Now that free agency has slowed down, and most of the big fish have been signed, the focus for teams and fans alike is the NFL draft, which takes place in a little more than a month. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a big splash in free agency, signing big play wide receiver DeSean Jackson, steady defensive tackle Chris Baker, and a potential starter at safety in J.J. Wilcox. The Bucs have the 19th pick in the first round, and there is plenty of speculation of who they may draft with that selection.
First, we’ll look at the direction the Bucs probably won’t go with their first pick in the draft.
With franchise quarterback Jameis Winston entering his third season, it’s safe to say the Bucs will not be drafting a quarterback at 19. The only other position the Bucs probably wouldn’t draft at #19 is linebacker. Lavonte Davis and Kwon Alexander are very good and young, and the Bucs will most assuredly keep them in Tampa for a long time. David is under contract, and Alexander will probably be re-upped on his rookie deal in the next year or two. Although starting strong-side linebacker Darryl Smith is on the downside of his career, don’t look for a linebacker pick at 19. The Bucs would not burn a first round pick on a position that is on the field less than half the time. The Bucs run a 4-3 defense, but like most teams, are in a nickel defense a lot.
Offensive line is probably the least most likely to be addressed in the first round. With the re-signing of free agent center Joe Hawley and the hopeful return J.R. Sweezy, the Bucs probably couldn’t upgrade any of their starting positions on the offensive line. Guards Ali Marpet and Kevin Pamphile and tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson are firmly entrenched as starters. The Bucs would likely firm up some depth on their line with a day three pick.
Defensively, despite drafting Vernon Hargreaves and Noah Spence in the first two rounds last year, defensive back and edge rusher are still positions the Bucs could use their first round pick to upgrade.
At cornerback, Brent Grimes will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2017 season, so the spot opposite Hargreaves will have to be addressed soon. There are several cornerbacks that are projected to go in the first round, including Florida Gator products Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor.
At defensive end Spence lived up to the billing of where the Bucs drafted him, but pass rush is still a weakness for Tampa Bay. Missouri’s Charles Harris had a disappointing 2016, but some think that was due to the system the new coaching staff installed prior to the season. Tennessee’s Derek Barnett is another candidate who could be available at 19. Barnett was a three-time all SEC selection, racking up 32 sacks in three seasons.
With the addition of Desean Jackson joining pro bowl receiver Mike Evans, wide receiver is less of a need than it was a year ago at this time. Still, there are some interesting prospects on the board, and with shaky depth behind Evans and Jackson (Adam Humphries is the only sure thing), a wide receiver could be taken by the Bucs at 19. Washington’s John Ross, he of the blistering 4.22 forty yard dash of the NFL combine, is one of these.
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Clemson’s Mike Williams is projected to be drafted before the Bucs’ selection, but another receiver shooting up draft boards is Western Michigan’s Corey Davis. Davis has size (6′-3″, 210 lbs) and elite route-running and ball skills and would be a welcome addition to Winston and the Bucs.
Tight end is another direction the Bucs could go, and this draft is deep at talented at that position. Alabama’s O.J. Howard may have cemented himself as a top ten pick with his incredible combine workout. However, Miami’s David Njoku is an intriguing prospect. Njoku has freaky athleticism along with good size and long arms, which makes him a potential mismatch on linebackers and most safeties.
Although the Bucs have a good returning tight end in Cameron Brate, Howard or Njoku to give the Bucs a tandem that most teams would dream of.
At running back, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and FSU’s Dalvin Cook are both home run hitters from anywhere on the field. Despite being over 240 pounds, Fournette brings big play ability. He had a second gear that few can match in the open field. Cook is not as big as Fournette, but his vision and cutting ability is second to none. Although his workout at the combine was considered sub-par, he plays much faster on game film. Cook was seldom caught from behind once in the open field.
An interesting prospect who had an excellent combine is Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. Although McCaffrey lacks the ideal size and durability to be an every down back, he brings intriguing skills. He’s adept in the passing and return game. Some see him as a luxury pick in the back half of the first half for these reasons, but with the unclear status of Doug Martin, the Bucs could be interested as well.
There is ample evidence that taking a running back in the first round may be overreaching for a low value position. While the position is important, a quick glance across the league shows that you can fill the running back position adequately in the middle rounds. Jordan Howard and Jay Ayaji finished second and fourth in rushing, respectively last season. They were both fifth round draft picks. The versatile David Johnson, who totaled over 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the Arizona Cardinals last season.
There are plenty of options that could be available on day two (rounds two and three) of the draft. USF’s Marlon Mack is a local product the Bucs have assuredly done their homework on. Some think Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon might be the most talented RB in the draft, but there are concerns. A domestic violence incident that was caught on video in 2014 has him sliding down draft boards.
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