The East-West Shrine Game kicks off the official NFL Draft season as some of the better pro prospects meet in St. Petersburg, Fla. to practice for Saturday’s college all-star game. Each year PewterReport.com seeks out NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock for his insight into some of the players that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be targeting in the draft.
PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds caught up with Mayock to discuss which prospects might be available to Tampa Bay, which has the seventh overall pick in the draft.
“I think it’s way too early to know who’s going to be there at No. 7, in all honesty,” Mayock said. “That’s what this process is all about. To me, North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb is one of the best and cleanest players in this draft along with the Notre Dame guard, Quenton Nelson. The Penn State tailback [Saquon Barkley] is pretty special. You can have a conversation about the quarterbacks, that’s what we’re trying to do. But those three guys have identified themselves. They are easy to see. After those guys it’s going to the all-star games, the Combine, the pro days – I’m not there yet. I have no idea who is going to be sitting there at No. 7 for Tampa Bay.”
Mayock was asked about the prospect of Nelson or Chubb, who would greatly help the Bucs’ pass rush, being available for Tampa Bay at No. 7 with a slew of high-ranked quarterbacks in this draft along with several quarterback-needy teams picking ahead of the Bucs.
“If three quarterbacks go in the first five or six picks I’m sure Tampa Bay is sitting there cheering – they’re hoping it’s four,” Mayock said. “Every team that has a franchise quarterback thinks the same way – ‘The more quarterbacks taken ahead of us the better position player will fall to us.’”
Ideally, that player would be Chubb, but he doesn’t make it to No. 7 in either PewterReport.com’s 2018 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft or ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s recent mock draft.
“I think he’s a complete player,” Mayock said of Chubb. “He plays both sides of the ball. He plays standing up. He plays with his hand in the dirt. He plays with a great motor. He’s got a plan on every pass rush. He has tremendous DNA, so he has the ability to rush the quarterback, which is rare. There are only a finite number of guys every year where you say, ‘Wow! He could be a difference-maker coming off the edge.’ He’s one of those guys. What I really like is that he is not a 238-pound edge rusher. You wonder if those guys are going to play on first and second downs. Bradley Chubb can play on all three downs and impact the game on the run downs and the pass downs.”
Mayock was asked if it’s getting more difficult to find 4-3 defensive ends that can get after the quarterback because so many of the top pass rushers in college are undersized and have to convert to 3-4 outside linebackers like Ole Miss’ Marquis Haynes and Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will likely have to do.
“Yeah, Mayock said. “A lot of the guys you are talking about are comparable this year to say, Hassan Reddick from Temple last year, who ended up being a first-round pick. But Hassan Reddick was a 6-foot-1, 230-pound edge rusher from Temple. He had to show at the Senior Bowl last year that he could play off the ball, and he did. He did a phenomenal job off the ball, and because of that he showed he could cover and be a situational pass rusher.
“Okoronkwo, the Haynes kid, all the guys you just mentioned are very similar body types, so I think they are going to have to prove they can play off the ball as linebacker on run downs, and then because you are in sub package 60-70 percent of the game anyway you still have the opportunity to rush the quarterback on some downs.”
Nelson is a highly regarded player that might slip out of the top 5. The 6-foot-5, 334-pound guard was featured at No. 7 for Tampa Bay in PewterReport.com’s initial 2018 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft and would fit an obvious need the Bucs have as the team was let down by the play at the guard position. Mayock said that Nelson deserved to be a top 10 pick.
“One year we had [Jonathan] Cooper from North Carolina and the Alabama kid [Chance Warmack] come out the same year in the top 10 or 12 guards and neither one panned out compared to where the draft analysis was,” Mayock said. “On the other hand, the better comp [for Nelson] is probably Zack Martin, who came out of Notre Dame with the same offensive line coach in Harry Hiestand, who is one of the best I’ve ever been around. Zack came out ready-made for the NFL. Zack was not just Pro Bowl, but All Pro, as a rookie. Quenton Nelson has the ability to not just be as good, but better in Year One. If you’re sitting there saying you think a guy could be a Pro Bowler in Year One, that’s a special deal. And that’s how special I think Quenton Nelson is.”
One dark horse at No. 7 for the Buccaneers if he performs well at the NFL Scouting Combine is Washington junior defensive tackle Vita Vea, who moves incredibly well for a 6-foot-4, 330-pound behemoth. Tampa Bay needs help at defensive tackle and Vea has some pass rush ability as he recorded 3.5 sacks and 39 total QB pressures last year, which was fourth among FBS interior defenders in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus.
“He’s fun to watch on film,” Mayock said. “The way that today’s NFL works for defensive tackles is basically … in the old days, if you could stuff the run you could be a high-round draft pick. But it’s a pass-first league. The way defensive tackles are being evaluated now is, ‘Can you get pressure on the quarterback?’ The model is Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox – a bigger version. Defensive tackles that can either push the pocket or are quick enough to get an edge and get a sack. That’s going to determine Vea’s value and whether people believe he can do that. If you watch his film, he plays all three of the front positions in base, and then in the sub packages, they stand him up and move him around. I heard some scouts, and was involved with some scouts here yesterday talking about what the over/under for his 40-yard dash was going to be at the Combine. We were all talking about 4.9 and 4.95, which is crazy for 345 pounds. His value will be determined by what NFL teams think of his ability to get to the quarterback.”
Whether it’s Chubb, Nelson or Vea, the Bucs need an impact player with the seventh overall pick in 2018 draft if Tampa Bay wants to rebound from a disappointing 2017 season.