The Buccaneers have concluded the 2015 NFL Draft with the selection of six offensive players and the first defensive player selected by general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay after the team spent all six of last year’s picks on offensive players. Now it’s time for PewterReport.com to dish out the grades for Tampa Bay’s 2015 draft class.
ROUND 1 – Florida State QB Jameis Winston – Redshirt Sophomore
The Buccaneers finally have their franchise quarterback in Winston, who was 26-1 as a starter at Florida State where he won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy in 2013 as a redshirt freshman. Winston has the arm, pocket awareness, football I.Q. and work ethic to be a phenomenal pro quarterback. He also has the charisma and the leadership traits to take the Buccaneers and the city of Tampa by storm if his maturity level continues to improve and Winston doesn’t have any hiccups along the way. Winston will be the Bucs’ opening day starter as a rookie after having immediate success in his first season at Florida State. The season ticket sales have seen a surge since Friday and the phones have been ringing in the ticket office with the excitement the former Seminole brings to Tampa Bay. GRADE = A+
ROUND 2 – Penn State LT Donovan Smith – Junior
At 6-foot-6, 335 pounds, Smith is a massive left tackle that brings great quickness and agility to Tampa Bay. He ran a 4.98 in the 40-yard dash and was called a “dancing bear” by Penn State head coach James Franklin. Smith graduated after his junior season and had a great showing in the Senior Bowl where he improved his stock to the second round. Smith has the potential to play left tackle or right tackle, but will start off on the left side, which will mean Demar Dotson can return to right tackle. Had Smith stayed for his senior campaign he would undoubtedly have carried a first-round grade in the 2016 NFL Draft, so the Bucs could be getting a franchise-type left tackle in the second round. GRADE = A-
ROUND 2 – Hobart College G Ali Marpet – Senior
The Bucs traded up in the second round to get Marpet, who was one of Licht and Smith’s favorite players. Marpet proved to be one of the more athletic guards at the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.98 in the 40-yard dash with a 7.33 in the 3-cone drill and 4.47 in the 20-yard shuttle. He makes up for short arms and legs with quickness and a feisty, competitive demeanor. Marpet started 37 of the 43 games he played in, but against an inferior level of competition as a Division III player. Marpet is a smart, tough, scrappy player that will get the chance to compete at right guard after playing left tackle in college. GRADE = B+
ROUND 4 – LSU OLB Kwon Alexander – Senior
Alexander is a fast, athletic linebacker that ran a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. The Bucs like speedy linebackers and Alexander has the chance to back up Lavonte David on the weak side or compete with Danny Lansanah on the strong side. Alexander notched 167 tackles as a two-year starter at LSU, including 90 last year, in addition to 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles as a senior. The question is how he’ll fare in pass coverage, which is a vital trait linebackers must have in the Tampa Bay. Alexander had zero interceptions and only had six pass breakups at LSU, including one last year. He’ll undoubtedly be a special teams contributor as a rookie. GRADE = C+
ROUND 5 – Nebraska WR Kenny Bell – Senior
Bell caught 181 passes for 2,689 yards (14.9 avg.) and 21 touchdowns during his Cornhuskers career. He also had 51 kick returns for 1,277 yards and one touchdown at Nebraska. With the ability to play inside at the slot and outside as a wide receiver at the next level, in addition to being an immediate special teams contributor, Bell brings a lot to Tampa Bay. He’s also one of the best run-blocking receivers in this year’s draft, which the Bucs see a lot of value in. GRADE = B
ROUND 6 – Utah KR-PR Kaelin Clay – Senior
Clay only played one year at Utah, but had a monster year as a kick and punt returner. He returned 23 punts for 346 yards (15.0 avg.) with three touchdowns in 2014, while also returning 22 kicks for 548 yards (24.9 avg.) and one TD. Clay also used his 4.45 speed to catch 43 passes for 523 yards (12.2 avg.) with four touchdowns. Clay spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons at Mt. San Antonio College where he caught 90 passes for 1,654 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also averaged 34.5 yards per kick return in his two seasons with five touchdowns, and led Mt. SAC in punt returns in 2013 with 17 for 245 yards (14.4 average) and one TD. Bucs special teams coordinator Kevin O’Dea worked out Clay at Utah in March and the return specialist job is his to lose and this is a great late-round pick. GRADE = A-
ROUND 7 – Hawaii FB Joey Iosefa – Senior
Seventh-round picks are essentially priority undrafted free agents that teams like the Bucs would rather take than have to recruit following the draft. Iosefa carried an undraftable grade by many, but it’s hard to knock the Bucs over this selection given the fact it’s the seventh round. Yet the selection of a fullback is a curious one. Iosefa isn’t particularly fast, but he does run with power and could be transformed into a blocking back or he could be a short-yardage and goal line specialist. He finished his Hawaii career rushing for 2,218 yards and 21 touchdowns and catching 60 passes for 438 yards and three touchdowns. GRADE = C-
Bucs’ Initial Overall Draft Grade = B+
The 2015 Tampa Bay draft class gets a high grade for several reasons. The first of which is finding a franchise quarterback and drafting the highest-ranked player on the Bucs’ draft board in Winston. He fills the team’s most pressing need.
The second reason is the fact that this draft class will produce at least four new opening-day starters and as many as six, which would be sensational. Winston will be the team’s starting quarterback. Smith will start at left tackle and Marpet figures to start at right guard. Clay will step in and be the team’s return specialist. It’s not out of the question that Bell could be in the mix with Louis Murphy for the slot receiver position, and that Alexander will give Lansanah a run for his money at the Sam linebacker spot. It’s also possible that Iosefa could take over at fullback if Jorvorskie Lane does not make a complete recovery from his broken leg last November.
And finally, this draft class increases the speed and athleticism on Tampa Bay’s roster at several positions. The Bucs became a faster team at linebacker and wide receiver, and on special teams. And Tampa Bay’s offensive line got bigger and more athletic, too.
The only position that was a need that wasn’t addressed in this draft was defensive end. That’s what keeps Tampa Bay from earning an “A” grade for this draft. Yet after selecting Winston with the top pick, it was wise for the Bucs to shore up the offensive line and address the needs at left tackle and right guard the way they did to protect their big investment.
After Licht selected Marpet, the talent at the defensive end position dried up. Licht said he plans to use Tampa Bay’s first pick on the waiver wire to address the defensive end position and hopefully find a gem like they did last year with Jacquies Smith, who finished second on the team with 6.5 sacks.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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