Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Stat(s) of the Week
Well, friends, here we are at the end of the road. As the 2019 regular season has come to a close, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the year with a 7-9 record.
I don’t want to say I told you so, but I did predict the Bucs to go 7-9 this season, so I told you so.
I am kidding. Even though I did predict a 7-9 season, it didn’t look exactly how I thought it would. I said in my season prediction Pewter Report Roundtable that a tough schedule and unfortunate injuries would cause the Bucs to miss the .500 mark again this season, and both of those factors did come to fruition. I also said that the MVP of this team would be Shaq Barrett, but of course no one could have seen a 19.5-sack season coming.
I say all that not to brag, but to maybe bring us back down to reality. This year was never about the playoffs. It was about a building block. It was about setting up a foundation on both offense and defense, and changing a culture from losers into maybe-somethings in the near future.
On offense, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin showed the world they’re the best WR duo in the entire NFL, and that should remain true next season. On defense, when Tampa Bay had Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul healthy and starting, they too were one of the best duos at their positions in the league.
Many of the Buccaneers rookies also stepped up this season, and could see continued starting roles in the future. Many of the holes on the roster were attacked this offseason, and many were filled.
But Tampa Bay did ultimately fall short of its goal. Part of that has to do with the schedule. Part of it has to do with unfortunate timing, bad luck and some harsh injuries. And part of it has to do with the most important position on their team: the quarterback.
Jameis Winston led the NFL in passing yards this season with 5,109, and he nearly led the NFL in passing touchdowns (33), too. But he also lead the NFL in giveaways by a wide margin (39). Because of that, his future on this team is up in the air despite a historic year statistically.
The team took a big step in the right direction in many areas this season, but the Bucs are far from perfect. In this Cover 3, I am going to analyze the five positions I believe this team should focus on most in the 2020 offseason, as well as offer you all my first seven-round mock draft to address those needs as best they can.
Let’s get right to it.
Sweet Spot: Rounds 1-2
If you ask me, offensive tackle is the highest priority for the Buccaneers going into 2020. The team signed left tackle Donovan Smith to a three-year deal last offseason to solidify his place on the team for at least the next two years. The $41.5-million deal he signed was front-loaded, and after next season, his final year has no guarantees to it. But you can expect Smith to still be this team’s left tackle next season. He has improved steadily during his time in the league, and though he isn’t a Top 10 offensive tackle in the league, he is serviceable as a starter.
Along the interior, Ali Marpet continues to play at a Pro Bowl level at left guard. Next to him, center Ryan Jensen had a tough first year in Tampa in 2018, committing 11 penalties and just not being the consistent player he needed to be. This year he settled down much more, only committing three penalties all year and was much more reliable all around. At right guard, a position the Bucs have been searching to solidify for years, Alex Cappa has emerged as a consistent starter. Those three likely won’t be going anywhere as the interior starters for this team heading into next year.
That leaves one more player, veteran right tackle Demar Dotson. At 34 years old, Dotson has been with the Buccaneers now for over a decade. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009 and has been a contributing player and long-time starter ever since. Dotson said he still has some gas left in the tank, but Tampa Bay would be wise to draft a player at his position, even if Dotson is back in some capacity for 2020.
This draft is shaping up to be a good one at offensive tackle. At the top there are players like Andrew Thomas from Georgia, Tristan Wirfs from Iowa and Jedrick Willis from Alabama. These guys seem to be starting-caliber offensive tackles with a lot of upside. After them, Mekhi Becton from Louisville, Alex Leatherwood from Alabama and Prince Tega Wanogho from Auburn will likely be Top 50 picks, too.
The Buccaneers have some flexibility in their draft plans, but if they want an offensive tackle to potentially take Dotson’s place next season and maybe even Smith’s in years that follow, they better pull the trigger with one of their two Top 50 selections.
Priority: Medium to High
Sweet Spot: Round 1
Unlike the offensive line, the Buccaneers could be in for a big shake up along the interior defensive line.
The big name here is Nadamuklong Suh, who signed a one-year, $9.25-million deal with the Bucs last offseason. Head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles have both spoken of their desire to keep as much of the front seven intact for next year as they can, but Suh is the tricky one.
With a big decision coming with Jameis Winston’s contract, as well as big pay days for Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett, the Bucs will have to curb spending somewhere. If Suh is back in Tampa, he would likely have to take a deal around the $6 – $7 million range.
As for the depth, Beau Allen and Rakeem Nunez-Roches are both free agents this offseason, plus none of William Gholston’s deal for the next two years of his contract are guaranteed. They could bring both Allen and Nunez-Roches back on smaller deals, but they could also switch them out. Who knows there.
With so much uncertainty, and with a desire to likely get more pass rush from the position (only six sacks from the interior guys in 2019), the Bucs could stand to pick up a defensive lineman on Day 2 of the draft. Unfortunately, the real sweet sport for getting a difference-maker in this class seems to be at the very top with not as much depth as other years. Guys like Derrick Brown from Auburn, Javon Kinlaw from South Carolina and Neville Gallimore from Oklahoma are the top names that will all likely be gone by the end of the first round. If they Bucs do wait a bit to make their move at that position, Jordan Elliott from Missouri, Rashard Lawrence from LSU and Raequan Williams from Michigan State could be on their radar.
Sweet Spot: Rounds 2-3
It took 17 weeks for the Buccaneers to have a 100-yard rusher in a single game in 2019, and that honor belonged to Ronald Jones II in the final game of the year.
Jones improved nicely this season, but he still didn’t have the year people hoped he would. A handful of his longest runs were called back due to penalties, and running the ball, of course, starts up front with good blocking. But I still believe that come next offseason the Bucs backfield should be Jones and a handful of new faces, and I don’t see Peyton Barber returning.
This draft class is stacked. Because the Bucs have Jones on the roster, I believe it would be a poor use of resources to use a first-round pick on a running back, especially with needs in both tranches and potentially even at quarterback. However, anywhere between round 2-4 I could be talked into a back, depending on who is there.
If Tampa Bay can get a player like Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin or Travis Etienne from Clemson in Round 2, I would consider it. After them, players like J.K. Dobbins from Ohio State or Chuba Hubbard from Oklahoma State could be had in round three. And beyond that, backs like Clyde Edwards-Helaire from LSU, Ke’Shawn Vaughn from Vanderbilt and Zack Moss from Utah could be solid option to benefit both the run and pass game in the mid rounds.
Priority: Low to Medium
Sweet Spot: Rounds 1-2
I was surprised by the production from the Bucs safeties this year. After learning that Justin Evans was probably going to be a no-go this season, I wasn’t sure the team had the difference-makers on the back end. I knew they had the athletes in Mike Edwards and Jordan Whitehead, but could those athletes turn into the pro players the team needed? I think they did.
The team will get D’Cota Dixon back next year after losing him for the full season due to a shoulder injury in camp, and hopefully the same can be said for Evans. Those guys coming back as reinforcements is why a safety is a lower priority for this team, and likely why they won’t be drafting, say Grant Delpit from LSU or Xavier McKinney from Alabama, it could still be a position they take a home run swing at later in the draft.
Sweet Spot: Top 15
Ah, yes, here it is is. The ultimate wild card.
At this moment, we don’t know what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will do with Jameis Winston. There is still a chance that he could be back in red and pewter next season, maybe even just for one year on the franchise tag. But after a final play in overtime that Bruce Arians said “Will smell about as bad as it can for a very long time” you have to believe they will look at every option at quarterback, including potentially moving on completely.
What they decide to do with Winston will obviously determine how high of a priority such a position will be for this team. If they bring back Winston on a long-term deal, I still think they’ll be drafting a quarterback, but not until Day 3 just to get a new backup. If they bring him back on the franchise tag, they could be targeting one anywhere from rounds 1 to 2. And if he’s gone completely, then all bets are off for how high they might be selecting one – potentially even higher than where they current sit at No. 14.
So who exactly are some of the big names at quarterback and the rest of the position of need the Bucs could and should be interested in? Scott Reynolds listed some of those veteran QBs in a previous SR’s Fab 5 column, in addition to some of the potential rookie options in the draft in another SR’s Fab 5 column.
I give you a handful of those names on the next page via a full seven-round mock draft.