The keywords of the Bucs' 2016 draft? Pass rush. While they will focus on the defense generally, the Bucs have to improve the talent along the defensive line. One rule about this mock draft: no trades. These picks are based on the current draft order and will not include trade-ups, downs or anything involving Mike Glennon.
Round 1 - Eastern Kentucky DE Noah Spence
If the Bucs want edge rush, they need look no further than Noah Spence. There isn’t a pass-rusher in the draft who matches Spence's natural talent for bending the edge.
Spence went to great lengths to rehabilitate his image since his dismissal from Ohio State. While it was rumored his interviews at the NFL Combine did not go well, his actions over the past year should put the Bucs at ease.
While Spence is a great talent, he does have flaws. He doesn’t have the size to consistent set the edge and defend the run. He needs to develop more pass rush moves and refine his technique. Spence’s biggest issue is the lack of power in his game. He’s almost all speed with little evidence that he can combine his explosiveness with the functional strength to move offensive lineman out of their stance.
These flaws make Spence a slight reach at the ninth overall pick. Ideally, the Bucs will trade down to a team like the Tennessee Titans and make Spence a more value-driven pick.
Clemson DE Shaq Lawson is another possibility for the Bucs’ first selection. He brings great production and overall ability as an edge defender, but he doesn’t have Spence’s natural ability or athleticism.
Round 2 - West Virginia S Karl Joseph
Safety is another hole the Bucs need to fill, now in the second round with Karl Joseph.
If not for a non-contact knee injury that ended his senior season, Joseph might have been a first round pick. He picked up five interceptions in four games and showed consistent playmaking ability.
Known for his physical style, Joseph could make the Bucs defense fearsome again. It’s his style of play that makes Joseph a bit risky as it’s unclear how his body will hold up in the NFL. He also needs to tweak his technique to make sure he doesn’t draw flags with all of his monstrous hits.
It's entirely possible Joseph doesn't make it out of the first round. In that case, the Bucs might look at Oklahoma St. DE Emmanuel Ogbah or Louisiana Tech DT Vernon Butler.
Round 3 - Texas DT Hassan Ridgeway
It’s no secret the Bucs have to make multiple upgrades to the defensive line and that includes the tackle position. Hassan Ridgeway might be the steal of the third round.
Ridgeway has first-round explosiveness and quickness, but conditioning is a big problem. Poor conditioning leads to a greater risk of injury. He won’t be able to play enough snaps to warrant a top-50 draft pick.
However, as a rotational player, Ridgeway could make the Bucs’ defensive line fearsome on every down. Backing up Gerald McCoy, Ridgeway could both hone his pass-rush and improve his conditioning until ready to take a starting spot on the line.
Ohio St. WR Braxton Miller is another possibility with the Bucs third pick (and yes this would likely require a trade up).
Round 4 - Temple CB Tavon Young
If the Bucs’ signing of Brent Grimes says anything, they’re not afraid to man the secondary with short guys. Like Grimes, Young plays bigger than his physical frame.
Though lacking ideal athleticism, Young is instinctive and aggressive. While that gets him flagged too often, he has a knack for making plays.
Young locates the ball well and isn’t afraid to go up against bigger receivers. His measurables aren’t great, but neither were Grimes’.
Round 5 - Stanford OT Kyle Murphy
Stanford has a knack for churning out well-coached if somewhat athletically deficient offensive linemen. Stanford tackle Kyle Murphy fits that mold, which could come in handy to the Bucs.
Murphy played left tackle at Stanford, but he simply lacks the anchor and footwork to protect the blindside in the NFL. His ceiling will be at right tackle with a strong possibility that he will have to kick inside to guard. A good run blocker, Murphy can get to the second level quickly and keep holes open downfield.
The Bucs are generally set on the starting offensive line this year so Murphy would simply be a project to eventually compete for the right tackle or a guard spot.
Round 6 - William & Mary LB Luke Rhodes
When Bucs let linebackers Danny Lansanah and Bruce Carter go this offseason, they not only lost their Sam linebackers but their backups to MLB Kwon Alexander. They can draft a potential depth player in William & Mary LB Luke Rhodes. Jenna Laine reported the Bucs’ interest in Rhodes three weeks ago.
Rhodes was a consistent standout in the CAA, earning all-conference berths every season in Williamsburg. Look no further than his stats for proof of his playmaking ability, collecting 20.5 tackles for loss, 19 passes defensed and five forced fumbles during his career. A two-time team captain, Rhodes will be asset to the Bucs locker room.
While big and fast along a straight line, Rhodes lacks the agility adjust quickly. He will likely have to make the team via special teams where his 6’2", 242 pound frame and 4.71 40 speed would give the Bucs a rolling boulder of a gunner.
Round 6 - Syracuse DE Ron Thompson
The late rounds are ideal for taking risks on raw players with high upside. Syracuse pass-rusher Ron Thompson could make it worth the Bucs’ while. Thompson was a breakout star for Cuse in 2015, collecting seven sacks and forcing four fumbles. He has a clear knack for stripping the ball.
Thompson only played defensive end last season so he still needs a bit of work before reaching his potential. He lacks a pass rush repertoire and looks a little lost at times. His measurables aren’t great either, running a mere 4.92 40 and 7.46 3-cone drill.
Combine drills aren’t everything. Thompson showed real promise for generating pressure and making plays. It could be a solid gamble for Tampa Bay.