With players like Kareem Hunt, Tevin Coleman, Carlos Hyde, Mark Ingram and Latavius Murray (oh, Le’Veon Bell, too) changing teams this off-season, many people speculated about whether or not the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would dip into the free-agent pool to add another ball carrier to their 2019 roster.
Besides the addition of Andre Ellington, the backfield will basically remain intact with Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones returning, and Ellington presumably replacing fellow veteran Jacquizz Rodgers who remains unsigned as of this writing.
Could Jason Licht look towards the draft to add even more potential and depth to a running back group most believe hasn’t reached it’s ceiling? We’ve already looked at one such prospect for this year's NFL Draft, now let’s look at another.
Bryce Love’s Career
In January of 2018 Bryce Love announced he would be returning to Stanford to complete his degree in human biology, and play football for the Cardinal. It was big news. He finished as the runner up for the Heisman Trophy to Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, and was named the best running back in the country winning the Doak Walker trophy in the process.
Mel Kiper had him listed as the second-best running back in the 2018 NFL Draft class, and would have been one of the top members in a class which included Saquon Barkley and post-season hero, Sony Michel.
If you really think about it, Michel might have become a Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft pick had Love come out after last year. Alas, he did not, and in December of the same year Love was rewarded for his desire to complete his education with a torn ACL as he neared the completion of his impressive collegiate career.
In total, Love played in 49 games for the Stanford Cardinal and racked up over 4,300-yards of offense and 32 touchdowns.
In the end however, his worst season came in his final one as his yards per carry hit career lows as did his yards per catch. And of course, a torn ACL.
He’s incredibly smart and isn’t likely to be stumped by complex NFL offensive strategies and play-calling language. The man majored in biology. At Stanford.
Super fast (assuming he regains his speed following ACL recovery) playmaker with homerun ability every time he touches the ball. Possesses talent requiring opposing linebackers to watch and react before selling out to any one path completely because of his short area ability and perimeter awareness.
Balanced runner who can duck and dodge would-be tacklers while staying ready to read and react to what’s happening in front of him. Defenders who lower their head to hit him are going to find themselves on more Not Top-10s than they do Top-10s.
Solid to good receiver out of the backfield, and can get even better with coaching and repetition in the NFL.
Recovering from an ACL injury which will keep him out through offseason training activities and his rookie camp, at a minimum. Requires blockers who can set the table as his size just doesn’t allow him to physically defeat tacklers. Because of this, he’s forced to rely on space to make defenders miss.
If he can’t find space, his feet will break down and forward momentum ceases to exist. Leans on elite athleticism to defeat inferior talent and may have issues early in his pro career going against defenders with more athleticism than he’s seen before while learning to become a long-game ball carrier.
Not a three-down back, and will need to fit into his role as a change of pace or passing down threat while getting minimal work in most early down situations and goal line sets.
When at the combine, Love was asked about how he tried to put teams at ease about his injury, and he responded by saying,
“I stress that injuries are a part of the game. The big thing is that ACLs aren’t what they used to be. You can point to the success of a lot of different back s in the NFL right now that have had knee surgery and gone through those things.”
Why The Buccaneers Need Him
Shaun Wilson caused some excitement last season when his speed and ability out of the backfield caused some camp and pre-season buzz. The Bucs tried to translate this to the regular season for a little while, but it just didn’t work out.
Wilson should be returning with the team in 2019 and will get another crack at showing his new coaching staff he has some skills they can leverage, but whether or not it’ll turn out any better is still to be seen.
In 2018, Wilson gained 29-yards on six carries and had just five yards on three receptions.
Love can match the production, and could provide even more if his ACL heals properly and he’s able to return to 2018 form, physically.
Will It Happen?
Don’t bet against it. Love is incredibly talented in what he can do, and what he can do definitely fills a role the Buccaneers could look to use with Arians and Byron Leftwich in charge of the offense this coming season.
As a day one or two pick in 2018, he would’ve been a little risky because there’s really only so much his skill set projects to do in the NFL.
In 2019, as a likely day three guy, he’s all potential with minimal risk. No NFL general manager or head coach has been fired for getting nothing out of a day three draft pick.
Tampa Bay entered the off-season without a sixth-round draft pick. Now, following the trading of DeSean Jackson, they have one. If Licht stocks up on even more draft picks following more trades he might pull off, then using one of those on Love is well worth the risk attributed to bringing him on the roster.
The real question at that point then becomes, are the Bucs really going to carry Barber, Jones, Ellington and Love on the active roster? And if Love goes to the practice squad, how long would he stay there before getting poached by another team?