The NFL Draft is over and the Bucs left with what looks like a home run. I meant to write this two days ago, but life got in the way. So, here is my slightly late draft reaction and grades.
First, let me say how impressed I was with Bucs GM Jason Licht turning water into wine and coming away with five players in the first 100 picks. Considering the Bucs only had two prior to the draft, this was an incredible turn of events. With all the holes needing to be addressed (especially in the secondary), trading down was the best solution to fill out the roster in a make or break year. Licht did everything in his power to grab as many players as possible in hopes of infusing more talent into his roster. For all the stick he gets, some deserved and some not, Licht has now navigated five draft classes and been more successful than not. 2014 is a hit because of Evans. Sims & Pamphile starting and contributing help. 2015 is a hit for obvious reasons. 2016 is currently in the bad to wait and see category, but it’s trending into possible disaster. 2017 had great early returns and it looks like a home run. 2018 (on paper) has all the makings of another successful draft class. Typically, classes take 3-4 years to truly judge, but you often get early returns to help gauge potential success or failure. So, again, kudos to the Bucs GM for putting together a masterful draft.
Now, onto the picks. I’m going to give my reaction, grade and who I’d have selected.
Pick - Vita Vea
My pick - Derwin James
Straight away I don’t think the Vea selection was by any means a bad one. He’s an absolute beast on the DL, can be a game disruptor and should only help free up McCoy to get to the quarterback. My concern was the positional need after the Bucs spent heavily on the DL in free agency. If Vea has the career of Haloti Ngata (5 Pro Bowls, 2x first team All-Pro, 3x second team All-Pro) Vea will more than live up to his draft position. I felt James would have been the more impactful player given his versatility all over the secondary. Paring James with Evans would have solidified Bucs back end for years.
Vea grade: B
Pick - Ronald Jones
My pick - Ronald Jones
I felt Jones was the last of the upper echelon running backs left in the draft to start Round 2. The Bucs could have waited to fill that position, but that would have been a mistake as the top guys (except Guice) flew off the board within the first 37 picks. The Bucs had to get a running back early and they got a really, really good one.
Jones grade: B+
Pick - M.J. Stewart
My Pick - Carlton Davis
I’m still struggling to fully understand this decision. The Bucs passed over a bunch of very good safety prospects when they made this pick. Stewart is a good player, versatile, and aggressive. Something the Bucs defense needs more of in 2018. Injuries happen and having guys that can play multiple spots is crucial. But, he was mainly drafted to be a nickel corner at #53 overall. By reports, Vernon Hargreaves will get another chance to compete for the starting job on the outside, but it’s a very high probability he is battling Stewart for the starting nickel job. One of them will be sitting. Just appears to be a pick that wasn’t wholly necessary considering Hargreaves played well at nickel.
Stewart grade: B-
Pick - Carlton Davis
My Pick - Nathan Shepherd
Davis should compete straight away for the starting position opposite of Grimes. I’d be surprised if he isn’t the opening day starter. He’s that good.
I know, I know, I said earlier that drafting Vea didn’t make a ton of sense given the additions to the DL in free agency. But, Shepherd is more in the mold of McCoy than Vea in terms of getting to the quarterback. He’s raw, but what better way to learn the NFL game than from one of the elite defensive tackles over the last 10 years? Shepherd would have added depth, while providing rotational pass rush to keep McCoy fresh.
Davis grade: A-
Pick - Alex Cappa
My Pick - Alex Cappa
Bucs nailed this pick and addressed a key position of need by trading back into the late 3rd to take Cappa. His versatility to be a swing tackle in a pinch is in line with what the Bucs look for in their offensive line. Cappa adds toughness and a bit of nastiness to the offensive line. He might not start immediately, but he could very well be a staple on the OL for years.
Pick - Jordan Whitehead
My pick - Josh Sweat
The Bucs waited until day 3 to address the safety position, choosing to focus on adding running back, cornerback and guard help on day 2. Whitehead is a bit undersized, but a fearless hitter and has some cornerback experience. Likely will rotate in with Chris Conte & Keith Tandy. I chose Josh Sweat, yes adding more guys to the DL, because even though he nearly lost his leg in high school and his production at FSU wasn’t what you’d expect out of a former 5 star, he is an absolute physical freak. The Bucs currently have JPP, Vinny Curry and Noah Spence as their pass rushers on the outside. Sweat would be situational pass rusher while he gets better coaching to unlock his potential.
Whitehead grade: C
Pick - Justin Watson
My pick - Justin Watson
The Bucs are loaded at wide receiver, but don’t have much height behind Pro Bowler Mike Evans. They solved that problem with the selection of Watson. With a big frame, catch radius and 4.4 speed, Watson can provide Jameis Winston with another big target in the unfortunate event of injuries to the wide receiving core.
Pick - Jack Cichy
My pick - Jack Cichy
Talk about a risk/reward draft pick. Cichy was a day 3 pick before an ACL injury cost him all of the 2017 season. He’s an intelligent player with good instincts which offset some of his lack of explosiveness. If he can bounce back fully from his injury, he could contribute immediately on special teams, while being depth for the linebacking group. The Bucs have had bad injury luck at the linebacker position recently.
If you’re still awake after this long winded breakdown, I thank you. All in all, the Bucs draft class looks great. There truly wasn’t any pick that would be classified as bad. Licht added talent and filled holes all over the team. Now it’s up to the coaches to put those players in the best position to succeed if the Bucs are to get back to winning ways this season.