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2017 NFL Mock Draft: Upgrading the Bucs’ line

NCAA Football:  Florida at Louisiana State Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need new blood, as they do every year. And the NFL draft is the best way to get it. So we talk about mock drafts, because that’s obviously the best and totally not constantly shifting way to talk about which team will pick which player, right?

At least this year we have a weekly twist, because SB Nation’s Dan Kadar takes a new approach to mock drafts every week. This week: teams are only allowed to draft seniors. That’s a pretty harsh restriction, because the best players enter the draft as juniors or even redshirt sophomores, what with the monetary reward and all.

In other words, this mock draft will probably get the Bucs a second-round player in the first round. In this case, LSU center Ethan Pocic.

With plenty of wide receivers and safeties gone in this mock, the best value for Tampa Bay is the LSU center. Pocic is the type of talented center Tampa’s offense needs.

The Bucs’ offensive line is interesting, because there are competent players at every position. Ali Marpet is likely a future Pro Bowler, while Donovan Smith took a few big steps, especially during the second half of the season. Kevin Pamphile looked decent at left guard, and J.R. Sweezy may or may not be back after missing all of last season with a back injury.

Two spots are somewhat iffy: right tackle, where Demar Dotson is getting older. But Dotson got a contract extension last year, and hasn’t declined to the point where he needs to be replaced. At center, Joe Hawle gets blown up a little too easily — and that’s the position the Bucs may want to invest in, if they want to get more out of their line.

A top-notch center isn’t necessarily where you want to invest, though. Centers are important, but unless you have a truly outstanding one, they generally won’t make a massive difference. Too often, they’re simply helping out one of their guards rather than making crushing blocks. Their biggest value comes in adjusting protection and blocking schemes. Which is why they’re rarely drafted in the first round.

Which brings us to Pocic. Is he the kind of talent who can elevate a line from the center position, or more the type who will do a solid but unremarkable job, someone who is relatively easily replaced? That’s the kind of question the Bucs should be asking themselves before taking him somewhere in the first two rounds.