The 2019-20 college football season will come to an end Monday night in New Orleans, with the No. 1 LSU Tigers taking on the No. 3 Clemson Tigers for the national championship. Both teams have run through every obstacle that has been put in front of them all year long, but only one can come away with the trophy.
LSU, led by head coach Ed Orgeron, has the more impressive resume. It held wins over Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Georgia heading into the semifinal on Dec. 28, which it won 63-28 over No. 4 Oklahoma.
Clemson, led by head coach Dabo Swinney, is looking for its second straight national championship and its third in the last four seasons. The resume isn’t as notable as far as marquee wins go, but a 29-23 win over No. 2 Ohio State in the other semifinal on Dec. 28 being the Tigers’ 29th straight victory tells you all you need to know about the kind of team they have.
Monday is all about crowning champions. But after 60 minutes are played inside the Superdome, plenty of guys on both sidelines will look ahead to NFL futures that will get underway in the next few months. Every front office across the league will have eyes on this one. That includes the Buccaneers’. So, let’s break down some of the prospects that could be on Tampa Bay’s radar come draft time.
Before we get into it, let’s get this out of the way... Joe Burrow isn’t on this list because the Bucs unfortunately won’t be in position to draft the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner. If that was somehow a possibility, he would obviously top this list. And no, Trevor Lawrence isn’t on this list either because he’s not draft-eligible in 2020. If he was, he’d be very close to the top of this list. Check back in 2021, which is when he’ll likely be playing in his third straight national title game, I guess.
Now, let’s get it going.
LB, Isaiah Simmons
2019 stats: 14 games played, 95 tackles (60 solo), 14 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Perhaps one of the more unique prospects in this game, Isaiah Simmons is someone that may not be around when it comes time for the Bucs to pick in the first round. But he’s still worth keeping an eye on just in case he slides or Tampa Bay deems him worth moving up for. While he is listed as a linebacker on Clemson’s roster, the redshirt junior is a versatile hybrid defender with strong tackling ability and exceptional coverage skills. He won the Butkus Award — given to the nation’s top linebacker — in 2019, just two years after he played safety for the Tigers.
Jordan Reid of The Draft Network notes that Simmons would be best-served if he lands with a creative defensive coordinator that will successfully deploy his versatility. Does that sound like Todd Bowles at all? He created the “moneybacker” role for Deone Bucannon back in Arizona and would surely work wonders with a prospect like Simmons. Plus, Walter Football compares the Clemson prospect to a player that Tampa Bay fans are extremely familiar with: Lavonte David. Linebacker may not be the biggest position of need for the Bucs, but if they think Simmons is too special to pass up, maybe he’ll be playing alongside David in 2020.
RB, Travis Etienne
2019 stats: 14 games played, 192 carries, 1,563 rushing yards, 8 yards per carry, 18 rushing touchdowns; 32 catches, 396 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns
Considering all of the talk about Jameis Winston and keeping the defense together, what the Bucs might do with their backfield this offseason is often an overlooked storyline. Tampa Bay needs to address its offensive line and improve its run blocking to begin with, but the actual running back group will need addressing as well. One potential answer is Clemson running back Travis Etienne, who has posted back-to-back seasons of 1,500-plus rushing yards with the Tigers. His speed and toughness are what will draw the most attention, as he has the potential to explode for a game-breaking run at any moment. While there is a lot of talk about him needing to work on his pass-catching abilities, he showed some major improvement in that area of his game this season.
There seems to be some disagreement among draft experts regarding where Etienne will fall within the running back class, as some have him as an RB5 or RB6 while others have him higher. Depending on where he ends up falling on draft boards, maybe he’ll be there for the Bucs to scoop up in the second or third round. One potential drawback, however, is that Etienne is a similar back to Ronald Jones II in terms of both size and skill set. It may not make a lot of sense to have both Jones and Etienne on the same roster, but it’s important to remember that this coaching staff didn’t draft Jones. If they like Etienne and aren’t sold on Jones, maybe we see a big move made. Nonetheless, keep an eye on the Clemson running back during Monday’s game if only for the potential of seeing some explosive plays.
EDGE, K’Lavon Chaisson
2019 stats: 12 games played, 58 tackles (32 solo), 6.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble
When it comes to adding a young edge rusher from this year’s draft class, it may be hard to find a better fit for the Bucs than LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson. He is a stand-up outside linebacker with speed, which would make him a great piece in Todd Bowles’ defense. His numbers may not jump off the page, but his build and athleticism will make him a popular name throughout the spring and into draft weekend. He missed all but one game in 2018 thanks to a torn ACL, but he has bounced back in a big way this year, most recently posting a couple of sacks in the Tigers’ semifinal blowout of Oklahoma. He appears to have no lingering effects from the ACL injury, which is a big plus as far as his draft stock is concerned.
Everyone is pretty much in agreement that keeping the defense together needs to be the Bucs’ top priority this offseason. That will include inking 2019 sack leader Shaquil Barrett and veteran leader Jason Pierre-Paul to new deals. But it’s always important to think ahead, which is what Tampa Bay would be doing if it adds Chaisson. He could essentially replace the likely-to-depart Carl Nassib for the next year or two while Pierre-Paul is still around, which would give him some time to learn and refine his abilities. Then, whenever JPP hangs up his cleats, Chaisson will presumably be ready to step in as a full-time starter. As is the case with Simmons and Etienne, whether or not the Bucs will be interested in Chaisson will likely be decided by what happens in free agency.
S, Grant Delpit
2019 stats: 13 games played, 59 tackles (33 solo), 1 sack, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 9 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery
With the buzz he generated as a sophomore, Grant Delpit could’ve been a first-round pick after the 2018-19 season. He may have had a “down” year by comparison as a junior, but he still won the Thorpe Award and was a consensus All-American. He is lauded for his speed, strength, instincts and overall versatility, all of which make him a game-changing player to have in the back half of your defense. He possesses great ball skills and a knack for creating takeaways, even if his 2019 numbers don’t necessarily shout that. In 2018, he totaled five interceptions, 14 passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He also had five sacks, showing plenty of upside as a blitz threat. He’ll be a first-round pick this spring, but the question is more about whether or not he’ll make it to the Bucs’ No. 14 slot.
Tampa Bay’s young secondary took some big steps forward in the second half of the 2019 season. Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting have the cornerback spots locked down going forward, while Jordan Whitehead has been a solid option at strong safety. But the Bucs are still looking for a free safety of the future. Mike Edwards could be that guy, but he didn’t do enough as a rookie to do anything more than split time at the position with Andrew Adams. Enter Delpit. By selecting him, Tampa Bay would be adding more youth, sure, but it would also be setting its secondary up to potentially be one of the league’s best for the foreseeable future. Plus, you can just imagine the wonders Todd Bowles would be able to work with this guy. If Delpit falls to 14, he’d be a steal for the Bucs.
Who will you be watching in the national title game, Bucs fans?