Sims. Freeman is already a two-time pro-bowler and led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2015.

That was it for the 2014 draft as the two remaining picks, guard Kadeem Edwards and wideout Robert Herron flamed out in Tampa Bay and now reside on the Dallas and Oakland practice squads respectively.

After a disastrous 2014 season, the Bucs “earned” the number one pick in the draft, and took Jameis Winston out of Florida State. Although some scouts liked Oregon’s Marcus Mariota as much, if not more than Winston, the Bucs’ front office seemed to zero in on Winston from the get-go. Few could argue with the pick of Winston. He has started all 32 games as a Buc, and while there is still room for improvement, he’s been everything most expected him to be.

In the second round, the Bucs were set to put some pieces to protect their franchise quarterback. With the 34th pick overall, they drafted left tackle Donovan Smith out of Penn State. The Bucs then traded up from the third round into the end of the second, to draft guard Ali Marpet out of tiny Hobart college. Smith and Marpet have been mainstays on the Bucs line in their first two seasons, and while Smith has been a little inconsistent, the Bucs look set at those positions for years to come.

Licht and the Bucs really struck gold in the fourth round when they selected linebacker Kwon Alexander out of LSU. Alexander was a jack-of-all trades player for the Tigers and played all three linebacker positions. Some thought he would be a weak side linebacker in the NFL due to his small size(6′-1″, 225lbs), but Alexander has been the starter in the middle for both his seasons in Tampa and has excelled. He led the team with 145 combined tackles last season.

Although late round picks, wideouts Kenny Bell, Kaelin Clay and fullback Joey Iosefa didn’t make an impact, due to the first four picks,  the 2015 draft has to be considered a success.

It’s a little early to grade the 2016 draft, but things look promising with the Tampa Bay’s first two picks. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was taken with the 11th overall pick, and his rookie season was a mixed bag. Hargreaves was asked to do a lot for the Bucs. He played all three cornerback positions for the Bucs, field, boundary, and slot. Rarely do you see a veteran corner do that, much less a rookie. Hargreaves struggled some, but he’s such a smart player, and he makes up for his average size with outstanding technique. Second round pick Noah Spence, an edge rusher out of Eastern Kentucky was the Bucs’ second round pick. Spence showed plenty of promise as the season wore on. Spence only started three games but totaled 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles on the season. The Bucs are also high on late round picks Caleb Benenoch, a guard out of UCLA, and defensive back Ryan Smith out of North Carolina Central.

We can’t address the 2016 draft without discussing the curious decision to draft kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round. If you’re looking for an attempt to put a positive spin on this selection, you’re going to be disappointed.

First, the Bucs not only took a kicker in the second round, they traded up to take a kicker in the second round! Sacrificing their third round pick, the Bucs placed a premium on the right leg of Aguayo, who was a three-time All-American at FSU. Aguayo was 22-31 on field goals for the season which is a 71% success rate. That’s a great percentage if you’re a quarterback, but 71% is well below the league average for a kicker, which usually rests in the 82%-85% range. Aguayo also missed two extra points and was 4 for 11 on field goals longer than 40 yards. His long was only 43 yards.

That is completely unacceptable, and if Aguayo wasn’t a second round draft pick, he would have been cut before the 2016 season was over. It’s going to take several seasons of near flawless kicking by Aguayo for this pick to ever make sense, and I’m afraid Licht is stuck here, as Aguayo is only entering year two of a four-year contract. If the Bucs are serious about making a move towards the postseason in 2017, they cannot rely on an unreliable kicker with confidence issues. If Aguayo continues to struggle, the Bucs could part ways with him, even if it means eating the 1.3 million dollars in dead cap money they would be saddled with.

Licht now has three drafts under his belt, and there have been a few bad decisions. Of course, Licht’s drafts have also seen pieces come to Tampa that will be integral parts of the franchise if they are going to get back in the championship chase. The Bucs have some needs that may or may not change after free agency, but another edge rusher, a running back, or a wide receiver are all needs that Licht and the Bucs may target in the early rounds April 27 & 28.

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