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Grading the Buccaneers’ 2017 NFL Draft class

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With three years to mature, let’s take a look at how the class of ‘17 has done since arriving to the NFL

NFL: APR 28 OJ Howard Buccaneers Press Conference Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Generally speaking, people like to give draft classes three full seasons before truly grading the group. This is the time frame where many of your picks after day one are getting their second contracts - or not - and your first-round picks are finding out the fate of their fifth-year options.

In the spirit of this generally accepted time-frame, we’re here today to pass judgement on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2017 NFL Draft Class. By ‘we’, of course, I mean Bucs Nation. As much as my wife thinks I’m right all the time (where’s my sarcasm font?), I won’t be making this decision alone. Instead, we’re going to look at some facts and leave it to the fans to make the call. Starting with the Top-5 talent drafted at No. 19 overall, mister O.J. Howard.

1st Round - Tight End, O.J. Howard (Alabama)

At the time of this selection, some considered picking Howard to be a ‘luxury pick’, one based off best player available and not necessarily the player Tampa needed in 2017 to build on the late seasons success at the end of 2016.

When looking back at the class it’s hard not to daydream about what might have been had the Bucs invested the pick in other players like cornerback Tre’Davious White, linebacker T.J. Watt or even running back Dalvin Cook.

What’s done is done however, and what the Bucs got in return for the 19th pick in the first round has been 94 receptions, 1,456-yards and 12 touchdowns. Not bad numbers. However, following flashes of potential in 2017 and 18, Bucs fans, media and Howard himself hoped for a breakout season in 2019.

Instead, a five target increase resulted in the same catch total as his sophomore season where he appeared in just ten games, and netted more than 100-yards fewer than the previous year. Howard also finished last season with just one touchdown reception, and had more (unofficial) giveaways than he did scoring plays.

Howard was a big part of the Bucs’ offense in 2019 however, used more effectively as a blocker than receiver for much of the year. All of this led to big questions surrounding the young tight end entering the off-season, and the arrival of tight end Rob Gronkowski, speculation reached an all-time high.

With the 2020 NFL Draft weekend come and gone, it seems Howard is destined to spend at least the beginning of the new season with the Bucs, and the team picked up his fifth-year option giving them two more years to really decide what the future holds.

I was a big fan of this pick in 2017, and remain optimistic about what Howard might still accomplish in the NFL. Overall, my personal grade on this pick three years later, I still like the pick, just not as much as I’d hoped to at this point. MY GRADE: B (Like It)

Poll

Grade the Pick: TE, O.J. Howard (2017 1st Round, Alabama)

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    A (Love It)
    (29 votes)
  • 39%
    B (Like It)
    (167 votes)
  • 44%
    C (Not Happy, Not Mad)
    (188 votes)
  • 7%
    D (Don’t Like It)
    (32 votes)
  • 1%
    F (Hate It)
    (6 votes)
422 votes total Vote Now

2nd Round - Safety, Justin Evans (Texas A&M)

Mike Mayock was still an NFL Network draft analyst in 2017, and he said this about the selection of Justin Evans in the second round,

“He’ll hit you, but he’ll also miss some tackles. He’s a very aggressive guy. It’s all-or-nothing when he comes to tackle and he also has good range on the back end. When you look at Tampa Bay, Justin Evans comes in, competes day one and ends up being their starting free safety.”

Mayock wasn’t wrong and Evans started his career by playing in fourteen games as a rookie with nine starts. He tallied three interceptions for his team and defended six passes. He also came up with 66 tackles including 50 solo and two for a loss.

The sky was the limit for Evans, and then the sky fell. After appearing in ten games in 2018, Evans missed six games then and all 16 in 2019. Nagging injuries and setbacks have plagued what was a promising start to his career, and undoubtedly played a role in the selection of the latest Buccaneers second-round pick, Antoine Winfield Jr.

Still, I can’t be mad at this pick. When Evans was on the field, it was clear he had the talent to be the Bucs’ free-safety for years. However, I’m also not happy about the way it’s turned out for such a promising young player. MY GRADE: C (Not Happy, Not Mad)

Poll

Grade the Pick: S, Justin Evans (2017 2nd Round, Texas A&M)

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    A (Love It)
    (15 votes)
  • 23%
    B (Like It)
    (84 votes)
  • 54%
    C (Not Happy, Not Mad)
    (192 votes)
  • 15%
    D (Don’t Like It)
    (56 votes)
  • 1%
    F (Hate It)
    (6 votes)
353 votes total Vote Now
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual - USC v Penn State Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

3rd Round - Wide Receiver, Chris Godwin (Penn State)

Chris Godwin is the kind of player NFL general managers will loose sleep over. How did an All-Pro caliber wide receiver fall to the third-round? If you’re Jason Licht, you’ll likely not ask too many questions as you run off laughing with your steal of a draft pick.

It took Godwin sixteen games to get his first touchdown catch in his career, putting the game winning score on the board in 2017 against the New Orleans Saints in Week 17. When it happened, you could almost feel the pressure release, and everyone paying attention knew it was just the beginning.

Since then, he’s brought in sixteen more in the two years following his rookie campaign. His touchdown production has gone up each season. His reception totals have gone up each year. His yardage has gone up every year. Notice the trend?

If the team isn’t already working on an extension for Godwin, they certainly should be soon. You don’t find talent like his every year, and it would be arrogant to think they could strike lighting twice. I loved the pick then, and there’s nothing less to love today. MY GRADE: A (Love It)

Poll

Grade the Pick: WR, Chris Godwin (2017 3rd Round, Penn State)

This poll is closed

  • 98%
    A (Love It)
    (394 votes)
  • 0%
    B (Like It)
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    C (Not Happy, Not Mad)
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    D (Don’t Like It)
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    F (Hate It)
    (1 vote)
398 votes total Vote Now

3rd Round - Linebacker, Kendell Beckwith (LSU)

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded into the back end of the third-round in 2017, I was sure it was to draft USF running back, Marlon Mack. Instead, the selection was LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith.

A gamble for certain, Beckwith was coming off a late season ACL tear with the Tigers and it wasn’t certain what his long-term health would be, or how well he’d be able to play when he healed up. Without the injury, Beckwith would have been drafted much higher. So it was a risk/reward evaluation, and one the Bucs felt good with.

In his rookie season, the LSU product teamed up with former college teammate Kwon Alexander and stud Lavonte David by starting eleven games and playing in all sixteen. He came up with 73 tackles including 60 solo, seven for losses and one sack.

The Bucs had all the making of what could become the best trio of linebackers in the NFC South, until a mid-April car accident resulted in a fractured ankle and it would appear, the end of Beckwith’s NFL career.

I suppose this is a never say never kind of story, but just like with Evans, the more time passes the less confident anyone can be he’ll ever suit up for the Bucs again.

Hard to be mad at the pick still, and I’m sure some of you will take a harsher stance on it than I am - probably with Evans as well - but as much as I don’t like how this pick has turned out, I can’t say I hate the chance they took with it. MY GRADE: D (Don’t Like It)

Poll

Grade the Pick: LB, Kendall Beckwith (2017 3rd Round, LSU)

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    A (Love It)
    (11 votes)
  • 20%
    B (Like It)
    (66 votes)
  • 47%
    C (Not Happy, Not Mad)
    (152 votes)
  • 20%
    D (Don’t Like It)
    (64 votes)
  • 7%
    F (Hate It)
    (24 votes)
317 votes total Vote Now
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl - Boise State v Northern Illinois Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

5th Round - Running Back, Jeremy McNichols (Boise State)

No Dalvin Cook. No Marlon Mack. But the Bucs did get Jeremy McNichols in the fifth-round of the 2017 NFL Draft! There was some excitement about the pick and what McNichols’ potential presented to the team.

There was the obvious Boise State connection and familiarity with running back Doug Martin. Then there was McNichols’ ties to Snoop Dogg. But mostly it was his nearly 4,000-yards of production in two-years with the Broncos that peaked people’s interests. Oh, and the 50+ touchdowns didn’t hurt.

McNichols struggled in the 2017 pre-season, especially in pass protection - stop me if you’ve heard that one before - and was eventually let go by the team before registering any official stats. His pre-season experience consisted of 24 carries for 79-yards and much more to be desired than shown.

He did eventually make it into an NFL game. Five actually. Hey, that’s five more than I’ll ever play in. For his career, he’s carried the ball four times and totaled eight yards. Most recently, he was seen in Jacksonville in 2019.

Currently, McNichols is a free-agent, and you can’t help but hate this pick. Can you? MY GRADE: F (Hate It)

Poll

Grade the Pick: RB, Jeremy McNichols (2017 5th Round, Boise State)

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A (Love It)
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    B (Like It)
    (1 vote)
  • 3%
    C (Not Happy, Not Mad)
    (11 votes)
  • 20%
    D (Don’t Like It)
    (63 votes)
  • 74%
    F (Hate It)
    (229 votes)
306 votes total Vote Now

7th Round - Defensive Tackle, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (USC)

Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (or Stevie-T if you’re not Riley Auman), transferred from Utah to USC in search of playing time and more. He was so dedicated to getting to southern California he slept in his care for some time before being allowed to live on campus.

This dedication to getting where he needed to go, no matter the inconvenience to himself, is certainly an admirable trait. Unfortunately, good stories don’t count on the field of play. Eventually, all the determination in the world has to turn into talent and production, or you won’t be around long.

Such has been the case with Tu’ikolovatu, who has spent all of his NFL time with the Bucs, but has never made it onto the field for a regular season game. Most recently, he was brought back to Tampa in August of 2019 and subsequently released again later that same month.

Seventh-round picks are hard to grade, because if we’re being honest, they aren’t ever expected to stick around or become long-term contributors. The fact he never got on the field is also attributed to injuries, and not completely on the lack of talent or production necessarily.

I’m going middle ground here, because I just don’t feel any other way about it, honestly. MY GRADE: C (Not Happy, Not Mad)

Poll

Grade the Pick: DT, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (USC)

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A (Love It)
    (2 votes)
  • 6%
    B (Like It)
    (16 votes)
  • 52%
    C (Not Happy, Not Mad)
    (137 votes)
  • 26%
    D (Don’t Like It)
    (68 votes)
  • 14%
    F (Hate It)
    (37 votes)
260 votes total Vote Now

Now to grade the class. For me, I’m going with an average scale with four being the highest and zero the lowest. This gives me a total of twelve between the six picks, for an average of two. Meaning, MY FINAL GRADE: C (Not Happy, Not Mad)

Of course, you don’t have to constrain yourself to such a rigid scale. Perhaps Chris Godwin alone is worth twelve points all by himself to you. Or perhaps you don’t want to be restricted by math at all. I couldn’t blame you if that’s the case.

No matter how you come to your conclusion, it’s time for you to weigh in on the entire 2017 NFL Draft Class.

Poll

Grade the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2017 NFL Draft Class

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    A (Love It)
    (7 votes)
  • 46%
    B (Like It)
    (136 votes)
  • 38%
    C (Not Happy, Not Mad)
    (113 votes)
  • 12%
    D (Don’t Like It)
    (36 votes)
  • 0%
    F (Hate It)
    (0 votes)
292 votes total Vote Now