We’ve talked a lot about who the Bucs should select with the 32nd overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. To the point where the options feel narrowed down to just a few position groups. The Bucs could look for an edge defender to eventually replace the aging outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul. They could look for depth on the offensive line to step in for Ryan Jensen and/or Alex Cappa in 2022. Or find a wide receiver to replace Antonio Brown. A few other positions like defensive tackle or cornerback remain less likely, but are still possibilities depending on who is on the board at 32.
But the reality is, Tampa Bay shouldn’t select a player at any of those positions. Not in the first round. Not at No. 32 overall.
No, in this draft class, the Bucs should be concerned with one thing above all else: trading back to stockpile picks in future, better drafts, or to acquire more opportunities to draft a good player in this year’s class.
I’m not saying next year’s draft will be better than this one. I really don’t know what 2022 holds, and I’m not sure anyone else does either. With all the opt-outs for this past season and how little college football was played in many conferences, we are more in the dark about future drafts than ever before. But we do know this draft class is not very good or is very risky at the key positions that the Bucs need to address for their roster long term.
Sitting at 32 overall, the Bucs are highly unlikely to get one of a handful of premier players in the draft, especially at one of the few positions they should look to address. If they have the opportunity to trade back and acquire future picks, that could be extremely beneficial in their quest to find Tom Brady’s eventual replacement, or to move up for a game-changer player at another position of need in next year’s draft if necessary.
Trading back is such a useful strategy when you’re in the draft position the Bucs are in, because it gives you more opportunities to acquire good players in a range of the draft where things become more of a crapshoot, especially in 2021. Believe it or not, spraying and praying is a good draft strategy! It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make educated guesses at positions of value/need, but the more guesses (picks) you have, the better the chances you land a good player. Or maybe two.
There have been studies indicating just how useful this strategy is, and while I don’t appeal completely to the science behind something with so many variables, Tampa Bay’s draft position in 2021 is exactly where the principle can be perfectly applied. The way I see this class, and the way most classes actually unfold, picks 20-32 aren’t much more valuable than picks 33-45 or even 33-50. The Bucs have a rare opportunity to infuse a collection of young talent onto the roster if they move back once or twice in the first few rounds of the draft. That could help keep their Super Bowl window open long term.
Bucs Can Move Back And Still Fill A “Need”
Of course, Jason Licht still has to nail the picks. But the process of moving back, especially in the late first round range of the draft, is a good one. And in this draft, it might be a great one. The Bucs’ biggest needs are at edge defender, defensive tackle and interior offensive line. Moving back might not hurt them in their quest to land a target player at those positions.
The edge defender class is talented, but of the four who might go in the first round, none are close to a sure thing. According to Grinding The Mocks, Miami’s Jaelan Phillips, Michigan’s Kwity Paye and Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari are all expected to be off the board before the Bucs’ selection, leaving Penn State’s Jayson Oweh, Miami’s Gregory Rousseau and Washington’s Joe Tryon as the most likely targets in the latter stages of Round 1. I’ve written at length about all three, including why Oweh and Tryon’s lack of production and skill as pass rushers makes them too great a risk that early in the draft, and why Rousseau should actually be a Day 3 prospect.
The Bucs could find a good edge rusher. And they could do it by moving down into the second round of the draft while adding other picks. There’s a good chance Oweh and Tryon could still be on the board depending how far back Tampa Bay moves. Or the team could opt for a better player in Houston’s Payton Turner later in the second round. It’s the perfect move-down scenario when a team wants a player at a certain position and sees a bunch of comparable prospects still on the board. Better to move back and get an extra pick than to stay put and just take the next one.
At defensive tackle, the Bucs path becomes even more clear. Christian Barmore widely expected to be off the board in the Top 25 picks. Then the best defensive tackles remaining at 32 will be Washington’s Levi Onwuzurike and Iowa’s Daviyon Nixon. Both are roller coaster rides on tape, with very little consistency and limited production. Onwuzurike opted out of 2020 and got banged up at the Senior Bowl and his pro day. Nixon struggled against top competition in 2021. Raw talent oozes from both players in flashes on tape. But it is anyone’s guess how they’ll develop at the next level. That is a position that demands a lot technically and mentally.
Unfortunately, the run on tier 2 offensive linemen might end just before the Bucs at No. 32. If Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins or USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker somehow slide down the board, then sure, stay at 32 and select one of those studs. But I think both players will be gone in the 10-24 range of the draft. Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw, too. That leaves Alabama center Landon Dickerson and Notre Dame offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg as the Bucs’ best potential offensive line targets in Round 1. And they can probably trade back a few spots and pick up either player.
Managing Risks In The Draft
Even if the Bucs go outside their big four position groups for a player, there are risks everywhere. LSU receiver Terrace Marshall is talented, but extremely raw with a long way to go as a route runner. I’ve given up on Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II being there at 32. But Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley could fall to Tampa Bay due to injury concerns. If he gets to 32 though, what did teams in the other 31 spots see in his health assessment?
I’m not trying to make the case that any of these prospects would be bad picks. This is the NFL Draft, you accept risks all across the board when you make draft selections. Risky picks aren’t always bad picks. And some of the aforementioned players will become studs in the NFL despite those risks. But due to the strength of their roster, the Bucs are in a unique position that they don’t have to take those typical risks. At least not at their original draft spot. If the general consensus is that this year’s draft offers very few difference-making options at 32, the Bucs best strategy should be to double their chances of hitting on a potential stud by adding more picks for the 2021 or 2022 drafts.
What if the Broncos want to move up from 40 to 32 for Stanford QB Davis Mills? Or the Dolphins see a tackle like Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood or Texas’ Sam Cosmi that they want to jump up from 36 and select? Or Philly trying to come up from No. 37 for a cornerback or a receiver depending on what position they selected in Round 1?
The possibilities are endless. And they could all result in the Bucs adding another second- or third-round pick to their array of selections in 2022, or give them an extra pick in the 2021 class. Tampa Bay doesn’t have holes at the positions likely to be the deepest at No. 32 (safety, tackle, linebacker). So making a trade down seem like an even more logical move. Licht has traded down in the first round twice before in his seven drafts as general manager. So don’t be surprised if he does it again. This time however, it’ll be out of the first round and into more draft picks – for 2021 and beyond.
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