PewterReport.com outlined the problems facing the NFL and college football with a record 98 underclassmen entering the 2014 NFL Draft. However, if a team drafts the right underclassmen it can pay off some real dividends, as the tandem of defensive linemen Akeem Spence and William Gholston did last year as rookies after being selected in the fourth round by Tampa Bay.
The Bucs have only drafted three underclassmen – Spence, Gholston and Da’Quan Bowers (second round, 2011) in the past three years out of team’s 21 draft picks during that span. Today, PewterReport.com lists five underclassmen that are projected first-round picks that could help the Buccaneers in 2014.
Because Tampa Bay appears to be willing to give Mike Glennon the 2014 season to see if he can be the team’s quarterback of the present and the future, PewterReport.com does not believe the Bucs will be selecting one of the three junior quarterbacks – Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles – in the first round, and thus does not include their profiles in this article.
5 UNDERCLASSMEN THAT CAN HELP THE BUCS IN ROUND 1 OF THE 2014 NFL DRAFT
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney – Top 5
It is doubtful that Clowney, the top-rated defensive prospect in the draft, would slip to the Bucs, who own the seventh overall pick, but few thought legendary defensive tackle Warren Sapp would fall to 12th spot to Tampa Bay in 1995. Clowney is an athletic freak of a pass rusher, notching 24 sacks, 47 tackles for loss and nine forced fumbles in his South Carolina career.
The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Clowney burst onto the scene as a sophomore, notching 23.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and three forced fumbles. With just 11.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble, his numbers were down considerably in 2013 as Clowney was a marked man, facing countless double teams. NFL scouts questioned his effort as he seemed resigned to being double-teamed at times, knowing that he had already secured his top five draft status.
There’s no denying Clowney’s ability, though, and he will dominate at the combine, which could catapult him to Houston, which owns the top overall draft pick. The Bucs likely don’t have enough draft picks to use as ammunition to trade up in the first round to select Clowney.
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins – Top 10
Listed at 6-foot-1, 205, Watkins plays bigger than his size due to his long arms and big hands. He had a record-setting season as a junior in 2013, catching 101 passes for 1,464 yards (14.5 avg.) and 12 touchdowns, due to a Clemson and Orange Bowl-record 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-35 victory over Ohio State.
Watkins is a rare talent as he is a big receiver that possesses small receiver speed. Expected to run in the 4.4-range at the Combine, Watkins had touchdown catches of 91 and 96 yards in 2013 and had 12 offensive plays of 50 yards or more in his three years with the Tigers.
Watkins burst onto the scene as a freshman, catching 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. His numbers fell in 2012 as injuries and an early season suspension for an offseason marijuana arrest that caused him to lose focus. But Watkins regained that focus in 2013 and has positioned himself as a top 10 pick and the top-rated receiver in the 2014 draft.
The Bucs need a complete receiver with leaping ability to be a viable red zone target and the deep speed to be a yards-after-catch threat. Watkins brings added value as a kick returner, as he returned 60 kickoffs for 1,376 yards (22.9 avg.) and one touchdown. Watkins would be an ideal fit in Jeff Tedford’s offense and it would be hard for the Buccaneers to bypass him if he’s still available with the seventh overall pick.
Auburn OT Greg Robinson – Top 10
The pre-draft process will determine if Robinson can play left tackle in the NFL or if he would be a more effective right tackle, and if he will have the chance to overtake the top-rated tackle, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Robinson is a mauling run blocker that plays with great leverage, pad level and powerful leg drive. Robinson has the athleticism and quick feet to be a good pass protector, but Auburn’s run-first offense didn’t afford him a lot of opportunities to showcase those skills and ultimately improve them.
If Robinson is available when Tampa Bay picks seventh overall he will be hard to pass up, especially with the Bucs needing depth at offensive tackle. If he wasn’t deemed to be good enough to play left tackle in Tampa Bay, the Bucs could move Demar Dotson to the left side to challenge the aging Donald Penn, whose play dipped in 2013, and insert Robinson at right tackle to help bolster the offensive line.
Missouri DE Kony Ealy – First Round
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Ealy is one of the fastest rising players in the 2014 NFL Draft. A relative newcomer to football, Ealy has only been playing the sport since his junior season in high school, and had a breakout junior season in college with 14.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, including three multiple-sack games, six passes defensed, three forced fumbles and an interception he returned for a touchdown. In three years at Mizzou, Ealy recorded 25.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, 13 pass breakups, four forced fumbles and a pick-six.
Ealy reminds some talent evaluators that have scouted Missouri football of former Tigers pass rusher Aldon Smith, but his raw skill set is more like that of Ezekiel Ansah or Jason Pierre-Paul – two first-rounders that had a very limited football background before entering the NFL. Ealy could develop into a dominant defensive end in the NFL and has first-round ability, but he may be a bit of a project and he might not make the instant impact that the Buccaneers defense needs in 2014.
The Bucs have a similarly built player in William Gholston, but a team can never have enough pass rushers and picking Ealy with the seventh overall pick might not be considered a reach.
USC WR Marqise Lee – First Round
At 6-foot, 195 pounds, Lee is big enough to play wide receiver and athletic enough to be a dangerous slot receiver at the next level, which gives him great versatility. Lee, who possesses tremendous speed and agility, amassed 248 catches for 3,655 yards and 29 touchdowns in his three years at USC.
After a freshman season that saw him catch 73 passes for 1,143 yards (15.7 avg.) and 11 touchdowns, Lee had a monster sophomore campaign, catching 118 passes for 1,721 yards (14.6 avg.) and 14 scores. Lee set the stage for a great 2012 season by ending his freshman season with 13 catches for 224 yards and two scores against UCLA in a 50-0 victory. As a sophomore, Lee set USC and Pac-12 records with a 16-catch, 345-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 39-36 loss to Arizona.
Lee had 15 games with 100 receiving yards or more for the Trojans, and showcased his elite speed with 10 catches of 55 yards or more. His numbers slumped as a junior with the departure of quarterback Matt Barkley, and Lee posted just 57 catches for 791 yards and four touchdowns.
While Bucs fans love the idea of their team drafting Watkins in the first round, Lee might be just as good of a fit in Tedford’s offense because of his ability to play flanker, split end and slot receiver, and the added bonus of him returning kicks. Lee, who reminds some of a bigger version of DeSean Jackson, has returned 50 kicks for 1305 yards (26.1 avg.) and two touchdowns at USC.
Tomorrow, PewterReport.com will profile five underclassmen that can help the Buccaneers in rounds 2-7 of the 2014 NFL Draft.