Saturday, April 4, 2015

Predicting the 2015 Buccaneer Draft - Almost There

The first pick is nearly four weeks away, but it’s finally draft month.  Tampa Bay has been quiet in free agency the last couple of weeks, so the needs remain the same.  Here’s my updated look at how I believe the first round plays out as well as what the Bucs should do with all of their selections.

1) TB – Jameis Winston (QB, FSU)
It goes without saying that this pick will not change.  I believe that Jameis is the best player in this draft and will go down as the best QB in Tampa Bay history.  He was the team’s best option back in January, and the events of the offseason have only strengthened his case.  Some Bucs fans hesitate to embrace Jameis because of concerns about his character.  They may be dismayed that he’s not concerned with making people believe he’s a good guy.  He’s focused on greatness.  He’s been a winner and wants to continue that at the next level.  His message has been consistent.  He wants to be compared to Tom Brady.  He wants to win a Super Bowl this year.  He wants to be a hall of famer.  Like him or not, Bucs fans are going to appreciate the way this young man plays the position and becomes a leader of this franchise. 

2) TEN – Leonard Williams (DL, USC)
I’m still not buying Mariota going #2.  Tennessee takes the guy widely considered to be the best overall player in the draft.  Lining Williams up opposite Jurrell Casey beefs up an improving defense.

3) JAX – Vic Beasley (DE/OLB, Clemson)
I’ve had Dante Fowler here before, but I believe that Beasley is probably the best fit for the Jags LEO position on defense.  Jax will have their pick of edge rushers, so we’ll eventually see how right I am.

4) OAK – Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
Like anyone else who talks draft, I’m having a hard time putting any discernable difference between Cooper and Kevin White.  I’ve had White here both times in the past, but right now I’m leaning Cooper because he might be the safer option.  Can I really count on Oakland making the safe choice?

5) ATL – Dante Fowler (DE/OLB, Florida)
I think this trade makes a ton of sense for both teams.  Yes, Washington could use a pass rusher like Fowler after losing Brian Orakpo this offseason, but if they feel they can receive similar value three picks lower and gain one or more picks in return, I think they pull the trigger.  I like the potential of a trade between WAS/ATL.  Atlanta moves up to secure, arguably, the draft’s best pass rusher rather than hoping the guy they want falls to #8.

6) PHI – Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
Here’s how this one goes down.  There are several parts to it, but I believe it has substantial legs. 

First, I’m going to assume Philly and Cleveland have at least discussed the potential of making a deal should the draft play out where Mariota is available here.  The Browns reportedly were in on Sam Bradford, and here they get him.

Philly trades Bradford to the Browns for pick #19.  Philly then flips that selection, the 20th overall pick, and Mychal Kendricks, to the Jets for pick #6.  If you look at the trade value chart, #19 and #20 are more than enough for pick #6.  I think Kendricks is the cherry on top and an expendable player based on Philly’s offseason activity.  Chip Kelly said that he wouldn’t mortgage his future to move up for one player, but this scenario allows him to get his star pupil and stay true to his word.

7) CHI – Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
I’ve had them taking Cooper, and with him off the board, they take White.  Again, I don’t see a ton of difference in projecting these two receivers.

8) WAS – Brandon Scherff (OL, Iowa)
The Redskins move down 3 spots and still get a guy they would likely be comfortable taking at #5.

9) NYG – La’el Collins (OL, LSU)
I’ve got to think this pick goes to either the offensive or defensive line.  Scherff and Danny Shelton have been my previous picks for the Giants.  Collins is an immediate starter at RT and gives Eli some much-needed protection.

10) STL – Andrus Peat (OL, Stanford)
The run on offensive linemen continues with the Rams.  I think they’re in a tough spot here with Scherff and Collins going with the two previous picks, but they’ve apparently been in on Peat for a while.  Maybe they don’t see much separation here.

11) MIN – DeVante Parker (WR, Louisville)
Teddy Bridgewater gets his man.  This pick makes too much sense.  Parker is not a reach here at #11, fills a need, pairs nicely with recently acquired Mike Wallace, and is reunited with his collegiate QB.

12) CLE – Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
If Shelton falls this far, I’ve got to think the Browns jump on him.  Great value and fit.

13) NOR – Randy Gregory (DE/OLB, Nebraska)
Bob Marley doesn’t fall far.  The Saints take a bit of a chance in attempt to address their need for a pass rusher. 

14) MIA – Trae Waynes (CB, Michigan State)
Todd Gurley would be a nice surprise pick here, but with I think Waynes matches up well with Maimi’s need for a corner.

15) SF – Bud Dupree (DE/OLB, Kentucky)
Back before the regular season ended I had Dupree on my radar as an option for the Bucs in R2.  He’ll be off the board well before R1 ends, and even this might be too low for him.  Aldon Smith is unreliable, and there’s no pass rushing depth to speak of.

16) HOU – Malcom Brown (DL, Texas)
Big man doesn’t have to travel far and gives the Texans help opposite JJ Watt.

17) SD – Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
Barring a trade, San Diego is the second team in the draft (after Miami) I could see taking Gurley.  Taking the talented back and focusing on the offensive line in subsequent rounds would be a way to entice Philip Rivers to hang around.

18) KC – Eric Kendricks (LB, UCLA)
Same as last time.  I think this is either Kendricks or someone (Flowers) who can play RT.

19) NYJ – Shane Ray (DE/OLB, Missouri)
With the first pick acquired in the in the Mariota deal, the Jets take a pass rusher.  Ray “slides” in this version.  I think his less than stellar workout numbers will cause him to be the guy from this closely grouped group of pass rushers that could wait to hear his name called.

20) NYJ – Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
The Jets need to add talent in the backfield, and Gordon pairs nicely with Chris Ivory.

21) CIN – Ereck Flowers (OL, Miami)
Here’s another pick I think coes down to either the offensive or defensive line.  Flowers could be the best available lineman at this point. 

22) PIT – Landon Collins (S, Alabama)
Fit meets need meets value.  Collins could be the Andrew Luck to Troy Polamalu’s Peyton Manning.

23) DET – Eddie Goldman (DT, FSU)
Haloti Ngata was a nice response to losing Ndamukong Suh, but there’s still work to do up front.

24) ARI – Jalen Collins (CB, LSU)
After losing Antonio Cromartie in free agency, there’s an opening opposite Patrick Peterson.  Landing with a fellow former Tiger should be a good thing for the talented and inexperienced Collins.

25) CAR – Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
Ogbuehi often gets left out of the tackle conversation, in large part because of his ACL injury.  Free agent signing Michael Oher might be the bridge to the future of Ogbuehi. 

26) BAL – Jaelen Strong (WR, Arizona State)
Anyone paying attention knows that WR is a huge need for the Ravens.  I think Strong is their best option here, but Breshad Perriman could get their attention as well.

27) DAL – Kevin Johnson (CB, Wake Forest)
After adding Greg Hardy, finding a corner is Dallas’ biggest need.  Johnson doesn’t get a lot of attention but will be among the first off the board at his position.

28) DEN – Cameron Erving (OL, FSU)
He can play center or guard for the Broncos right now, both positions of need.

29) IND – Arik Armstead (DL, Oregon)
If the Colts want to make it past the Patriots, they must get better players on the defensive side of the ball.

30) GB – Stephone Anthony (LB, Clemson)
I’m going corner or linebacker here.  Anthony fills a need that seems to exist every year for this team.

31) NOR – Marcus Peters (CB, Washington)
If they go in on Gregory at #13, then why not go with another off-field question here?  Peters could be the best cornerback in this year’s draft class.

32) NE – Byron Jones (CB, Connecticut)
One of the stars of the offseason completes R1 and helps the Patriots slow the bleeding from the losses of both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

Round 2

33) TEN – TJ Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
The Titans could obviously go in several directions here, including trading the first pick of day two, but I’ve got them addressing a need at RT with a guy should pair nicely with LT Taylor Lewan for quite a while. 

34) TB
Nothing has changed.  Given the Bucs needs this pick still must be spent on either an offensive or defensive lineman.  Drafting any other position would be a mistake.  There are no “must have” prospects still on the board; no one to entice the Bucs to stray from their needs here. 

My three targets with the 34th pick are (in order) Jake Fisher, DJ Humphries, and Preston Smith.  The tackles are both among the top of this year’s class in their present ability to protect the passer.  Here’s how they checked in at the Combine:

Fisher – 6’6, 306 with 33 ¾ arms
Humphries – 6’6, 307 with 33 5/8 arms

Both have the size and athleticism (footwork, range, recovery) to project as left tackles with the ability to play on the right side as well.  I’m more comfortable with Fisher because of how refined he is already, but Humphries has just as much, if not more, potential.  Adding either Fisher or Humphries will not only improve protection for their rookie passer, but the skill sets of these two players along with Demar Dotson’s gives them some side flexibility/versatility with their tackles. 

Smith remains my favorite pass rusher in this range.  He’s got the size and ability to play all three downs, something this team desperately needs and won’t likely find in this year’s draft after this round.  One reason Smith isn’t rated higher is that he doesn’t play as fluid as his numbers suggest.  His versatility to line up in multiple spots up front will also be attractive to Lovie Smith. 

The pick – Jake Fisher (T, Oregon)

Round 3

So far the Bucs have taken a QB and someone to protect him.  I’d love to find a stud pass rusher here, but there’s a reason those guys aren’t readily available with the 65th pick in the draft.  The Bucs need to capitalize on talent here rather than blindly continuing down their checklist of needs. 

The three players I’m projecting here hold the talent worthy of the selection and address immediate needs.  In order they are Rashad Greene, Tre McBride, and Tre’ Jackson.  Yes, two of them are Noles. 

Possibly the biggest factor in Rashad’s favor is the fact that he’s Jameis’ go-to guy.  On a ’13 team with Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw, and Nick O’Leary, Rashad led them all in receptions (76) by 21.  This year he caught 99 passes, or 41 more than any other receiver on the roster.  Getting your new #1 asset his favorite collegiate target seems like a no-brainer.  Rashad obviously has a great relationship with Jameis, but he’s not simply a product of his QB’s success.  He has excellent hands, runs a full route tree, and despite a lack of great size or speed combined with the attention he gets from the defense, he’s routinely able to get open and make plays.  For the Bucs, he fills the immediate need of a slot receiver while also bringing the ability to play out wide when Vincent Jackson inevitably moves on. 

I’ve been driving the McBride bandwagon for a while now, and only the #1 pick’s #1 target could cause him not to be my #1 choice.  Like Rashad, McBride has the skills to play both inside and outside the formation.  His level of competition is in question, but McBride’s ability to make contested catches is not.  I’d be thrilled with either receiver. 

Jackson rounds out this group of candidates.  Regarded as one of this class’ top guards (for reference I have Cann and Tomlinson off the board at this point), he would slide right into the opening at RG, a position he played at FSU for the past 3+ years.  Jackson does most of his damage destroying defenders in the run game and needs to improve his technique in pass protection. 

Want a shocker for the 3rd round?  TJ Yeldon (RB, Alabama).  If the Bucs were to take a RB early, it should be Yeldon.  In my opinion, he represents this draft’s best running game partner to Charles Sims.  Yeldon could handle the early down work, while Sims is allowed to play the change of pace role for which he is better suited.  I still expect Doug Martin to be moved at some point, and while most Bucs fans would be upset with another early pick being spent on a RB, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility.  Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon) and Trey Flowers (DE, Arkansas) are two other players I’d consider in R3.

The pick – Rashad Greene (WR, FSU) 

Round 4

Here’s the haul through 3 rounds –
QB – Jameis Winston
OL – Jake Fisher
WR – Rashad Greene

The biggest remaining needs are starting talent on the offensive and defensive lines and depth at linebacker and in the secondary.  Seeing as how the Bucs current roster is lacking in overall talent, no position can be ignored.  However, I think the lines will receive higher consideration.

I’ve got a ton of candidates for this pick, spanning the offensive line, pass rusher, cornerback, wide receiver, and running back.  My favorites are Andy Gallik, John Miller, and Lynden Trail. 

I’ve already mentioned Gallik as an option for the Bucs.  He’s a really strong anchor who won’t get pushed around, which of course is a desirable trait for the guy playing in front of your passer.  Consistency is his game.  He was BC’s starting center for four years and the key to an offensive line that produced 212.5 rushing ypg in ’13 and 251.8 in ’14.  He makes all the line calls, and you don’t see many missteps in his footwork in the run game.  His knock is a lack of athleticism and size (6’2, 306), which has him in the R4 range rather than being an earlier pick. 

Similar to Gallik, Miller does everything you want from an interior lineman, but he isn’t as athletic or big as one might prefer.  Miller has good size (6’2, 303), but he’d ideally be another inch taller and 10 pounds heavier.  Power and consistency are his game.  He could step in and start right away at RG.

Trail was my previous R4 pick.  The athletic pass rushing project is still a candidate, but I believe Gallik and Miller represent safer gambles; something a team that has swung and missed as often as the Bucs must consider.

The other players I would consider in this round –
Rob Havenstein (T, Wisconsin), Mike Davis (RB, S Carolina), Donovan Smith (T, Penn State), Senquez Golson (CB, Mississippi), Justin Hardy (WR, ECU), Jeremy Langford (RB, Michigan St), Mitch Morse (G, Missouri), Za’Darius Smith (DE, Kentucky), and Cedric Reed (DE, Texas).

The Bucs currently own one 4th round pick, but if they are able/decide to deal Martin and/or Mike Glennon, maybe one of those other guys enters the equation.

The pick – Andy Gallik (OL, Boston College)

Round 5

The Bucs own two selections in this round.  In the past I’ve mocked Jeremiah Poutasi, Jarvis Harrison, and Stefon Diggs with those picks.  Given the way this draft has played out, with the Bucs spending all four previous picks on the offensive side of the ball, I’ve got a few new candidates for the fifth round, namely Ben Heeney and Zack Wagenmann. 

Heeney was a three year starting MLB for Kansas, team captain for the last two, and led the NCAA in solo tackles in ’14.  At 6’0, 230 he’s light for your prototypical MLB but is the epitome of the sideline-to-sideline player that the Bucs are reportedly looking for at the position.  He demonstrates above average straight line speed and change of direction.  Heeney is a form tackler and doesn’t make many missteps or misreads to the ball.  If you want to play a little past player association, Heeney should strive for Shelton Quarles’ career.  His speed, pursuit, and tackling ability will make him an instant star on special teams, and I expect he would start out as depth at SLB.  Also, if you haven’t done so already, do yourself a favor and check out the Captain Heeney website

Wagenmann is a pass rusher who accumulated 37.5 career sacks and 52 TFL in college.  Why in the world is he a 5th round prospect?  For starters, he played at Montana, an FCS university.  He also measures in at an undersized 6’3, 247.  His weak showing of strength at both the Combine and his pro day reveal his likely future as a situational rusher.  There’s plenty of room for guys like that in today’s NFL.  The guys at Pewter Report have been on Wagenmann for a while now, so I did some digging myself.  If the Bucs haven’t drafted a pass rusher at this point, I believe Wagenmann represents excellent value as someone to get after the passer and make contributions on special teams.

Poutasi would be on my radar if the Bucs don’t add a couple of offensive linemen earlier, but I think Harrison and Diggs have seen their stock settle a round lower.  Other players I’d target in R5 – Kenny Bell (WR, Nebraska), Jamison Crowder (WR, Duke), Karlos Williams (RB, FSU), Kevin White (CB, TCU), Kurtis Drummond (S, Michigan State), and Adrian Amos (S, Penn State).

The picks – Ben Heeney (LB, Kansas) and Zack Wagenmann (DE, Montana)

Rounds 6 & 7

Through five rounds, here’s the haul –

QB – Jameis Winston
OL – Jake Fisher
WR – Rashad Greene
OL – Andy Gallik
LB – Ben Heeney
DE – Zack Wagenmann

After signing Sterling Moore to man the nickel corner spot, I like the Bucs starters in three receiver sets.  What I don’t like is the complete lack of talented depth behind Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks, and Moore. 

As I mentioned earlier, I still believe that Martin gets moved.  Fans may not like the return, but that hasn’t stopped this regime from moving players they don’t believe fits their plan. 

I wouldn’t sneeze at another offensive or defensive lineman in these rounds either.

In the end, I’m sticking with my previous picks.  I still believe that Bobby McCain will be a starting caliber corner and that John Crockett can be a three-down NFL rusher.

The picks – Bobby McCain (CB, Memphis) and John Crockett (RB, North Dakota State)

I’ve got quite a few players I’d consider either in R7 or as undrafted free agents.  They are –

Cody Fajardo (QB, Nevada)
Hutson Mason (QB, Georgia)
Shane Carden (QB, ECU)
Laurence Gibson (OL, Virginia Tech)
Mark Glowinski (OL, West Virginia)
Doniel Gambrell (OL, Notre Dame College)
Adam Shead (OL, Oklahoma)
Max Garcia (OL, Florida)
DeAndrew White (WR, Alabama)
Mike Reilly (DE, North Dakota State)
Mark Nzeocha (LB, Wyoming)
Tye Smith (CB, Towson)
Bryce Callahan (CB, Rice)
Robertson Daniel (CB, BYU)
Donald Celiscar (DB, Western Michigan)
Cody Riggs (DB, Notre Dame)
Dean Marlowe (S, James Madison)

Total Haul

Jameis Winston (QB, FSU)
Jake Fisher (OL, Oregon)
Rashad Greene (WR, FSU)
Andy Gallik (OL, Boston College)
Ben Heeney (LB, Kansas)
Zack Wagenmann (DE, Montana)
Bobby McCain (CB, Memphis)
John Crockett (RB, North Dakota State)

In this draft the Bucs take their 5th R1 QB in team history, two long term starters on the OL, a starting slot receiver and new #3 on the depth chart, a starting caliber nickel corner, two defensive reserves with big special teams potential, and a rusher to add to the backfield equation.

Go Bucs!

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