It's the most wonderful time of the year. We're roughly two weeks away from the NFL Draft, and the Bucs are in a position to push into a serious competitive playoff team. With Free Agency concluded, now's a good time to take a look at all of our position groups and assess where our biggest needs are-- both from an immediate need and a long-term need.
As you read through this, I've divided these "ratings" into two categories:
- Immediate Needs- Entering the 2017 season, how well-equipped are we at this position?
- Long-Term Outlook- If we look 5 years down the road, are the guys we currently have going to be in Buccaneer uniform still? Are these franchise staples we have or are they short term gap-fills?
With these criteria in mind, it provides a baseline for where we can look in the upcoming draft. For example: Cornerback. VH3 and Brent Grimes make for a solid tandem for 2017, but after this season, things look bleak with Grimes' age and contract status. Would it be insane to pick a CB in the first round for the second year in a row? Probably not. Or take a look a look at DT. Between McCoy and Baker being locked up for the next 3 years, is DT a priority worth addressing early, or filling depth in later rounds since McDonald will be a free agent after this season? This is how I tried to look at our needs. Without further ado, this is where we stand leading up to the draft:
Where to Potentially Address: Free Agency (Backup)
From a starter perspective, the Bucs are clearly set with Jameis Winston under center. However, they currently lack a solid insurance plan in the form of a backup QB in the event Jameis were to go down. Based on limited preseason action, Ryan Griffin hasn’t shown enough to inspire confidence as a plan B.
With Cutler, Kaepernick, and RGIII still unsigned, the Bucs should turn to free agency for a veteran backup QB option instead of using a valuable draft pick.
Where to Potentially Address: Round 4 or Later
At this point, RB is more of a question mark for the Bucs than it is an urgent need. With Doug Martin’s suspension to start the season, the Bucs can get by with a committee of Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, and Peyton Barber. The Bucs would be best positioned to renegotiate Martin’s deal prior to the draft to lower his base salary and restructure with incentives to recoup his voided signing bonus.
Many mocks currently have the Bucs selecting a RB in the 1st round. To spend our 2nd premium draft pick in the last 5 years on a position declining in value with a short NFL shelf life would be nothing short of stupidity.
Where to potentially address: Round 1 if Davis or Williams fall (BPA) or rounds 2-4 otherwise
From a WR1 perspective, the Bucs are in a great position with Mike Evans, who is likely to earn a big payday at some point this season. With the addition of Desean Jackson and the continued growth of Adam Humphries in the slot, the Bucs are in an adequate position for wideouts the next two to three years (given Jackson’s age). However, depth remains a big concern here, and in the event Evans or Jackson get injured, the Bucs may find themselves in a huge quandary. With as solid a WR class as this is at the top, passing on a WR like Corey Davis or Mike Williams would be tough to do, and should be considered BPA’s in the unlikely event either falls to #19. Otherwise, this is a depth need that can be addressed later on.
Where to Potentially Address: Round 3 or Later
Cameron Brate continues to rapidly improve and his rapport with Jameis is becoming a thing of beauty. As the offense opens up with the addition of Desean Jackson, the greatest beneficiary will likely be Brate who will provide a mismatch nightmare in the short and medium passing game. While Luke Stocker “The Blocker” has survived three head coaches and is one of the longest tenured players on the roster, his 382 career yards don’t exactly make him a viable second option. OJ Howard is one of the “safest” players in the draft, and while taking a TE early would be more of a luxury pick, using a first rounder on him would be a no-brainer should he fall (he won’t). If the Bucs choose to wait a round or two to take a TE, Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges could be sitting there in Round 2.
Where to Potentially address: Round 1
LT is arguably the Buccaneers’ greatest offensive need and a difference maker in taking Jameis Winston’s transition from a good NFL QB to a great one. Against middling DE’s, Donovan Smith has fared adequately at best, but gotten absolutely decimated against the league’s premium edge rushers. The step forward Smith needed to take in his second year just wasn’t there, and his ceiling as a LT is pretty low at this point. His 13 penalties in 2016 ranked 2nd amount all active players. On the right side, Demar Dotson just inked a 3-year contract extension and is under contract until 2020. Like Smith, Dotson has struggled on the penalty front (11 in 2016), but those issues aside, he’s a reliable RT who isn’t a high priority upgrade. Should Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramzyck or Utah’s Garrett Bolles be available with the 19th pick, the Bucs should pull the trigger for an instant upgrade on the left side.
Where to Potentially Address: Round 1-3
Guard is one of those situations where the Bucs are stacked with depth, but when it comes to the quality of the projected starters, it’s a big enough question mark that the Bucs might consider addressing the need early. At LG, Sweezy is coming off IR where he spent all of 2016, and it wasn’t an awe-inspiring signing to begin with given his subpar play in Seattle. On the right side, Kevin Pamphile hasn’t been anything to write home about, but his versatility on the line and ability to bounce between positions makes him a valuable reservist worth keeping on the roster. From a starter perspective, he could use an upgrade. Protecting Jameis should be the theme of both this and the next draft, and I love the idea of taking Jungle Flashlight…I mean Forrest Lamp in round 1 should he fall.
Where to Potentially Address: N/A
Probably our lowest ranking need on offense at this time. In two years, Ali Marpet has proven he was worth the gamble to make him the highest drafted Division III player of all time. His jump from year one to year two was huge, and with him seemingly nowhere near his ceiling, his transition to Center might come with growing pains, but he’s malleable enough a player that this shouldn’t be a concern. In terms of depth, Joe Hawley is unspectacular but a great backup option on the line if Marpet goes down. The Bucs are unlikely to address Center in the draft, and may not need to.
Where to Potentially Address: N/A
As the first defender picked in the Jason Licht era, Kwon Alexander has proven to be a steal who’s ready to make the jump to the next level in year 3. Play recognition has often been a deficiency for him, but it’s gotten better with experience and should be even less of a concern this season. With Kwon in place, the Bucs won’t need to look here early. At Will, Lavonte David’s play speaks for itself, and Mike Smith’s defensive scheme allowed David to wreak havoc all over the field in pass defense, blitz packages, and run plays. He’s as good as they come with 4-3 Wills. Sam is our biggest area of need in our linebacking corps, and with Daryl Smith gone, the Bucs lack a reliable option to put on the field on obvious run plays. It’s unclear what the status of Devante Bond is, our 2016 6th round pick who spent his rookie year on IR, but he’s being viewed as the starter at this time, according to Roy Cummings.
Where to Potentially Address: Round 1-2
At RE, Noah Spence played through substantial shoulder pain as a rookie, but by the end of the year showed considerable promise and looks like he has the potential to be a disruptive force on the line. On the left side, Robert Ayers was looking like a good signing for us when healthy. At 31, he’ll only have so much more productivity before father time catches up. Should he be fully healed from his torn ACL, Jacquies Smith provides a good rotational option on obvious passing downs. Both our pass rushing depth and long-term outlook at the position are underwhelming, and the Bucs have a diversity of options they’ll be able to look at with the 19th pick there, including Derek Barnett, Taco Charlton, Hasson Reddick, Carl Lawson, and Jordan Willis, all of whom could be available.
Where to Potentially Address: Round 3-7
With the Chris Baker signing, the Bucs all of a sudden have one of the best interior defensive lineups in the NFL, and Baker’s presence adds a run stuffing DT that should free up McCoy from the substantial number of double blocks he receives. With Clinton McDonald in the final year of his contract and Sealver Siliga not being too phenomenal, DT is definitely an area the Bucs should look to draft for depth, but it’s a position of strength in the short term.
This is a draft that doesn't include a ton of stand-out talent at DT at the top of the board and should not be considered a top priority in the early rounds. Should he be on the board in round 3-4, Tulane's Tanzel Smart looks like a potential steal.
Where to potentially address: Round 1-2
Very few mocks have the Buccaneers selecting a CB in Round 1, but it’s a big enough hole on our roster that if addressed early, it would make perfect sense. Though the Bucs used the #11 pick in 2016 to select the promising Vernon Hargreaves III, Brent Grimes is 33 years old and in the final year of his deal. In the event either of our two starters went down, neither Javien Elliott, Jude Adjei-Barimeh, or Josh Robinson should be leaned on as starters. The Buccaneers share a division that includes Drew Brees and the last two winners of the MVP award in Matt Ryan and Cam Newton. This is a very incomplete unit and will be even more so after the 2017 season. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Tre’Davious White or Marlon Humphrey to be there at #19, and fans shouldn’t be disappointed if we go CB early for the second year in a row.
Where to Address: Round 2 or Later
Like CB, both Free Safety and Strong Safety remain big question marks for the Bucs. Keith “The Tandyman” Tandy was a refreshing surprise who played incredibly well for the Bucs and delivered some clutch moments in 2016. Throughout his career, Tandy hasn’t been leaned on as a starter for more than 5 games in a season and it’s a gamble to expect him to start a full 16. J.J. Wilcox was signed a free agent this offseason and should provide more assurance than the departed Bradley McDougald. Even with his addition, it’s worthy of an upgrade via draft. Neither Jamal Adams or Malik Hooker will be available with the 19th pick, and despite the Buccaneer love of Budda Baker and Obi Melifonwu, it’s hard to view either as a BPA at #19 overall. I suspect that there will be plenty of Safety options available in Round 2, and that round or later are probably the Bucs’ best bets to address this need.