Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers 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

The Bucs have won two games in a row and we’re about to talk about next year’s draft?

Yes, but not in a negative way – well, not as the premise anyways.

This may be a draft and rookie-centric Cover 3 column, but the motivation for it isn’t rooted in the team’s sub-par record. In fact, it’s actually because this year’s Buccaneers rookies were not only pieces of last week’s victory over the Dolphins, but crucial and focal pieces, to be exact.

Linebacker Kendell Beckwith, one of the team’s third-round picks, has been taking on bigger playing roles since Week 1. It started when he won the strongside linebacker role in the season opener and then had to fill in for the injured Kwon Alexander at middle linebacker, and has since blossomed into a full-time starter – even with Alexander’s return. Beckwith, who is the team’s second-leading tackler with 51, has been groomed to play all three linebacker positions, and has even been trained to play as an edge defender in any three-down linemen looks the Buccaneers have been showing recently. Beckwith’s immediate – somewhat surprising – impact has widened what the Bucs defense has been able to do.

Bucs S Justin Evans - Photo by: Clifff Welch/PR

Bucs S Justin Evans – Photo by: Clifff Welch/PR

Speaking of, rookie safety Justin Evans, Tampa Bay’s second-round pick, is also playing well above his well above his rookie learning curve. Evans didn’t start out the year as a main contributor, mostly subbing in for the likes of Keith Tandy and Chris Conte at both the free safety and strong safety spots. However, starting with the Patriots game, the game in which he got his first interception, Evans’ playing time has grown. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s zone-based, traditional, 2-two safety scheme, which was what this team deployed during their crucial five-game win streak last year, was failing them early in 2017 – and failing them bad. Evans gave Smith the ability to bring on a new, more aggressive style of defense with a true Cover 1 or single-high safety, which has turned this season around. No other safety on the team has the athletic ability and play-making ability to cover the kind of ground and make the kind of impact Evans can. Starting him was a risk due to his lack of experience, but it has paid off.

On the other side of the ball, tight end O.J. Howard, the 19th overall selection, and wide receiver Chris Godwin, who was drafted in the third round, have started to come into their own as rookies as well. Though their snap percentages are lower compared to their defensive counterparts of Beckwith and Evans, Howard and Godwin are every bit as impactful when the moments have called for them to be involved. Howard is tied for the team lead in touchdowns this year with four, and that’s with 28 less catches than receiver Mike Evans, and 17 less catches than tight end Cameron Brate – the two others tied with four touchdowns.

With this year’s rookie class playing so well, it gave me the idea to go back and revist some of the Buccaneers’ past draft classes, specifically the ones current general manager Jason Licht has orchestrated. Licht got the Tampa Bay job back in 2014, he now has four draft classes under his belt. Looking back on them will be important in a few months as the Glazer family (owners of the Buccaneers franchise) will have to choose whether or not they want to re-sign Licht to a new contract.

There are other factors that go into what makes a good GM, such as free agent allurement and acquisitions, choosing head coaches (if applicable during a tenure), salary cap health, and other factors, too. But, drafting is a big part of what a general manager hangs their hat on. This specifically applies to Licht since he was a former director of scouting and player personnel for the Patriots and Cardinals before being hired in Tampa Bay.

With that said, here are all of Licht’s drafts in chronological order with the tables from Buccaneers.com.

2014

Let’s start by laying some ground rules on how to judge draft classes. Hitting on your first round picks is a must. Whether it’s in the Top 5 or in the last few picks, if you’re not hitting big-time contributors, through the length of their rookie deals, on day one of the draft, you’re not going to cut it as a G.M.

Day Two of the draft (rounds two and three) are what separates the good general managers from the great ones. Having a higher hit rate on Day Two is what separates draft classes and is often what gets general managers contract extensions.

Day Three of the draft (rounds four through seven) are really throwaway picks that, if you hit on one, just strengthens the evidence for how well you can scout as a general manager, and also attests to how well you surrounded yourself with a good scouting staff that has been able to find diamonds in the rough in areas of the country that don’t get a lot of national spotlight.

Bucs GM Jason Licht - Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers

Bucs GM Jason Licht – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers

In 2014, Licht nailed his first pick with Mike Evans. You can say what you want about not picking Aaron Donald or Anthony Barr or Ryan Shazier, but the fact is that, at that time, Evans was a fantastic pick, and based on his talent and accomplishments, it always has been.

Licht took a risk on the troubled tight end out of Washington, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, with his second pick, and chose running back Charles Sims in the third. After a DUI going into his third year, Seferian-Jenkins was cut from the Bucs, but his talent is shining in New York where he has ressurrected his career with the Jets. Sims is still around, but in a very niche role. I wouldn’t count either of those guys as wins.

Kadeem Edwards and Robert Heron are no longer on the team. Offensive lineman Kevin Pamphile looked like he was going to be a promising pick from that class, even going into this season, but, after moving full time to left guard, Pamphile has struggled. Though Day Three picks are sort of like throwing a dart at a dart board, not being able to count Pamphile is a good pick means Licht only had one memorable choice in this class.

2015

The 2015 draft was the Jameis Winston draft, and though picking a franchise quarterback there was an obvious choice at No. 1 overall, there was debate between Florida State’s Winston and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Winston looked like a fine choice after his first two seasons with back-to-back 4,000-yard campaigns. However, even before his shoulder injury this season, Winston had his struggles.

However, what now weights more than Winston’s development on the field is the concerns with him off the field. We do not know all the facts of his current situation, as he is under investigation by the NFL for an alleged groping incident with an Uber driver from 2016. But, this all has the potential to loom very dark for Winston, Licht and the future of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If Winston is further punished for this, either legally or from the league, trusting and choosing Winston over the likes of Mariota will ultimately fall on Licht.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston & GM Jason Licht – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers

Bucs QB Jameis Winston & GM Jason Licht – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers

On Day Two, the Bucs took a pair of offensive linemen in Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. Smith was the colossal offensive tackle who was never hurt and whom the team hoped it could fix his technique to where he could become a franchise left tackle. So far three years in, he hasn’t improved much, and it’s likely that this is just who he is. Smith is all but a miss right now. Marpet was the small school darling that every team wanted. Though he’s struggled a bit moving to center, Marpet is a top talent interior blocker and was without a doubt a hit/win.

On Day Three, Licht found a steal of a player in Alexander. Alexander has been a starter at middle linebacker since he was drafted and is one of the leaders on the team, in production on the field and with emotion in the locker room – he was a gem. After that, things didn’t pan out; Kenny Bell just couldn’t catch the ball, Kaelin Clay could only be a special teams player, and Joey Iosefa was born in the wrong age of football as primarily a fullback.

The jury is still out on Winston due to his current off the field situation (on the field he’s been worth it), but Alexander and Marpet were good wins for Licht in this class. However, the faith he’s shown in Smith has made that selection a bit sour.

2016

It’s still too early to totally judge the Bucs 2016 class, but it again doesn’t look too promising.

Vernon Hargreaves is nowhere near a bust, in my opinion, but, if he is perhaps just a nickel corner, even a very good one, which he might be, a nickel corner is not worth the No. 11 overall pick. He only has one interception in a season and a half’s worth of play, too. It’s hard to judge the Noah Spence pick too much because, though he hasn’t been as explosive as we thought he might be – I think he’s being played out of position as he should be a standup 3-4 LB – he’s been hurt, and he was already a steal lasting until the second round.

Bucs GM Jason Licht - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Roberto Aguayo pick was bad. No way around it. Even if you believe the logic that you thought you were getting the next Adam Vinatieri for 15 years (which most thought he was), the value for a kicker there was just too rich. Ryan Smith has still had his struggles, but it’s his first year at cornerback this season, so we can’t be too tough on that pick yet. Caleb Benenoch and Devante Bond are still on the team, but their impact and push for any starting spot has been low. Dan Vitale is no longer on the team.

We thought this would be a strong class for Licht, at the time of the draft, but it has since proved to be more rocky. Development will be key in the next few years to see if much of it was worth it at all.

So, as a recap, Licht has made some good picks, but not as many as you might have hoped. He’s reached on value for certain guys that hasn’t panned out (Hargreaves, D. Smith, Aguayo) and has picked guys with questionable character concerns that has come back to bite him, one in Seferian-Jenkins and one that might ultimately cost him his job in what might unfold with Winston.

Luckily for Licht, his latest class has been home runs on the first four picks: Howard, Evans, Godwin and Beckwith.

Let’s take a look at those four 2017 picks from last week’s win against the Dolphins and examine how their early production this season might save Licht in the end.

Share On Socials

About the Author: Trevor Sikkema

Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: trevor@pewterreport.com
Subscribe
Notify of
31 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bucs Capacitor
3 years ago

Thanks for the in-depth research and analysis as always, Trevor.

I would love to see how Licht’s drafts compare to other teams, sepcifically in-division, as well as teams like the Packers and Patriots.

Bucs Capacitor
Reply to  Trevor Sikkema
3 years ago

Thanks! Not sure how I missed it. Love your work!

Buc-Up
3 years ago

Winston over Mariota at the time did and still makes sense. Mariota can’t stay healthy with a great OL blocking fir him in Tennessee. He would be hurt far worse if had to play behind our crappy OL. Hindsight, maybe I trade down to get a bunch of picks and take OL or DE. Take those extra picks to trade up to get Carson Wentz in 2016. Definitely don’t draft Aguayo!

e
e
3 years ago

Compared to previous GMs, Meathead is getting the job done. No GM is perfect, but certainly, the Bucs are starting to reload with talent. It would be a huge mistake; and a typical one for the organization, to dump him and start in another direction. Let’s see some long-term consistency from this team for a change and it will start to pay off.

warrenfb12
3 years ago

I believe in Licht and he needs an extension. I would also say that Noah Spence is a bust due to his injury issues. You may like his skill set, but they guy is fragile and can’t stay on the field so far. That’s a loss as it stands today.

tog
tog
3 years ago

I was more sanguine on Licht earlier in the season. I then started thinking about the totality of his decision making – and it’s not good. Licht is actually a bad GM when you look at his tenure here. You see that those first 3 drafts aren’t looking that good. Certainly, if Winston becomes the franchise QB everyone hopes that papers over a lot of ills, but so far its not looking like that will happen. And while Trevor is very positive on the 2017 class, and its looked good so far, it’s far too early to tell (as he… Read more »

tog
tog
Reply to  Trevor Sikkema
3 years ago

And that’s my point – the totality of it. Not that every point is correct (or everyone agrees with). I’ll definitely be wrong on some stuff. But it’s everything taken together. And I have a problem more with his philosophy and strategy more than his actual picks/signings. The picks/signings are an effect of bad philosophy. Re-read your C3 on comparing the drafts too. Funny how much is in flux in 9 games as a lot of the positive arguments (eg. Pamphile) and negative arguments (Loomis’ drafting) have changed. Things can move quickly in the NFL. Who thought the Saints would… Read more »

a-bomb
3 years ago

This analysis was helpful. Perhaps we have seen improvement in drafting and FA, but I am not sure a one year deviation merits that conclusion. The poor hit percentage on second rounders is particularly concerning, as we are feeling the lack of talent on the lines. My biggest concern is the perceived lack of an overall plan. It really seems like there was not a viable contingency plan for dealing with the depth problems at DE and the lack of talent on the OL. Moving Marpet turned out to be double whammy because it downgraded two positions. All in all,… Read more »

Naplesfan
3 years ago

Your draft analysis is fine as is, Trevor, but it is nowhere near enough on which to judge a GM and whether he should be retained long term, given a short extension, or let go. A GM is responsible for many very important things: 1) the draft 2) signing free agents, and letting fee agents go 3) managing the salary cap 4) this one is sort of optional, because it doesn’t happen every year – hiring head coaches and approving the assistant coaching hires In each of these four responsibilities, I’d suggest the following grades for Licht 1) Drafting –… Read more »

Horse
3 years ago

Anything below 6 wins they’re all gone.
6-7 wins they all get one more year to turn it around. I hate this carousel continuing, but quite frankly they all have major flaws and we will never get to the playoffs with any of them. Just my opinion.

nitey
3 years ago

Okay, There are a lot of good thoughts here, but I think I see a few holes in some of the analysis. First, nobody but the Glazers and Licht know how much input/control Lovie Smith had over Licht during those first two years. Were those picks and signings Licht or were they Smith? Even if they were Licht, how much influence was Smith able to use to control the process? There seems to be a bigger difference in the first two drafts in terms of talent compared to the last two years. So can we totally blame Licht for those… Read more »

tog
tog
Reply to  nitey
3 years ago

A lot of what happens though is time changes perspective. Licht (and Koetter) got passing grades for last year. But a lot of those grades were based on things that haven’t happened. For example, Pamphile has played quite poorly this year. Last year in limited duty he was an example of a good late-round find by Licht. Now he’s not. Or Winston – last year he was a clear franchise QB, not things are more uncertain. Or now VH3 is clearly not capable of playing outside CB. I take your point Nitey, but I think fans/media were too quick to… Read more »

nitey
Reply to  tog
3 years ago

tog, I get what you say, maybe the fans were too quick to place a crown on Jason’s head, but can’t you say the same thing about this year? Surferdudes mentions that we failed to draft DL or OL in the last draft, but the early returns on the first 4 picks has been good. People all the time say ‘draft best player available on your board’ clearly Howard fell into our laps and was the best player available but I suspect we planned to take OL or DL with that pick. Same for Godwin in the 3rd. The Bucs… Read more »

Naplesfan
Reply to  tog
3 years ago

It takes a minimum of four seasons to truly judge any GM, unless he is just flat out obviously failing in all respects before that. You can’t really judge any draft class until at least 3 years after it goes. You can’t judge free agents within less than one year, in most instanced a couple of seasons. And one substandard draft class or FA signing, once fully judged, does not define a GM – it takes at least two or three such “classes” to develop a trend line. So if people like me believed and said that there was no… Read more »

surferdudes
3 years ago

He stayed pat with respects to both the O, and D lines this past draft thinking, D. Smith, Pamphile, N. Spence, would make the leap to greatness. That didn’t happen. We can’t run the ball, or get to the Q.B. yet again. With a deep class of R.B.’s he stayed pat yet again, banking on Martin returning to form,throw in the fact he was suspended for the first 3 games that looks like a mistake, not to mention what they’re paying Doug. Godwin,and O.J. are players, but since we had, Brate, Evans, it seems like he drafted what we already… Read more »

Buc 1976
3 years ago

In 2014 – 2016 Licht had picks in the top 10 2014 #7 2015 #1 and 2016 #9 respectively .
He traded to #11 in 2016.
Any GM should be ble to get talent picking in the top 10 every round.
In 2017 picking 19th he may have done the best but it was also considered a deep draft.

matador
3 years ago

Trevor always doesn’t excellent work. As other posters have pointed out, two aspects of,this decision, beyond the plentiful whiffs drafting and in FA, that say to me Licht must go are – the failure to address the team’s overall needs holistically (i.e., you can’t draft BPA adding WRs and TEs when you have so many holes in your lines) the fact he was usually drafting high and still managed to whiff on 5 out of 6 picks the first year, 4 out of 7 the next (keeping JW in the plus column for now) and possibly 7 out of 7… Read more »

matador
3 years ago

Sorry that was supposed to say ‘does’ not doesn’t, damn auto fill. Have sung Trevor’s praises many times…

I would still love a look into our scouts. That could be the weak spot. Who would come or stay here with the revolving door we have at One Buc?

plopes808
3 years ago

Looking at his track record, Licht has improved a lot over his tenure in Tampa. Sure, there’s been a lack of production relative to expectations, but I truly believe that has been more on the coaching staff than a lack of talent. Clearly, Licht has learned from his past mistakes and hasn’t been afraid to correct those mistakes. Moving forward, I believe we should stick with Licht and look at changes in the coaching staff. Not necessarily cutting Koetter, but handing playcalling duties off to an OC. One option would be demoting Koetter to OC and hiring another HC. But… Read more »

GoldsonAges
3 years ago

You cant give Licht credit for the salary cap because Mike Greenberg is completely in control of the cap and contracts.

If you judge him on player personnel he falls short of greatness. He is below average. Below average doesnt build a winning team.

I encourage everyone to read Togs post. He lays it all out and it’s not pretty.

Naplesfan
Reply to  GoldsonAges
3 years ago

You have to give Licht credit for the salary cap because it was Licht who hired and supervises Greenberg, and it is Licht who makes the decisions that actually manage the salary cap. He’s the boss. He gets the credit or the blame.

scubog
3 years ago

It’s so hard to judge GM’s on their Draft success or failure. What seems like either a good or questionable choice at the time is often a totally incorrect evaluation. GM’s are criticized for making a choice when every other GM likely would have made the same one. We then all look in the rear view mirror and exclaim, “What was he thinking?” as if we knew something they didn’t. In my opinion, if a player becomes a starter he’s not a “bust”. Yes, if a player like Hargreaves or Donovan Smith doesn’t become an immediate star, some might call… Read more »

surferdudes
3 years ago

Just read Tog’s old post, couldn’t have said it better myself. When Licht is fired, and he will be, his tomb stone will say the G.M. who traded up for a kicker. I like Mike Evans, but a three tech like A. Donald only comes along so often. Even with McCoy on board think of the havoc those two could’ve produced. You build a team from the front to the back, Licht has been miserable at that. Godwin was a good pick, but we have Evans. To me they’re the same player. I would trade Evans for picks before giving… Read more »

johnny
3 years ago

how can you not count pamphile as a good pick by licht when you just said day 3 picks are basically just throw aways and whatever you get out of them helps… pamphile has been a starter on this team for 2 straight seasons yea he hasn’t shown the promise he showed at times last season but still discounting a 5th round pick who is a starter for this team when you had just previously said day 3 picks usually don’t get you much , i just don’t understand that logic.

Devasher
3 years ago

Let’s be clear Trevor, Jason Licht “earned” a top 10 pick, including number 1 overall in 3 of his first 4 drafts by putting awful teams out there. He isn’t hovering around the Buccaneers Dominik (Mendoza) line in winning percentage over 4 seasons because he knows how to build a winner. Starting with top 10 picks and one top overall selection makes building through the draft an easier task than say trading your first round pick away for a mercenary corner (Dominik/Revis) or picking late in the draft as the good teams do. Regarding the 2016 NFL draft, it is… Read more »

rob roy
3 years ago

The 2014 draft was a disaster IMO. If Licht could have thought “outside the box” and drafted Aaron Donald or Odell Beckham JR. the impact would have been huge. Then to draft ASJ who ends up injury prone with a drinking problem when Marquise Lee, Stephon Tuitt and Davonte Adams are available? Then the Charles Sims pick over Devonta Freeman? In 2016 Licht drafts a 5-10 CB with the 11th pick followed up with an undersized DE with a questionable past? Aguayo should have been the straw that broke the camels back. Did we need to draft OJ Howard? No.… Read more »