Can you smell that? No, it’s not what the Rock is cooking.
That’s the smell of the NFL Draft - the world’s most glorious springtime event - creeping right around the corner. Yes, that’s right. We are officially less than six weeks away at the time of this article’s posting.
Now that the bulk of free agency has come and gone, fans and pundits have a better, clearer picture of what teams will need to do at the end of April.
When it comes to draft priorities, many factors can come into play. Availability, need, price, cap situation, future contracts, etc. can all play their part in a decision.
What about the Bucs? What are their priorities in this year’s draft?
Well, I’m glad you asked. The following are listed in order from least to most important.
5) Wide Receiver
A year ago, this was easily the deepest spot on the team.
Now, there is still a lot of talent, but there is also a lot of uncertainty.
After trading DeSean Jackson to the Philadelphia Eagles and losing Adam Humphries to the Tennessee Titans in free agency, the Bucs have to replace 117 receptions, 1,590 yards, and nine touchdowns from 2018’s passing attack.
They also have to replace dependable targets, as both players averaged a combined 68.4% catch rate. Humphries also caught more first downs out of the slot than any other slot receiver in the NFL last year.
As of right now, the Bucs’ first four receivers are Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Justin Watson, and Breshad Perriman. It’s pretty obvious that Tampa Bay needs a couple of more bodies at the positions, both for depth and production purposes.
They are plenty of receivers that produced in college that will be found late in the draft. Same names to consider are Hunter Renfrow, David Sills V, or even Jalen Hurd.
This one is pretty obvious with the departure of Kwon Alexander. But when you really take a look at Tampa Bay’s roster, it’s even more obvious that this is a spot in need of major help.
The only problem with that is, this year’s draft is very deep when it comes to talent at linebacker. If the Bucs don’t take one at number five, then there is a good chance they don’t take one at all.
There’s always the chance they trade back and get a Devin Bush in the middle of the first round, but even that’s a risky proposition that should be carefully mulled over.
There are major holes on this part of the roster. Outside of Alexander, no one really knows if Kendell Beckwith will come back from his 2018 injury or how Lavonte David - or the other linebackers - will perform in a 3-4 system.
The though of moving Carl Nassib to outside linebacker makes sense, but there is still a major question mark with Jason Pierre-Paul. He was traded from the New York Giants due to concerns of how effective he’d be in a 3-4. Will the Bucs try and force him into that role or will they keep him on board and put him in the right position to succeed?
If Pierre-Paul is cut, traded, or isn’t moved to linebacker, then the recent signings of Shaq Barrett and Deone Bucannon should help the unit, but there will certainly be questions as the draft draws closer.
3) Offensive Line
Despite securing left tackle Donovan Smith for the next three seasons, there is still a hole at right guard and questions at center/right tackle when it comes to the immediate future.
Alex Cappa is still a major unknown at the right guard spot. Ryan Jensen did not live up to his hefty salary. Demar Dotson is getting older and is wearing down.
Both Dotson and Jensen could be gone by 2020, depending on either player’s performance in 2019.
Tampa Bay needs to find a long-term solution for at least one of these spots in case attrition catches up to one - or all - of the aforementioned players.
There are a few top-tier talents in the draft and one really couldn’t fault the Bucs for taking a guard or tackle as early as the second round, depending on the player of course.
While the perception of concern is definitely warranted, there is still a lot of youth and talent that could break through if the correct coaching can be had.
Tampa Bay has invested six total draft picks - including a first-rounder and three second-rounders - and has spent 14.3% (on average) of its cap on the secondary since 2016.
Vernon Hargreaves III, the franchise’s first-round pick in 2016, has had terrible injury luck, but has shown promise during his career. The jury is still out on Justin Evans, Carlton Davis III, and M.J. Stewart - the team’s trio of second rounders - as well.
But Evans, Davis III, and Jordan Whitehead have all shown major flashes of potential too, it’s not just Hargreaves that has looked good at times.
IF these players can come together and live up to expectations (and draft position), then the Bucs already have a solid nucleus to rely on for the next few years.
But just in case those guys don’t pan out, it wouldn’t hurt to have a young, cheap backup and there are no shortage of those in this year’s draft.
The potential is there for this group to make some major strides in 2019. So much so that if the Bucs decided to wait until the later rounds to take a defensive back, I wouldn’t mind at all.
1) Defensive Line
I can’t wait to feel the gust of wind that is the collective breath of Tampa Bay fans cursing my name from Florida.
How can defensive line be a priority after the Bucs drafted Vita Vea in the first round of 2018? Especially with Gerald McCoy and Pierre-Paul on the roster?
That’s the key, both of latter-mentioned players likely won’t be on the roster next year - or possibly even this year.
Combine that with the fact the 2019 draft is STACKED with talent at the position, it almost seems like a no-brainer for the Bucs to pick a defensive lineman early this year.
Taking a player like a Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams, Josh Allen or Ed Oliver in the first round could have seriously positive implications when it comes to on-field production and cap management over the next few years.
In today’s NFL, it’s apparent how valuable a good pass rush is when it comes to winning. The stars don’t align often in Tampa Bay, but they have in this situation and the Bucs must take advantage.
Keep in mind, just because free agency is over doesn’t mean that potential roster turnover is no longer a possibility for most teams, it’s far from it. There is still plenty of time for teams to cut or add players. If the Bucs make a move in that regard, it could change the order of this list, but this is it for now.