The Bucs offseason has gotten even wilder since Pewter Report’s last 2022 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft. Tampa Bay saw Tom Brady’s sudden unretirement on the eve of free agency – only to be followed by Bruce Arians’ sudden retirement two weeks later. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles takes over as the head coach as Arians’ hand-picked replacement.
Bucs GM Jason Licht, co-owners Darcie Glazer Kassewitz and Joel Glazer, head coach Todd Bowles and senior football consultant Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Despite the head-coaching change, the Bucs are considered to be a legit contender for another Super Bowl run. Brady has been instrumental in helping Tampa Bay re-sign its best players this offseason, in addition to helping the Bucs acquire some more talent.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht and vice president of business administration Mike Greenberg were busy this offseason. They re-signed franchise player Chris Godwin and several key veterans. Cornerback Carlton Davis III, center Ryan Jensen, running back Leonard Fournette and defensive end Will Gholston are all important core players.
The Bucs also added some veteran free agents. First among them was Atlanta’s Russell Gage as the team’s No. 3 receiver. That addition, plus Godwin’s return and the re-signing of Breshad Perriman, lessens Tampa Bay’s need at wide receiver.
The Gage move was followed by a trade for right guard Shaq Mason and the signings of defensive back Logan Ryan and safety Keanu Neal. Mason will replace Alex Cappa, who left for Cincinnati in free agency. Neal is expected to replace Whitehead at strong safety.
With the NFL Scouting Combine is over and pro days are winding down, Licht, Bowles, director of college scouting Mike Biehl and vice president of player personnel John Spytek are setting up the Bucs’ 2022 draft board. Tampa Bay traded away a fifth-round pick for Mason and didn’t have a sixth-rounder this year. But the team picked up a seventh-round compensatory pick.
Let’s take a look at Tampa Bay’s personnel needs following the season, and who the Bucs select in Pewter Report’s fourth 2022 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft of the year. With the offense reloaded this offseason, this could be a defensive-laden draft for the Bucs, especially in the early rounds.
Bucs’ Personnel Needs
Table of Contents
Interior Defensive Line
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs re-signed Gholston, but have yet to re-sign Ndamukong Suh. He has indicated he wants to play another season. After back-to-back years with six sacks, Tampa Bay would welcome the 35-year old back with open arms. This year’s crop of defensive tackles in free agency and the NFL Draft is weak, so getting Suh back would be a coup. The Bucs could use some more youth at the position, especially if 36-year old reserve Steve McLendon retires or doesn’t come back. Finding the right defensive tackle will be tricky, and will probably have to be done early.
The Bucs have yet to re-sign Rob Gronkowski, although the team is hopeful he’ll return for one more year. Cam Brate will stick around after a pay cut, and the Bucs have Codey McElroy back from the practice squad. But Tampa Bay could use some new blood at the position. Finding a tight end that can block and catch is a must. The good news is that this year’s draft is fairly deep at the position.
Tampa Bay re-signed Fournette to a three-year contract worth $7 million per season. That ensures that he’s the starter and takes less pressure off drafting a running back. Giovani Bernard was also re-signed to help out on third downs as a pass-catcher. With Ke’Shawn Vaughn, a former third-round pick, and Kenjon Barner on the roster, the Bucs will need to add one more back for depth and competition. Look for the Bucs to draft one as it’s a fairly deep class. Whoever Tampa Bay drafts, that back must be a factor in the passing game as a receiver and a protector.
Bucs S Keanu Neal – Photo by: USA Today
The Bucs have one of the best young safeties in the game in Antoine Winfield, Jr., who mostly plays free safety. Neal will be the immediate replacement for Whitehead, who was signed in free agency by the Jets. Mike Edwards will rotate in with Neal, as he’s never played strong safety full time. Edwards is also in a contract year, so Tampa Bay will have to draft a safety for depth regardless. The Bucs have told long-time reserve Andrew Adams that they are moving on from him. The Bucs signed Ryan to a one-year deal to add some veteran depth. He can play safety in addition to nickel cornerback and will bring experience and leadership to the room.
The return of Davis is huge because he is Tampa Bay’s top cover corner. It also means the team’s top three cornerbacks will be back for another season. Jamel Dean had his best year, although he fought through injuries. Sean Murphy-Bunting missed half the season due to injury and was unspectacular when he returned. Injuries hit the cornerback position hard. With Dean and Murphy-Bunting in a contract year, it only makes sense that the Bucs add a young, developmental cornerback to the group for depth and competition. There are several tall, long cornerbacks that fit the Bucs’ mold in this draft, which is a good sign for Tampa Bay.
The Bucs lost Pro Bowl guard Ali Marpet to retirement and Cappa in free agency. Tampa Bay traded for Mason to replace Cappa, but still needs to find a replacement for Marpet. Over the past few years the Bucs have stockpiled the guard position. Top reserve Aaron Stinnie returns on a one-year, prove-it deal. He will compete with young reserve Nick Leverett, whom the team is high on. Last year’s third-round pick Robert Hainsey, a backup center, will also join the fray to compete for the left guard job. Sadarius Hutcherson and John Molchon are also options to compete. Drafting a guard is not a necessity with Mason’s arrival. However, if one of the top guards like Boston College’s Zion Johnson, Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green or Memphis’ Dylan Parham are available and the top option on the Bucs’ draft board, the team could pull the trigger.
2022 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft 4.0
ROUND 1 – UConn DT Travis Jones
6-4, 325 • Junior
Even if Ndamukong Suh returns for one more season at age 35, Tampa Bay needs to address the defensive tackle position. The Bucs need bodies at the position, especially if 36-year old veteran Steve McLendon doesn’t return. Jones is a young, athletic, run-stuffing tackle that could pair with Vita Vea for the future. This draft class is shallow in terms of quality and quantity, so if Tampa Bay is going to draft an interior defensive lineman, the team will need to do so in the first couple of rounds.
If Georgia defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt is there at No. 27 they could easily pull the trigger on him instead. If, of course, his character checks out. He’s quicker and twitchier than Jones. But he and Bulldogs teammate Jordan Davis could very well be off the board by the time Tampa Bay is on the clock. And Jones is no slouch.
The big 6-foot-4, 325-pound Jones showed off his brute force at the Senior Bowl. He has a large frame and plays with power. Jones had some dominant one-on-one reps at the Senior Bowl where he used a Suh-like bull rush to drive guards and centers backwards off the snap. That’s how he notched a sack in the Senior Bowl game. He also has an impressive swim move that he’s added to his pass-rushing repertoire.
Jones, who was a team captain and labeled a hard worker, played at UConn where the Huskies had a dismal 4-32 record during his time there. Despite the lack of winning, Jones had a successful career, improving each season, especially as a pass rusher. Jones has eight career sacks, including 4.5 last year.
He has the size and ability to start right away in Tampa Bay if Suh doesn’t return. But at the very least, Jones would be a great wave defensive tackle as a rookie. He showed well at the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.92 in the 40-yard dash and testing in the Top 5 of all defensive tackles in agility drills.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht believes in building through the trenches. He invested the 12th overall pick in Vea back in 2018. Drafting another stud defensive tackle makes sense in Todd Bowles’ defense, which prioritizes stopping the run.
ROUND 2 – Colorado State TE Trey McBride
6-4, 246 • Senior
The other gaping hole in the Bucs’ starting lineup is at tight end, where the Bucs only have Cameron Brate and Codey McElroy on the roster. Tampa Bay is hoping that Rob Gronkowski will ultimately re-sign with the Bucs for one more season. But the future Hall of Famer has been non-committal.
Even if Gronkowski, who turns 33 in May, returns, it will only be for one more season. Brate turns 31 in July, so the Bucs could use a youth movement at the tight end position. McBride is considered to be the No. 1 tight end on many teams’ draft boards. His addition gives Tom Brady another weapon in the passing game.
The 2021 John Mackey Award winner led the nation at his position with 90 catches for 1,121 yards (12.5 avg.) and one touchdown last year. Even though opponents knew McBride was going to get the ball he couldn’t be stopped. McBride had eight 100-yard receiving games in college, including five last year.
McBRIDE’S COLORADO STATE CAREER RECEIVING STATS 2018: 7 catches for 89 yards (12.7 avg.), TD 2019: 45 catches for 560 yards (12.4 avg.), 4 TDs 2020: 22 catches for 330 yards (15 avg.), 4 TDs 2021: 90 catches for 1,121 yards (12.5 avg.), TD
McBride has great hands and tremendous focus when catching the ball – even in traffic. He has good yards-after-catch ability due to his 4.52 speed. McBride is a willing and determined blocker who will only get better with more coaching, technique work and weight room strength.
After ending his Colorado State career with a 69-yard touchdown run on a fake punt in his last game, McBride caught two passes for 12 yards and a touchdown at the Senior Bowl. The Bucs have him on their Top 30 visit list this offseason.
The Bucs go back to the defensive side of the ball in the third round with the selection of Taylor-Britt. Jason Licht has drafted seven defensive backs on Day 2 during his tenure as GM, including cornerback Jamel Dean and safety Mike Edwards in 2019. Just put on the tape and you’ll see why Taylor-Britt is a Bucs cornerback.
Taylor-Britt is a thick, muscular cornerback that plays with tremendous physicality. He’s a violent tackler with big-play ability. Taylor-Britt recorded five interceptions and broke up 22 passes at Nebraska. He also forced four fumbles during the 2019 season.
As a three-year starter, he gave up a total of six touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. Taylor-Britt played outside cornerback for 659 snaps last year and 428 snaps in 2020. Yet he showed off versatility in 2019, playing 170 snaps in the slot, 108 snaps at outside cornerback, 105 snaps in the box and 148 snaps deep at safety.
Taylor-Britt has some position flexibility to play outside and inside. While he’s not the ideal, long, 6-foot-1 cornerback like Carlton Davis III or Jamel Dean, Taylor-Britt plays like a big corner. The Bucs have another 5-foot-11, 200-pound cornerback on the roster in Dee Delaney. Taylor-Britt actually has longer arms (31 1/4) than 6-foot-2 LSU cornerback Derek Stingley (30 5/8) and 6-foot-1 Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam (30 7/8).
He is lauded at Nebraska for his work ethic and vocal leadership. Taylor-Britt was voted as a team captain during his final season. He’s on Tampa Bay’s list for a Top 30 pre-draft visit.
With the versatility to play both inside and outside cornerback, he could push Sean Murphy-Bunting for playing time in the slot. And with Murphy-Bunting and Dean both in a contract year, Taylor-Britt gives the Bucs another young, developmental cornerback that can be a possible starter in 2023.
Pierce had to split carries with Malik Taylor at Florida, but that was likely a poor coaching decision from the now-fired Dan Mullen. At 5-foot-10, 224 pounds, Pierce is an extremely physical bowling ball of a back. The Bucs are looking for running backs that could step in and replace Leonard Fournette in case of injury – or pair with him.
Pierce has elite tackle-breaking ability and was rated as the highest-graded back by Pro Football Focus (92). He forced 39 missed tackles despite just 119 touches last year for the Gators. Pierce plays with a sense of urgency, and has a nice jab-step juke move in the open field.
Although he split time in the backfield last year, Pierce led Florida with 13 rushing touchdowns. That was one away from Emmitt Smith’s single-season school record. He averaged a touchdown every seven touches in 2021, according to NFL.com.
PIERCE’s FLORIDA CAREER RUSHING STATS 2018: 69 carries for 424 yards (6.1 avg.), 2 TDs 2019: 54 carries for 305 yards (5.6 avg.), 4 TDs 2020: 106 carries for 503 yards (4.7 avg.), 4 TDs 2021: 100 carries for 574 yards (5.7 avg.), 13 TDs
PIERCE’s FLORIDA CAREER RECEIVING STATS 2018: 5 catches for 20 yards (4.0 avg.), TD 2019: 4 catches for 30 yards (7.5 avg.) 2020: 17 catches for 156 yards (9.2 avg.), TD 2021: 19 catches for 216 yards (11.4 avg.), 3 TDs
Pierce is not the fastest back (4.59). That, plus a lack of production due to a light workload, could cause him to slip to Day 3. The good news for Pierce is that he has plenty of tread on his tires with just 374 touches in his four-year Gators career.
Where Pierce offers added value is in the passing game. He’s regarded as the top pass-protecting back in the draft, as well as being an outstanding receiver. Pierce caught all 19 of his targets last year for 216 yards and three scores. His 11.4-yard receiving average is quite impressive, too.
The Bucs had a formal interview with Pierce at the NFL Scouting Combine and also had him in for a local pre-draft visit.
ROUND 7 – Ole Miss DE-OLB Tariqious Tisdale
6-5, 285 • Senior
Tisdale missed significant time in 2020 and 2021 due to injury and only played in 11 games over that two-season span. He’s an athletic specimen with a long, chiseled frame. So far, the production doesn’t match the athleticism, especially as a pass rusher. Tisdale only collected three sacks and nine tackles for loss in college.
He does his best work against the run where he plays with good effort and has nice, heavy hands. Tisdale turned heads with a 4.63 in the 40-yard dash at 285 pounds at his pro day.
He could offer the Bucs some position flexibility on defense as he played everywhere from edge to nose tackle for the Rebels. Tampa Bay only re-signed 30-year old defensive tackle Will Gholston for one year. Tisdale could be groomed as a potential replacement.
TISDALE’s OLE MISS CAREER DEFENSIVE STATS 2018: 33 tackles, 3 TFLs, sack 2019: 28 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 2 sacks 2020: 19 tackles, 1.5 TFLs 2021: 8 tackles, TFL
Day 3 is where NFL teams routinely take gambles on players with traits, and Tisdale certainly has them. Not only is his height-weight-speed combination exciting, he has massive 35-inch arms and an 83-inch wingspan.
Tisdale’s speed and ability to bend could make him a candidate to be a big, long outside linebacker in the Anthony Nelson mold. Nelson is in a contract year. Tisdale could also factor in on special teams, where Tampa Bay has yet to replace defensive end Patrick O’Connor.
ROUND 7 – Iowa S Dane Belton
6-0, 205 • Junior
Belton was a three-year starter at Iowa, playing the “CASH” position, which is a nickel defender. As a slot cornerback and safety hybrid, Belton was active in both the run game and in pass coverage. The Tampa native has good size and 4.43 speed, but it’s his instincts and football I.Q. that have NFL teams excited about his potential.
Belton is a late bloomer in the passing game. After being an All-Big Ten honorable mention player as a sophomore, Belton came into his own as a junior. He improved his pass breakup production from five to 12. Additionally, he tied for the Big Ten lead in interceptions with five.
Belton’s heady play is evidenced by the fact that he was only flagged with two penalties in his Hawkeyes career. Because he was a three-year starter at Iowa, he lacks special teams experience. But that’s where he’ll have to make the team as a reserve safety in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs could use another safety on the depth chart. Not only did Tampa Bay lose Whitehead in free agency, the team won’t be bringing back reserve Andrew Adams. With Neal and Ryan only signed for 2022, and Edwards in a contract year, adding another safety like Belton makes sense.
Tampa Bay had Belton in for a local visit, given that he played high school football at Jesuit.
Scott Reynolds is in his 27th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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