The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Donovan Smith in the second round to be their immediate starter at left tackle. They need that: the Bucs signed a bust in Anthony Collins last year and have no one else capable of filling the left tackle position. But Pro Football Focus' data on rookie tackles suggests the team may want to reconsider: rookie tackles rarely make an impact, with last year seeing only a single player earning a positive grade as a rookie tackle.
Intriguingly, second and third-round picks earned slightly higher average grades than first-round picks -- though this may simply be caused by fewer snaps in total being played, which means fewer opportunities to earn lower and lower grades.
Part of the reason for the poor performance of rookie picks is the rise of the spread offense in college, where offensive linemen are asked to work in different schemes, with different splits between the linemen and quicker throws by the quarterbacks. There are far fewer base blocks in the running game, and they're unlikely to be asked to protect for more than a few seconds. That's not an environment conducive to producing NFL-ready tackles.
The Bucs don't have much of a choice but to start Donovan Smith, though. They could turn to last year's fifth-round pick Kevin Pamphile who showed a little promise last year, but that's even more of a gamble -- a year of experience helps, but he's nowhere near as athletically gifted as Smith is, especially in terms of sheer size. And while he showed a little promise last year, it was little more than that: his actual performance was spotty and inconsistent.
If Smith fails as a rookie, which is fairly likely given recent history, that doesn't really say much about his long-term future, though. The Bucs may well have drafted a future star who's just going to take a year to adjust to the NFL level. But that fact won't solve their immediate problem: the need for quality play at left tackle.