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The Buccaneers got three of the steals of the 2017 NFL draft

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NFL evaluators love what the Bucs did in this draft.

Motel 6 Cactus Bowl - Baylor v Boise State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The consensus among draft analysts is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got one of the steals of the draft by nabbing O.J. Howard with the 19th overall pick. But that’s the consensus of draftniks, the same folks who thought Da’Quan Bowers was a second-round steal.

Turns out that the people getting paid to make these picks also think Howard was a steal, and they like several other selections, too. ESPN’s Mike Sando asked four NFL personnel evaluators about their favorite steals in the draft, round by round, and three Bucs showed up in that list.

Seventeen teams combined to make 18 selections before Tampa Bay nabbed Howard, the versatile and dynamic tight end from Alabama. That came as a big surprise to those in the league who thought Howard should be a top-10 selection, including an offensive coordinator who thought Howard was the best offensive player in the draft, with no marks against him in terms of health or off-field issues.

I like that “best offensive player in the draft” quote. Of course, it’s just one offensive coordinator, but it’s pretty clear that NFL teams really rated Howard very highly. He didn’t fall because of injury, or off-field issues, or really any discernible reason: the Bucs just got really lucky.

Aside from Howard, third-round linebacker Kendell Beckwith got an honorable mention, too. More surprisingly: Jeremy McNichols got the pick as the favorite steal of the insiders in the fifth round.

The first two evaluators polled for this column listed the 5-9, 214-pound McNichols as their choice for the best fifth-round value.

"He was a super-productive college player who should be a seamless replacement for Doug Martin if they choose to move on from him," one of the evaluators said.

A “seamless replacement for Doug Martin” is some strong stuff there. I’ve mostly seen opinions that see McNichols as a change-of-pace/receiving back only, which would be why he was available in the fifth round. But there’s always a late-round back who makes a splash as an every-down guy, so who knows?

What’s interesting overall is that these four evaluators loved the Bucs draft, consistently. The one guy who most fans saw as a steal aside from Howard was third-rounder Chris Godwin, who didn’t show up on this list. That’s the one guy evaluators seem to like less than draftniks and fans.

But other than Godwin, the Bucs had a really strong draft by all indications. It doesn’t matter whether we ask fans, draftniks, analysts, talking heads, or NFL front office guys: the Bucs came out of this draft smelling like roses.