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Buccaneers 2023 NFL Draft Needs 2.0

One week from the NFL Draft, which positions stand out as likely draft targets?

NFL Combine Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Jason Licht’s evolution as Buccaneers’ general manager is truly one of the more underrated narratives in the NFL.

He somehow navigated the tribulations of his early tenure, which featured prominent missteps like Jameis Winston and Roberto Aguayo, and he persevered to build an elite roster that lured Tom Brady and won the city of Tampa another Super Bowl.

He’s continued his good work this offseason given the limitations he’s been saddled with, retaining some key veterans and taking smart fliers to put the roster in respectable shape ahead of the draft in a week. Nobody will mistake this current outfit as a championship contender, but it doesn’t look like a franchise picking in the top 5 next year either.

Since there has been plenty of change since our last temperature check two months ago, let’s review the thermometer again to see how the Bucs’ draft needs may have shifted.


Prior Temp: Warm

Current Temp: Lukewarm

The Buccaneers brought in former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield to compete with former second-rounder Kyle Trask for the starting job, which presumably lessens the team’s desire to draft another signal-caller early.

They have hosted Will Levis and Hendon Hooker on top 30 visits, which is something to note, but it feels more like due diligence than anything else. The team also brought in Houston QB Clayton Tune, who might fit better as a low-investment Day 3 pick who can compete for the third spot on the depth chart.

It’s absolutely not out of the question, but it seems like the Bucs’ focus will largely be elsewhere come draft weekend.

Running Back

Prior Temp: Lukewarm

Current Temp: Lukewarm

The Bijan Robinson hype train has generated some steam in the last few weeks, as it seems that the exceptionally talented running back may fall within Tampa’s scheduled range. If there’s anyone who has a right to become Tampa’s first first-round running back since Doug Martin in 2012, it’s definitely Robinson.

That said, the team just invested a Day 2 pick last year in Rachaad White, who showed good potential despite operating within a terrible run game, and Licht has passed over several first-round running backs in the past (Dalvin Cook being most notable).

Is the Bijan dream dead for those who wish for it? Definitely not, but it would seem to be an outlier at this point. It feels more likely that the team may invest another pick here in rounds 3-5, where the draft is saturated with talent. Texas’s other running back, Roschon Johnson, has created some excitement himself, and he’s visited with the team – he projects as a third- or fourth-round pick.

The team has also met with Illinois running back Chase Brown.

Wide Receiver

Prior Temp: Lukewarm

Current Temp: Warm

The Bucs were never going to trade Mike Evans or Chris Godwin, and they decided to hang onto Russell Gage so they have a solidified starting 3.

However, the team has been very quiet on the free agency front when it comes to adding depth, and the only other receivers currently on the roster are special teamers Kaylon Geiger and Deven Thompkins. Other adds could certainly come after the draft, but it feels like the team may be destined to invest a Day 3 pick in the position for better depth and healthy competition.

Nebraska’s Trey Palmer, who’s projected to be a third- or fourth-rounder, fits the team’s needed archetype (fast with kick return ability) and attended Licht’s alma mater (he loves his Cornhuskers). Palmer also met with the team at the Scouting Combine and virtually.

No other visits have been reported yet, but the Bucs may look at Purdue’s Charlie Jones or Fresno State’s Jalen Moreno-Cropper if they want an underneath slot option. Other players with deep-threat profiles include Matt Landers of Arkansas and Dontayvion Wicks from Virginia.

Tight End

Prior Temp: Cool

Current Temp: Warm

I initially viewed this position group as one that may benefit from more veteran experience, but it seems like the team heartily disagrees with me so we’ll refine this viewpoint a bit.

The Bucs conducted formal interviews with all of this year’s top tight ends, either at the combine or by hosting them for top 30 visits. Licht, normally tight-lipped with pre-draft questions, hoisted notable praise on the group.

“Yeah, it’s probably one of the deepest [classes] it’s been in at least 10 years,” he said at his recent media availability. “Cade [Otton] could’ve had 100 catches last year and we’d still be looking at tight ends. We love the role that [tight end] Ko [Keift] has, and we love the role that Cade has, [but] it’s always good to have more weapons.”

Otton played well as a combo tight end, but the team might still be seeking a more dynamic downfield presence to pair with him and Kieft. If that’s the case, someone like Dalton Kincaid from Utah immediately sparks Round 1 interest, while South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft or Iowa’s Sam LaPorta may fit on Day 2. Cincinnati’s Josh Whyle is an enticing option on early Day 3.

Offensive Tackle

Prior Temp: Hot

Current Temp: Hot

How the team moves forward with the offensive line configuration for this season will largely hinge on the draft.

The Bucs will be within striking distance for at least a couple of the best players, and it seems likely they will be hard-pressed to pass on someone like Tennessee’s Darnell Wright, who they met with formally at the combine and hosted for a top 30 visit. Anton Harrison from Oklahoma is another option who they’ve shown strong interest in, and he may be an option at No. 19 or someone who’s a target after a trade-down.

Wright has more of a right tackle profile, so that might signal that Tristan Wirfs will kick over to the blind side. Harrison is the opposite, possessing an ideal left tackle tool kit.

Some possibilities may still exist on Day 2, like Syracuse’s Matthew Bergeron or BYU’s Blake Freeland. With the continued presence of Brandon Walton and the recent signing of Matt Feiler as potential swing tackles, it feels less likely that a pick would come on Day 3 where starting upside is limited.

Interior Offensive Line

Prior Temp: Lukewarm

Current Temp: Cool

When I said that Shaq Mason was a likely extension candidate before, I clearly meant trade candidate instead…yeah.

That surprising move aside, the team padded out the depth chart by bringing in Feiler and bringing back Aaron Stinnie and Nick Leverett. Add in Robert Hainsey, the returning Ryan Jensen, and Luke Goedeke, and the roster is pretty well-set on the interior.

If someone they really like falls into their laps on Day 2, will they think about it? Of course. However, Leverett played solid enough last year, Hainsey is someone who played well and has the coaching staff’s favor, and Goedeke will get another chance to prove himself. Feiler may fit better as a tackle but he has extensive experience starting at guard as well.

The team has worked hard to develop its offensive linemen in-house, and I don’t think they’re going to be short on patience now in a reload year. This group really feels like Day 3/UDFA priority right now.

Defensive Line

Prior Temp: Warm

Current Temp: Warm

The Bucs did sign former Rams tackle Greg Gaines in free agency, which is a sneaky good deal. They also brought back Deadrin Senat and Pat O’Connor for perfectly fine depth.

The team could use another high-upside youngster in the room to play some snaps with presumed starters Gaines, Logan Hall, and Vita Vea. As last year’s top pick, Hall was largely quiet before putting it together in the final few games, but going from a light rotation piece to a full-time starter is a big ask in this defense.

Gaines is also on just a one-year deal, so having an eye toward the future would be prudent. The team is doing its homework in this area, interviewing Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adeboware at the combine and hosting him for a top 30 visit. The athletic anomaly is a near-lock to be a top-50 pick, so that’s worth keeping in mind.

Other late Day 2 options include South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens and Bowling Green’s Karl Brooks, both of whom have been interviewed.

Edge Rusher

Prior Temp: Very Warm

Current Temp: Hot

It’s not often that head coach Todd Bowles shows notable irritation, but he absolutely did so when he spoke about the team’s pass rush at the combine.

“...when Shaq [Barrett] went down, it was kind of a letdown,” Bowles said. “I thought [Anthony] Nelson did some good things as did Joe [Tryon-Shoyinka] but from an experience standpoint, just getting back there consistently – I think we’ve got to get better there.”

Barrett is on track for a full recovery from his Achilles tear, but that’s a tough injury for a 31-year-old to bounce back from. Plus, he may be a cap casualty next year anyway. Tryon-Shoyinka needs to improve his finishing ability, and Nelson is a fine rotational piece but hardly someone who strikes fear into offenses.

Synthesize this information with the fact that Tampa has extensively interviewed this year’s crop of edge rushers and hosted first-round talents like Nolan Smith and Lukas Van Ness on top 30 visits, and it sure seems like something the Bucs are going to be ready to address. While the popular first-round names may not line up with their draft slot, Day 2 options like Felix Anudike-Uzomah and LSU’s B.J. Ojulari absolutely should.

Either way, an edge rusher within the top 100 picks feels like a good bet.

Inside Linebacker

Prior Temp: Hot

Current Temp: Lukewarm

Lavonte David deciding to presumably finish his career as a lifelong Buccaneer was an incredibly pleasant surprise. He’s still got some gas in his 33-year-old tank, and he staves off the need for one starter for another year.

His younger counterpart is another story, unfortunately. Devin White formally requested a trade recently due to his unhappiness with his contract situation, as he is currently set to play on his fifth-year option. Bowles still thinks the world of him though, and the team isn’t going to trade him unless they’re offered strong compensation – which most clubs seem unlikely to meet given White’s large cap number and frustrating lack of consistent production.

The need for this position will be scolding hot in a year, but for now it seems like the coaches are once again content with David and White as its starters. Could they seek an insurance policy this year on Day 2? Possibly, but they’re not going to panic-pick someone either. Outside of Arkansas’s Drew Sanders, the Bucs have spoken with more Day 3 types like Indiana’s Cam Jones, Pittsburgh’s Sirvocea Dennis, and TCU’s Dee Winters.


Prior Temp: Hot

Current Temp: Warm

Licht pulled off a major upset by retaining Jamel Dean on a great 4-year deal. One of the top 25 corners in the NFL stays in Tampa to pair with Carlton Davis, who remains a good player in his own right.

That signing takes major heat off this position for the draft. The team could still use a nickel back after Sean Murphy-Bunting departed for Tennessee, but that’s still better than needing that plus a starting outside corner. They may view Dee Delaney as a capable player there, but it does seem like a Day 2 or early Day 3 pick feels warranted.

The team has canvassed the gamut since draft season began, likely bracing for the loss of Dean, so they at least have a good knowledge base to operate with. Illinois’s Jartavius Martin met with the team and has an ideal profile for playing inside at the next level, as does USC’s Mekhi Blackmon.


Prior Temp: Warm

Current Temp: Hot

The Bucs subtracted Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal, and then made an unexpected splash with the addition of Ryan Neal.

Neal was one of the breakout stars of last season for the Seattle Seahawks, and he creates a fantastic starting tandem with Antoine Winfield, Jr. As refreshing as that is to see, the team still needs a lot of reinforcement.

They need another player who can rotate in prominently, given the team’s preference for 3-safety looks, and just depth in general. And while an extension with Winfield seems likely, nothing is guaranteed until the ink is dry. Neal is also on a one-year deal so his long-term presence isn’t assured either.

This safety class is fairly shallow, but there are worthwhile players if you look in the right spots. Brian Branch stands above as the only first-round caliber safety, though he might fill the team’s need at slot corner more so than back deep.

Day 2 would likely be more third round than second, with players like Alabama’s Jordan Battle, Iowa State’s Anthony Johnson, Jr. and Illinois’s Sydney Brown standing out amongst the group. Day 3 options might yield the best value with names like Jammie Robinson (Florida State), Ji’Ayir Brown (Penn State), and Brandon Hill (Pittsburgh).

Overall, the Bucs can stay open to trades and/or selecting the best player available, rather than reaching for needs. The roster has good talent in place, but multiple positions stick out as worthy of high-profile investment.

Given all of what was just laid out, if you asked me right now, I’d rank the top 3 “hot” needs as follows:

  1. Tackle
  2. Edge
  3. Safety

We saw how poor tackle play derailed the offense last season, and having a good offensive line is always a worthwhile investment regardless of who’s taking snaps under center, running routes, or handling carries. Picking some who can pair with Wirfs for the next 5 years should absolutely be a key focus.

Edge and safety are close, but pass rush means so much and the team simply needs more of it. Barrett and Tryon-Shoyinka are not sure things to produce what the defense requires, and having to rely so heavily on the blitz is going to hang the corners and safeties out to dry just like it did in 2022.

You have two starting safeties for the season, which is a great foundation. The roster needs a good third man like Mike Edwards, along with at least one other name for depth and special teams. Does the group need investment come the weekend of April 27th? Undoubtedly, but it’s likely not going to make or break the unit’s chance of success like the prior two collectives.

What do you think, Bucs Nation? Is this thermometer accurate, or do you view the team’s priorities differently? And who are some targets you’re most excited about? Let us know in the comments below!