Witty's Draft Needs for the Buccaneers This 2023

We are now in the first week of the off-season's Free Agency period, the early days when big name players on the market get signed for millions of dollars to cap-friendly teams that are terrible and likely not to improve in the immediate future while the cap-hit teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers struggle to make serious moves for veteran talent.

If there's any good news for Bucs fans, it's that GM Licht and the cap managers have made some improbable moves to retain talent we feared were going to lose - CB Jamel Dean, LB Lavonte David - while making a big-name move at Quarterback - signing Baker Mayfield - that kept us under that hard cap.

The bad news has already been told: That hard cap forced the Bucs to cut veteran talent at OT (Bye, Donovan Smith), TE (Bye, Cameron Brate), RB (Bye, Playoff Lenny), and forced a trade of a veteran Guard (Bye, Shaq Mason) that have created talent gaps at key positions. While more veteran signings and roster moves are likely, we at least have a good idea what the front office will do with the April Rookie Draft to cover our starter and depth needs.

Listing from Offense to Defense/Special Teams, we have:

QUARTERBACK: With the retirement of Tom Brady, we were looking also at the departure of backups Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin, leaving us only with untested draft-pick Kyle Trask on the roster. Signing Mayfield - who can compete early for the starting gig, and at least give us an experienced backup - took care of any reason to draft high for a QB.

The Bucs could still draft a QB in the later rounds mostly because Mayfield is a short-term answer (it's a one-year contract) and he could move elsewhere next off-season, and it depends on how Trask proves himself. Getting a guy like Jake Haener (Frenso St) or Stetson Bennett (Georgia) who would likely be there in the Sixth Round would be low-risk long-term reward.

LIKELY SPOT: Late (Sixth or Seventh Round)

RUNNING BACK: With the cap-cut departure of Fournette, the Bucs are down to two young yet still-raw ball-carriers in Rachaad White and KeShawn Vaughn. Signing Chase Edmonds as a veteran back helps with depth, but he's not a proven starter in the league. The Bucs could draft high for a legit game-breaking runner - and some boards think they have a shot at a guy like Bijan Robinson by the 19th pick - but in all honesty the team needs to improve the offensive line to give our existing RBs better running lanes to get through. White showed enough power and speed his rookie season to earn a starting gig for now. If the Bucs do draft, it will be in the later rounds.

LIKELY SPOT: Late (Sixth or Seventh Round)

WIDE RECEIVER: Having a starting duo in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin already makes this Bucs team a serious offensive threat. Russell Gage did not show much last season as a FA but he was overshadowed by Julio Jones (who never gelled). Past that, the Bucs ARE in dire need of receiver depth, and there's no guarantee they can re-sign (or if they should) FAs like Scotty Miller and Jones.

The Bucs could likely sign a veteran but it'll be no one worth a starting spot. Where the Bucs should think about WR is long-term: Evans is not getting younger, and Godwin is shaking off injuries, and either of them could become cap casualties sooner rather than later. Finding a reasonable rookie talent to develop - much how the Bucs got Godwin in the Third Round - should be a smart move. Lacking a Fourth Rounder, however, the Bucs may be forced to use a Third Rounder or else hope a decent rough diamond talent slides into the Fifth.

LIKELY SPOT: Mid-Rounds (Third or Fifth)

TIGHT END: Cutting Brate - and failing to tempt Gronk out of retirement in 2022 - pretty much devastates this roster spot to where we've only got Cade Otton and Ko Kieft (Codey McElroy has mostly been Practice Squad material). While Otton and Kieft (to my surprise) showed flashes of talent their rookie season, there's no guarantee either of them are ready as full-time starters.

Bucs could gamble on using a high draft pick to secure a starter-caliber TE, or gamble that Otton at least is ready for it and draft a low-round rookie to fill as backup. Given the needs elsewhere, I doubt the Bucs will gamble on a high pick. But don't be shocked if they do.

DRAFT NEED: High-Medium
LIKELY SPOT: Low (Fifth through Seventh Round)

OFFENSIVE TACKLE: Cutting Donovan Smith felt like a necessity. Not only for cap reasons, but because his performance backslid in 2022 after having shown great improvement when Brady showed up in 2020-21.

What this move does is leave the Bucs monstrously vulnerable at a vital OL position. Tackle is the pass-blocker protecting the QB from speedy Edge blitzers, as well as the outside run blockers helping the backs find open space. Right now we've got All-Pro Tristan Wirfs and backup Brandon Walton. Bucs can arguably move Wirfs to left-side but this leaves the Right Tackle spot untested and vulnerable. Drafting an Offensive Tackle who can start right away is now a high (arguably TOP) priority. And you honestly only get those types of players in the First and Second Rounds.

The way this draft is shaping up, a number of quality OTs could be there by the 19th pick (Darnell Wright, Anton Harrison, and Broderick Jones are common sights at that spot, and the fans would rejoice). A solid RT in college like Dawand Jones could be had in the Second Round. Past that, the Bucs are in trouble.

LIKELY SPOT: First or Second Round

OFFENSIVE GUARD/CENTER: In the modern NFL, the interior line is so interchangeable that a Guard could get coached into playing Center and nobody would notice, but sometimes drafting a pure Center would be better. Bucs are kind of in the need for either: C Ryan Jensen is coming off a bad injury last season and is starting to age out. Robert Hainsey covered for him most of the season and acquitted himself well, but he's a more natural fit at Guard.

In terms of Guard itself, Bucs traded away Mason as a cap casualty, but that left us lacking serious depth. Nick Leverett came in to replace a shaky rookie Luke Goedeke, who needs to step up Year Two to prove himself. Aaron Stinnie is still here as backup but can he be a starter? So there's no guarantees here.

Tampa Bay seriously needs to draft an interior lineman, it becomes a question of how low into the draft the team can risk that move. If only the Bucs had more picks in the Second or Third Rounds...

LIKELY SPOT: Low Rounds (Fifth or Sixth for Guard, Sixth or Seventh for Center)

DEFENSIVE LINE: In a 3-4 system the Bucs employ, the Tackle and End spots are kind of interchangeable when it comes to drafting guys IMHO, so either getting a solid DT or a solid DE works either way. Bucs are looking to see if Logan Hall improves his second year, but we're looking at departures with Akeem Hicks and William Gholston (the fans would be happy if Gholston comes back). We've lost backup Rakeem Nunez-Roches to FA so our depth at DT is noticeable. We do have an All-Pro caliber starter in Vita Vea, so in some respects drafting a DT is not a need. But getting another DE may be in the mix. It's all a question of where in the draft we'll make that move: There are too many needs elsewhere deserving higher picks.

LIKELY SPOT: Mid Rounds (Third or Fifth for DE)

EDGE/OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: The Bucs are three years into Joe Tyron-Shoyinka and there's been signs of being a good edge blitzing threat, but no consistency. Shaq Barrett was a dominant outside threat, but 2022 saw him go out with a bad injury that does not bode well for the future. While the Bucs re-signed Anthony Nelson, he's not as dominant a blitzer. As a result, the Bucs could arguably go big on drafting an Edge player at the 19th overall pick, as a number of high-value rookies like Will McDonald could slide down. If the Bucs hold off, they could get a raw developmental talent in the later rounds, but that'll mean we're relying on JTS to get that fifth gear turning.

LIKELY SPOT: First through Fifth Rounds

INSIDE LINEBACKER: Getting back Lavonte David is a major morale booster for the fanbase, and ensures our LB corps has reliable veteran smarts managing the defense. However, Devin White regressed a bit in 2022, and he needs to refocus to get back to his 2020-21 performance levels. In terms of depth, there's not much here, but late free agency veteran signing are more likely to fill those needs than any draft picks.

Still, if the Bucs are looking for long-term development, finding a late-round talent shouldn't be a problem.

LIKELY SPOT: Late (Sixth or Seventh Round)

CORNERBACK: Re-signing Dean relieved a lot of draft concerns for this spot. However, it means we're down to two reliable starters (Dean and Cartlon Davis) but questionable depth (with Zyom McCollum and Dee Delaney the only guys I recognize). Where drafting a CB in the First Round made sense before the FA period, drafting a quality CB by the mid-rounds is still a necessity. Again, we lack the high-end picks to pull this off. Damn the man...

LIKELY SPOT: Mid-Rounds (Third through Sixth)

SAFETY: the Bucs REALLY didn't sign too many guys long-term at this spot did we? Antoine Winfield Jr is the only official guy on roster. Everybody else - Mike Edwards, Logan Ryan, Keanu Neal - are FAs, and Edwards is arguably looking at serious money to go elsewhere. There's a chance Ryan or Neal comes back, but not both. Either way, drafting for depth here is the only sane move ahead. Problem is, there's not enough high-round picks to get a sure-fire starter. Good news is, most teams don't draft Safety until the later rounds, so if there's any decent depth slipping that late (by the Fifth Round at the earliest) the Bucs could surprise.

LIKELY SPOT: Low (Fifth through Seventh Rounds)

KICKER/PUNTER: Okay... Deep inhale. Stay calm. Stay relaxed.

I admit the Bucs need to draft a Kicker this year.

Okay, when you wake up from being stunned into unconsciousness, lemme explain. I KNOW I am not a huge fan of drafting special team kickers or punters who are only making 5-10 plays per game. I grumble a lot about the team drafting these guys, but I try not to go overboard about it (I still feel guilty about what happened to Aguayo, where I didn't have a problem with him being drafted, my problem was that Licht TRADED UP to get him and caused more pressure than needed).

I wasn't happy about the Bucs drafting a punter last year in the Fourth Round, but Jake Camarda proved himself above-and-above as the season progressed (and he honestly won a game with heads-up awareness we rarely see out of QBs for Gods sake). So I hope all is forgiven, Jake.

This year, the Bucs have to consider that Ryan Succop, long-term veteran who was key to the 2020 Super Bowl year, is finally aging out. In 2022, he was terrible in FG attempts outside of 50 yards away, which cut into our scoring chances in at least three of the games we lost. Bringing in a fresh leg as a kicker is the only practical move. Granted, the Bucs could get someone in Free Agency, but getting a rookie helps long-term.

The Bucs could be patient and hold out in drafting a kicker like Jake Moody by the late Sixth, but other teams with multiple late-round picks also in need of kickers could jump early. Waiting for one in the UFA rookie period is more likely, but Licht *loves* drafting a special teamers guy just to be sure he gets him, so...

LIKELY SPOT: Sixth or Seventh Round

So that's where I stand on how the Bucs should work the draft this April. Any mock drafts I come up with are going to pop up with constant frequency in the next couple weeks.

Comment below, you fiends.

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