Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offseason Plan - Do It Big Then

The Jason Licht & Lovie Smith era began in rather forgettable fashion, with the Bucs waving the white flag on a two-win season by losing their last six games, besting an earlier in-season five game losing streak.  The new regime quickly turned over a majority of the roster, and their replacements, for the most part, did not pay dividends.  There were exceptions.  First round pick, Mike Evans, looks like a franchise #1 receiver, Clinton McDonald was a welcome addition to the defensive line, and Logan Mankins removed some of the comedy from the offensive line’s play. 

The rest of the acquisitions include a veteran QB who was brought in to take the starting job and was just cut, a left tackle who was benched and is likely to get cut, and a pass rusher who they paid about $2 million per sack.  Aside from Evans, the rest of the draft class disappointed.  Austin Seferian-Jenkins has promise at tight end, and Charles Sims, a pick panned by the consensus, wasn’t overly impressive when he eventually got healthy.  The rest of the picks made no impact at all and haven’t distinguished themselves as keepers.  

Following a two win season, Licht and Smith must show significant improvement in year two.  Their to-do list is lengthy:

  • Find a starting quarterback
  • Decide whether Doug Martin, Mike Glennon, Anthony Collins, Michael Johnson,  Dashon Goldson, and Michael Koenen are worth more on or off the roster
  • Acquire a threat at receiver behind Evans and Vincent Jackson
  • Upgrade at right guard and right tackle and improve overall OL depth
  • Add another pass rusher, even with Johnson on the team
  • Sign a starting MLB
  • Bring in a starting nickel corner and add depth
  • At a minimum, add safety depth and replace Goldson if cut

Fortunately they have over $30 million in cap space and can create more by cutting/trading those decision point players mentioned above.  They also have a healthy supply of draft picks, headlined by the #1 overall selection.  Before getting into what I think the Bucs should do with their draft picks, let’s take a look at their options in free agency. 

Free Agency

Ndamukong Suh and Mike Iupati will likely headline the list of players who make it to the market, and while both would look great in those ugly Buc uniforms, I don’t foresee Tampa Bay being in on either one.  Even though the Bucs again go into the offseason with multiple holes on the depth chart and decisions to make about current personnel, I don’t think we see near the roster turnover as last year. 

If I’m charting the course, I’m wooing a select handful of free agents.  On offense I have two specific targets at positions of need.

Joseph Barksdale (RT, St. Louis Rams)
With Demar Dotson likely to stay at left tackle, the Bucs need to find a starter on the right side either in free agency or in the draft.  Barksdale ranks as an elite run blocker with room to grow as a pass protector.  By locking up Barksdale, the Bucs would have two bookends who will be under 30 when the season starts.  I’m not sure they can head into the draft without addressing the RG or RT spots in free agency.  I sign Barksdale and focus on a starting right guard and at least one (ideally two) other offensive linemen in the draft.

Eddie Royal (WR, Chargers)
I like the idea of a group of targets that include Jackson, Evans, and ASJ, but it’s not a finished group.  It’s still missing is that dimension of an explosive player in space.  I had Randall Cobb mocked to the Bucs back in ’11, and as much as I’d love to see him finally join the crew, the Bucs wisely won’t commit heavily to the position with Jackson and Evans already on the roster.  Royal averaged 55 catches, over 700 yards, and 8 TDs the last two years playing the slot role for Philip Rivers, a QB to whom I’ve drawn some comparisons when discussing the Bucs’ future at the position, and gives the Bucs some validity in the slot at an affordable price. 

Barksdale and Royal represent measurable yet efficient upgrades.  Both can be secured for multiple years and leave plenty of cap space to address needs on the defensive side of the ball.

Brandon Graham (DE, Eagles)
Jabaal Sheard (DE, Browns)
Unless cap space gets dire, I would hold onto Johnson for another year to see if he can meet expectations when fully healthy.  I would still look to add a free agent since there is little depth behind Johnson and last year’s surprise, Jacquies Smith.  Both Graham and Sheard are unlikely to be pursued by their current teams due to player/scheme mismatches not a lack of talent.  Graham wants to play in a 4-3 defense, and he’d give the Bucs a pass rush boost from the left side.  He’s also a plus run stopper.  Sheard has excelled as a run stopping linebacker, but he totaled 15.5 sacks in his first two years as a 4-3 end.  I think Johnson, Smith, and Graham/Sheard would all benefit from being part of a rotation. 

Walter Thurmond III (CB, Giants)
Patrick Robinson (CB, Saints)
The cornerback position may be the deepest of an overall disappointing free agent class, and the Bucs will be in the market for a starting nickel corner as well as depth behind starters Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks.  Thurmond is the ideal slot corner, but he’s coming a missed season due to injury.  He shouldn’t cost a fortune, but I expect he’ll still have plenty of suitors.  Robinson shined once moved into the nickel role for the Saints, but I assume he’ll look for a boundary role should he leave New Orleans

Adding a RT, WR, DE, and CB will shorten their must-do list and allow the Bucs to widen their focus in the draft.  It’s not a lengthy list, but I’d like to see an emphasis on quality over quantity in free agency this year.  And I’m not expecting them to shop top shelf either.  I’d love to see the Bucs go after Shane Vereen, Cobb, Bryan Bulaga, Iupati, Suh, Byron Maxwell, and Devin McCourty, but it’s not happening.

The Draft

If free agency goes as planned above, QB, MLB, and OL are the highest remaining priorities.  As it currently stands, the Bucs have eight draft picks with at least one in each round, and their first one will kick off draft weekend. 

Debates rage regarding what the Bucs should do with the #1 pick, arguably the most critical pick in franchise history.  Assuming they don’t trade the pick (something I see as having little to no chance of happening), the choice will come down to Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota.  The best the Bucs have ever done when it comes to a franchise QB is Doug Williams, Vinny Testaverde, and Trent Dilfer.  The bar is set low for whoever the Bucs decide on, but expectations will be high.  Who should it be?

One QB comes from a pro style offense where he was forced to call plays in the huddle, adjust plays at the line of scrimmage, read defenses, and exploit defenses.  The other comes from an offense, that while successful and efficient, doesn’t share a playbook with an NFL franchise outside of Philadelphia.  As Bruce Arians commented, looking at the sidelines at a guy holding a card, lifting your leg, and throwing the ball isn’t playing quarterback.  Winston is the more ‘pro ready’ of the two, a fact that cannot be understated when you consider that the Licht & Lovie regime will need to make big gains in year two.  Winston also requires zero roster turnover at the other skilled positions in order to maximize his strengths.  Jackson, Evans, and ASJ are big guys who get vertical; receivers who would excel with Winston under center.  They’re not exactly the quick-cutting, high/low combination route runners that Oregon and Philadelphia have had success with.  Any suggestions that Mariota has the higher ceiling assumes that he learns how to do the things he hasn’t done and that he does them better than Winston.  That’s a bet I don’t see the Bucs taking.    

Of course I’m biased, but I’m not blind.  Mariota might be a fine professional QB some day, but Winston is the QB the Bucs need.  He’s everything they want on the field, has already proven to teams that his game preparation and play/situation recognition skills are elite, and embraces the idea of being the face of a franchise.  He’s a winner and has his sights set on greatness.  When was the last time the Bucs had someone with that energy?

With the 1st pick in the 2015 NFL draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select…

Jameis Winston (QB, FSU)

Here’s how I see the rest of the first round playing out.

2) TEN – Leonard Williams (DL, USC)
Far from sold on this pick; could be Fowler, Gregory, Mariota, or a trade
3) CLE – Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
Cleveland trades their two 1st round picks for the 3rd overall pick.  New OC has a impressive history with young QBs, and their new QB coach tutored Mariota this offseason.

4) OAK – Kevin White (WR, W Virginia)
If not a pass rusher, it’s a #1 receiver for their franchise QB.

5) WAS – Dante Fowler (DE/OLB, Florida)
Impressive pass rusher replaces Orakpo opposite Kerrigan; could be the best defensive player in this draft.

6) NYJ – Trae Waynes (CB, Michigan State)
A flawless Combine gives new HC Todd Bowles all the reason he needs to begin building his defense.

7) CHI – Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
Pretty obvious pick here; Bears moving to a 3-4 defense and don’t have a nose; Ngata 2.0.

8) ATL – Randy Gregory (DE/OLB, Nebraska)
Guessing this is about as low as Gregory goes; Falcons get a much-needed pass rusher.

9) NYG – Brandon Scherff (OL, Iowa)
Another obvious pick; Giants need help at tackle and guard, and the well-rounded Scherff seems like a Couglin guy.

10) STL – Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
Back to the well; Mayock has compared Cooper to Torry Holt; Rams fans should hope.

11) MIN – La’el Collins (OL, LSU)
Bit of a surprise here but Vikings have a hole at guard and questions about Kalil.

12) JAX – Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
Jaguars need pass rushers and impact players all over; Ray meets both of those needs.

13) NOR – Vic Beasley (DE/OLB, Clemson)
After the Combine, Beasley could go a lot higher than this, but if not, the Saints would love to land a pass rusher here.

14) MIA – DeVante Parker (WR, Louisville)
If I’m reading the signs correctly, Mike Wallace won’t be back next year, and neither will Hartline or Gibson.  That leaves 2nd year Jarvis Landry as the senior wideout. 

15) SF – Malcolm Brown (DL, Texas)
This spot screams receiver, especially if Parker is still on the board, but instead I have defensive-minded new HC taking Justin Smith’s replacement.

16) HOU – Andrus Peat (T, Stanford)
They won’t get a QB here, and rather than go with the unoriginal pick of Landon Collins, I take possibly the best player on the board.

17) SD – Cameron Erving (OL, FSU)
Given the Chargers’ dire need for help at center and guard, this is a nice spot for the ascending Erving to go.

18) KC – Landon Collins (S, Alabama)
If he lasts this long, I’ve got to think the Chiefs would take him as Eric Berry’s replacement.

19) JAX – Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
With the second pick acquired in the Cleveland trade, the Jaguars take the best back in the draft.  He’s a local-enough kid, and when he gets healthy, he’ll take a huge load off Bortles’ shoulders.

20) PHI – Bud Dupree (DE/OLB, Kentucky)
Corner and safety are higher needs, but I think Chip Kelly is still looking for “his” players on defense; Dupree could team with Mychal Kendricks to give the Eagles a couple of insanely athletic linebackers.

21) CIN – Eddie Goldman (DT, FSU)
Talent meets need.  Bengals have numbers but need more production from the defensive line.  Goldman can play the run and get after the passer.

22) PIT – Marcus Peters (CB, Washington)
Corner and pass rusher are their biggest needs, and I think Peters is their best value at this point.

23) DET – TJ Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
I’m having a hard time reading Clemmings’ stock, but he could step in right away at RT for the Lions.

24) ARI – Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
You couldn’t blame Zona for addressing one of their many defensive needs, but I’ve got to think Arians could find a ton of ways to use Gordon and Ellington together.  He’ll also make an instant impact for a team with a questionable playoff window.

25) CAR – Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Oklahoma)
Love the value and risk here.  Carolina struck gold at receiver last year with Kelvin Benjamin, and pairing the 6-5, 240 former Nole with a 6-5, 235 DGB, is a scary thought.  Carolina could impress next year with those two, the underrated Olsen, and a healthy Stewart.

26) BAL – Jalen Collins (CB, LSU)
Ton of talent; could end up being the best corner from this draft; really nice fit opposite Jimmy Smith.

27) DAL – PJ Williams (CB, FSU)
This pick has to be a defensive player, and if they don’t find a pass rusher to their liking, I think they go corner given the lack of talent at the position.

28) DEN – Ereck Flowers (T, Miami)
Seems to be exactly what Kubiak needs – a big tackle who excels in the run game.

29) IND – Eric Kendricks (LB, UCLA)
Indy has to get a lot better on defense, and I think this is a perfect situation for Kendricks.  They need help at ILB, and this guy makes a ton of plays.

30) GB – Denzel Perryman (LB, Miami)
The Packers are terribly lacking at ILB, and getting a force like Perryman frees Matthews up to move back outside.

31) SEA – Quinten Rollins (CB, Miami OH)
Seattle is dangerously thin at corner, and the big, physical Rollins fits perfectly.

32) NE – Shaq Thompson (ATH, Washington)
Belichick loves toys, and this guy may be the more exciting of this year’s bunch. 

Round 2 & Remaining Picks

I’ve got the Titans drafting Nate Orchard (DE/OLB, Utah) with the first pick of day two.  Since I’m always one for acquiring more draft picks, I’m going to propose a trade here.  I’m not sure the Bucs will be in a better position to move down than the Titans, but should the opportunity present itself, I expect them to be inclined to do so.  I’ve got the Bucs trading the 34th overall pick to the Bills for their 2nd and 3rd round picks in order for Rex Ryan to take a QB, Brett Hundley.  Here’s what I have Tampa doing with those and their other draft picks.

R2 (BUF trade) – Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon)
An ideal solution to the slot corner dilemma; easy comparison to Ronde; ACL injury could have him available in this range.

R3 – Stephone Anthony (LB, Clemson)
Lacks explosiveness of higher-rated linebackers but a strong showing of athleticism at Combine combined with an ability to cover the deep middle has to be appealing to the Bucs.  Anthony, Kendricks, and Paul Dawson would be my top MLB choices in the draft. 

R3 (BUF trade) – Donovan Smith (T, Penn State)
Worth the risk at this point; high upside as a left tackle with a ton of physical tools; just needs coaching and reps; could play RT or possibly G which increases his value to the Bucs.

R4 – Jeremiah Poutasi (OL, Utah)
Another offensive lineman long on potential; projects as a RG/RT; similar to Smith in that he has all the physical traits, just needs coaching and reps; would love to see him at RG.

I think the odds are better than 50/50 that the Bucs trade Doug Martin at some point.  I’ve got him going to the Steelers for a 4th round pick.  With that pick the Bucs take…

R4 (PIT trade) – Kurtis Drummond (FS, Michigan State)
Whether or not Goldson is retained, the Bucs need bodies at safety.  I like his ability to track and seize the football.  Senquez Golson (CB, Ole Miss) is another guy I like in this range should they not address corner sooner.

R5 – Stefon Diggs (WR, Maryland)
More explosive than fast, Diggs does his damage in the slot; fills a huge need as someone who can make plays in space and get those extra years in the middle of the field.

R5 – Jarvis Harrison (G, Texas A&M)
Huge dude with starting guard potential; interested in seeing him play to his strengths in a power scheme.

R6 – Tyeler Davison (DT, Fresno State)
Love his projection as a NT next to McCoy; huge and strong; has a bit of position versatility and potential as a pass rusher.  Bobby McCain (CB, Memphis) would get my vote if they haven’t drafted a corner by now.

R7 – John Crockett (RB, North Dakota State)
If the Bucs trade Martin, they’ll need another back to go with Sims, James, and Rainey.  Reminds me of James Starks; does everything well, not great.  (I see PR took him in their latest mock; great minds think alike)


In total the Bucs add:
QB – Jameis Winston
RB – John Crockett
WR – Eddie Royal, Stefon Diggs
OL – Joseph Barksdale, Donovan Smith, Jeremiah Poutasi, Jarvis Harrison
DL – Brandon Graham / Jabaal Sheard, Tyeler Davison
LB – Stephone Anthony
CB – Walter Thurmond, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
FS – Kurtis Drummond

Acquiring talent is just one half of the staff’s charge.  They must do a much better job of coaching up the talent and putting players in the best position to succeed.  I believe this sufficiently and realistically addresses the first half of the equation.  The rest is up to Lovie. 

Go Bucs!

Friday, May 9, 2014

2014 NFL Draft - Buccaneers Day 2

After acquiring Mike Evans with the 7th pick in R1, the Bucs have addressed one weakness – finding a starter opposite Vincent Jackson.  While I found the pick underwhelming, there’s no mistaking that Evans is an upgrade over Mike Williams, gives Josh McCown two very large wideouts to work with, and is an eventual #1 replacement for Jackson.

With two picks for Friday night’s action, the positions I would target are – QB, WR, OL, CB, and DL.

Here’s what I expect to happen with the first six picks of the evening:

33) Houston Texans – Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
I don’t think the Texans want to tempt fate by drafting David Carr’s little brother.  I think this will be a DL pick.  Ra’Shede Hageman is my fallback.

34) Washington Redskins – Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)
I think this one is going to be a tackle, and I’m going with Moses.  Cyrus Kouandjio is my fallback.

35) Cleveland Browns – Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)
The Browns want to upgrade at RG, and XSF might be the best player remaining on the board, regardless of position.  Marqise Lee is my fallback as a nice addition to Gordon-Cameron-Hawkins.

36) Oakland Raiders – Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)
Unless they simply enjoy confusing the media, all indications point to the Raiders taking Carr.  I’ll be shocked if Carr isn’t a Raider.  They may even move up to #33 to secure him.

37) Atlanta Falcons – Demarcus Lawrence (DE, Boise State)
The Falcons need an impact rusher, and Lawrence is widely considered the most dynamic pass rusher remaining.  A sneaky good pick would be to take XSF as a follow up to Matthews last night.  Jace Amaro could be Tony Gonzalez’s successor.

38) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Joel Bitonio (OL, Nevada)
If XSF is off the board, I think Bitonio becomes the Bucs #1 target.  He has the ability to play both tackle and guard but would likely settle into one of the guard spots in Tampa.  I like Bitonio, but he’s not my first option.  I would first encourage the Bucs to deal down, and with a lot of talent remaining at receiver and along the offensive and defensive lines, hopefully the Bucs are able to move down a bit and add another pick or two. 

My order of preference for pick #38 –
1) Derek Carr
2) Donte Moncrief
3) Joel Bitonio
4) Lamarcus Joyner
5) XSF
6) Timmy Jernigan
7) Allen Robinson
8) Kony Ealy

Thursday, May 8, 2014

2014 NFL Draft - Final Mock Draft

Here’s one last take on the first round of the draft before things kick off tonight.

1) Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
The Texans are reportedly open to moving the pick if they can get an RGII-like haul, but I don’t think anyone meets their price, even the Falcons.  Houston adds the draft’s best player to an already stout defensive front.

2) St. Louis Rams – Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
I’m sticking with Matthews to the Rams, but this time they stay put at #2 and take him.  Detroit and Buffalo are reportedly interested in moving up for Sammy Watkins, but I’m not sure we will actually see a team outside the top ten move up that high. 

3) Jacksonville Jaguars – Khalil Mack (DE/OLB, Buffalo)
I’ve had the Jaguars going defense all along, and I’m sticking to it.  I think this comes down to Mack or Watkins, and I have the Jaguars going with the elite defensive player over the elite offensive player due in part to the sizeable draft depth difference between the two positions.

4) Cleveland Browns – Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
If Matthews going #2 isn’t the first swerve of the draft, this is.  The Browns take Evans over Watkins and add him to Josh Gordon, Andrew Hawkins, and Jordan Cameron.  If they go this route, expect QB to be their target with R1 pick #2. 

5) Oakland Raiders – Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
If Watkins is there, I don’t see any way the Raiders don’t take him.  I’d probably give them Evans if Watkins goes earlier.  If not a receiver then I’d go with my previous pick, Aaron Donald.  I’m guessing the tackle talk, specifically Taylor Lewan, is draft smoke.

6) Atlanta Falcons – Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Rather than trade up to #1 for Clowney, the Falcons stay at six, keep their picks, and add, arguably, the draft’s top tackle prospect. 

7) Dallas Cowboys (TRADE) – Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
Today’s rumor says Lovie Smith wants Aaron Donald, but I’m not buying it.  I’d like to think that a team with more dire needs on the offensive side of the ball would go that route rather than add a part time pass rusher.  Donald wouldn’t be a part timer for the Cowboys.  Bucs get Dallas’ picks in R1, R2, and R4. 

8) Minnesota Vikings – Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
This may be a surprise pick, but without Donald there, I don’t think they take Mosley this high or a QB in R1. 

9) Buffalo Bills – Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
I think it’s either a tackle or receiver here, and I’ve got them taking the former.

10) Detroit Lions – Odell Beckham (WR, LSU)
They’re mentioned as being interested in moving up for Watkins, but if they stay put, they could get a similarly successful player.

11) Tennessee Titans – Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
Oh how the mighty have fallen.  Bortles slides ten spots from my previous pick and ignites a QB controversy in Nashville.  HC Ken Whisenhunt gets a QB who compares favorably to former pupil, Ben Roethlisberger.

12) New York Giants – Zack Martin (OL, Notre Dame)
As I mentioned last time, the Giants need to really hit with this pick, and Martin is probably the safest pick they can make and also addresses a need on the offensive line.

13) St. Louis Rams – Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
The smaller, physical Dennard replaces the departed, smaller, physical Cortland Finnegan.

14) San Francisco 49ers (TRADE) – Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State)
The Niners make the move up for a receiver to compliment Boldin, Crabtree, and Davis. 

15) Pittsburgh Steelers – Justin Gilbert (CB, Oregon State)
Projected as the draft’s #1 corner, Gilbert is the third player off the board at his position.  I think the Steelers will have a tough time going any other route than corner with this pick.

16) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TRADE) – Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)
I’m sticking with Carr.  Ideally the Bucs are able to move down from #7 into this range in order to take their QB, but I could see them doing it with their original pick.  I don’t buy the Manziel talk because I don’t think his quick improvisation trigger fits with Jeff Tedford’s structured/disciplined offense. 

17) Baltimore Ravens – Eric Ebron (TE, UNC)
Ebron is reportedly high on Baltimore’s radar, and if they don’t go big at WR, adding Ebron to go with Dennis Pitta in the middle of the field would be a nice way to upgrade the pass offense.

18) New York Jets – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
This may be too low for HHCD, but I think the Jets would love to add a DB of his caliber to a very weak and shallow group.

19) Cleveland Browns (TRADE) – Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
Jay Glazer is firm about the Browns not taking JFF at #4, but that doesn’t mean that can’t get him later.  If I can trust that intel, I don’t think Manziel ends up a top 10 pick.  At that point, it’s about who can deal up the quickest to get him. 

20) Arizona Cardinals – Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA)
I’m not a Barr fan, but if he’s still available, I think Arizona will have a tough time passing on him.  A safety would be my second choice.

21) Green Bay Packers – CJ Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Sadly, the Packers seem to be a team spinning their wheels on defense, regardless of the talent they’ve acquired in recent years. Mosley would give them an upgrade on Brad Jones’ spot next to AJ Hawk on the inside. 

22) Philadelphia Eagles – Ryan Shazier (OLB, Ohio State)
I don’t know that I’ve seen Shazier mentioned to the Eagles elsewhere, but if they do indeed go defense, I think adding the very active Shazier to a linebacker group that already features Mychal Kendricks would be one hell of a move.

23) Kansas City Chiefs – Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville)
He may not fall this far in the real deal, but since he did here, the Chiefs don’t pass up an ideal fit at a position of need.

24) Cincinnati Bengals – Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
I’m taking the bait.  Cincinnati is reported to have interest in Bridgewater, and, if true, I think it’s a very smart move.  They’re getting close to decision time with the underwhelming Andy Dalton, and adding Bridgewater to the fold give them more leverage in Dalton’s contract talks and security in case they decide to let Dalton depart.

25) San Diego Chargers – Jason Verrett (CB, TCU)
I’m going with CB over DL with this pick as the Chargers look to upgrade a vulnerable secondary.

26) Miami Dolphins (TRADE) – Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)
The standard line of thinking has the Dolphins taking a tackle in R1.  Moving down via the Cleveland trade makes Moses the move look less forced.

27) New Orleans Saints – Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
With Marques Colston not getting any younger and only Kenny Stills as a developing receiver, the Saints need to add to the position.

28) Carolina Panthers – Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
Carolina got through a successful ’13 season with a smoke-and-mirrors act in the secondary.  Talent is sorely needed at corner.

29) New England Patriots – Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
The Wilfork comparison is too obvious, but so is the fit. 

30) Chicago Bears (TRADE) – Timmy Jernigan (DT, FSU)
I’m not sure if he’s still on the team’s radar after the failed drug test, but as we’ve seen in the past, teams make excuses for talent.  Maybe this will be another one of those instances.

31) Denver Broncos – Deen Ford (DE/OLB, Auburn)
I like the fit for Ford.  He goes to a team where he can be eased into the rotation and won’t be counted on to be the sack savior. 

32) Seattle Seahawks – Dominique Easley (DT, Florida)
Since his medicals apparently shed good light on his status, I think Easley is definitely in play at the end of day one.  If any team can afford to give a guy with Easley’s ability a redshirt season, it’s the champs.

Remaining Buccaneer Selections
If the Bucs were to get Carr in R1, I’ve got to think they’re making every attempt to deal Glennon.  I will say this – If they don’t get at least a third round pick in exchange, I’d take Glennon to camp and look to deal him again if/when a team experiences an injury at QB. 

With QB taken care of, like last time I’m focusing 100% on receiver at pick #38.  Unlike last time, I’m going with the player I prefer, rather than guessing who the Bucs might prefer. 

R2a – Donte Moncrief (WR, Mississippi)

In my last version, I had the Bucs taking Easley with the pick acquired in the R1 trade.  With Easley off the board, I’m going with choice 1a.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I love this guy’s fit as a slot corner and potential contributor/successor at free safety.

R2b – Lamarcus Joyner (DB, FSU)

I’m switching my pick here.  I’ve been big on both Bruce Ellington and CJ Fiedorowicz, but since I’ve yet to read anything about the Bucs being tied to the receiver and know that they have visited with the tight end, I’m going for the most likely outcome. 

R3 – CJ Fiedorowicz (TE, Iowa)

Since I switched from Ellington in R3, I still want to add another receiver.  I don’t wait long to do so and take a guy who has some of that speed in space stuff.  He can line up inside or outside, and I think he’d make a fine #3 inside of Jackson and Moncrief.  With the last pick acquired in my hypothetical Dallas trade, Tampa Bay takes…

R4 – Jared Abbrederis (WR, Wisconsin)

No change in plans with my R5 pick.  The Bucs have yet to address the hole at guard and take the strong man from Bama. 

R5 – Anthony Steen (G, Alabama)

Since I’ve got them taking Fiedorowicz in this version, Crockett Gillmore is overkill.  I’ve got to think Lovie will lobby for a defensive lineman at some point, and here I’m giving them a guy who offers versatility and a good bit of pass rush potential.

R6 – Calvin Barnett (DT, Oklahoma State)

I’m going with the same shot in the dark with the last pick; another strong offensive lineman with a lot of starting experience.

R7 – Corey Linsley (C, Ohio State)

*1) Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)
2a) Donte Moncrief (WR, Mississippi)
*2b) Lamarcus Joyner (DB, FSU)
3) CJ Fiedorowicz (TE, Iowa)
*4) Jared Abbrederis (WR, Wisconsin)
5) Anthony Steen (G, Alabama)
6) Calvin Barnett (DT, Oklahoma State)
7) Corey Linsley (C, Ohio State)

* = pick acquired in Dallas trade

Sunday, May 4, 2014

2014 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings By Position

Here are my (at least) top 5 prospects at every position.  I also mention my favorite per position for the Bucs.  Players are ranked, not in the order in which I think they’ll be chosen but rather my projection of their success as pros.  For reference, I ranked Colin Kaepernick higher than Cam Newton in 2011 (pay no attention to QBs 1-4) and had this to say about the eventual Niners QB prior to the draft –

Kaepernick might look a little high here, but he could actually have the greatest potential as a developmental prospect with a big arm and plus mobility. Once Kaepernick commits to keeping the ball, he shows impressive straight line speed. He avoids the pass rush well for a guy who isn’t the thickest QB. Despite running the Pistol offense at Nevada I think his skill set will make the transition to a more traditional scheme fairly seamless.....

Are there any Kaepernicks in this year’s class?

1) Blake Bortles (UCF)
2) Derek Carr (Fresno State)
3) Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville)
4) Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M)
5) Jimmy Garoppolo (E Illinois)
6) Aaron Murray (Georgia)
7) Zach Mettenberger (LSU)

Favorite for the Bucs – Derek Carr
I’m of the belief that the Bucs will take a QB early and trade Mike Glennon for a draft pick.  Carr is still my projected pick for the Bucs in round one, whether it is at #7 or via a trade down in R1.  Carr won’t start right away, and if Josh McCown plays anything like he did last year, he won’t have to.  I love the idea of him learning behind the scenes with Jeff Tedford without the pressure to produce right away that derailed his brother’s career.    

Running Back
1) Tre Mason (Auburn)
2) Jeremy Hill (LSU)
3) Carlos Hyde (Ohio State)
4) Devonta Freeman (FSU)
5) Bishop Sankey (Washington)
6) Terrance West (Towson)

Favorite for the Bucs – Tre Mason
Running back is probably the safest position to rule out as far as the Bucs go, but if the cupboard was bare, Mason seems like the type of toy Tedford would be giddy about getting on draft day. 

Wide Receiver
1) Sammy Watkins (Clemson)
2) Odell Beckham (LSU)
3) Donte Moncrief (Ole Miss)
4) Mike Evans (Texas A&M)
5) Brandin Cooks (Oregon State)
6) Allen Robinson (Penn State)
7) Davante Adams (Fresno State)
8) Kelvin Benjamin (FSU)
9) Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt)
10) Marqise Lee (USC)
11) Bruce Ellington (South Carolina)
12) Cody Latimer (Indiana)

Favorite for the Bucs – Donte Moncrief
Watkins is the easy pick, and I’m a huge huge Beckham fan.  I see them being special NFL receivers.  I also think Moncrief will be in the same discussion two or three years from now, and he’s my ideal R2 pick for the Bucs.

Tight End
1) Eric Ebron (UNC)
2) CJ Fiedorowicz (Iowa)
3) Jace Amaro (Texas Tech)
4) Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington)
5) Troy Niklas (Notre Dame)
6) Crockett Gillmore (Colorado State)

Favorite for the Bucs – CJ Fiedorowicz
The Bucs may not draft one, but Fiedorowicz would be the most complete tight end on the roster and allow the Bucs to be more creative with Tim Wright and Brandon Myers. 

Offensive Tackle
1) Greg Robinson (Auburn)
1a) Jake Matthews (Texas A&M)
3) Taylor Lewan (Michigan)
4) Morgan Moses (Virginia)
5) Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama)

Favorite for the Bucs – Jake Matthews
Robinson might be the better long term tackle prospect, but if I can be optimistic about Anthony Collins and Demar Dotson establishing themselves as Buccaneer bookends, Matthews’ ability to play multiple positions would help a weak Tampa Bay interior. 

Interior OL
1) Zack Martin (G/T, Notre Dame)
2) Joel Bitonio (G/T, Nevada)
3) Marcus Martin (C, USC)
4) Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)
5) Gabe Jackson (G, Mississippi State)

Favorite for the Bucs – Anthony Steen (G, Alabama)
I don’t see the Bucs spending a pick on a guard in the first three rounds.  If that’s the case, Steen should be there on day three when the Bucs go guard shopping.  I like him as a candidate to fill the vacant RG spot.  Brandon Thomas would be an honorable mention as someone the Bucs could basically redshirt his rookie year and insert in ’15 as a draft steal.

Defensive End
1) Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina)
2) Kony Ealy (Missouri)
3) Kareem Martin (UNC)
4) Dee Ford (Auburn)
5) Scott Crichton (Oregon State)

Favorite for the Bucs – Kony Ealy
If the Bucs were fortunate enough to find Ealy on the board in R2, he’d be awful tough to pass up as a guy who could offer pass rush potential at end and tackle positions. 

Defensive Tackle
1) Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh)
2) Timmy Jernigan (FSU)
3) Dominique Easley (Florida)
4) RaShede Hageman (Minnesota)
5) Louis Nix (Notre Dame)
6) Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame)
7) Kelcy Quarles (South Carolina)
8) Ego Ferguson (LSU)

Favorite for the Bucs – Dominique Easley
Similar to Ealy, Easley would be a R2 gift.  Since his medicals apparently checked out well, I could see him going to the Seahawks at the end of R1.  Should he slide, he’d be tough to pass up as a compliment to McCoy and McDonald. 

Outside Linebacker
1) Khalil Mack (Buffalo)
2) Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech)
3) Ryan Shazier (Ohio State)
4) Anthony Barr (UCLA)
5) Telvin Smith (FSU)
6) Demarcus Lawrence (Boise State)
7) Christian Jones (FSU)
8) Carl Bradford (Arizona State)

Favorite for the Bucs – Telvin Smith
The Bucs only have six draft picks, and with Lavonte David in place, WLB may be the most solidified starting position on the team.  Still, the Bucs have been stung by a lack of depth in the past, and there’s nothing behind David.  If the Bucs add another pick or two and they really feel like going best available in R3, then Telvin would be a fantastic acquisition. 

Inside Linebacker
1) CJ Mosley (Alabama)
2) Chris Borland (Wisconsin)
3) Shayne Skov (Stanford)
4) Yawin Smallwood (Connecticut)
5) Preston Brown (Louisville)

Best for the Bucs – CJ Mosley
If I had to pick a surprise R1 selection for the Bucs, Mosley or Aaron Donald would be my choice.  Acquiring Mosley would upgrade both the MLB and SLB spots as Foster would likely move over and start ahead of Jonathan Casillas opposite David.

1) Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech)
2) Jason Verrett (TCU)
3) Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State)
4) Lamarcus Joyner (FSU)
5) Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State)
6) Bradley Roby (Ohio State)
7) Jaylen Watkins (Florida)
8) Rashaad Reynolds (Oregon State)

Favorite for the Bucs – Lamarcus Joyner
Yep, another Nole.  As I’ve mentioned in detail on previous occasions, the Bucs are awfully weak at the nickel corner spot, and Joyner would give them an ideal fit in Lovie’s defense.  He might also project as a future replacement for Dashon Goldson at free safety. 

1) Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama)
2) Calvin Pryor (Louisville)
3) Deone Bucannon (Washington St)
4) Terrence Brooks (FSU)
5) Jimmie Ward (N Illinois)

Favorite for the Bucs – Deone Bucannon
He’s not rated as high by the “experts”, but I really think Bucannon is going to be a star in the NFL.  He’s long, physical, and excels in zone concepts.  From the games I’ve seen, I think, given the right coaching, he has more potential in pass coverage than his draft bios will lead you to believe. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

2014 NFL Draft - Ch Ch Changes

Much has happened since my first attempt to predict what the Buccaneer’s roster will look like in 2014.  Jason Licht and Lovie Smith have been hard at work turning it over and making it theirs.  Hell, we’ve even got new helmets and uniforms, but that’s a whole other conversation.

Josh McCown rejoins Lovie and will be the teams’ bridge to their next, hopefully franchise, QB.  Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith are upgrades upon Donald Penn and Jeremy Zuttah, and they cost less than their predecessors.  Brandon Myers becomes the most experienced tight end on the roster. 

On defense, Michael Johnson was brought in to increase the teams edge pass rush presence, Clinton McDonald improves the play next to GMC, and Alterraun Verner replaces the one year waste of money and draft picks, Darrelle Revis. 

There’s still work to do. 

I don’t believe for a second that Mike Glennon has a future in Tampa.  I think the Bucs will draft McCown’s successor and look to move Glennon, possibly during the draft to obtain another ick.  Licht and Lovie have already begun quite the overhaul, and with only six draft picks, I’ve got to think they’ll make every effort to acquire more.  Glennon is their most valuable asset that they can and would most likely trade. 

Mike Jenkins and DJ Moore are two veteran corners brought in this offseason, but I believe the Bucs are mistaken if they feel either is up to the task of the role of slot corner.  Moore would likely start there if a game broke out today, but I don’t think it’s wise to rely on a guy who was out of football last year to be the needed upgrade over Leonard Johnson.  Lovie has also stated that his boundary corners will be boundary corners, which means Verner, a reputable slot corner, will not slide inside when they go nickel. 

The Bucs needed help at receiver before they moved on from Mike Williams.  There’s a wide talent gap between Vincent Jackson and the rest of the receivers.  Chris Owusu belongs at the bottom of the depth chart, and Tommy Streeter remains unrealized potential.  Louis Murphy and a personal favorite, Lavelle Hawkins, were added to compete, but in an ideal world, they’re fighting for one roster spot.

Oneil Cousins follows OL coach George Warhop to Tampa, but like the receivers above, he’s camp competition.  The same goes for the re-signed Jamon Meredith.  The Bucs are hoping Carl Nicks can suit up at left guard, but they need to at add least one more starting caliber guard.

You can never have enough pass rushers, and I’d like to have a tight end who doesn’t tip plays.  I’d still like to upgrade over Mason Foster, but I think his competition will come from Dane Fletcher rather than the draft.  Dashon Goldson might go the way of Penn, Williams, and Zuttah next year, but I don’t expect the Bucs to spend a day one or two pick on the position this year. 

What will the Bucs do at #7?  That’s the question on Bucs fans’ minds.  Below is my take on the draft’s first 38 picks as well as what the Bucs will do with all of theirs.  To make things as entertaining as possible yet remain fairly realistic, I’ve included trades, quite a few.  Might the Bucs be involved in such a scenario?  Let’s find out.

Round 1

1) Houston Texans – Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
I’m still going with Bortles as the Texans pick to kick things off.  Ryan Fitzpatrick was brought in to be the bridge/backup to whoever they draft this year, and I think that’s going to be Bortles.  Clowney is the only other way I’d go with this.  He may not be an ideal 3-4 OLB, but Romeo Crennel would find a way to maximize his talents. 

2) Atlanta Falcons (TRADE) – Jadeveon Clowney (DE, S Carolina)
Again I have the Rams trading out of this spot, but this time I’m going with the Falcons to move up and get their pass rusher.  There are connections between the two front offices, and they even consummated a trade in last year’s draft. 

3) Jacksonville Jaguars – Khalil Mack (DE/OLB, Buffalo)
Last time I had the Jags passing on a passer for Clowney.  I still think they go with a pass rusher and address QB with a later pick.  While they have brought in a couple of Gus Bradley’s former Seahawks, the Jags aren’t suddenly pass rush rich.  Here they take the remaining consensus-elite defender.  I even think they’d take Watkins before any of the QBs. 

4) Cleveland Browns – Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
Sorry Bucs fans.  I don’t think Watkins makes it to #7.  In fact, I see three teams more likely to end up with him than the Bucs.  If the Browns or Raiders don’t take Watkins, I think Detroit will maneuver ahead of Tampa Bay to get him.  Here the Browns get arguably the draft’s most talented offensive player and can find Brian Hoyer’s competition with their next pick. 

5) Oakland Raiders – Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
Surprising no one, the draft’s first swerve comes from Oakland.  Their roster is the most depressing in the league and needs help literally everywhere.  Taking one of the top tackles would be my alternate route, but acquiring arguably the drafts best interior rusher is a great way for a team that defines the word ‘rebuilding’ to start doing just that.

6) St. Louis Rams (TRADE) – Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
I had the Rams selecting Matthews last time, and I’m sticking with it here.  Robinson has received more air time during draft season, but I still think Matthews is the smarter pick. 

7) Baltimore Ravens (TRADE) – Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
Yes, the Bucs move down.  Evans would address the departure of Williams, but I believe there is better value in trading down.  Ozzie Newsome finally gets his replacement for Anquan Boldin, and combined with Torrey Smith, a healthy Dennis Pitta, and the recently-acquired Steve Smith, gives the Joe Flacco an impressive arsenal that may need to lean more on the passing game, depending upon what happens with Ray Rice’s off-field situation.  To make the move down the board to #17, I have the Bucs picking up Baltimore’s picks in round one, two, and four. 

8) New York Giants (TRADE) – Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
I think Minnesota is very eager to move down, and having Robinson remain on the board should help their cause.  The Giants really need to turn things around, and while Robinson isn’t going to score a lot of touchdowns himself, most importantly the Giants needed to emerge from the first round with a great player.  Moving up for Robinson helps them do that.

9) Buffalo Bills – Zack Martin (OL, Notre Dame)
The Bills are often good for a surprise pick on draft day, and they continue the tradition here.  I don’t think Martin is a bad pick but one that would surprise a lot of people who take prospect rankings as fact.  Martin gives the Bills options on the left side with Cordy Glenn. 

10) Detroit Lions – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
Failing to trade up for Watkins or Evans, the Lions here look to upgrade the secondary.  Pass rusher or cornerback would be my other guesses, but I think getting a player with Ha Ha’s upside would be a good use of this pick. 

11) Tennessee Titans – Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
Gilbert appears to have solidified his place atop the list of cornerbacks and would fill an immediate need.  The Titans are often linked to Anthony Barr, and while they could use a talent upgrade at the position, they already have four OLBs that are likely to make the team.

12) Minnesota Vikings – CJ Mosley (LB, Alabama)
By trading down four spots the Vikings gain a pick or two and still get the player I think they’d be happy to select at #8.  I don’t believe they’re interested in any of the day one QBs and will instead select Zach Mettenberger on day two. 

13) St. Louis Rams – Odell Beckham (WR, LSU)
Rather than taking Watkins or Evans with their first pick, I think it would be wiser for the Rams to take their highest rated lineman there and then grab Beckham here.  Beckham is my second rated WR behind Watkins and gives Sam Bradford the best receiver he’s had as a pro.  I think Beckham is going to be really special. 

14) Cleveland Browns (TRADE) – Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
What a first day for the Browns.  They get Watkins with their first pick and are able to package their other first rounder and additional picks to swap spots with the Bears and get their QB.  Johnny Football sits in the green room longer than he’d have liked, but he’s got to like the prospects of throwing to Josh Gordon, Watkins, and Jordan Cameron.

15) Philadelphia Eagles (TRADE) – Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA)
Yes, another trade.  The Eagles are reportedly looking to upgrade their pass rush and have targeted former Chip Kelly Duck, Dion Jordan.  If they don’t acquire the third overall pick from last year’s draft, I could see them making this move for Barr.  I’m not a fan of his game, but maybe Kelly is.

16) Dallas Cowboys – Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
The Cowboys have seen just about all they want to see from Doug Free, so an upgrade at right tackle is high on their list of priorities.  I could see Jerry Jones targeting Lewan or Martin with his first round pick before a defensive player.

17) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TRADE)
With the agonizing additional ten pick wait having passed, the Bucs are now on the clock again.  Watkins, Clowney, and Mack are what I would consider the elite of the elite in this year’s draft, and with them off the board at #7, I would hope the Bucs exhaust all efforts to deal down.  I’ve mentioned QB, WR, G, and CB as the greatest positions of need, in my opinion, and see the Bucs targeting either a passer or a pass catcher in round one over one of the top tackles.  Do Licht and Lovie prefer Evans or more picks with which to continue their Buccaneeer makeover?

The pick – Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)
I still have Bortles as my #1 QB, but I’m in on Carr as well.  He fits what Tedford will look to do offensively and hopefully gives the Bucs the franchise QB they’ve been pursuing since Brad Johnson left.  Having McCown in house affords Carr a year to assimilate himself to the pro game and get even more on the same page with Tedford.  The QB-OC relationship is critical, and I couldn’t see a better fit in that regard.  I don’t believe the Bucs are interested in Bortles, Bridgewater, or Manziel and will rather look to draft Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, or Connor Shaw.

18) New York Jets – Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
This may be a little later than expected for Ebron, but he’s a guy I think will slide a bit on day one.  The Jets would be happy to see it happen, as they’re desperate for offensive playmakers.

19) San Francisco (TRADE) – Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State)
The Niners have plenty of picks in this year’s draft to move up and get their guy and are looking to upgrade receiver and cornerback.  Here I have them making a deal with the Dolphins to move up and get a dynamic receiver to line up inside boundary playmakers Boldin and Crabtree.  They’re really lacking behind their two starters, and Cooks gives them someone else for the Seahawks and the rest of the NFC to scheme against. 

20) Arizona Cardinals – Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville)
I don’t think the Cardinals will spend their first pick on an offensive lineman, so if they don’t’ take a pass rusher, I think they’ll look to solidify the safety spot next to Tyrann Mathieu.  I see Pryor as a really nice fit.

21) Green Bay Packers – RaShede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
Ted Thompson hopes to pull off some more draft magic and get the good RaShede Hageman, the day one prospect generating the most polar predictions. 

22) Pittsburgh Steelers (TRADE) – Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
Defensive line and cornerback are the two areas I think Pittsburgh will look to address first, and they take the anchor they’ve needed since Casey Hampton fell off a few years ago.

23) Kansas City Chiefs – Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
The Chiefs finally get a viable target to pair with Dwayne Bowe.  I’m not sure how much longer they can continue to win by giving Jamaal Charles 99% of their offensive touches. 

24) Cincinnati Bengals – Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri)
I’m going with a defensive end over a cornerback here.  Ealy helps make up for the loss of Johnson and gives them a versatile presence up front.

25) San Diego Chargers – Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
I think Fuller ends up going higher than this, but it didn’t happen here.  If not a corner, then Nix might get consideration if available.

26) Chicago Bears (TRADE) – Timmy Jernigan (DT, FSU)
Defensive line and secondary are the focus early on.  I think Chicago would pass on a DB to get a DT who can step in contribute right away.

27) New Orleans Saints – Dee Ford (DE/OLB, Auburn)
Dee Ford may think he’s as good as Clowney, but talent evaluators believe otherwise.  If not a pass rusher, a receiver like Benjamin wouldn’t surprise me. 

28) Carolina Panthers – Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)
It’s unknown how individual teams feel about Kouandjio’s health, but if his knee checks out, he’s quite a value at a high need position.

29) New England Patriots – Jace Amaro (TE, Texas A&M)
Maybe this is too common of a pick, but it makes a ton of sense.  With or without Gronk, the Patriots need to add a move-TE to the roster.  Amaro could be really dangerous in this offense.

30) Miami Dolphins (TRADE) – Morgan Moses (T, Virginia Tech)
The Dolphins signed a former Hokie in free agency to man the left tackle position, so it would only make sense to draft a former Hokie to fill the void at right tackle. 

31) Jacksonville Jaguars (TRADE) – Jimmy Garoppolo (QB, E Illinois)
The Jags get antsy and move up with Denver to grab Garoppolo.  Teddy Bridgewater remains unselected.

32) Seattle Seahawks – Kelvin Benjamin (WR, FSU)
Benjamin fills a need and would be a perfect fit for the champs, lining up with the dynamic Harvin and underrated Baldwin


Round 2

33) Houston Texans – Demarcus Lawrence (OLB, Boise State)
If they don’t take Clowney #1, I could see the Texans taking a pass rusher like Lawrence or Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu here.

34) Washington Redskins – Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
The Redskins badly need to upgrade their defensive backs and defensive backs coach.  They can only address one of them in the draft and grab the corner from Ohio State

35) Chicago Bears (TRADE) – Jimmie Ward (S, N Illinois)
After addressing the defensive line with Jernigan, the Bears take Ward with a pick obtained in my hypothetical trade with Cleveland.

36) Oakland Raiders – Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
Finally.  This looks awfully low for Bridgewater, but who really knows when any of these QBs will be picked?  This has to be the most uncertain and non-consensus QB class in quite some time.

37) St. Louis Rams – Jason Verrett (CB, TCU)
After getting Matthews and Beckham with their first two picks, the Rams get a really tough corner who will play a lot early and provide them with insurance should Trumaine Johnson struggle as a starter opposite Janoris Jenkins.

38) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best available at WR, DL, and CB is where I’m looking both here and with the #48 pick, the second rounder obtained from the Ravens in that first round trade.  Of those three positions, receiver is the clearest need.  I mention DL because I think Lovie really wants to beef up that front and could get an impact player in this round.  I rank cornerback as a higher need than most, but I’m simply not impressed with what the Bucs have other than Verner.  Of the players I’ve got going off the board in this vicinity, I think Benjamin and Verrett would both interest the Bucs quite a bit. 

Given that Vincent Jackson is the only starting caliber receiver on the roster, I think the Bucs will have a tough time waiting any later to address the position.  If I’m picking a wideout here, and Benjamin isn’t in play, I’ve got it down to three players – Davante Adams, Donte Moncrief, and Allen Robinson.  What are the Bucs likely looking for? 

They need a starter; someone who can be today’s #2 and possibly tomorrow’s #1.  They want a receiver with speed in space who can gain separation and win downfield.  I’m also going to assume that Lovie will influence catch radius and winning the battle at the point of catch.  Who checks the most boxes?

As much as I like Robinson, he’s the first one eliminated.  I think he would interest Lovie as someone who plays with a lot of physicality and wins at the point of contact, but how much will his lack of separation hurt him in the pros?  I’d be happy if he was the pick, but I think the Bucs are going to look for a receiver with a better chance of developing into a #1. 

Moncrief and Adams better fit that mold.  I’m a huge Moncrief fan.  I believe that in three years, he will be at worst the fifth most productive receiver from this class.  I think Moncrief has a higher upside and played with a lot more physicality in college than Adams.  On the other hand, Adams is a more consistent and fundamentally sound pass catcher and does a better job of winning aerial battles for the ball.  I love how he snatches it out of the air from a variety of positions on the field; shows very reliable hands.  If the Bucs indeed take Carr in the first round, you’ve got to think that couldn’t hurt Adams’ chances of being the pick. 

In the end I think Licht and Lovie would take who they see as the safer of the two options.  Although I like Moncrief more, I’m guessing that would be….

Davante Adams (WR, Fresno State)

Pick #48
I’m having a really hard time trying to decide between two players with this hypothetical second rounder from Baltimore

I’ve listed slot corner as a need for the Bucs on more than one occasion and believe that Lamarcus Joyner would be an ideal fit in Lovie’s defense.  He can cover the slot, support the run, blitz the passer, contribute on special teams, and potentially, see time at safety as well.  That last item could be of importance depending upon what Licht and Lovie think of Goldson’s future with the team.

Back and forth I’ve gone on this, and I’m sure I will again.  As much as I love Joyner, I wouldn’t be able to pass up Dominique Easley if he were to be here for the Bucs to take with an additional second rounder.  As I type this he has yet to work out for teams, and we don’t know much about his knee.  Given the type of talent he was prior to his injury and how quickly and successfully he recovered from his first ACL injury, he’s a steal and a damn good addition to a young defensive line. 

The pick – Dominique Easley (DT, Florida)

Round 3
Offensive line and cornerback are two positions of need I’ve yet to address, but I don’t love the projected value at those positions in this round.  Dakota Dozier is the only guard I’d target in this range, and I don’t know enough about him to make a case for the guy.  Jaylen Watkins might be the best value at corner in this round, but I can’t go there for fear of Gooberville overload.

I still want the Bucs to get a tight end, and CJ Fiedorowicz, the guy I listed as the Bucs fourth round pick in my last mock, is my favorite for them.  He’s an underutilized pass catcher who would be the teams’ best blocking tight end the moment he signed.  Lots of upside there I think.

Instead I pass for who I believe to be a better talent as a position, and specifically a skill, in which the Bucs are lacking.  I’ll keep my rant short.  I’ve been pining for a quick/elusive talent for some time, and Tedford is, thankfully, looking for receivers with that ability.  Here they get a really tough slot guy with a ton of potential.  He doesn’t shy away from contact and runs like a running back with the ball in his hands.  Like Adams, I think he’ll be attractive to Lovie due to his ability to make contested catches. 

The pick – Bruce Ellington (WR, South Carolina)

Round 4
The Bucs still don’t have a fourth round pick, but I gave them one in this mock trade with the Ravens.  If they have yet to address the cornerback position and have a chance to do so here, my target would be Rashaad Reynolds.  If the Bucs can’t get Joyner, I think Reynolds brings that same style of play as an undersized physical corner who can cover, support the run, and line up in multiple spots. 

I hate to keep taking player with medical issues, but if Clemson’s Brandon Thomas is still on the board at this point, you’ve got to think he’s worth the investment, even if you don’t get anything from him this year.  Thomas was viewed as a rising talent in the draft capable of playing both tackle and guard in the NFL.  EJ Gaines from Missouri is the other corner I’d consider if Reynolds isn’t available.  Two more players I like in this area (rounds 3-5) are Terrence Brooks and Christian Jones.  Yes, two Noles.  Brooks would be a great fit at free safety, and Jones could provide competition at both SLB and MLB. 

The pick – Rashaad Reynolds (CB, Oregon State)

Round 5
I understand the situation at guard.  Carl Nicks is a huge question mark, and Oneil Cousins better not be starting on the right side.  Still, I’m simply not in love at all with the guard talent in this draft.  Despite the need at the position, I cannot justify spending earlier picks on inferior talent at the expense of other positions of need.

Here I think the Bucs can get a guy like Anthony Steen from Alabama or Jon Halapio from Florida.  I’ve been on the Halapio bandwagon a while, but I think Steen might offer more of what this coaching staff is looking for.  Steen doesn’t have superstar athleticism, but I think he has a fairly high floor as someone with incredible strength and consistent technique. 

The pick – Anthony Steen (G, Alabama)

Round 6
With the Mike Williams pick I’m taking a shot on one of the few TE prospects I like in this draft.  This guy is a big bodied TE who offers a lot of upside in both the receiving in blocking games.  If they haven’t taken a corner yet, I would target Bene Benewikere from San Jose State (no that’s not him in the picture below). 

The pick – Crockett Gillmore (TE, Colorado State)

Round 7
Like most seventh round picks, this one is really a shot in the dark.  The Bucs need depth on the offensive line more than anywhere else, so here I’m taking a shot on a guy who was a captain and brings a lot of natural strength to the position.  John Brown of Pittsburgh State is a vertical threat I’d look at if the Bucs had not drafted two receivers already. 

The pick – Corey Linsley (C, Ohio State)

R1 – Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)
R2a – Davonte Adams (WR, Fresno State)
R2b – Dominique Easley (DT, Florida)
R3 – Bruce Ellington (WR, South Carolina)
R4 – Rashaad Reynolds (CB, Oregon State)
R5 – Anthony Steen (G, Alabama)
R6 – Crockett Gillmore (TE, Colorado St)
R7 – Corey Linsley (C, Ohio State)

I get a hopeful franchise QB, a steal of a pass rusher, and two receivers who can contribute right away.  I also address other needs with a potential slot corner, two offensive linemen, and a tight end to develop behind Myers and Wright.  The dual Fresno State picks early on may turn off a lot of people, but I’m now a believer in Derek Carr.  I think he has what it takes to make those around him better players and be a leader of a perennial contender.  If you put Adams on another college team, he’s still a stud.  His familiarity and success with Carr is a plus, not what makes him.  I believe they’ll both excel in traditional style pro offenses. 

I realize predicting a trade of this nature for the Bucs isn’t terribly likely.  If it ends up happening, maybe I need to go into another line of work.  I did it to demonstrate the potential gains of moving down the board in round one should the situation present itself and, to be quite honest, to point out the prospects I’m high on at positions of need. 

Go Bucs!