Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter wrapped up Tampa Bay’s 2016 draft with seven new players, including five from the defensive side of the ball. Licht feels like the Bucs addressed several needs, especially at cornerback, defensive end and surprisingly at kicker, and is very pleased with the team’s haul in the 2016 NFL Draft.
“Well obviously we feel really good right now,” Licht said. “I have the same feeling now that I did last year. All these guys I think – for our needs and where we had them on the board and what we thought of them as players – I think they all have an excellent chance of making this football team.”
PewterReport.com evaluates each of Tampa Bay’s draft picks and offers up a grade for each selection. While the Bucs addressed several needs, they failed to address the defensive tackle and wide receiver positions, which causes PewterReport.com to give the Bucs a “B” for the draft class as a whole.
Yet, this draft class appears to have four starting-caliber players on the surface in cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, defensive end Noah Spence, kicker Roberto Aguayo and fullback Dan Vitale, so Licht and his front office could very well match last year’s feat of finding four starters in a single draft.
ROUND 1 – FLORIDA CB VERNON HARGREAVES
While I like Hargreaves’ footwork, competitiveness and ball skills, I’m not crazy about his size. I didn’t think Hargreaves was a top 10 pick, and neither did the Bucs as they traded down two spots from No. 9 to take him at No. 11. Yet, I don’t think Hargreaves is a top 15 player, either. Suddenly, in a division with some giant wide receivers, the Bucs have a plethora of 5-foot-10 cornerbacks with Hargreaves, Brent Grimes and Alterraun Verner, and that’s quite scary.
NFL teams should be focused on drafting a Pro Bowl-caliber player in the first round. Will Hargreaves become a Pro Bowler in time? I could see it go either way, really. With good coaching, Hargreaves, who had 10 interceptions at Florida in three years, has the tools to develop into a Pro Bowler, yet I could see him fall just short of attaining that status, too, mainly due to 4.5 speed and his height.
I’m just not a big believer in building a defense from the back front unless you’re starting off with a real special talent, such as a Patrick Peterson or a Marcus Peters. With the 11th overall pick the Bucs drafted the third cornerback when they could have selected the first defensive tackle in Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins, who went next to New Orleans at No. 12. Licht chose wide receiver Mike Evans over Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the first round in 2014. Did he make a potential mistake? Time will tell.
The fact that the Bucs haven’t addressed the defensive tackle position this offseason outside of signing Cliff Matthews to replace Henry Melton and Tony McDaniel, and that is worrisome. If Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy goes down with an injury, who is going to provide a consistent pass rush? Not only did the Bucs fail to take advantage of a deep defensive tackle draft in the first round, they didn’t address at all in the 2016 draft, which is quite shocking.
GRADE = B
ROUND 2 – EASTERN KENTUCKY DE NOAH SPENCE
Tampa Bay absolutely had to address its pass rush in this draft and got a steal in Spence, who starred at the Senior Bowl. Spence is regarded as the best pure pass rusher in the draft, but a slower than expected 40-yard dash time and past drug use that caused him to be kicked out of Ohio State caused his tumble to the second round. There are bits and pieces of Spence’s game that remind me of great pass rushers like Vonn Miller, Terrell Suggs and Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.
Spence, who had 11.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss last year at Eastern Kentucky, got a ringing endorsement from Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, who he’s friends with, and sent the results of his last 20 drug tests at Eastern Kentucky to NFL teams to prove that his prior use of ecstasy is behind him. Spence was honest with NFL teams and the media in Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine interviews and has been accountable about his past transgressions.
Look for Spence to rotate with Robert Ayers, Jacquies Smith and Howard Jones during his rookie season as a situational pass rusher. It’s a perfect situation for Spence to come in and learn at his own pace without the pressure of having to be an every down starter right away as a rookie. When it’s all said and done, Spence could have the most success of any pick in this draft class for Tampa Bay and develop into a perennial Pro Bowler if he can stay healthy and thrive in Mike Smith’s defensive scheme.
GRADE = A
ROUND 2 – FLORIDA STATE K ROBERTO AGUAYO
The selection of Aguayo in the second round was either cheered or jeered by the Buccaneers faithful fans. Drafting a kicker isn’t a sexy move for most any NFL team, but Tampa Bay had success with it the last time the Bucs drafted a kicker, which was using a third-rounder on Martin Gramatica in 1999. Gramatica became a Pro Bowler in 2000 and helped lead the team to its first and only Super Bowl win in 2002, winning several games with his powerful right leg.
Aguayo is the most accurate kicker in college football history and he’s never missed a field goal under 40 yards or a PAT. Licht, who has seen how important kickers Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski were to the Patriots’ success in winning a combined four Super Bowls, and he feels like Aguayo is that type of weapon. How could he not? Aguayo connected on 88.4 percent of his field goals and was successful on 96.7 percent of all of his conversions (field goals and PATs).
Licht used the bonus fourth-rounder he acquired from trading down two spots with Chicago along with Tampa Bay’s own third-rounder to move up and get the Florida State kicker, who is Winston’s former teammate. If Aguayo can become another Gramatica for Tampa Bay – or even better as another Vinatieri- or Gostkowski-type kicker – this bold trade will pay off for Licht and the Bucs in a big way. With Aguayo’s sterling resume from college, it appears as if it will.
GRADE = A
ROUND 4 – NC CENTRAL DB RYAN SMITH
Smith is a big, fast defensive back capable of playing cornerback and safety in Tampa Bay. He played safety the first two years at North Carolina Central before switching to cornerback and produced 31 pass breakups and seven interceptions in 45 games with 42 starts. The Bucs will start Smith off at safety and see how he fares.
The 5-foot-11, 189-pound Smith has 4.47 speed that can be used in the secondary or on special teams where he covered kicks and punts in college, in addition to returning kicks. Smith averaged 28.1 yards per kick return in college and will compete with Kenny Bell, Bernard Reedy and others for kick and punt return duties this year.
Smith is known as a hard-hitter, and racked up 168 solo tackles at NC Central. While the Buccaneers could have used a defensive tackle in the fourth round, and Texas’ Hassan Ridgeway, Manitoba’s David Onyemata and Baylor’s Andrew Billings went a few picks later, one could make the case for the Bucs drafting Smith. Yet Tampa Bay could have had Southern Utah strong safety Miles Killebrew, who may be the hardest hitter in the draft, or West Virginia’s K.J. Dillon. Killebrew was selected three picks later by Detroit in the fourth round, while Dillon was a fifth-round pick by Houston.
GRADE = B
ROUND 5 – UCLA OT CALEB BENENOCH
A run on defensive tackles in the fourth round wiped out the talent at that position, so the Bucs used their fifth-round pick on their first offensive player in this draft class. Licht wanted to get a developmental tackle for Tampa Bay, and the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Benenoch fits the bill. Benenoch, a junior entry, has experience at right tackle and also at guard, and the Bucs love his position flexibility and versatility.
Benenoch was one of the most athletic offensive linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine, and his 4.98 speed in the 40-yard dash and 25 reps of 225 pounds were a testament to that. Bucs offensive line guru George Warhop spent time with Benenoch at UCLA working him out and loved his aggressiveness and coachability.
Benenoch could eventually battle Kevin Pamphile for the right to start at right tackle as the Bucs have two aging players there with 30-year old Demar Dotson and 31-year old Gosder Cherilus. Benenoch will need a year to develop to put himself in that position, but he offers the Bucs a developmental prospect at tackle and some depth at both tackle and guard.
GRADE = B-
ROUND 6 – OKLAHOMA LB DEVANTE BOND
There were other players I liked far better than Bond in the sixth round, including diminutive Texas Tech wide receiver Jakeem Grant, who could be a factor in the NFL as an ultra-quick slot receiver and a return specialist, or Southern Miss wide receiver Mike Thomas. But the Bucs felt like they needed to address the linebacker position and Boyd was one of the last good ones available.
Bond only has 4.7 speed, and the Bucs typically like to find linebackers that run in the 4.6-range or faster, so that was surprising. What I find troubling is that he was only a part-time starter at Oklahoma, and typically played a rush linebacker spot in a 3-4 defense. Bond had 17 sacks his sophomore year in JUCO, but only had three sacks in two years at Oklahoma.
Bond will start off at strongside (Sam) linebacker in Tampa Bay where he can learn from aging veteran Daryl Smith, who is 34. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Bond will have to make his mark as a rookie on special teams where he exceled at Oklahoma, blocking a field goal against Tulsa. Licht had success with drafting another linebacker, Kwon Alexander, last year, so maybe he really knows something about Bond that we don’t. But given the other players that were available in the sixth round for Tampa Bay, this seems lack a reach and a lackluster pick.
GRADE = C-
ROUND 6 – NORTHWESTERN FB DAN VITALE
The Bucs concluded the draft by finding a fullback to replace Jorvorskie Lane in Vitale, who was a “superback” at Northwestern. The versatile Vitale lined up in the backfield as a fullback, while also playing H-back and tight end for the Wildcats.
Vitale was called a “tough Chicago kid playing fullback” and his play resembles that of former Bucs fullback Mike Alstott, although more as a receiver than a runner. The 6-foot-1, 239-pounder was a four-year starter at Northwestern where he recorded 135 receptions for 1,427 yards and 11 touchdowns, including 33 catches for 355 yards and a career-high four touchdowns last year.
Vitale needs to work on his lead-blocking ability at the next level, as he’s a better weapon in the passing game than he is as a fullback right now. But Vitale, who ran a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, posted a 38.5-inch vertical and did 30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, has the athleticism, physical traits and toughness to learn the art of lead blocking at the next level, while displaying the versatility to make plays with the ball in his hands.
GRADE = B