Fresh off two weeks of scouting players at the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, Bucs general manager Jason Licht and director of college scouting Mike Biehl return to Tampa Bay to continue to formulate the Bucs’ 2016 draft board. It’s no surprise that Licht and the Bucs will focus heavily on the defensive side of the ball in the 2016 NFL Draft after using all but one pick on offensive players over the last two years. There are needs to be addressed along the defensive line, especially at defensive end, and in the secondary.
Armed with the ninth overall pick – Tampa Bay’s fourth top 10 pick in the last five years – Licht will likely use it on an edge rusher or a top-flight cover cornerback. New Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter will also want to add some depth at offensive tackle and perhaps add a speedy, explosive player at wide receiver, too, although the need at receiver is not as pressing as once thought with Vincent Jackson expected to return to Tampa Bay for the final year of his contract.
PewterReport.com offers up it’s second Bucs’ round-by-round draft projection in 2016, focusing mostly on improving Tampa Bay’s defense. PewterReport.com’s 2016 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft is sponsored by Holliday Karatinos Law Firm. Call attorney Jim Holliday for a free consultation at (813) 868-1887 or visit them on the web at HelpingInjuredPeople.com
ROUND 1 – Eastern Kentucky DE Noah Spence – 6-3, 254 – Junior
For the second straight mock draft, PewterReport.com has the Bucs taking a defensive end in the first round. Breaking the news on the Pat and Aaron Show on 620 WDAE on Sunday, Spence was revealed to be Tampa Bay’s pick with the ninth overall selection, replacing Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah, who appeared in PewterReport.com’s first Bucs’ mock draft in early January.
Tampa Bay needs a premier defensive end and a shutdown cornerback, but with Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey likely to be off the board and Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III and Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander not deemed to be worth the ninth overall pick, the Bucs will likely have to wait until the second round to address their secondary and go after a pass rusher in the first round. Spence comes with some off-field baggage, but as Licht has shown with the selection of Pro Bowl quarterback Jameis Winston last year, he’s not afraid to make a bold move and gamble on an ultra-talented player.
Spence was a blue-chip recruit who spent two years at Ohio State where he notched 50 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two passes broken up in 2013 as a sophomore. He was suspended during the 2014 season for failing drug tests and testing positive for ecstasy. Spence was kicked off the team due to his addiction, but went to rehab to get clean. Spence comes from a good family, made a foolish mistake at a party by trying ecstasy and got hooked on a dangerous drug. This FoxSports.com article is required reading for those wanting to know more about Spence’s battle back from drug addiction.
Spence transferred to Eastern Kentucky where he had a big junior season, notching 63 tackles, 11.5 sacks – including 1.5 sacks vs. Kentucky, and one vs. North Carolina State – 22.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He had four multi-sack games for the Colonels. Between Eastern Kentucky, where Spence was named the Ohio Valley Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 and Ohio State, he recorded 125 tackles, 38.5 tackles for loss, 20 sacks and forced four fumbles in three years of football.
Spence, who has 4.6 speed, had a dominant week of practice at the Senior Bowl and finished the Senior Bowl game with a pair of tackles, a sack and several quarterback hurries. That performance along with great interviews with teams, including Tampa Bay, in which Spence was forthcoming about his prior drug use and a public intoxication arrest in May, has sent him skyrocketing up draft boards in the first round. Spence has a rare skill set with an uncanny ability to slip blocks with quick feet, great lateral movement and lightning fast hands, including a tremendous swim move. Spence needs to show more determination against the run, but he could be the best pure pass rushing defensive end in the 2016 NFL Draft and would be an ideal fit in red and pewter. Previous Pick: Oklahoma State DE Emmanuel Ogbah
ROUND 2 – Houston CB William Jackson III – 6-1, 195 – Senior
For the second straight mock draft, Jackson finds his way to Tampa Bay as the Bucs address another need by drafting the playmaking cornerback out of Houston. Jackson is a big cornerback, who plays big in pass coverage, notching eight interceptions and 40 pass breakups in his three years with the Cougars. As a senior, Jackson was instrumental in leading Houston to the All-American Conference championship and a Peach Bowl win over Florida State where he had a career-high 10 tackles, two interceptions and two passes defensed.
Jackson had two pick-sixes during his senior season, and also had three games in which he had three pass breakups or more. In the AAC Championship Game against Temple, Jackson set a new school record with seven pass breakups in a single game. Jackson also recorded a 96-yard touchdown on his first career interception, which came against Texas-San Antonio as a sophomore in 2013.
New defensive coordinator Mike Smith likes big, physical cornerbacks that can cover from a match-up perspective, and Jackson has gone against some of the better receivers in the country, including Rutgers’ Leonte Carroo, Louisville’s DaVante Parker, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, Tulsa’s Keyarris Garrett and UCF’s Breshard Perriman over the past two years, especially. While he is not a track star, Jackson is full of confidence and ball skills and figures to be a solid second-round pick. Previous Pick: Houston CB William Jackson III
ROUND 3 – Boise State DE Kamalei Correa – 6-3, 248 – Junior
The Bucs continue to bolster their pass rush with Correa, a junior entry, who is a relentless quarterback hunter. Correa amassed 20 sacks, 31.5 tackles for loss and 110 tackles in three years at Boise State. The Honolulu, Hawaii native burst onto the scene as a full-time starter during his sophomore season in 2014, recording 59 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and a team-leading 12 sacks and two forced fumbles. Correa was more of a marked man last year as a junior, but he still came through with 39 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks and a career-high three forced fumbles.
At 6-foot-3, 248 pounds, Correa has good size and the frame to put on more weight to hold up better against the run at the next level. Correa plays with reckless abandon and has the juice to be a very good edge rusher in the NFL. He has a suddenness that catches offensive linemen off guard and the timing to get them off balance. Adept at using his hands, Correa does a good job of shedding blocks and tackles ballcarriers and sacks quarterbacks with violent hits.
Correa seemed to play his best when it mattered most in Boise State’s bowl games, recording 10 tackles and two sacks two years ago in a 38-30 win over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, and four tackles and two sacks in a 55-7 win over Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl. Correa would be a good fit along Smith’s defensive line. Previous Pick: West Virginia SS Karl Joseph
ROUND 4 – South Carolina State DT Javon Hargrave – 6-1, 315 – Senior
With Henry Melton and Tony McDaniel slated for free agency and nose tackle Akeem Spence entering a contract year, Tampa Bay could use some young blood at defensive tackle, and it’s a position that is loaded with talent this year. Smith likes big defensive tackles, and Hargrave is a bit short at 6-foot-1, 315 pounds. But his body type is similar to that of former Bucs defensive tackles Warren Sapp and Booger McFarland, and Hargrave has a quick, explosive first step that reminds some scouts of those two players.
Hargrave is coming off a senior season in which he had 59 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, including five multi-sack games, and two forced fumbles. After recording 8.5 sacks his first two years for the Bulldogs, Hargrave had a breakout season in 2014, recording 16 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery as a junior. Against Bethune Cookman last year, Hargrave took over the game, recording 11 tackles and a school-record six sacks.
Hargrave was dominant and unblockable during the one-on-ones and in scrimmages at the East-West Shrine Game where he routinely gave Michigan center Graham Glasgow, who had a great week, fits during practice. Capable of playing either the nose tackle or under tackle positions due to his extremely quick get-off and power, Hargrave is an ideal fit in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 defense. Previous Pick: Colorado State WR Rashad Higgins
ROUND 5 – Texas Tech OT LeRaven Clark – 6-6, 312 – Senior
With Demar Dotson and Gosder Cherilus in their 30s, the Bucs would like to invest a draft pick into a developmental offensive tackle sooner rather than later. Clark was invited to the Senior Bowl where he had a good showing in practice, especially against Spence. He was a four-year starter at Texas Tech where he logged 47 starts.
Clark is battle-tested having played against the likes of Oklahoma State’s Ogbah and Jimmy Bean and Baylor’s Shawn Oakman during his career. He has the size and quick feet to play right tackle in addition to left tackle, although all of his experience has come on the left side in college. Clark has Day 2 athleticism, but Day 3 consistency at this point in his career.
Clark is not a perfect tackle candidate and will give up some sacks, in addition to miss some targets downfield on screen passes. But his mix of size, athleticism, quickness and long arms makes him an intriguing prospect that George Warhop can develop over time. Previous Pick: Penn State DE Anthony Zettel
ROUND 6 – West Virginia SS K.J. Dillon – 6-0, 208 – Senior
Dillon made the most of his Senior Bowl experience as a consistent performer in practice and finished the game with five tackles, a tackle for loss and a blocked field goal. Dillon was often overshadowed by Karl Joseph, another hard-hitting safety at West Virginia, but is a very good defensive back in his own right.
Dillon is a good athlete with the ability to cover receivers and tight ends in coverage and he also saw a good deal of time playing near the line of scrimmage in run support as a quasi-linebacker in West Virginia’s 3-3-5 defense. Dillon, who is a bone-crushing hitter, finished his Mountaineers career with 165 tackles (18 tackles for loss), six pass breakups, five interceptions, including a pick-six, and two forced fumbles.
The Bucs will want their Day 3 picks to contribute on special teams, and Dillon could become a special teams demon in Tampa Bay. He is a high-energy, high-motor player that fits in well with the Bucs’ philosophy of wanting to draft guys with a winning attitude. Dillon could be a real steal for the Buccaneers in the sixth round. Previous Pick: Alabama CB Cyrus Jones
ROUND 6 (from Washington) – Texas Tech WR Jakeem Grant – 5-6, 168 – Senior
Grant is a holdover from the last PewterReport.com mock draft. Licht steals a page out of the playbook of his good friends – Arizona G.M. Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians – and drafts a small, shifty speed receiver to bring explosive plays to both the Bucs’ offense and special teams in Grant. Most NFL teams would overlook Grant’s diminutive frame, but the Cardinals drafted 5-foot-10, 160-pound wide receiver J.J. Nelson out of UAB last year and he has a pair of touchdowns during his rookie season.
Grant, who could be the next Darren Sproles in the NFL, was an ultra-productive receiver at Texas Tech where he caught 254 passes for 3,286 yards and 27 touchdowns, including 90 catches for 1,268 yards and 10 scores as a senior. Grant resembled St. Louis’ Tavon Austin by routinely made defenders look silly with his ability to start and stop on a dime. He has the speed to go deep and the shiftiness to work inside at the slot receiver position and pick up first downs on wide receiver screens.
Grant is also an electrifying kick returner with four touchdowns in his college career – two as a freshman and two as a senior. He may seem like a luxury pick and an NFL long shot given his lack of ideal size, but the same thing was said about Sproles, who has mad the Pro Bowl in each of his last two years. Koetter is still calling plays in Tampa Bay in 2016 and he new offensive coordinator Todd Monken could have a lot of fun with the explosive Grant on offense. Previous Pick: WR Jakeem Grant
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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: email@example.com