Well, once again the Buccaneers have finished last - something fans are all too familiar with. As they enter another year of rebui....Wait what’s that? Finishing last in the draft order is good?
Okay, yes, sources confirm that earning the 32nd overall pick is, in fact, a badge of honor. It’s less sexy than a Lombardi Trophy, which now rests gloriously at One Buc Place, but it’s also a good reminder of why you’ll take the latter over the former every day of the week.
The Tampa Bay brain trust will approach the NFL Draft from the lowest starting position the team has seen since 2006 when they selected guard Davin Joseph with the 23rd overall pick.
Not only is the draft position number different for GM Jason Licht and Co., but the circumstances as a whole are like nothing they’ve experienced. They’re no longer tasked with cultivating a winning roster but maintaining one. With starters already accounted for at most positions, pending the results of free agency, Licht can approach with a true best player available strategy as he attempts to balance the acquisition of talent that can help now versus talent that might be more poised to contribute more prominently in 2022 or 2023.
In this mock, we’ll go over some potential moves the franchise might make as it attempts to defend its Super Bowl title next season.
*This scenario includes trades and was constructed using Pro Football Network’s mock draft simulator.
Round 2, Pick 43 - Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
Acquired from San Francisco (picks 32 and 217 for 43 and 103)
Class: Junior / Measurables: 5-foot-10, 220 lbs.
The Bucs have shown a strong willingness to cement the running back position in recent years, as they’ve invested through both the draft and free agency to find valuable role players in the backfield.
The results have been more mixed than GM Jason Licht would likely prefer, but the ground game was good enough during the Super Bowl run in large part to Leonard Fournette’s metamorphosis into “Playoff Lenny”. With Fournette likely rolling his way to a bigger contract elsewhere, Tampa might not be comfortable ceding the reins to Ronald Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
Jones showed some excellent burst and improved toughness in having his best season to date, and he’ll maintain a prominent role in his last season under contract. However, his performance in the passing game left a lot to be desired and he ultimately gave way to Fournette in the playoffs. Vaughn, a 2020 third-round pick, suffered from a slow start and several mental lapses his first year, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Licht pull from a top-heavy running back class.
Ultimately, you might struggle to find a more complete running back in this class than Javonte Williams. A sturdily built junior, Williams bulldozed ACC defenses to the tune of 1,140 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns - all while sharing the backfield with another incredibly talented prospect in Michael Carter.
You get strong Nick Chubb vibes from watching Williams run with intensity, vision, contact balance, and deceptive speed. He’s not going to juke defenders out of their shoes while leaving defenders in the dust on a routine basis, but he understands the importance of subtle body motions to make defenders hesitate while wasting no motion of his own.
UNC RB Javonte Williams (5'10", 220)— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) March 10, 2021
- Graduated with a 4.6 GPA and was valedictorian of his class
- Played LB until his senior year of high school
- Now 20 years old (Born April 2000)
- Averaged 0.48 missed tackles/attempt in 2020 (1st in the NCAA)pic.twitter.com/HJgnRnjTzZ
A low center of gravity allows him to consistently shake off initial contact, and he’s unafraid of meeting any defender whether it be in the A gap or outside the tackles. Williams has also shown solid pass protection skills and route running ability to be an asset on third/passing downs, which is critically important in a Tom Brady-led offense.
In this scenario, the Buccaneers decide to trade the 32nd overall pick (as well as pick 217) to the 49ers so the latter can select Mac Jones. Tampa moves 11 spots down to 43 and recoups one of San Fran’s compensatory 3rd rounders. With this trade, the Bucs acquire another pick just outside the top 100 while adding a high-ceiling running back to their backfield stable.
Round 2, Pick 64 - Tommy Togiai, DT, Ohio State
Class: Junior / Measurables: 6-foot-2, 300 lbs.
The Bucs relied heavily on a dominant front 7 throughout the playoffs, culminating in the spectacle that was their Super Bowl performance against the Chiefs’ depleted offensive line. If the team hopes to experience similar results in 2021 and beyond, it’s likely that further investment will be required in the trenches.
Ndamukong Suh, as productive as he’s been for the last two seasons in red and pewter, is now 34 and approaching the twilight of his career. William Gholston had his most productive season as a Buc since being drafted way back in 2013, but he’s 30 and his future remains a question mark due to potential salary cap implications.
If the Bucs are looking for a high-upside, rotational defensive tackle who can eventually work his way into a starting role, they could do a lot worse than Togiai. Togiai broke out as a more complete player this year, as he comes from a vaunted defensive line factory in Ohio State.
While he’s not the biggest defensive tackle, he packs a lot of quickness and power in his frame. He’s especially stout in his lower body, where he’s able to anchor and generate push at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the run game. He’s shown a consistent ability to throw offensive linemen off base with leverage and swift hands, and he has progressed as a pass rusher enough to suggest that he could become adequate in that area as a pro.
His length will always be a concern, and he’s not incredibly dynamic. For what he is though, and what the Bucs place a premium on, he seems like a good fit for Todd Bowles’s aggressive, single-gap scheme.
Round 3, Pick 86 - Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami
Acquired from Tennessee (picks 96 and 177 for pick 86)
Class: Redshirt Senior, Measurables: 6-foot-3, 243 lbs.
All Bucs fans continue to hold their collective breath as they await a resolution on Shaq Barrett’s contract. As of writing, Barrett remains a free agent who will be one of the hottest targets on the edge rusher market. He was absolutely dominant during Tampa’s playoff run and had a strong claim to Super Bowl MVP with his one-sack, multiple-pressure performance.
If Barrett bucks Arians’s bold promise from the Super Bowl boat parade, this position likely gets addressed a lot higher than the third round, as the team would be left with just 32-year-old Jason Pierre-Paul, Anthony Nelson, and Cam Gill.
Either way, the Bucs could use more pass-rushing depth so they don’t have to rely as much on the starting duo or the blitz. Nelson has shown a few flashes but seems to lack the toolbox to be a consistent presence in the backfield, and relying on an undrafted free agent like Gill is always a hefty risk.
Licht has consistently shown a good feel for moving up or down the draft board, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him move up in this range to get a player he likes after backing out of the first round. In this scenario, he gives up picks 96 and 177 to former cohort Jon Robinson to swap places with the Titans and grab Miami edge Quincy Roche.
Roche transferred to Miami after three productive seasons at Temple, with which Bruce Arians shares a strong connection (he served as head coach there from 1983-1988). Roche isn’t a prototypical pass rusher given his shorter frame and lighter weight, but he’s a heady player who understands how to string together moves while exhibiting consistently strong hand usage.
Miami's Quincy Roche closing out the line one on ones with a great rep! pic.twitter.com/Ch8Zandgn2— Daniel Kitchen (@Sports__Kitchen) January 27, 2021
He’s a fair athlete with good, not great, flexibility, though his shortcomings become more evident when facing stronger offensive linemen who can control his strengths (his matchup against Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw comes to mind here).
At the worst, Roche projects as a rotational rusher who can relieve Barrett and JPP for a few stretches a game. At his best, he’ll maximize his athleticism and football IQ to become a consistent starter who smoothly takes over for Pierre-Paul in a few years.
Round 3, Pick 103 - Brady Christensen, OT, BYU
Acquired from San Francisco in earlier trade
Class: Senior / Measurables: 6-foot-6, 300 lbs.
Tampa saw its best play in the trenches in more than a decade as the addition of rookie phenom Tristan Wirfs helped to galvanize the unit and ensure elite protection for Brady. The Bucs are likely to return their starting 5 on the offensive line once again in 2021, but it’s never a bad idea to invest in top-quality depth in the event of injury or eventual departure.
Donovan Smith might have enjoyed his best season as a pro, though his contract comes due next season and he might look to cash in on one more big payday. Even solid left tackles get paid significant money, as Smith’s $14 million figure for this upcoming season would indicate.
Josh Wells has served as the primary backup at swing tackle for Tampa in recent years. That said, he’s 30 years old and doesn’t offer significant upside. It’d be wise to invest in a higher-quality depth/developmental player, which perfectly describes Brady Christensen.
Highest-Graded OL by Position:— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 15, 2021
LT: Brady Christensen, BYU - 96.0
LG: Jacob Gall, Buffalo - 90.5
C: Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa - 91.5
RG: Cain Madden, Marshall - 92.5
RT: Teven Jenkins, Okla St - 92.0 pic.twitter.com/2dLu5JOP7a
Achieving one of the highest grades ever through Pro Football Focus, the 23-year-old Christensen impressed a fair share of evaluators with his play in 2020, protecting future top 5 pick Zach Wilson. Christensen possesses excellent size, strength, and hands but is not the most agile player, though neither is Smith, so the Bucs have shown a willingness to work with players who fit that profile. Adding a little bit of weight probably wouldn’t hurt either, but having a full season in an NFL training program should get him there.
Round 4, Pick 138 - Michal Menet, C, Penn State
Class: Redshirt Senior / Measurables: 6-foot-4, 306 lbs.
The Bucs double-dip on the offensive line to solidify that depth we talked about.
A.Q. Shipley filled in at center for multiple games, but he’s now retired and moved onto coaching. When Alex Cappa went down with a broken ankle in the playoffs, Aaron Stinnie filled in admirably and the line suffered no noticeable drop-off. The team would do well to maintain the interior line depth while stashing a potential starter away in case Cappa or Ryan Jensen moves on within the next couple of seasons.
Enter Michal Menet, a three-year starter for the Nittany Lions at center. He doesn’t offer an overwhelming combination of size/strength/agility, but he’s technically sound, consistent, and knows how to establish an anchor. He’s someone who is always looking for work and keeps a strong intensity level throughout the game.
While he hasn’t received much hype from casual followers, several scouts are apparently ecstatic about his potential, via PFN’s Tony Pauline. He’ll slot right in as a viable backup center with some potential at guard as well.
Round 7, Pick 252 - James Smith, P, Cincinnati
Class: Senior / Measurables: 6-foot-5, 232 lbs.
Jason Licht selecting a kicking specialist. What could go wrong?
While it might give fans some mild anxiety, this would be a perfectly good investment as the draft winds down to its final few selections. Riley Pinion is owed $2.8 million per Over The Cap and produced a below-average season as a punter despite being a touchback machine on kickoffs.
In a year where the Bucs could use every penny to retain far more critical players, Pinion likely will not be returning at that figure, which opens the door for the drafting of James Smith. Don’t let the incredibly generic name fool you, Smith was an elite punter for most of his time at Cincinnati. The Ray Guy Award finalist punted 224 times in his career and recorded just 3 touchbacks. He averaged 43.7 yards per punt and pinned 15 inside the 20.
I won’t bore you with any more punter stats. The Australian-born big man will serve his role on the Bucs special teams while costing the team basically nothing. It’s an easy decision.
Oh, and he doesn’t run a half-bad punt fake either.
Round 7, Pick 260 - Grant Stuard, LB, Houston
Class: Senior / Measurables: 6-foot-1, 225 lbs.
This year’s Mr. Irrelevant will reside in Tampa, at least for part of training camp. At this point, you’re just looking for anyone who might provide good preseason depth and reserve potential. Anything else is a bonus.
The Bucs might lose some core special teamers, and they’d do well to add someone like Stuard to the mix. He’s not a great athlete, but an exceptional motor, a team-first attitude, and plenty of reps on special teams will make you a sought-after unrestricted free agent. The Bucs can cut the line and give him an opportunity, which is all anyone hopes for at this point in the draft.
I wouldn’t expect any significant snaps on defense anytime soon given his shakiness in space, but a fair share of players have made radical transformations when they reach the pros. Intangibles like tenacity and a high motor are as good traits as any to bet on. Plus his hair is incredible, and we can all root for somebody with elite flow.
So there you have it. With a few trades, the Bucs bounce out of the first round but end up with five top 150 picks to bolster their roster, with four of those selections going toward the trenches. Would you be satisfied with this haul? Let us know in the poll/comments below!
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