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NFL Draft 2015: Bucking the Trend

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to take the podium first on April 30, and widespread speculation says that Jameis Winston will be the selection. Whether it’s Winston or Mariota, as some have claimed will happen, the Buccaneers will have to do something that they’ve rarely done in recent history—draft well and develop young talent.

Jacquies Smith and Johnthan Banks are keys to the Buccaneers' future.
Jacquies Smith and Johnthan Banks are keys to the Buccaneers' future.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After the seemingly inevitable selection of a quarterback with their first-round pick, the Bucs have to hit on several other selections as well. Not doing so in the past is a very big reason as to why the team is in the position that it’s in now—finishing fourth in the NFC South for four years in a row (and five of the last six years), with their playoff appearance coming seven years ago (in 2007).For nearly a decade, the Buccaneers’ drafting has been largely terrible and selections that should have netted players who are cornerstones of the team have been wasted, with exceptions of Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Johnthan Banks on the defensive side and second-year Mike Evans being the few players to show promise in their young careers so far.

For the Buccaneers to progress in this upcoming season, however, several young players will have to make significant progress and contributions. They’ll likely be given every chance to do so with the abundance of holes on the Buccaneer roster:

Austin Sefarian-Jenkins

The behemoth of a receiver flashed during his rookie year, but needs to show consistency in year two. With a rookie likely being the No. 1 pick, ASJ’s progress as a receiver and blocker will be very important in this upcoming season, particularly with the current status of the offensive line. The current group—with Demar Dotson likely switching to left tackle for the first time in his career, a new right tackle and possibly a new guard—the (probable) rookie QB will likely be performing plenty of three-step drops and hot reads, as Dirk Koetter will attempt to protect his QB behind a mediocre group of linemen. Sefarian-Jenkins ability to take advantage of his ability to create mismatches with linebackers and safeties, as well as helping to chip defensive ends, will significantly help to make his QB’s life easier.

Kadeem Edwards/Kevin Pamphile

Edwards was unable to get on the field in his rookie year, which was cut short by injury; however, Pamphile earned some significant playing time as the seasons winded down and Anthony Collins was benched/deactivated. Pamphile showed well in his limited playing time, with some obvious and expected bumps. There’s currently not much ahead of either player in terms of competition on the roster, but that could change after draft weekend. The 2015 class is viewed as being fairly deep on the offensive line, with starter-worthy talent available in the second and third rounds, and possibly even later. If each of them can take significant steps forward in their development, it would go a long way in changing the Buccaneers’ fortunes sooner rather than later, whether it be as starters or depth—the Bucs are missing both.

Jacquies Smith

Smith was a pleasant surprise in the 2014 season, leading Tampa’s defensive ends in sacks which had him finish second on the team with 6.5 QB takedowns. In his limited starts he put together some good tape, despite slowing down toward the end of the season, which could partially be attributed to Gerald McCoy’s absence in the middle for the final games. If Smith can build on his impressive first season with the Bucs, he could give the Buccaneers the best threat they’ve had off the edge since Michael Bennett. If that becomes the case, fans will hope that this regime isn’t foolish enough to let him get away.

Bradley McDougald

McDougald saw his playing time increase in the second half of the season, which coincided with the defense’s overall improvement. Not only did McDougald replace Dashon Goldson on passing downs as the season winded down, but he seemed to thoroughly outplay Goldson when he was given snaps. The 24-year-old showed true free safety ability, deflecting seven passes after the bye week along with his one-handed, end zone interception of Drew Brees in Week 17. Leslie Frasier expressed confidence in McDougald late last season, and No. 30 provided some quality play to justify that confidence.

Outlook

It’s not certain that all of these players will develop into being great, contributing to the turn-around of Tampa Bay’s misfortunes. On the offensive side of the ball, Dirk Koetter should be able to develop Sefarian-Jenkins into a threat and possibly mitigate the growing pains that the offensive line will go through by using fast-developing routes and three-step drops rather than the "seven steps and dropped" offense that Marcus Arroya ran far too often last year. Of course, a big part of the offense’s success will come down to the offensive line—the unit that George Warhop "coached" to a miserable, pathetic, disastrous season last year. Warhop will be responsible for developing the youngsters, Edwards and Pamphile, and the help that should inevitably be coming via draft picks during the weekend of April 30, 2015. He has coached some pretty good offensive lines in Cleveland and was said to be a reason that Alex Mack has enjoyed his time in Cleveland; however, he also produced one of the worst offensive line units I’ve seen in quite a while last year—a line that couldn’t run block or pass block, started players like Patrick Omameh, Josh Allen and Garrett Gilkey. Warhop will likely have to earn the trust of the fans going forward. Seeing their QBs beaten to a pulp week in and week out during the 2014 season was likely a traumatizing experience. Seeing their [likely] newly acquired rookie QB given the David Carr treatment will absolutely not sit well.

On the defensive side of the ball, there is more confidence in these players developing into at least decent role players. Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier are stout defensive-minded coaches who have the ability to make Smith, McDougald and some other young players into impact players. Hopefully, it doesn’t take them until midseason to do so and get the defense performing at a high level like it did last season.

The fate of this team relies upon the scouting, acquisition and development of talent, particularly young talent. With the coaches in place to make the young talent thrive (on both sides of the ball), it’s a critical time for the Buccaneers franchise. If Lovie Smith & Co., can develop this young talent to lead a competitive team in the NFC South—a division that they’ve finished last in for four years in a row--then the future is bright. Growing pains are certain, but it’s time that Tampa take the right approach in building a competitor, putting emphasis on developing talent rather than buying it.The past decade hasn’t provided much hope in that regard. Bucking that trend will be key to Lovie and Licht not looking for new places of residence in the near future.