It’s finally here! The NFL Draft kicks off this Thursday. A year ago the Bucs got it started by taking Jameis Winston to be the QB of the offense and the face of the franchise. Year one was a definite success, but Jameis has been working harder this offseason to continue on the path of reaching his goal of becoming one of the best. The Bucs also appear to have scored with their next three picks. Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet are key pieces of a rebuilt offensive line, and Kwon Alexander made free agent signing Bruce Carter irrelevant. Kenny Bell is the best of the rest, but he’s still an unknown after missing all of last year.
They’d be extremely fortunate to go 4 for 4 again this year. I want to see a fast receiver and OL depth added, but the majority of their needs are on the defensive side of the ball. They need a talent infusion at every level of this defense. I expect them to take two defensive linemen, two defensive backs, and at least one linebacker. Do they have enough picks to hit every need? Do you really expect Jason Licht to not make a deal, especially now that he’s calling all the shots?
Here’s how I see (most of) the first round playing out as well as what I would do with all of the Bucs 9, yes 9, draft picks.
1) LAR – Jared Goff (QB, Cal)
After conflicting initial reports, it looks like the Rams will take the local-ish guy.
2) PHI (via CLE) – Carson Wentz (QB, N Dakota St)
I’ve been on the ‘Philly could take a QB’ wagon for a while, and this trade just made too much sense. They want a QB, and the Browns apparently didn’t.
3) SD – DeForest Buckner (DL, Oregon)
Why not Tunsil? No, King Dunlap isn’t Walter Jones, but the Chargers are already three deep at tackle with he, Barksdale, and Hairston. Franklin can also play the position too if needed. I think Ramsey is more likely than Tunsil. Buckner fills their largest hole and is best available in the eyes of some.
4) DAL – Jalen Ramsey (DB, FSU)
Jerry Jones giddily giddys up to the podium and takes my #1 player in the draft. Huge upgrade over bust Claiborne at corner. I’d have a tough time trying to guess what they do between Bosa and Elliott if Ramsey is gone.
5) JAX – Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
Search John Thornton on Twitter. His knee looks good to me. Why not Tunsil? The Jags already have Kelvin Beachum and Luke Joeckel fighting for that spot. How many more games do they win by taking Tunsil instead of a defensive player?
6) BAL – Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
Maybe somebody trades up to 5 to get him, but I don’t think BAL budges if he makes it to them. Eugene Monroe is looking for work before Tunsil hugs Goodell.
7) SF – Joey Bosa (DL, Ohio State)
With Tanka Carradine moving to a stand up rusher role, bodies are needed up front. Bosa slides into a 5-technique role, one formerly filled by Justin Smith, a player to whom Bosa has drawn comparisons.
8) CLE (via PHI) – Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
There’s really no wrong pick for this team. They need help absolutely everywhere. Here they take the draft’s best back and the best public relations pick. A tackle wouldn’t be a surprise, and them taking one would give more credence to my proposition below.
9) TEN (via TB) – Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
It’s an easy trade to project and one that might actually have legs with talk that the Titans do want to move back up, their supposed interest in a tackle, the increasing buzz of 3 tackles going in the top 10, and the relationship between Licht and Robinson. What would be awesome but unlikely is if Paxton Lynch goes in the top 8 and both Elliott and at least one of the tackles are still there at 9. CHI, MIA, TEN, and DET could all be interested trade partners if that were the case. I don’t believe the Bucs will be able to get one of the Titans R2 picks though unless a bidding war develops. If they can (say pick #45) then that’s a heck of a move by Licht. I think they settle for the fair price of the 64th (R3) and 140th (R5) picks. And no, there’s not a player on the board right now who would prevent me from making this trade.
10) NYG – Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State)
After taking LT Flowers last year, they lock down RT with Conklin. This potential pick is a reason I think the Titans (or someone else) will try to get into the bottom of the top 10. The top 3 tackles are going to go quickly.
11) CHI – Jarran Reed (DL, Alabama)
Here’s my first real surprise of the draft. Reed joins last year’s R2 pick Eddie Goldman as cornerstones for a rebuilt defensive front.
12) NO – Sheldon Rankins (DT, Louisville)
The Saints biggest need up front is a defensive tackle who can boost a sagging run defense and putrid pass rush. Enter Rankins.
13) MIA – William Jackson III (CB, Houston)
This might seem high for Jackson, but my premise is that NFL front offices are higher on Jackson than draft pundits. He’s my favorite DB not named Ramsey.
14) OAK – Chris Jones (DL, Mississippi State)
I loved this pick when McShay or Kiper did it on their live special. Their biggest need is along the defensive line, specifically at the end position. Jones could end up being the best interior lineman of this class.
15) TB (via TEN)
If I had to stay at 9, I would take Rankins. After him it’s Jackson or Conklin. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with that, but there’s not another player (Lawson, Hargreaves, Apple) who better fills a need in my opinion. Lawson isn’t someone to partner with Smith at RE, and I don’t like Hargreaves or Apple enough. The pick gets tougher for me here at 15, but I like having the extra selections acquired in the trade.
Spence, Lawson, Ogbah, and Dodd are the best remaining pass rushers, and Spence is the only one who I believe fits what the Bucs truly need. Has he screwed up? Obviously. Is he still a concern? Couldn’t tell you. Since I haven’t and won’t speak to the young man, I choose to believe what I’m not reading. I’m not reading about him getting into any more trouble. I’m not reading anyone go on record speaking against him. I’ll assume he’s not toxic until told otherwise.
What about the interior guys? There’s a group of seven players I could see the Bucs focusing on –
Let’s eliminate some of them.
Reed and Jones are already off the board, I won’t spend a lot of time discussing them here. I think Reed might be the safest DL pick in the entire draft, and I’ve already mentioned Jones as a potential top producer.
I absolutely do not want them to draft Nkemdiche. I’m going to count on an underperforming, jumping 15 feet out of windows, biggest risk of the draft 21 year old?? Not a chance.
Part of me worries that Clark isn’t wide enough to play at a high level as a 3-4 end, but he’ll be a fine 1-technique as a run stuffer. How much better is he going to get as a pass rusher, and how many other options are there with higher ceilings and as much or less uncertainty?
I’m not sure you can go wrong with any of the remaining three.
Billings is the strongest guy in this draft and is a plug-and-play NT in both three and four man fronts. I think he can be contributor on passing downs, but while his floor appears to be high, how high is the ceiling? What I like most about Butler is his agility for a guy that’s 320 lbs. He engulfs ball carriers with his big body and huge wingspan. Billings is more of a “blow you up” kind of hitter, which is probably why he suffered more broken tackles than Butler.
I see Jones and Bullard both as bull rushers with plus quickness, best off as 3-techniques with the ability to be 5-techniques. While I think Bullard can be a 5-technique, I’m initially more confident in Jones in that regard due to his body type. Jones is also more likely to run over a blocker than Bullard and less likely to be handled 1-on-1. But Bullard was a stud against the run and shows you plenty of penetration potential.
So what does any of this mean, other than that I had a hard time establishing a favorite? If I’m trying to find the highest ceiling while making sure the floor isn’t too low and the player best fits what the team needs, this pick comes down to –
What to do with Spence? I think 15-30 is more his range than the top half of the round, and that’s only if he’s had a clean screening. He’s not a 3 down player at the moment but would pair well with Smith at RE.
Billings makes McCoy’s life a lot easier. He’s only 21 years old and is already a dominant presence without much of a clue as to the finer points of the position.
Butler is a personal favorite. He might not be the physical brute that Billings is, but his gifts are tempting. Smith, Hayes, and Spicer could develop a special player.
Bullard is the best remaining combination of penetration and run defense. The path isn’t clear at the moment, but he does have three-down ability.
My first cut comes down to risk/reward. Spence is the riskiest pick, and that’s not even counting character. Then it comes down to impact and path to playing time. The Bucs must improve their penetration and pocket collapsing. All three would make an impact there, but what about the path to playing time? Butler and Billings check that column, and I see higher potential in the former than the latter. It’s not a simple decision or a popular outcome, but it’s how I see things.
15) TB (via TEN) – Vernon Butler (DL, Louisiana Tech)
Butler is massive. He measured in at the Combine at 6’4”, 323 lbs, with 35 1/8 arms. He has great movement for that size and displays an impressive combination of power and finesse. When the rest of his technique is right (footwork, pad level, leverage, etc), he sheds well with his hands and uses his enormous length to get extension from blockers. Butler has the tools, but he’s very raw. He must learn to play with better leverage and the desired pad level more consistently. He’s reportedly a really good person and a dedicated individual which tends to indicate that the kid is coachable. Butler uses a nice bull rush, but a guy with his strength needs to be more violent with his hands and arms as a pass rusher. I see a player who can start right away next to McCoy and be the first step to improving an anemic pass rush, both directly and indirectly.
Here are my top 15 players for the Bucs –
1. Jalen Ramsey (DB, FSU)
2. Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
3. Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
4. DeForest Buckner (DL, Oregon)
5. Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
6. Sheldon Rankins (DT, Louisville)
7. Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
8. William Jackson III (CB, Houston)
9. Jack Conklin (T, Michigan St)
10. Vernon Butler (DL, Louisiana Tech)
11. Jarran Reed (DL, Alabama)
12. Chris Jones (DL, Mississippi St)
13. Andrew Billings (DL, Baylor)
14. Jonathan Bullard (DL, Florida)
15. Noah Spence (DE, E Kentucky)
Assuming his knee isn’t wrecked, I don’t have a problem taking Myles Jack. Smith would find a way to get a special talent on the field for as many snaps as possible. I think Jackson will be the second best corner in this class, and I’ve warmed to the thought of Conklin playing RT opposite Smith. The difference between 10 and 14 is not that great.
Here’s what I do with all of the draft picks –
R1 (15) – Vernon Butler (DL, Louisiana Tech)
6’4”, 323 lbs with 35 1/8 inch arms
John Henderson to Gerald McCoy’s Marcus Stroud
R2 (39) – Sterling Shepard (WR, Oklahoma)
41 inch vertical; tied for position best at Combine
Career drop rate of 2.5% of targeted passes
R3 (64) (via TEN) – Sean Davis (S, Maryland) or DeAndre Houston-Carson (S, William & Mary)
Both 6’1”, 201
3 and 4 year starters; hybrid CB/S types
R3 (74) – Matt Judon (DE, Grand Valley State)
6’3”, 275; ran 4.73 40, 1.66 10 yd split, 30 reps, 35 inch vertical
Led country with 20 sacks in 2015
R4 (108) – Joe Schobert (LB, Wisconsin)
From walk-on to second team All American
Can rush the passer, cover, and play special teams
R5 (140) (via TEN) – James Bradberry (CB, Samford) or Deiondre Hall (CB, N Iowa)
33 3/8 and 34 3/8 inch arms
Hybrid CB/S types who play the run
R5 (148) – Joe Thuney (OL, NC State)
Played every position on the OL
Athletic, versatile 3 year starter
R6 (183) – Keith Marshall (RB, Georgia)
Balanced strength-speed runner
3 more bench reps than Derrick Henry (25 to 22)
R6 (197) – Aaron Wallace (LB, UCLA)
Athlete learning the game of football
Pass rushing SLB depth
Here’s a list of my favorite players for the Bucs by position –
Dak Prescott, Kevin Hogan, Brandon Allen, Jacoby Brissett
Glenn Gronkowski, Dan Vitale, Derek Watt, Andy Janovich, Will Ratelle
Keith Marshall, Daniel Lasco, Tra Carson, Brandon Wilds
Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson, Sterling Shepard, Braxton Miller, Keyarris Garrett, Tajae Sharpe, Roger Lewis, Cody Core
Laremy Tunsil, Ronnie Stanley, Jack Conklin, Shon Coleman, Le’Raven Clark, Brandon Shell
Joe Dahl, Joe Thuney, Jack Allen, Ted Karras, Kyle Friend, Parker Ehinger
Noah Spence, Kevin Dodd, Emmanuel Ogbah, Shilique Calhoun, Matt Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, Jason Fanaika, Alex McCalister, Victor Ochi
Sheldon Rankins, Victor Butler, Jarran Reed, Chris Jones, Andrew Billings, Jonathan Bullard, Kenny Clark, Javon Hargrave, Sheldon Day, Jihad Ward
Joe Schobert, Aaron Wallace, De’Vondre Campbell
Jalen Ramsey, William Jackson III, Mackensie Alexander, Xavien Howard, Jonathan Jones, James Bradberry, Deiondre’ Hall, Jalen Mills, Morgan Burns
Karl Joseph, Sean Davis, Justin Simmons, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Tyvis Powell