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Grading the Buccaneers’ 2016 NFL draft class

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v San Diego Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Good NFL teams are built through the draft. It’s a truth as old as...ehm....the draft? I don’t know. It’s a pretty old bit of wisdom, is what I’m saying. It’s also true.

For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that seems to be working pretty well. They have a good, young core on both sides of the ball that’s expanding every year. But there are some more and less successful draft classes, as there are for every team — and 2016’s was a little disappointing, at least so far.

With Noah Spence, Vernon Hargreaves and Roberto Aguayo as the only real contributors in the draft (ignoring a few rotational undrafted rookies like Peyton Barber), more than half of the draft class barely played a role. And while Spence and Hargreaves were promising, they were at best inconsistent as rookies — and Aguayo was mostly just bad, albeit with the potential to turn things around.

One analyst doesn’t agree, though: NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks thinks the Bucs deserve a B for last year’s draft class.

The Buccaneers' three-win jump in 2016 (to 9-7) was fueled by a defense that gradually improved with young defenders in key spots. Noah Spence quietly enjoyed a strong rookie campaign as a designated edge rusher. He finished the season with 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles as a rotational player. Spence could blossom into a double-digit sack guy if he masters the nuances of pass rushing in his second year. Vernon Hargreaves played well on the island opposite Brent Grimes. He flashed outstanding footwork, movement skills and instincts occupying the CB2 spot on the perimeter.

I think that’s a pretty generous grade for a draft class that got nothing out of its later-round picks so far, and drafted a kicker in the second round who performed like one of the worst at his position in the entire NFL. Granted, Roberto Aguayo was better in the second half of the season and he could certainly turn it around, but this was not a good start to his career.

Basically, right now, the entire value of this draft class lies in Vernon Hargreaves and Noah Spence, who both had promising but not great rookie seasons. As in: they showed enough to be likely valuable players going forward, with the potential to grow into Pro Bowlers, but whether that actually happens is still pretty iffy.

I don’t know, this draft class could turn into a pretty good group, especially if safety Ryan Smith or offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch develop, but I wouldn’t be particularly surprised if this turns into another 2011 draft (Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers, Mason Foster, Luke Stocker, Ahmad Black, Allen Bradford, Anthony Gaitor): promising early returns, very little in the long term.

It’s too early to tell which way the Bucs’ draft class will fall right now. What we do know, though, is that the Bucs have a pretty decent core of young players regardless of what happens with last year’s rookies. Hopefully they continue to build on that core over the next months and years.