As free agency ends and we enter the 2021 NFL Draft season in earnest, the Bucs are in a truly rare situation in the first round. With all 22 starters set to return from their Super Bowl Championship team and most of the team’s depth still in place, Tampa Bay has no holes in its starting lineup. That could make the first round of next month’s NFL Draft extremely interesting as most positions are undoubtedly on the board for the Buccaneers to consider in Round 1.
The most likely groups for the Bucs to address are the offensive and defensive lines, where the team needs to get younger and add depth. Running back is also fairly likely, as Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II will be free agents next spring. But the Bucs shouldn’t feel pressure to select from any of those position groups in the draft if the right player isn’t there, and it’s quite possible there won’t be a top OL, DL or RB option for them at No. 32 overall.
So what are some other positions the team could address if it truly wants to go best player available? Four players came to my mind when I thought of surprising first-round options for the Bucs in the 2021 NFL Draft.
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1. Florida WR Kadarius Toney
There’s no guarantee that wide receiver Antonio Brown is back in Tampa Bay this season, and that could leave the Bucs front office desiring another offensive weapon at some point in the draft. It’s unlikely that would be in the first round, but the point of this article is to focus on surprises that make sense at some level, and that’s what Toney would be.
What I like about Toney’s fit in Tampa Bay is that he’s a unique playmaker with the ball in his hands, capable of making defenders miss or running through tackles for extra yardage. His strength at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds is eye-popping, showing the contact balance and vision of a running back with the ball in his hands. If Brown isn’t back, Toney would be able to replace his screen game impact early on, and he’s a high-effort blocker who could get the job done when called upon.
Toney is far from a complete receiver, having really just become a full-time player last year at Florida, but his growth in a short time is pretty impressive. His 70 catches for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns was a big leap from the limited early production of Toney’s college tenure. Yes, his route-running leaves much to be desired and he may never be a great outside receiver, so perhaps the Bucs wouldn’t be interested in Round 1. Still, when you’re a great offense that has the opportunity to add a versatile, home run threat who could also improve the return game, you have to consider it with so few needs on your roster.
2. Penn State TE Pat Freiermuth
Already an impressive blocker, Freiermuth is undoubtedly a terrific fit in Bruce Arians offense, as he’s able to hold his own in-line on all three downs and still play in the slot as needed too. No, Freiermuth isn’t a great athlete, but he’s a capable one with good ball skills and the ability to break tackles post-catch. The Bucs will also love his ultra-physical mentality, which shows up in all aspects of his game.
Tampa Bay doesn’t have a single tight end locked in for the 2022 season (third-string tight end Cam Brate is scheduled to make $6.8 million at age 31), so Freiermuth could step in as soon as next season as the No. 1 guy. He’s fairly pro-ready for a college tight end, but that is typically a position that takes a year or two to fully acclimate to the NFL game. I think the Bucs will love some things about Freiermuth’s game, the question will be how does he fit into a crowded 2021 tight end room and whether the junior is really worth it at No. 32, or if he can be had in a trade-back scenario.
Owusu-Koramoah is listed as a linebacker on Notre Dame’s website, but he actually rarely played as a stacked ‘backer in the box, doing the vast majority of his work as a slot safety or overhang defender. When I watch Owusu-Koramoah I see a nickel and/or dime cover man who has the speed, explosiveness and fluidity to match up with wide receivers in man coverage from the slot, despite being 215 pounds. He’s also an elite blitzer, strong run defender and will trigger downhill on anything in the quick passing game.
The Bucs don’t have a crying need at any of those positions, but they are a defense that lacks a true slot, especially one that can step in against bigger targets inside. They tried to use Antoine Winfield, Jr. there at times last season, but they really prefer him as a deep safety. Jordan Whitehead isn’t an ideal option in man coverage. Adding Owusu-Koramoah would soften the loss of Whitehead in free agency next offseason, while also giving the Bucs match-up advantages against teams with big, athletic slot receivers in 2021. His presence could keep Sean Murphy-Bunting out of some sticky situations as an inside corner, while also giving the Bucs more speed, physicality and versatility for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to coach up.
There would be some luxury to a pick like Owusu-Koramoah, but I loved his tape at Notre Dame, and there’s a strong chance he could be the best player on the board when the Bucs pick at No. 32. Finding a plan and role for the Fighting Irish senior will be critical, and I think Bowles could definitely get the most out of his skill set.
4. Northwestern CB Greg Newsome
The Bucs have flooded their secondary in recent drafts, making it pretty unlikely that they select a defensive back in the first three rounds of the 2021 draft. But with Carlton Davis III’s future in Tampa Bay beyond this season a bit murky depending on how much he asks for in free agency, and Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean still roller-coasters two years into their NFL careers, the Bucs shouldn’t rule out taking a cornerback in the draft – even as early as Round 1.
One of the most important positions on the field, you can never have enough good corners, even if Ross Cockrell does return to the team. Newsome is an outstanding zone corner with terrific feet and closing burst on the ball – traits that are highly valued in Bowles’ defense – and traits that are currently pretty absent in the Bucs group of young press man corners. If Tampa Bay is going to man up in coverage like they did during the playoffs, Newsome has the elite length and athleticism to be a factor there as well. The Northwestern junior’s six games (one interception, six pass breakups) in 2020 were as good as any cornerback in the class, and his recent pro day has his stock soaring heading into April.
Newsome might be the least likely of all the players on this list to still be available at No. 32, but if he is, it would be a terrific value add for the Bucs. Not only would it add a talented player to the fold, but it would also give the team the flexibility they need to pick and choose who will be around long-term from their current group of cornerbacks.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft