The 2015 NFL Scouting Combine has concluded and all that is left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to selecting players in the 2015 NFL Draft is pro day workouts, personal interviews and more film review and discussion. The Bucs enter this year’s draft coming off a dismal 2-14 season and have plenty of holes on the roster that need to be filled with veterans through free agency and with some rookies straight out of college.
Quarterback is the primary need in Tampa Bay, especially with the release of Josh McCown, last year’s starting quarterback, followed by offensive line – right tackle and right guard – in addition to middle linebacker, defensive end, nickel cornerback, safety and slot receiver. Finding a reliable, playmaking return specialist is also a need for head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Lovie Smith.
With roughly two months left to go prior to the 2015 NFL Draft, PewterReport.com offers its third Buccaneers’ 7-Round Mock Draft. For the first time since 1987 when the Bucs took Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde, Tampa Bay has the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft and PewterReport.com has now forecasted the selection of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston over Oregon’s Marcus Mariota for the third straight mock draft.
Here is PewterReport.com’s latest round-by-round draft projection that focuses mostly on improving Tampa Bay’s offense.
ROUND 1 – Florida State QB Jameis Winston – 6-4, 230 – Redshirt Sophomore
Previous Pick: Florida State QB Jameis Winston
Smith acknowledged at the NFL Scouting Combine that he was “comfortable” with Winston being the face of the franchise and spent time talking to reporters about the Seminoles’ past transgressions and saying there was nothing that warranted a “death sentence.” The truth is that in a division with New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Carolina’s Cam Newton, Tampa Bay has a death sentence in the NFC South if it doesn’t have a QB that can go toe-to-toe with those quarterbacks twice a year. That’s why the Bucs need to draft an elite, proven winner in Winton, evidenced by a 26-1 record at Florida State, winning the Heisman Trophy and the National Championship as a redshirt freshman.
Winston is regarded as the best pocket passer in the draft and would be an ideal fit for new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, whose system relies on strong QB play from the pocket. Tabbed by ESPN’s Todd McShay as the second-best quarterback prospect to come out in the last decade behind Andrew Luck, Winston engineered five game-winning drives and he has a perfect 7-0 record in games decided by a touchdown or less, and games like that are typical in the NFL.
The Bessemer, Ala. native has completed over 65 percent of his passes for 7,964 yards with 65 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. Winston set an FBS freshman record with 40 touchdown passes in 2013 against just 10 picks. He has the intangibles, arm strength, mobility, ability to read defenses and go through progressions and a track record of having success early in his career that could make his transition to the NFL a quick and smooth one.
Winston’s background is going to be fully vetted by the team, and Bucs sources tell PewterReport.com that he’ll be cleared. In addition to tremendous physical ability to throw the ball and make plays, Winston has an uncanny football I.Q. and that will allow him to hit the ground running as a rookie in Dirk Koetter’s offense. The buzz Winston will generate from the Seminoles fan base in the Tampa Bay area will drive ticket sales, which will appeal to the Glazers, and he will make the Buccaneers relevant again on the national landscape.
ROUND 2 – UCLA MLB Eric Kendricks – 6-0, 232 – Senior
Previous Pick: Utah DE Nate Orchard
After drafting a quarterback in the first round, the Buccaneers come back in the second round and draft the quarterback of their defense in Kendricks, who won the Butkus Award and Lott Trophy as the best linebacker in college football. He finished as the school’s all-time leading tackler with 481 stops, and his 150 tackles in 2012 were the most by a Bruin since 1978.
The 6-foot, 232-pound Kendricks was one of the stars at the NFL Scouting Combine, recording a 4.66 in the 40-yard dash, a broad jump of 10-foot-4 and a vertical leap of 38 inches. That athleticism allowed him to become a big-time playmaker at UCLA where he recorded 26 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, five interceptions, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Kendricks scored four touchdowns for the Bruins – two on fumble recoveries and one on an interception.
Kendricks, the younger brother of Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks, is a sideline-to-sideline player, adept at pass coverage, blitzing and stuffing the run. There are very few holes in his game and this three-year starter has the experience and football I.Q. to step on to the field and start in Tampa Bay as a rookie. Having two speedy, well-rounded linebackers like Kendricks and Lavonte David in red and pewter would instantly improve the Bucs defense.
ROUND 3 – Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett – 5-10, 182 – Senior
Previous pick: Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett
Lockett remains the pick in the third round for the Buccaneers, who need to upgrade their speed on offense and playmaking on special teams. Lockett, who starred at the Senior Bowl and at the NFL Scouting Combine where he ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, brings great value to Tampa Bay as he can contribute on all four downs as a rookie – even helping to cover kicks and punts. Lockett left K-State with six touchdowns in the return game, with four on kickoffs – including a pair of 100-yarders – and two on punts. His 19.1-yard punt return average led the FBS this year and he had three additional return touchdowns (two punt, one kickoff) that were negated due to penalties.
Lockett ended his Kansas State career as the Wildcats’ all-time leading receiver with 249 receptions for 3,710 yards and 29 touchdowns thanks to a record-setting senior season in which he caught 106 passes for 1,515 yards and 11 scores. Lockett comes from great bloodlines as his father, Kevin, and uncle, Aaron, a Bucs’ seventh-round draft pick in 2002, were tremendous receivers for the Wildcats.
Lockett, who is known for his route-running ability, is great at creating separation and would excel as a slot receiver in Dirk Koetter’s offense, much the same way that Harry Douglas occupied that role in Atlanta. The 5-foot-10, 182-pound Lockett is a similarly built quick receiver that can play both inside and outside. His big-play skill set is reminiscent of that of Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown as Lockett, who starred during Senior Bowl week, had 17 100-yard games for the Wildcats, and had 16 receptions of 40 yards or more. No game was bigger than Lockett’s 12-catch, school-record 278-yard, three-touchdown performance against Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin, who was projected to be a first-round pick before tearing his ACL last year at the Senior Bowl. (Warning: the following video contains profanity)
ROUND 4 (from St. Louis) – Penn State OT Donovan Smith – 6-6, 338 – Junior
Previous pick: Penn State OT Donovan Smith
Tampa Bay appears to have a higher need for tackle as opposed to guard, and that’s why PewterReport.com has the Bucs opting for Smith over Douglas in the fourth round. Smith surprised NFL scouts by leaving Penn State early and foregoing his senior season, but he graduated with a degree in criminology after just three and a half years. With 31 career starts at left tackle, Smith has plenty of experience, but has had bouts of inconsistency during his years with the Nittany Lions that make scouts think he would have been better off staying in school for one more year and devloping, especially in a draft deep with offensive tackles.
The 6-foot-5, 341-pound Smith needs to work on his technique and will likely need a developmental year in the NFL. The Owings Mill, Md. native didn’t even make the honorable mention list for the Big 10, but that speaks more about the talented offensive tackles in the conference than it does about any deficiencies in Smith’s game, and it doesn’t mean he won’t have a productive career in the NFL.
Smith had a good showing for NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl, and drew rave reviews for playing in the game as a graduated underclassman. He carries his weight well and is nimble-footed in both pass protection and in the run game. Smith has a nasty disposition on the field and loves to finish his opponents with pancake blocks. He is a highly competitive, aggressive lineman that has the size and skill set to play either left tackle, right tackle or guard, which gives the Bucs a tremendous amount of versatility.
ROUND 5 – Texas CB Quandre Diggs – 5-9, 195 – Senior
Previous pick: Northern Iowa RB David Johnson
Tampa Bay needs a starting-caliber nickel cornerback as both Leonard Johnson and Isaiah Frey disappointed in that role in 2014, combining for just one interception. Diggs is a feisty, aggressive cornerback that has experience playing in the slot and on the perimeter.
Diggs is an aggressive defender in run support and a hard hitter that racked up 214 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles for the Longhorns defense. But he’s even better against pass, finishing his Longhorns career with 11 interceptions, including four each during his first two seasons at Texas in 2011 and ’12. Diggs also had an interception at the Senior Bowl where he capped off a great week of practice in front of NFL scouts.
For a team like Tampa Bay that hasn’t had a great nickel cornerback since Ronde Barber left years ago, Diggs has some Barber-like qualities about him. He’s covered some of the best receivers in college football over the past few years, including West Virginia’s Kevin White and K-State’s Tyler Lockett. The fact that he has four years of starting experience could help him start as a rookie for the Bucs. If Tampa Bay can procure a defensive starter in the fifth round that is quite an accomplishment.
ROUND 5 (from Patriots) – Montana DE Zack Wagenmann – 6-3, 247 – Senior
Previous pick: USC LB Hayes Pullard
The Bucs get some pass rushing help with Wagenmann, a defensive end with 38 consecutive starts dating back to his sophomore year. He finished his impressive Montana career with 37.5 sacks, including a career-high 17.5 this year, which was the third-most in college football. In his final game for the Grizzlies, Wagenmann tied his career high with three sacks in the team’s 37-20 loss at Eastern Washington in the second round of the playoffs.
Wagenmann also had 74 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles, which was tied for the nation’s lead in both FBS and FCS. In his Montana career, Wagenmann has 201 tackles, 52 tackles for loss, 11 forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Yet outside of his two sacks in a 17-12 loss at Wyoming to start the season, Wagenmann has not faced elite competition, which is why is draft stock is parked on the third day rather than in the first three rounds.
The epitome of consistency, Wagenmann burst onto the scene with a team-high 11.5 sacks as a sophomore and then had 8.5 last year before erupting for 17.5 this season. He gets the most of his sacks from his relentless motor, but needs to get stronger, evidenced by Wagenmann’s 14 reps of 225 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, which were the lowest of all defensive linemen.
ROUND 6 (from St. Louis) – Miami G Jon Feliciano – 6-4, 323 – Senior
Previous pick: Memphis CB Bobby McCain
Tampa Bay will likely address the guard position in free agency, but will add more interior line help in the draft with Feliciano, a three-year starter for the Hurricanes. Feliciano primarily started at left guard, but had two starts at right tackle and also saw some time at right tackle during his senior season. At 6-foot-4, 323 pounds, the Davie, Fla. native is a big, physical lineman and a nasty finisher.
Feliciano gets great push off the line in run blocking and is adept at pass protection, too. While he doesn’t look overly athletic, he can get to the ground with ease and take out the legs of defenders with chop blocks at the line of scrimmage or downfield on screen passes. Feliciano has the ability to develop as a starter in the NFL and could compete right away with Kadeem Edwards, a late-round pick last year, for playing time for the Buccaneers.
Feliciano had a good week at the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla., is a very bright football player that graduated last May. He’s used to playing in the Florida heat and is well conditioned, which is important for linemen playing for Tampa Bay and only gave up four sacks over the past three seasons. Watch for Feliciano (No. 70) throwing blocks in these Duke Johnson highlights at left guard and right tackle.
ROUND 7 – North Dakota State RB John Crockett – 6-0, 217 – Senior
Previous pick: Miami G Jon Feliciano
The Bucs pick up another running back that can help on special teams in Crockett, who was a huge success at North Dakota State after burst onto the scene as a sophomore. In 2012, Crockett rushed for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Splitting carries as the Bisons’ number two running back, Crockett rushed for 1,277 yards and 11 touchdowns, while averaging 6.7 yards per carry. He also flourished as the team’s kick returner, averaging 26.2 yards on 11 returns with a career-long of 52 yards against Illinois State.
As a senior, Crockett took over the full-time duties at running back and rushed for 1,994 yards and 21 touchdowns on 368 carries (5.4 avg.) and produced 11 100-yard games in 2014. He finished with 20 100-yard games in his NDSU career. Crockett started off the season rushing for 139 yards and three touchdowns, including a career-long 80-yarder, in a 34-14 road upset at FBS school Iowa State.
After rushing for 152 yards and two scores in a win against South Dakota State, Crockett had a career day in a 39-32 playoff win against Coastal Carolina in which he dashed for a career-high 227 yards and two scores, including a 70-yarder, on 26 carries. His 45-yard game-winning touchdown jaunt in the fourth quarter allowed him to set the record for the most rushing yards in a single season in Bison history. Crockett is a very good receiver out of the backfield and has experience in pass protection, which makes him a viable weapon on all three downs.