The NFL offseason can be brutal. Media members and fans are forced to kill a lot of time, especially in the period after the draft and before training camp gets underway. Oftentimes, that can lead to reflecting back on draft classes from past years, which is usually done in one of two ways.
One way to reassess past drafts is by doing redrafts, which are typically very bad and a waste of everyone’s time. The other way is regrading, which can actually be fun and productive, as it’s typically done for drafts that involve players who have a few years in the pros under their belts. It’s a good way to track progress.
This past week, Pro Football Focus regraded the 2018 NFL Draft classes for all 32 teams in the league. Three years into the careers of the players in that class, it’s clear that the Buccaneers came away big winners. PFF originally graded Tampa Bay’s class as “good” at the time, and now in the regrade, the grade was bumped up to “elite.”
The Bucs’ 2018 class consisted of the following players:
- Vita Vea (Round 1, Pick 12)
- Ronald Jones II (Round 2, Pick 38)
- M.J. Stewart (Round 2, Pick 53)
- Carlton Davis (Round 2, Pick 63)
- Alex Cappa (Round 3, Pick 94)
- Jordan Whitehead (Round 4, Pick 117)
- Justin Watson (Round 4, Pick 144)
- Jack Cichy (Round 6, Pick 202)
That really is quite the group, as seven of the eight players were on the Bucs’ Super Bowl team this past year. Five of them—Vea, Jones, Davis, Cappa and Whitehead—were productive starters, while Watson was the team’s leading special teams tackler. Cichy served more of a depth role and eventually landed on injured reserve, but he was still on the championship-winning roster nonetheless.
Here’s what PFF’s Michael Renner had to say about the Bucs’ 2018 class:
“This was the draft that started general manager Jason Licht’s addiction to attacking the secondary. With three second-round picks, Licht double-dipped at cornerback in M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis. Even though Stewart wasn’t on the team’s Super Bowl roster this past season, that commitment to bolstering the back end helped land a key cog of their secondary in Davis. And in my opinion, this draft also netted the Buccaneers the best nose tackle in the NFL when healthy in Vita Vea. Tampa Bay secured starting running back Ronald Jones, starting guard Alex Cappa and starting safety Jordan Whitehead, too. That’s a haul.”
There are quite a few takeaways one can have when reflecting on the Bucs’ 2018 draft. It’s strange to look back and remember that Carlton Davis was taken 10 picks after M.J. Stewart, plus it’s easy to forget that Jordan Whitehead was a day three pick given the amount of time he’s spent as a starting safety—and he’s been a solid one, too.
The depth of the group is perhaps the most impressive thing, as you’d think any team would’ve been happy with even three of these guys leading their class. Vea really is one of the better nose tackles in the league and Jones was 22 yards away from 1,000 in 2020 despite missing two games. Davis has blossomed into one of the league’s top corners and just put together a massive third year as a pro. Just having those three would’ve been enough to make this a good class for the Bucs, but to add a starting right guard, a starting safety and a key special teams piece on top of them? Yeah, “elite” seems to be a good grade here.
Well done on this one, Jason Licht.