After a full year of planning, plotting, scouting and debating the time finally came for the Buccaneers to be on the clock in the 2018 NFL Draft. In all, Tampa Bay ended up selecting eight players across the first six rounds of the draft (the team had no 7th round pick). Fans always expect the best and most out of their respective team’s picks but reality isn’t always as favoring leaving some fans with a salty taste in their mouths. Let’s take a look at each selection and map out what fans should realistically expect of each individual player.
Round 1, Pick 12 (12th Overall), Washington Defensive Tackle Vita Vea
The Buccaneers traded back with Buffalo and picked up Washington defensive tackle, Vita Vea, with the 12th overall pick. Vea’s elite movement skills relative to his size will inevitably land him playing time early and often next to Gerald McCoy. Vea will be most productive on early downs where he can clog lanes and make some flash plays to get penetration into the backfield. Vea will be dealing with some serious heat in comparison to what he dealt with at Washington and most likely will rotate out fairly frequently to keep him fresh and healthy. While Vea may be on the field in early down situations more often than you’ll find him there on 3rd downs, fans should expect to still see an uptick in pressure and some sack production out of Vea. Reasonable expectations for Vea will be mostly visible in the uptick in pressure on opposing quarterbacks and a positive spin for the defense against the run. While some expect minimal sack production out of Vea I find myself leaning towards the 3.5-6 sack range for the rookie in 2018.
Round 2, Pick 6 (38th Overall), Southern Cal Running Back Ronald Jones
When the Buccaneers selected Ronald Jones 38th overall the team may as well have handed him the official keys to the running back position. Jones faces fairly weak competition overall in Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers and returning late season starter, Peyton Barber. Dalton Crossan and Shaun Wilson are also on the roster currently but figure to be potential early cuts. Jones will step right in assuming he’s healthy (knock on wood) and should be a potential rookie of the year candidate. Jones has some home run ability and can bounce plays outside and get the edge with his blend of speed and quickness. Jones is physical enough to shoulder the load on between the tackle carriers and with the passing offense expected to be potent, Jones shouldn’t face too many stacked boxes his rookie year. I personally have incredibly high expectations for the rookie and expect to see near 1,100 yards of total offense and 6-9 touchdowns from the feature back. The only concern would be his ability to stay on the field in passing downs given his struggle at times with pass protection.
Round 2, Pick 21 (53rd Overall), North Carolina Corner Back M.J. Stewart
The Buccaneers were in need of talent at the corner and safety positions and the selection of Stewart backs that assumption (more on this with the next pick). Stewart is a player that should adapt well to the Buccaneers zone heavy scheme that often asks corners to play a ridiculous distance off the receiver. The time I spent watching Stewart leads me to question whether or not the team made this pick with some idea of giving him a shot at safety given his ability to tackle, blitz and play inside the box. Vita Vea was selected over Derwin James to many fans dismay but the pick of M.J. Stewart may lead some insight to the team and how they value a creative chess piece like Stewart. I expect Stewart to be deployed in a variety of ways this season, one of which will be as a 3rd safety early on and and I expect heavy usage in dime and some nickel packages. When all is said and done, I think Stewart finds himself as the starting strong safety going into 2019.
Round 2, Pick 31 (63rd Overall), Auburn Corner Back Carlton Davis
Carlton Davis was the second corner the Bucs selected in this round, further acknowledging the lack of talent on the back end of this teams defense, but he is in my opinion the most likely to start at corner day one. Davis has good size and physicality which bold well for him making an early start as the second corner opposite Brent Grimes outside with Vernon Hargreaves inside the slot. One area I hope to see improvement on with Davis, hopefully with some help from Brent Grimes, is his willingness to take the ball away from the opposition versus simply swatting it down or away. Fans should expect some ups and downs for the rookie corner this season and he will give up some fakes but ultimately this selection was much needed. Expect Davis to start a fair amount of games this season and grow into a reliable number two corner as the year goes on.
Round 3, Pick 30 (94th Overall), Humboldt State Offensive Lineman Alex Cappa
Cappa in the long run may turn out to be a heck of a pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who have hit on small school guys before. In Cappa’s case, the pick made a ton of sense given the uncertainty floating along the offensive line both this year and in the future. For now, the team has major issues at right guard where the J.R. Sweezy experiment has faltered time and time again and given the timing and situation, Cappa may have a legitimate shot to win a starting job far earlier than one would have expected. Cappa’s ability to run block could garner some special interest given the Ronald Jones pick and the teams struggles in this department a year ago. Cappa has a far ways to go when it comes to being a good pass protector but that’s nothing new for Jameis Winston to have to work around. Year one expectations for fans should be to expect Cappa to garner time as a swing tackle, his best fit for growth and current skillset, but may find him on the field earlier than expected due to some injuries along the line. Down the road I would expect Cappa to eventually unseat (or simply replace upon contract expiring) Demar Dotson at right tackle.
Round 4, Pick 17 (117th Overall), Pittsburgh Safety Jordan Whitehead
The team needed help in the defensive backfield and for the third time in the 2018 NFL Draft, the team addressed it this time with safety Jordan Whitehead. Whitehead was a top corner recruit out of high school but due to the ability to play the run and willingness to tackle, the coaches made the position switch to safety his freshman year. Whitehead does not display big time range and isn’t the strongest box defender out there by any stretch which will lead to some struggles against NFL backs. Whitehead should not be expected to challenge for a starting position year one and may find himself in a similar situation to Keith Tandy given his limited physical traits and in game mental processing skills. Whitehead should be a good depth player for years to come and has a great shot at sticking as a rotational safety and special teams player.
Round 5, Pick 7 (144th Overall), Pennsylvania Wide Receiver Justin Watson
Watson may be one of my favorite picks in the draft and it has everything to do with his physical attributes, college production and his draft slot being a 5th round selection. Watson is a 6’3 225 lb target with great college production regardless of competition. In the 5th round, he has a shot to stick as a latter option in a crowded receiver group that includes Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Desean Jackson, Adam Humphries as the shoe-ins and Freddie Martino and Bobo Wilson as his main competition for the 5th receiver spot. I like Watson’s chances making the team but expectations should be incredibly low for the 5th round selection that will be entering a new realm of competition from what he faced at Pennsylvania.
Round 6, Pick 28 (202nd Overall), Wisconsin Linebacker Jack Cichy
Cichy is an interesting selection given his incredible football IQ and field awareness. The downside is Cichy has faced two very serious injuries and the ability to stay healthy will be paramount for his chances to make the roster. Cichy is not an elite athlete but is a true football player, especially at the linebacker position where his grit, motor and ability to read the play make him a valuable depth player at linebacker. When healthy, the Buccaneers linebacker group is among the teams most well rounded group which will ultimately be the biggest challenge for Cichy making the team. Fans should expect the roster cuts to be tough for Cichy but I’d like to see him make it to the practice squad and potentially find himself working special teams as a depth player at linebacker in the future.
Overall by my count, the Buccaneers potentially have four starters year one out of this draft class and given the issues along the offensive line may end up with a fifth starter from this group. Trading down from the seventh pick to twelfth was a risky move but it’s one that seems to have paid off on paper. If Jason Licht shows to have hit on several more legitimate starters and the staff does it’s job and prepares them correctly I see a new contract waiting for Jason Licht when the season is over with. The staff has the bodies it needs to win and compete now, it’s time for Dirk and company to earn those paychecks and translate talent to wins in 2018.