Many mock drafts have predicted that the Bucs and head coach Bruce Arians may be in position to draft a running back relatively high when the 2021 NFL Draft rolls around this April, however many of those predictions came prior to the Bucs’ re-signing running back Leonard Fournette.
After all, Fournette and Ronald Jones II combined for 79 percent of the Bucs’ offensive snaps in the 2020 regular season, and the team still has 2020 third-round pick Ke’Shawn Vaughn preparing to enter his second season.
“That all can be defined through practice and OTAs and training camp and preseason,” Arians said about each back’s role for the 2021 season. “Those guys are all here and know what the system is and the best players are going to play. Obviously we have two really, really good ones at that position and I really like Ke’Shawn Vaughn. I think that with an offseason he’s going to have a breakout year also. All of those roles will be defined by the time that we get to the last week of the preseason.”
It was a rough rookie season for Vaughn, who fumbled twice and dropped four passes on just nine targets. Still, there were flashes as a runner and as a receiver, as the Vanderbilt product rushed for 109 yards on 26 carries for an average of over four yards a pop. Despite Tampa Bay essentially bringing back the same running back group they had in 2021, sans veteran LeSean McCoy, Arians wouldn’t rule out the potential of drafting a running back in the upcoming draft.
“Probably not,” Arians said about ruling out drafting a running back. “This year, going into this draft, [we’re probably going to target] the best player available, probably in every round. I can’t really say that I’ve ever gone into a draft not having a need, a drastic need. So it’s going to be fun because there’s going to be so many guys available, it’s just the beauty pageant part of it. ‘We like this corner better than that back, or this defensive end, and how much can they help us on special teams right away?’ So that part of it, it won’t change.”
Another thing that may crucially keep a running back in the cards for Tampa Bay this draft season is the current contract situations of the backs on their roster. While Tampa Bay may feel comfortable with their running backs for now, both Fournette and Jones will be heading to free agency next offseason, barring an extension. Unless Vaughn proves to be the breakout stud Arians is predicting, the Bucs will need more help in their backfield via the draft.