With less than a week to go until the NFL Draft, the time for prospect punditry, constant smokescreens, and positional puzzle solving will soon draw to its grand conclusion in Cleveland.
And while the wait will be longer than Bucs Nation is accustomed to, the glow of the team’s second Lombardi Trophy should provide some comfort until the Buccaneers pick No. 32 overall in the first round for the first time in team history. It’s a unique year not just because of the draft position, but because of the position the roster finds itself in.
It’s been a struggle to find any real consensus on the team’s potential direction, so we’ve assembled the roundtable as we try to draw a bead on some of Tampa’s biggest draft-related questions.
How big of an impact can any draft pick realistically make on this roster?
Chris: It really depends on what position they end up drafting. But, if they choose to take an edge, wide receiver, or defensive lineman, they can come in right away and have an immediate impact as a rotational option. Outside of these positions, any later round draft picks can really help on special teams, an area that the Buccaneers could look to improve going into the 2021 season.
David: With any luck, the impact being made by a 2021 NFL Draft pick for this team will come later rather than sooner. However, while many are going to have their sights set on a year or two down the road, I’m thinking more like December. Whether it comes due to injury or the need to give veteran’s some lighter workloads as the team nears another run at the playoffs, this year’s first-year players will have plenty of runway to get ready but should expect to have an impact on 2021’s most critical stretch.
James: If we’re talking first or second day picks, the hope would be that they can make an impact in 2021 whether it’s because they force their way into the starting lineup by their play or just being part of a rotation at their given position. Perhaps they make an impact because they get called to take over for an injured play - you hope no one gets injured, but this is the NFL and injuries are going to happen. Anything beyond that, it’ll be tough to even make the team let alone have an impact. Some of these guys that have their name announced will be a bigger part of the plan down the road, given the one year contracts the roster is loaded with,
Mike: I would have modest expectations for everyone in the draft class, initially. Pending any injuries, there are entrenched starters at every position and this team doesn’t rely heavily on rotations to begin with. It’s not like last season when they desperately needed players like Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield, Jr.
Bailey: I can only echo what the majority of my colleagues have said before me. The Bucs are in such a unique position heading into this draft, considering they have all 22 starters from their Super Bowl team back for another year. So, Jason Licht can afford to draft for depth and perhaps make some luxury picks. How quickly those types of guys will contribute will certainly depend on the player, their draft position and the position they play on the field. Generally, I wouldn’t expect any immediate impact like what the team got from Wirfs and Winfield last season (as Mike mentioned, Tampa Bay doesn’t need that level of performance). But as David said, we could very well see some late-season/playoff impact from some of these guys that carve out roles for themselves.
Name one darkhorse prospect you’d like to see the Bucs take
Chris: Seeing as the Buccaneers are looking to draft for the future, I’d really like to see them take someone like Paulson Adebo, cornerback out of Stanford. In terms of the hype that surrounds this guy, there really isn’t much. However, in two years at Stanford this was a player who averaged four interceptions a season over that time and tallied 27 passes defensed. He’s a natural ball-hawk that lacks an ideal recovery speed for a corner, but he has a knack for closing on the ball and either coming up with an interception, or a pass break-up. In this Todd Bowles system, lengthy, physical corners are coveted and Adebo checks the box in both of these areas.
David: A potential late-round prospect I would like to see the Buccaneers target is edge rusher, Jordan Smith. He has some issues in his past, but hasn’t had any (that we’re currently aware of) since, and has rebounded well to take full advantage of his 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl invite. His potential and raw ability make him someone easily moldable and would add great value as a mid-late round pick.
James: I’ve said it a few times, but I really like the idea of Josh Myers joining the Bucs. He would provide depth at both center. He played extremely well at Ohio State as a center after being heavily recruited out of high school as a guard. He has collegiate experience as guard before becoming the full time center. With Ryan Jensen only having one year left on his deal and Alex Cappa looking for a pay day soon, Myers would be a great depth piece in his rookie season as he learns the offense before the possibility of stepping into a starting role in 2022.
Mike: You don’t see it too often, if at all, but I’d be enamored with the Bucs selecting Creed Humphrey, the center out of Oklahoma. The Bucs will have to make decisions next year on Ryan Jensen and Alex Cappa, and it’s unlikely that both return if they continue to play very well. Humphrey is a technically sound player with off-the-charts toughness and character who tested really well, and the Bucs can groom him to take over at center or guard.
Bailey: Because Quinn Meinerz probably doesn’t qualify as a darkhorse prospect anymore, I’m gonna go with a different selfish pick—UCF cornerback Tay Gowan. A potential late day two or early day three pick, Gowan would add some much-needed depth to the Tampa Bay secondary and be a viable long-term option at the corner position. He has great size, length and speed, boasting a combination that Todd Bowles would seemingly love. He opted out of the 2020 season, but he was quietly phenomenal for the Knights in 2019, allowing just a 26.6 passer rating in single coverage and only two touchdowns in 425 total coverage snaps. Pro Football Focus has him ranked as CB5 in this year’s class, but the consensus among other outlets seems to be much less favorable. He would be a steal late in the third round—and especially in the fourth.
Should the team be aggressive and trade up or trade back and acquire assets?
Chris: Ideally I’d like to see some trading up. There’s no guarantee that any later round picks will even make the roster due to the amount of returning players from the Super Bowl. By using those later round picks to trade up, they can increase the value of those picks by snagging a more talented player earlier in the draft. Since the Bucs are looking one to two seasons ahead, it’s always better to have more talented players, rather than a myriad of less talented players to fill gaps. This could be the difference between a top-five player at their position and two to three guys that are ranked in the Top 20. To me, it’s a no-brainer.
David: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers return a roster of 22 Super Bowl winners, all of whom can be credited with their own important roles. Aaron Stinnie gives the team a rare backup offensive lineman with recent starting Super Bowl experience, too. This means the likelihood of making the roster for rookies this year is significantly lower than usual years for most teams. The draft class itself is also very shallow, and next year's is expected to be much deeper. Because of all that, my answer is yes, and I’d like to see the Bucs trade up or down out of every pick they currently own. Either moving up to grab top talent in a shallow pool, or down to gain more picks for 2022 when some future concerns may reveal themselves more clearly.
James: For the first time in recent memory, I’m all aboard the trade-up train. With the Buccaneers seeing all their Super Bowl starters return and most of their depth coming back, Jason Licht and Bruce Arians would be hard pressed to find seven players throughout the draft that could even make the roster. Packaging picks to move up in the first round and getting a player they know can help now as well as be a big part of the team in the future would be the ideal strategy. Making a play for someone like Najee Harris, Jaelan Phillips, or Terrace Marshall Jr. would give the Bucs a high-impact rookie that isn’t asked to be a starter immediately but would be a key focus of the team in 2022 and beyond. Lack of needs and lack of roster space means the Bucs should maximize what picks they do make.
Mike: I’m normally Team Trade Back, but this year I would be fully onboard with moving up in the first or second rounds to acquire higher-end talent in a draft that’s a little light on such. And it’s not just a matter of augmenting a strong roster in a slim championship window, but it’s also a lack of roster spots and current cap space. I’d be perfectly comfortable with making four or five higher picks in exchange for the current eight.
Bailey: Truthfully, I don’t really have a concrete preference. For me, it has to be situational. If the Bucs see an opportunity to be aggressive and trade up for a guy that will help them maximize this Super Bowl window, go for it. But if nothing presents itself and there’s no one to be thrilled about when they come up on the clock, by all means trade back and acquire assets.
Despite no dire needs, what position would you most like to see addressed?
Chris: Anything in the trenches on either side of the ball. Ideally I’d like to see them snag a third pass-rusher as Anthony Nelson has not been too effective in that role. Outside of Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett, there’s no one on this roster that is truly a threat to rush the passer. Having someone to actually threaten from the outside would also provide the added benefit of being able to slide JPP inside where he is equally, if not more, effective at getting to the quarterback. If this isn’t a possibility, then an offensive lineman would be my next choice. There are some very talented interior offensive linemen that look as if they might slide like Quinn Meinerz and Landon Dickerson, two picks that would not only provide depth, but could also compete with Alex Cappa.
David: You can’t project injuries, but you can project roster openings when talking about veteran players nearing the end of their careers. Jason Pierre-Paul is in a contract year and is one of the older members of this team. Anthony Nelson might be a future starter, but taking two bites of that apple would be a good idea, making outside linebacker a priority in the 2021 NFL Draft.
James: Up until the signing of Giovani Bernard I would have said running back. Now, if they find themselves in a position where they can get Harris I’m still all for it. However, at this stage, I’d rather the Bucs go with edge or defensive line. A starting-caliber player to put in the rotation with Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett would do wonders while finding someone that can eat up the interior of the line behind Vita Vea also makes a lot of sense. Vea has missed plenty of time due to injury and although those were flukey circumstances, the depth behind Vea leaves a lot to be desired. Ultimately, they can’t really go wrong no matter what position they take.
Mike: You won’t see me break ranks from the group here. I’d also be most interested in edge rusher or interior offensive line. Keeping strong in the trenches is how you maintain a consistent winner on the field. So, Tampa should prioritize protecting Tom Brady or harassing his counterpart consistently on a week-to-week basis.
Bailey: Nothing new from me. I’d also most prefer to see the team upgrade its depth off the edge and plan for the future of the position. A close second, though, would be defensive tackle. It would be great to get a young guy in to develop behind the likes of Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston, pairing him with Vita Vea for the long haul.
Who should the Buccaneers select in Round 1?
Chris: It’s tough to say as we really have no idea who is going to be there at 32. With that being said, if either Najee Harris or Travis Etienne slide like they have in some mocks, the Bucs have to pull the trigger. These are two backs that would be the backs of the future with three out of the four rostered backs not under contract for 2022. In addition to that, these guys are just too darn good to pass up. Not only are they both fantastic runners, but they have great route running ability, hands, and run after the catch skills.
David: I’m going to give two options here. The longer Antonio Brown isn’t on the roster the more value I see in wide receiver Kadarious Toney. He would be my number one because while I love Scotty Miller he’s more a straight line threat than anything else, and while he develops more layers to his game the Bucs need more full-field ability. If Toney hits the roster he and Miller can share third-receiver duties while Tyler Johnson also continues to climb the latter in usage. If AB is back, then I go edge, but not just any edge. For me, the line ends at Jayson Oweh and Gregory Rousseau. One or both should be available, and they’d satisfy the primary need for this team as I see it, behind restabilizing the wide receiver group.
James: I would love to see the Bucs make a move to get Harris or Phillips, but if they stay put at 32 I have to agree with David. On the offensive side of the ball, a player like Toney would provide an explosive weapon that would be reminiscent of a younger Antonio Brown and would take the potential of the offense to the next level. On the defensive side of the ball, Rousseau and Oweh are two guys that should be there for the Bucs and would be impact players without being asked to play huge minutes. Both have some weaknesses that need to be worked on and they can do so while also getting in-game experience. Todd Bowles can utilize their strengths with situational packages while the coaching staff refines their weaknesses and turn them into full-time starters. Not only that, but Arians said he wanted to add speed to the defense - as edge rushers go, they don’t get much faster than Jayson Oweh who ran a 4.36 40-yard dash.
Mike: At the risk of spoiling my upcoming mock draft, I’ll throw out a few names for consideration to keep y’all guessing. If we’re talking about the edges, I’m most interested in Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari or Miami’s Jaelan Phillips. I think both of these players would require a trade up, though their projected draft positions have been all over the place. These two easily shine in a weaker defensive draft class despite their respective question marks. Creed Humphrey stands out as my top interior offensive line target, and I could easily throw my support behind Ole Miss’s Elijah Moore if the Bucs decided to forgo re-signing Antonio Brown at receiver. Moore is an excellent mover in space who can play around the field, and Brady has loved players like him in the past. The sheer freedom that general manager Jason Licht currently has is a luxury enjoyed by very few in his position throughout the league, so it’ll be fascinating to see what he does with it when the countdown timer starts.
Bailey: Again, this is such a unique situation for the Bucs to be in. Normally, we have a good idea of who all might be available by the time the team’s top-15 pick comes up. But picking at No. 32? That leaves way too many options out there for me to even have a true preference here. The unpredictability of any draft—and this one in particular—has me scrambling with no idea who I want in the first round. Why couldn’t this current NFL timeline have been shifted up one year so that the Bucs could’ve had the No. 32 pick in the 2020 draft, allowing them to spend it on Clyde Edwards-Helaire? I’m not over that. But to stop my rambling, I’d love to see a luxury pick spent to make the offense even more dangerous. That could mean Toney, Harris, or Etienne if any of them are available. But truth be told, I’d be just as thrilled if the Bucs took the best available edge rusher. Tampa Bay just won the Super Bowl. As far as I’m concerned, it won’t be hard for me to be pleased with whoever gets added to this loaded roster.