Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Licht Work

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 –
Jarran Reed
Chris Jones
Robert Nkemdiche
Kenny Clark
Vernon Butler
Andrew Billings
Jonathan Bullard

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 –

Noah Spence
Andrew Billings
Vernon Butler
Jonathan Bullard

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, Vernon 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

Go Bucs!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Options at 9

The plan all franchises strive to follow every year is to fill roster holes in free agency while taking a best available talent approach and not getting pigeonholed into particular positions in the draft.  Resign your own free agents, and scan the market to address draft failures.  As I expected them to do, the Bucs addressed but did not necessarily solve their biggest areas of weakness in free agency.  Licht’s strategy of not being beholden to a signing after year two of the deal is something we all need to put in our memory banks for projecting offseason activity going forward.  Finding bargains isn’t the goal.  Avoiding crippling contracts is. 

Re-signing Doug Martin was their highest priority, and that was accomplished sensibly by both sides.  The Bucs did well to wrap it up before Martin hit the open market.  With the money Chris Ivory got, Martin could have played it out for more money.  If the Bucs don’t resign Bobby Rainey, they still need another RB that could play early down role.  That said, I’d be shocked if they spent anything higher than a R6 pick on the position, and even that would be a bit of a surprise. 

With Bradley McDougald, Keith Tandy, and Chris Conte resigned, the usual suspects will all return from last year.  Major Wright isn’t a roster lock now that Lovie’s gone.  McDougald ($2.5 mil) and Conte ($3 mil) are being paid as starting SS and FS, respectively, so I think they’re done in free agency.  I think they’ll start to look at the position in the draft as early as R3 for someone who can take over the FS position in ’17. 

The JR Sweezy acquisition is their best non-resign so far.  He replaces Logan Mankins at LG, giving the Bucs another young, big, athletic lineman.  He’s certainly more ideal than having Kevin Pamphile learn on the job.  The interior of the offensive line is good enough to head to camp, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a late round pick being spent on it. 

I’m fine with the Robert Ayers deal, given the available options and the understanding that the Bucs weren’t going to go crazy for Olivier Vernon.  I wanted William Hayes to be the guy they paired with William Gholston, but Ayers will do the trick.  What I like best about the Ayers/Gholston pairing is that both of those guys have interior ability.  Ayers alleviates the need for an inside guy to help Gerald McCoy push the pocket. 

I’m not a fan of the Brent Grimes deal.  His familiarity with Mike Smith will help, but the Bucs should have aimed higher.  I believe that a plan or model should allow for outliers, and if they were going to extend a bit somewhere, I would have liked them to do it here.  Sean Smith’s deal with OAK (4 yr, $38 mil) wasn’t at all exorbitant, and Casey Hayward signed inexpensively with San Diego (3 yr, $15.3 mil).  I would have even liked to have seen them in on Prince Amukamara (JAX 1 yr, $5 mil).  In addition to not being high on Grimes’ ability, the situation with his wife can’t be ignored either.  It’s a matter of when not if she becomes a distraction.  I just think there were/are plenty of better, more talented options to pursue.  Josh Robinson was a nice depth signing, but it won’t alter the Bucs draft plans one bit.  This is a position group I believe they should have set themselves up better with heading into the draft. 
Daryl Smith was just signed today on a one year deal.  That’s pretty much an expected move, a familiar face with scheme familiarity.  He’s probably got the inside track on the SLB job by default.  They’ll likely add another free agent linebacker and spend a draft pick on one. 

Turning our attention to pick #9, we’re not exactly sure which positions and players they’re highest on, but since we can eliminate QB, RB, TE, G, and C at the start, then a bit of work is already done for us. 
LB, WR, and S are unlikely as well.  Myles Jack isn’t falling to the Bucs, but if by some miracle he does, I’m sprinting to Goodell with his name on the card.  Would enough offensive and defensive lineman be drafted ahead of 9 that would make Laquon Treadwell or Corey Coleman serious options?  I doubt it, but I wouldn’t rule it out 100%.  The only one of these three positions I’d rule out for sure is safety because unless Jalen Ramsey is busted with hookers and blow on April 27, he’s not going to be there at 9.  No other safety is likely to go in R1 let alone the top ten. 

That means the player the Bucs take at 9 will, in all likelihood, play OT, DE, DT, or CB. 

Now let’s step through the first 8 picks.

1 – TEN – Jalen Ramsey
I’m switching from Laremy Tunsil.  Normally you wouldn’t take a DB over a LT, but I think there’s some decent reasoning to do so in this instance.  First off, call me biased, but I still have Ramsey as the best player in this draft.  I’m not alone in that opinion.  Second, the Titans have what is likely the league’s worst secondary.  Yes, even worse than Tampa Bay’s.  Lastly, Taylor Lewan is already one of the better LTs in the game.  They definitely need to do something at RT, but moving Lewan there probably isn’t the best move.  Aside from that not being his natural position (I think he played there one year Michigan), when his deal runs out after ‘17, they’d have to grossly raise the price of the RT market in order to keep him over someone who a team that could play him at LT.  I can’t blame anyone for going with Tunsil, but I believe that taking the draft’s best player to lead your worst position group and drafting a RT in R2 or R3 is the way to go.    

2 – CLE – Carson Wentz
There was talk of Colin Kaepernick wanting to play for Hue Jackson, but latest word is that he’s not inspired by their offseason.  He may be positioning for a better deal, or it may mean that Denver has a better chance of landing him.  I’ll take Denver over Cleveland in any contest, so the Browns will likely still need a QB when they’re on the clock.  I’m not convinced either Wentz or Goff is going to be an All Pro, but can the Browns really afford not to take a shot at the head of this year’s class?    

3 – SD – Laremy Tunsil
The Chargers are better off with King Dunlap as their third tackle, and drafting a stud LT like Tunsil is like adding another offensive weapon for Philip Rivers.  Depending on what Denver ends up doing on the offensive side of the ball the rest of this offseason, that division could be up for grabs in ’16.  Adding Tunsil and getting healthy seasons from guards Orlando Franklin and DJ Fluker would go a long way in helping Rivers get the ball downfield to Keenan Allen and their big free agent acquisition, Travis Benjamin. 

4 – DAL – Joey Bosa
I’ve got to think they take a defensive lineman here.  Greg Hardy won’t be back, Randy Gregory is suspended, and Demarcus Lawrence is coming back from a reportedly serious back surgery.  You can’t have too many pass rushers, and drafting Bosa would give them three young and relatively inexpensive ones.  If Bosa isn’t their guy, I’d go with Jack over Ezekiel Elliott. 

5 – JAX – Myles Jack
He’s the best player on the board and gives Jacksonville another stud to go with newly signed Malik Jackson and second year rookie Dante Fowler.  Jacksonville’s defense just got a ton better.  I could see them taking Bosa if Jack goes at 4 instead. 

6 – BAL – DeForest Buckner
For me this comes down to two players – Buckner and Ronnie Stanley.  Losing Kelechi Osemele was a big blow to the OL, but they still have Eugene Monroe at LT, the position Stanley would play.  Is cutting Monroe and drafting Stanley a better move than keeping Monroe and drafting a defensive building block?  I’d have a hard time saying yes.

7 – SF – Jared Goff
Trent Baalke and Chip Kelly are both unpredictable when it comes to personnel moves, but the way this board has played out gives them a shot at the local product.  Could they really take a tackle or wide receiver over Goff here?  I’m assuming Kaepernick isn’t in the equation for SF come the first night of the draft. 

8 – PHI – Ronnie Stanley
While Ezekiel Elliott would be a nice story, I think the Eagles will begin planning for life after Jason Peters (which I think starts in ‘17) by taking a LT.  Corner is a big area of need, but I don’t think Hargreaves, Alexander, Jackson, or Apple is worth a top 10 pick.  A defensive lineman wouldn’t surprise me, but I think Stanley is the way to go.

Recap –
1 – TEN – Jalen Ramsey
2 – CLE – Carson Wentz
3 – SD – Laremy Tunsil
4 – DAL – Joey Bosa
5 – JAX – Myles Jack
6 – BAL – DeForest Buckner
7 – SF – Jared Goff
8 – PHI – Ronnie Stanley

That might be the worst case scenario for the Bucs with the top talent at their greatest areas of need coming off the board.  While my predictions may not turn out to be correct, I like my chances of at least 6 of those players going in the top 8, and that’s really all that matters when it comes to projecting who will be available at 9.  My favorites of that group are Ramsey, Tunsil, Jack, and Stanley.  If any of them is available, we stop the discussion here and start thinking about #39. 

What’s the best of what’s left?

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State) – Not with Martin resigned; scratch him
Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State) – Best left at the position, but not best value
Shaq Lawson (DE, Clemson) – Potential shoulder issue; does the Clemson stigma scare off the Bucs?
Emmanuel Ogbah (DE, Oklahoma State) – Is this too high for him? 
Kevin Dodd (DE, Clemson) – Clemson stigma and one year of production in college
Noah Spence (DE, E Kentucky) – Is his fall perceived or real?
Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State) & William Jackson III (CB, Houston) – This is too high for them, right? 
Sheldon Rankins (DT, Louisville) – Would he be best available in this scenario?

Who do they pick?  Let’s go through some more process of elimination.

I’m not a fan of taking any DB not named Jalen Ramsey in the top 10.  I’m not big on Hargreaves, and as I mentioned earlier, I think the upper echelon of the position is fairly even.  I’d rather the Bucs wait until later in the draft to draft a large corner who can learn behind Grimes and Banks. 

If you believe the guys at Pewter Report, the Bucs are a lot higher on Jacquies Smith than most fans are.  Whether or not you agree with the Bucs stance, this is something that can’t be ignored.  Point being, they may not view acquiring a pass rusher as their #1 priority.  Depth?  Yes.  But starter?  Maybe not.  If they wait until the middle rounds to take an edge rusher, it doesn’t mean they’re crazy.  It means they really like what they have in Smith. 

Knowing that, is Spence a risk the Bucs deem worth taking?  Is he not a risk at all, and this negative talk is just talk?  I’m sure teams’ opinions of this guy are all over the place, and I have no way of knowing how the Bucs feel about him.  All I can really say for sure is that I do not feel comfortable making him the pick any longer.  I’m not big on Lawson.  I don’t think he has a high enough ceiling for this spot, and there’s a recent report that he has to have his shoulder rechecked.    

If the Bucs do take a DE with this pick, I believe it will come down to Dodd and Ogbah.  Dodd has the Clemson thing going against him as well as the fact that he only had one big season in college, but I saw him as a consistent factor week in and week out this year.  I think Lawson benefitted more from him than vice versa.  Ogbah is intriguing.  I don’t believe he gets enough credit for the total package he brings, and with pro coaching, the sky could be the limit for this guy. 

It’s just that as I sit here right now, I’m having trouble convincing myself that taking either one would be the best use of this pick.  It’s like going to buy a car and leaving with the model you want but not the color you want.  All the way home you’re wondering if you made the right choice.  Then throw in the Bucs love of Smith.  Do they have an easy time passing on an end in this situation? 

I now go back and answer my question about Rankins.  Yes, I believe he is best available here.  I think his game compares very favorably to Geno Atkins, a stud who has been coached his entire career by Jay Hayes, the guy the Bucs brought in this offseason to coach up their front four.  Rankins addresses the need for an interior penetrator to pair with McCoy.  Yes, there’s depth at the DT position in this draft, but if I can get the best one, I’ll do it and be happy about it. 

This would lead me to go with a remaining draft of –

R2 (#39) – Shilique Calhoun (DE, Michigan State)
This assumes Dodd and Ogbah are off the board.  Calhoun is a speed rusher I think would make an excellent partner to Smith at the weak end position.  I think that he disappeared when getting overpowered, but he has a ton to work with if he can take to pro coaching.  Lot of potential here. 

R3 (#74) – Sterling Shepard (WR, Oklahoma)
Shepard is a smaller receiver with tremendous hands and concentration out of the slot.  He possesses ankle breaking stop-start ability and is an incredibly quick receiver.  I’d still love to draft Braxton Miller, but I’d feel better about addressing the DE position before R3 than I would WR, based on the available talent. 
There aren’t a lot of changes with the rest of my draft. 

R4 (#108) – Joe Schobert (LB, Wisconsin)
R5 (#148) – James Bradberry (CB, Samford)
R6 (#183) – Justin Simmons (FS, Boston College)
R6 (#197) – Joe Dahl (OL, Washington State)

I’ve still got Schobert as the LB to draft, and I think he’d make a nice student behind Daryl Smith at the SLB spot.  He could be a good fit as a pass rusher and in coverage depending on what Mike Smith wants to do.  Bradberry was my top alternate pick in R5 last time, and since I think Simmons can be a had a little later, I’ll now slot Bradberry in there as the guy to take.  The thought behind taking these two is that the Bucs would have that young, big corner to learn behind Banks and Grimes and a FS to back up / push Conte.  Dahl sticks as potential guard and tackle depth. 

Summary –
R1 (#9) – Sheldon Rankins (DT, Louisville)
R2 (#39) – Shilique Calhoun (DE, Michigan State)
R3 (#74) – Sterling Shepard (WR, Oklahoma)
R4 (#108) – Joe Schobert (LB, Wisconsin)
R5 (#148) – James Bradberry (CB, Samford)
R6 (#183) – Justin Simmons (FS, Boston College)
R6 (#197) – Joe Dahl (OL, Washington State)

They get two defensive linemen and two defensive backs, the areas I believe are in most need of long term attention.  The slot receiver void is addressed with a guy who would flourish in underneath zones created by Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson.  A linebacker with pass rush and coverage skills and an offensive lineman with some position flexibility provide depth to an improved roster. 

Everyone will be thrilled if this year’s draft class is as impactful as last year’s.  I believe this grouping of players gives the Bucs guys who can make an instant impact and, as Mike Smith likes to do, take advantage of mismatches on that side of the ball.  It’s not a championship roster yet, but they’re headed in the right direction. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

2016 Buccaneers Offseason - 'Mon Back

Back up the truck.  In the NFL world of stock values, the Bucs are trending upward.  They finally have a QB the franchise can take pride in saying, ‘Yeah he’s our guy’.  They acted decisively (and correctly) in cutting ties with Lovie Smith and an outdated way of thinking.  They’re a competitive team with young talent on both sides of the ball (Winston, Evans, Marpet, Smith, McCoy, David, Alexander), a lot of money to spend ($49,392,453) and the 9th pick in the first round of the draft. 

Of the Bucs free agents, I put them in these categories –
Let go – Henry Melton, Tony McDaniel, Chris Conte, Mike Jenkins, Danny Lansanah, Larry English, TJ Fatinikun, and DaQuan Bowers

Bring back at low cost – Bobby Rainey, Keith Tandy, Bradley McDougald, Russell Shepard, Jovorskie Lane, Jeremiah George, and Andrew DePaola

Sign em – Sterling Moore, Jacquies Smith

Keep him…I think – Doug Martin

Of those names the Bucs #1 priority is to retain the league’s second leading rusher.  Not picking up Martin’s extra year was obviously a bad move in hindsight.  After not tagging Martin for nearly $12 mil, the options now are to sign him to a 3-4 year deal averaging a guesstimated $6 mil or find a replacement in the draft or free agency.  Given the Bucs needs at other positions, the available replacements in the draft and free agency, and their available cap space, I try to sign Martin to a 3 year deal maxing out at $20 million. 

Given that take on the team’s free agents and the assumptive resigning of Martin, I have the Bucs needs (in priority order) as – DE, S, WR, CB, OT, DT, LB, G/C

If the Bucs are to make a non-Martin splash in free agency I expect it to happen in the secondary, and I’d go as far as saying that signing a starting boundary corner is a must.  Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks should both be back, but of the two, I’m only slightly convinced that Banks can be a starter in a scheme that I believe will look for more length and bump ability from its boundary and field corners. I’d have Verner and Moore fight it out for nickel/dime duties, and if Verner won’t take a pay cut, replace him with one of the many cheaper alternatives.  Of the available free agents I prefer Casey Hayward and Sean Smith.  Hayward can play both inside and outside the formation, and Smith is the larger cover man type I think they’ll begin to target.  If their focus is more on nickel play, I would opt for either Patrick Robinson or Brandon Boykin.  Either would immediately be the best slot corner on the team. 

The safety position is in horrible shape.  I believe they need to find a starter not named Conte in free agency and spend a draft pick on the position as well.  I like Tandy and McDougald as depth, but they’ve been playing too many snaps.  George Iloka is the free agent I’d target first, with Walter Thurmond and Tashaun Gipson as alternatives.   I prefer the flexibility of Iloka (FS/SS) and Thurmond (FS/CB) and believe the defense improves greatly with Iloka’s physical style ranging the back of the defense. 

Staying on that side of the ball and focusing on the ‘not going crazy in free agency’ theme, I really like free agent DE William Hayes.  I mentioned him as an option for the Bucs last offseason, and after another 5.5 sacks in part time duty with the Rams, he’s still worthy.  I believe that pairing him with Will Gholston on the strong side would lock down that position, allowing the Bucs to focus on the Leo / weak side end in the draft.  Smith returns as a contributor on that side, but ideally he rotates in behind an upgrade.  Jason Pierre-Paul and Mario Williams are the kind of free agents I’d target (guys coming off down years who I think can still play at a high level), but with the lack of quality free agent rushers, they’ll likely get paid.  I’d rather pay DBs, positions that in recent years have seen their markets be slower to develop than pass rushers. 

On the interior of the DL, the Bucs return three quality players in Gerald McCoy, Akeem Spence, and Clinton McDonald.  The latter two should be the primary NTs, which means the emphasis would be on finding another big guy who can collapse the pocket.  I don’t see him out there in free agency, so addressing that spot will likely occur in the draft.

At linebacker, the Bucs appear set at the two priority positions with Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander.  Danny Lansanah is a free agent, so Bruce Carter might have the best shot at starting on the strong side.  I’m not too worried about the position either way given how regularly the game is played with just two linebackers, but I’m also not going to ignore a talented linebacker in the middle rounds of the draft should the situation present itself.  

I’m convinced that Donovan Smith is a starting offensive lineman on this team, but I’m not convinced that he’s the best they can do at LT for the next decade.  Should they decide to address the tackle position in free agency there are two guys I’d target.  If optimizing the talent at LT is a priority, I’d sign Kelechi Osmele, and if they want to keep Smith on the left side I’d sign Mitchell Schwartz (one of the most underappreciated lineman in the game) to play RT.  Demar Dotson and Gosder Cherlius are still under contract, but it would be hard to argue that the Bucs aren’t better with a combination of Osmele/Smith/Mitchell as the starters with Dotson manning the third tackle spot.  Improving the protection around Jameis, their #1 investment, is always a priority. 

At receiver, the focus still needs to be on finding an eventual replacement for Vincent Jackson.  Last year I was hoping they’d target someone who could man the slot while waiting for the VJax era to end and then shift outside.  My thought was that ’15 would be his last season with the Bucs.  I think we can all agree that ’16 will be his last year here, at least in a major role, and I don’t think they should wait until next offseason to think about his replacement.  Plan ahead.  Kenny Bell missed all of last year, so counting on him to make that jump is a leap I’m not ready to take.  He also isn’t ideal slot candidate.  Louis Murphy, who was also hurt last year, is probably the top guy there.  Not ideal.  I like Russell Shepard and Adam Humphries, but the Bucs need to improve the top of the depth chart, ideally with someone who can contribute right away in the slot.  Rishard Matthews would be my top target in free agency, but I don’t see much of a chance of that happening.  It looks like the draft will be where they get better at receiver. 

Alex Mack, Alex Boone, and Brandon Brooks would all be fabulous interior offensive line additions, but I don’t get the feeling the Bucs see it as a real area of need, even if Logan Mankins retires.  Kevin Pamphile appears to be next in line at LG, and I don’t get the feeling they’re eager to spend big on upgrading over Joe Hawley and Evan Smith at center.  A versatile day three draft prospect may make the most sense.

In summary, my free agent class would include –
RB – Doug Martin
T – Mitchell Schwartz
DE – William Hayes
CB – Casey Hayward / Sean Smith, Patrick Robinson
S – George Iloka

That leaves my priorities as DE, S, WR, DT, LB, G/C, and CB.  

My take on the first 9 picks –
      1)      TEN – Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss) – A common selection given their needs and available talent; Ramsey would be my surprise pick.

      2)      CLE – Carson Wentz (QB, N Dakota St) – It’s no secret that they need to take a QB, and right now I think Wentz has a leg up on Goff.

      3)      SD – Jalen Ramsey (DB, FSU) – I’ve seen DL as a more popular pick here, but Ramsey fills an immediate need at either safety or corner; draft’s best player in my opinion.

      4)      DAL – Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State) – I like them to take a pass rusher, given the shape of the position (Hardy gone and Gregory suspended).

      5)      JAX – DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon) – They’d probably prefer Ramsey given their desperation in the secondary, but adding Buckner to a healthy Dante Fowler would suddenly improve a weak pass rush.

      6)      BAL – Vernon Hargreaves (CB, Florida) – This is probably as high as he go; fills a huge need in a division with Antonio Brown, AJ Green, Martavis Bryant, and likely, again, Josh Gordon.

      7)      SF – Jared Goff (QB, California) – Myles Jack would be another option, but as I watch this Kapernick/SF situation play out over the offseason, I don’t get the slightest impression that the Niners still believe in him; Goff seems an ideal fit for Chip Kelly and the city (local kid).

      8)      MIA – Myles Jack (LB, UCLA) – This seems like a great fit to me; LB is a huge need in all areas and Jack does it all.

Of those 8, the ones I’d be most interested for the Bucs are Ramsey, Tunsil, Hargreaves, and Bosa.

Given how the board has played out, best available could end up being –
Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
Sheldon Rankins (DT, Louisville)
Noah Spence (DE, E Kentucky)
Kevin Dodd (DE, Clemson)

As good as I think Elliott is going to be, I don’t think it would be responsible GMing to take RB at #9 given the shape of the rest of the roster.  I’ve got this coming down to a lineman, and the last three candidates are Stanley, Rankins and Spence.  Stanley is considered either the #2 or 1a tackle in this year’s draft and would immediately be the team’s LT, moving last year’s R2 pick to RT.  He drops down the list if the Bucs sign Schwartz in free agency.  Rankins has what I believe is the best combination of strength, agility, and ability to make plays in the backfield of this year’s defensive interior.  I have zero problem taking him this high.  Spence could be his year’s best edge rusher and looks the part of the difference maker the team has needed since Michael Bennett left.  There are well known drawbacks to making him top 10 pick, but that’s the Bucs job to figure out over the next two months. 

My pick – Noah Spence (DE, E Kentucky)

In the end, if Spence passes the Bucs sniff test I think he has to be the pick.  He best brings what the Bucs need most.  If Licht, Koetter, Smith, and Hayes think he’s worth it, I’ll support the pick.   This one is definitely written in pencil, and one could make valid arguments for Rankins or Stanley. 

My R1 preferences would be (in order) – Ramsey and Tunsil are in a class by themselves; Spence, Rankins, Stanley, Dodd, Hargreaves, Bosa. 

I’ve got a lot more work to do on the rest of the draft, but here’s what I’m thinking right now –  

R2 – Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State)
I see a lot of Randall Cobb in Miller – QB who made the switch to WR, an ability to make plays in short spaces, and a positive, team first mindset.  I love his pro future; really strikes me a winner and someone who will be a success in the NFL.

Alternate Picks –
Sterling Shepard (WR, Oklahoma)
Josh Doctson (WR, Kansas State)
Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
Jason Spriggs (T, Indiana)
Shilique Calhoun (DE, Michigan State)

William Jackson III (CB, Houston) is a stud, and this pick assumes he’s unavailable at #39 (I think he ends up a R1 pick).  Otherwise, he gets the nod over Miller. 

R3 – Sheldon Day (DT, Notre Dame)
Day is an ideal guy to groom behind McCoy on the defensive interior.  He’s a gap shooter with a ton of quickness who moves down the line with a lot of agility.  If he can add weight and upper body strength without losing the quickness, he’s a steal at #74. 

Alternate Picks –
Karl Joseph (S, West Virginia)
Javon Hargrave (DT, South Carolina State)
DeAndre Houston-Carson (S, William & Mary)
Jason Fanaika (DE, Utah)

R4 – Joe Schobert (LB, Wisconsin)
He looks very comfortable and in control on the field; excellent change of direction.  Played 3-4 OLB at Wisconsin but his size and strength limitations as a pro (relies a lot on leverage) will likely make him an off-line LB.  Schobert has a ton of pass rush experience and could be a situational rusher / special teams player to start. 

Alternate Picks –
Keyarris Garrett (WR, Tulsa)
Jack Allen (C, Michigan State)

R5 – Justin Simmons (FS, Boston College)

Alternate Picks –
James Bradberry (DB, Samford)
Deiondre’ Hall (DB, Northern Iowa)
Morgan Burns (CB/KR, Kansas State)

I’m obviously looking at a DB here.  Simmons is a true center field safety; impressed with how quickly he reads and reacts; has a reputation as a studier, leader, team first type.  Bradberry and Hall are very intriguing prospects, both college corners who could move to safety in the pros.  Would be happy with anyone from this group.

R6 (1) – Joe Dahl (OL, Washington State)

Alternate Picks –
Kyle Friend (OL, Temple)
Parker Ehinger (OL, Cincinnati)

R6 (2) – Matt Judon (DE, Grand Valley State)

Alternate Picks –
Ken Crawley (CB, Colorado)
Roger Lewis (WR, Bowling Green)

The draft wraps up with developmental prospects.  Dahl is a T/G whose size may limit him to the latter position; I like him as quality depth and potentially an eventual starter. Judon dominated Division II on pure talent; needs pro coaching for technique / proper body usage.

In summary –
We started out with the following needs – DE, S, WR, CB, RB, OT, DT, LB, G/C

And here’s what I have them addressing –
DE – 3 (William Hayes, Noah Spence, Matt Judon)
S – 2 (George Iloka, Justin Simmons)
WR – 1 (Braxton Miller)
CB – 2 (Casey Hayward or Sean Smith, Patrick Robinson)
RB – 1 (Doug Martin)
OL – 2 (Mitchell Schwartz, Joe Dahl)
DT – 1 (Sheldon Day)
LB – 1 (Joe Schobert)

Go Bucs!

Friday, May 1, 2015

2015 NFL Draft - Buccaneers Day Two - Who's #34?

The 2015 NFL Draft got off to a great start for the Bucs.  Not only did they land their (hopeful) franchise QB, but the way the rest of the night played out left a ton of attractive talent on the board to start day two.  Who will they pick?

First let me mention the 5 best available players that I don’t think the Bucs will target:

Randy Gregory – I don’t think he’s got the size that the Bucs are looking for with already two smallish ends in Jacquies Smith and George Johnson.  I understand that Lovie’s defense doesn’t rely on larger ends, but they can’t become so susceptible to the run by acquiring too many players with the same physical stats. 

Landon Collins – I hope the Bucs have learned their lesson about taking limited Alabama safeties.  Collins was thought to be a R1 pick by the experts, but his limitation to an in-the-box role has him still looking for a job on Friday.  The Bucs won’t bite, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the safety-needy Titans took him to kick off R2.

Owamagbe Odighizuwa – Hopefully this is the last time I have to type his name.  I don’t think much of OO as a pass rusher, but he’s one of the top rated remaining ends.  I believe there are less risky options for the Bucs with this pick.  They already have a ends who are questionable pass rushers.  No need for OO.

La’el Collins – Without knowing the specifics, I can’t say that it’s a shame that Collins went undrafted Thursday.  For be it for me to analyze his strategy, but I would have thought that, if innocent, he would have done everything possible to get out in front of the issue and save himself millions of dollars.  The fact that he didn’t definitely doesn’t make him guilty, but it certainly doesn’t point toward innocence. 

Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Oklahoma)
The best way to describe this guy is to say it can’t be ignored.  I’m speaking to both his on-field talent and his off-field behavior.  Professional sports have been great at excusing transgressions by special talents, but that era seems to be fading.  If you believe what’s been written, DGB has been physical with women on more than one occasionOklahoma’s staff says he’s a changed young man, but it’s hard to ignore his past transgressions.  Is he a need or a luxury?  As talented as he appears, I can find a much safer receiver in the next round and not lose much in the talent category.

With those exclusions, here are my top 5 picks for the Bucs at #34:

5) Donovan Smith (OL, Penn State)
Initially believed to be a R3 pick, Smith earned a trip to the draft in Chicago.  That invitation does not guarantee a particular draft position, but I doubt he’s available when the Bucs pick at #65.  He’s large and projects as a top notch RT.  Some still project him as a LT, but he’s got quite a bit of work to do before he gets there.  I like him as an option at both RT and guard but not with this pick.  I believe I can find a less risky player in this spot.

4) Eric Kendricks (LB, UCLA)
My highest-ranked LB in this year’s draft, Kendricks went all of Thursday evening without hearing his name called.  I think he’d be a stud in the middle of Lovie’s defense, but they signed Bruce Carter in free agency with an eye on lining him up there.  Was he penciled in with the possibility of the draft forcing a move to SLB?  I think the Bucs would definitely be better at LB with Kendricks in the lineup, but is it worth it at the expense of the OL and DL?

3) TJ Clemmings (OL, Pittsburgh)
Here’s this draft’s biggest OL gamble in my opinion.  Clemmings shows the strength/potential to be a truly elite offensive lineman, but his technique needs a ton of work.  He’s also very inexperienced having played just two years on the offensive line.  Is the stress fracture in his foot a big deal?  There may not be a stronger or more physical imposing tackle in this draft, but with as much development as he apparently needs, is that a risk Bucs fans want to take?  Personally, I’m not optimistic about this staff’s ability to coach up the offensive line talent.

2) Preston Smith (DE, Mississippi State)
If the Bucs want to address the pass rush with this pick, it needs to be by selecting Smith.  He’ll play all three downs and give the Bucs the stability they’ve been searching for since they drafted Adrian Clayborn four years ago.  He has size, speed, strength, and hand usage to be an ideal compliment to Gerald McCoy up front.  He’s not a flashy speed rusher, but he’s also not the type of end to get washed out of plays.  You won’t see a lot of useless upfield rushed by Smith.  He fights well to the football.

1) Jake Fisher (OL, Oregon)
With the way R1 played out the Bucs will have their pick of a couple of top offensive tackles.  Are L&L focusing on the offensive line prospects as much as Bucs fans?  If they are, Fisher might be the pick.  A guy who steadily rose up draft boards throughout the process, Fisher projects as versatile OL with the ceiling of a franchise tackle and the floor of a decent RT.  I believe he can play guard as well and would provide the Bucs with two tackles who have the ability to play on both the left and right side.


If I had to put a wager on what I think the Bucs will do, I’d say Clemmings, and I wouldn’t be mad for a second.  The talent is certainly there.  It just needs to be developed in the right situation.  Here he wouldn’t be expected to be a LT right away but could start and grow at RT given the current state of affairs as the position.  Clemmings might have the most potential of any tackle in this class.  Unfortunately, he comes with quite a bit of risk as well. 

Honestly, the Bucs could take any of these top 5, and I’d be happy.  Although I’d really like to see it come from the top 3.  Locking up an offensive or defensive lineman after acquiring a potential franchise QB is the right way to build a winner. 

Go Bucs!