It's really too early to be talking mock drafts. We don't have a clear picture of who the best players are going to be yet. We don't have a clear picture of where teams will draft yet. We don't have a clear picture of teams' needs yet. But early projections with little basis in reality are half the fun. But we can say one thing with relative certainty: after two drafts in which the Bucs spent only a fourth-round pick on defensive players, they're going to add some talent to the defense.
Matt Miller's latest mock draft has them doing exactly that, with Shaq Lawson at number 16. Yes, that is once again a Clemson defensive end, for those of you who think that past draft picks are a relevant predictor.
Shaq Lawson is the ideal rightside defensive end in this 4-3 scheme. He's long, powerful at around 275 pounds and has the first-step quickness to make an impact against NFL left tackles. He's not always a consistent pressure player, but Lawson's positional value and the impact he's had in big games (see him against North Carolina) make him worthy of the No. 15 overall pick.
A defensive end with the first pick makes a lot of sense for the Bucs, though that may change a little depending on how Howard Jones finishes the season. The Bucs actually have some talent at defensive end, but Jones and Jacquies Smith are still very raw, while William Gholston will always be more of a run defender than a real pass-rusher. The Bucs could certainly use some added talent and security, but it may not be quite the desperate need we thought it would be. It's important to remember, though, that they're not going to get a spectacular edge rusher that late in the draft. That's the downside of actually winning games.
In the second round, Miller has the Bucs going with Duke safety Jeremy Cash, while they take Florida safety Marcus Maye in the third round. The Bucs are going to add talent to their secondary this offseason, though I'd expect cornerback to be a bigger priority than safety. And two safeties may be a bit much, too: the Bucs have gotten solid but not difference-making play out of their current pair, and it takes players a while to thrive in Lovie Smith's defense as well.
Still, three defensive picks to start the draft would be sensible and a nice change of pace. The Bucs simply need more talent on that side of the ball, and whether or not these specific players will be the Bucs' picks, the overall strategy is likely to be correct.