Bucs general manager Jason Licht and director of college scouting Mike Biehl have been to the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine. Now it’s time to set Tampa Bay’s 2016 draft board with fresh intel gathered from pro day workouts in March and April. It would come as no surprise to see Licht and the Bucs focus heavily on defense in the 2016 NFL Draft after using all but one selection 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.
Tampa Bay has the ninth overall selection – the fourth top 10 pick in the last five years – and Licht will likely use it on a defensive lineman 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 the third 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 – Louisville DT Sheldon Rankins – 6-1, 299 – Junior
Why a defensive tackle with the ninth overall selection when defensive end is the more pressing need? This pick probably comes as a surprise to most Bucs fans, but drafting for need rarely leads to success in the NFL. Defensive tackle is the strongest position in this draft and the Bucs are poised to grab the best prospect. Great three-technique defensive tackles like Rankins, who compares favorably to Pro Bowler Geno Atkins, who was coached by new defensive line coach Jay Hayes in Cincinnati, are hard to find, and typically go in the first round.
The selection of Rankins comes after assuming that players like Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Bucker, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley are all off the board. Before we address the reason why the Bucs would draft Rankins, let’s explore why they wouldn’t draft Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence or Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson.
Hargreaves is a very good cover corner, but at 5-foot-10 with 4.5 speed he lacks ideal size and ability to play outside in the NFL, especially in a division like the NFC South that features monster receivers in Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin and Devon Funchess twice a year. The Bucs aren’t going to spend a top 10 pick on a 5-foot-10 cornerback that is better suited to play in the slot.
As for Spence and Lawson, both are good but not great defensive ends. Neither is a Khalil Mack- or Von Miller-caliber player, and if either of those players were in the draft Spence and Lawson would be late first-rounders. Spence has a checkered past due to drug usage and didn’t interview particularly well at the Combine. He may be too risky to use the ninth overall pick on. As for Lawson, he’s not a quick-twitch athlete. He’s a slightly more athletic version of Adrian Clayborn and benefitted greatly playing opposite defensive end Kevin Dodd last year. Both Spence and Lawson are first-round talents, but not top 10 talents.
Rankins is the top-rated 4-3, one-gap defensive tackle in the draft. While the Bucs already have a Pro Bowler in Gerald McCoy, drafting Rankins gives them another disruptive interior pass rusher and insurance at the three-technique in case he gets injured. New defensive coordinator Mike Smith had a pair of Pro Bowl defensive tackles in Marcus Stroud and John Henderson in Jacksonville, and St. Louis spent a first-round pick on defensive tackle Aaron Donald in 2014 just two years after drafting defensive tackle Michael Brockers in the first round in 2012. It’s not unheard of for a team to have two talented defensive tackles, and Rankins has the traits to be special.
While he’s not the athletic freak that Donald is, Rankins is nearly 15 pounds bigger and plays with more power. Rankins capped off his Louisville career with some dominant practices at the Senior Bowl where Rankins put on a clinic in one-on-one pass rush drills. Rankins performed well in Indianapolis, running a respectable 5.03 in the 40-yard dash at 299 pounds with a 1.74 10-yard split. The Cardinals star defender showed explosion at the Combine with a great 34.5-vertical leap, a 9-10 broad jump and a 7.44 three-cone drill. Rankins’ strength was also on display in Indianapolis where he benched 225 pounds 28 times, which was one of the highest totals among defensive linemen.
Yet it’s Rankins’ production at Louisville combined with his athleticism that makes him a special talent. Rankins had 133 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 18 sacks, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, including one he returned 46 yards for a touchdown against Boston College last year, in his Cardinals career. Rankins had 13.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery as a junior, and finished his college career with 13 tackles for loss, six sacks and a fumble recovery for a score last year.
Rankins has experience playing in a 3-4 and a 4-3 scheme at Louisville and has played all over the line from a five-technique defensive end – where he was miscast – to a three-technique to a one-technique in a 4-3 and a zero-technique nose tackle in a 3-4. It’s that versatility, his incredibly quick hands and his suddenness that makes Rankins worthy of a top 10 pick. With Clinton McDonald coming off a season-ending pectoral injury, Akeem Spence entering a contract year and Henry Melton and Tony McDaniel likely departing via free agency, defensive tackle could very well be a considered a need in Tampa Bay. For more information on Rankins, read SR’s Fab 5 tomorrow on PewterReport.com. (Warning: the following highlight video contains profanity)
Previous Pick: Eastern Kentucky DE Noah Spence
ROUND 2 – Houston CB William Jackson III – 6-0, 189 – Senior
For the third straight mock draft, PewterReport.com is projecting Jackson to Tampa Bay, as the Bucs address a big need with the selection of the playmaking cornerback from Houston. Jackson is a big cornerback, who plays big in pass coverage, where he recorded 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 Bucs 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. Jackson was one of the fastest cornerbacks at the Combine, running a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash with a 1.52 10-yard split. Those times could vault him into the latter part of the first round.
Previous Pick: Houston CB William Jackson III
ROUND 3 – Boise State DE Kamalei Correa – 6-2 1/2, 243 – Junior
The Bucs find their edge rusher in Correa, a junior, who is a relentless quarterback hunter. Correa, who makes his second straight appearance in PewterReport.com’s mock draft, 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 nearly 6-foot-3, 243 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. Correa has violent hands and 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 had a great Combine with a 4.69 time in the 40-yard dash with an impressive 1.63 10-yard split. That time could propel Correa into the late second round.
Previous Pick: Boise State DE Kamalei Correa
ROUND 4 – William & Mary DB DeAndre Houston-Carson – 6-1, 201 – Senior
Tampa Bay keeps revamping its secondary, adding a talented defensive back that can play both cornerback and safety. The Bucs can’t have enough quality defenders in the pass-happy NFC South and Houston-Carson dominated the FCS at William & Mary, recording 293 tackles and 10 interceptions as a 45-game starter.
Houston-Carson earned a Senior Bowl invitation where he showed he could play with FBS talent after notching a team-high 109 tackles and four interceptions in 2015 as a free safety after playing cornerback his first three years for the Tribe. Houston-Carson returned one interception 94 yards for a touchdown, and also scored on a 65-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown and scored a defensive extra on a 70-yard blocked extra point return. With good size and physicality, the Bucs can use Houston-Carson at cornerback in certain match-ups, to cover tight ends in man coverage from the safety position in the box or as a single high free safety.
It will take some time for Houston-Carson to make the leap from the FCS level to the NFL on defense, but he can contribute immediately on special teams. Houston-Carson can use his 4.53 speed (1.56 10-yard split) to cover kicks and punts, which he did at William & Mary, in addition to blocking punts and field goals. Houston-Carson blocked nine kicks for the Tribe.
Previous Pick: South Carolina State DT Javon Hargraves
ROUND 5 – Stony Brook DE Victor Ochi – 6-1, 246 – Senior
The Buccaneers add another quick pass rusher in Ochi, who has an incredible get-off and great anticipation. Although he ran a disappointing 4.86 in the 40-yard dash, the Bucs only concern themselves with the 10-yard split for defensive linemen. Despite being 6-foot-1, Ochi has very long arms (33 3/4) and posted a 9-11 broad jump and an impressive 7.24 in the three-cone drill at the Combine.
Ochi is built similar to Jacquies Smith, who has been the Bucs’ second-leading sacker the past two years. Ochi dominated the competition at Stony Brook, recording 32.5 sacks, 51.5 tackles for loss, 182 tackles and four forced fumbles in his Sea Wolves career. Ochi tied William & Mary defensive back DeAndre Houston-Carson for the Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year Award, finishing the 2015 season with 13 sacks, including five multi-sack games, 16.5 tackles for loss, 47 tackles and a forced fumble.
PewterReport.com first wrote about Ochi back in December and profiled him prior to the East-West Shrine Game where he had dominant practices and a sack in the all-star game. Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith could use Ochi as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or as a weakside defensive end in a 4-3.
Previous Pick: Texas Tech OT Le’Raven Clark
ROUND 6 – Boston College FS Justin Simmons – 6-2, 202 – Senior
The Buccaneers continue to add more talent to their secondary with Simmons, a rangy defensive back that has experience at both safety and cornerback. Totaling 229 tackles, eight interceptions, four fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles and a sack, Simmons was the most productive defensive back during his time at Boston College.
Simmons saved his best season for last as he used his good instincts to record 67 tackles, a career-high five interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles for the Eagles. The highly competitive Simmons was also the vocal leader of the defense, which has great appeal to the Buccaneers. Only a modest 4.61 time in the 40-yard dash keeps Simmons, who has a 40-inch vertical, from being drafted higher, especially after a good showing at the East-West Shrine Game following his senior season.
In addition to playing good defense, Simmons also excels on special teams. He was a gunner on punts at Boston College and will have to serve the Buccaneers in that type of role initially as a rookie as he develops as a defender.
Previous Pick: West Virginia FS K.J. Dillon
ROUND 6 (from Washington) – N.C. State OL Joe Thuney – 6-4 1/2, 304 – Senior
Thuney was one of the highest-graded offensive linemen in 2015 by Pro Football Focus and has been the Wolfpack’s left tackle for two out of the last three years. Although he doesn’t overwhelm opponents with his size or power, Thuney has surprising strength with 28 reps of 225 pounds at the Combine. Thuney was one of the most athletic linemen in Indianapolis, running a blazing fast 4.95 in the 40-yard dash with an impressive 1.70 split.
Thuney has short arms at 32 1/4, and that may prompt NFL teams to move inside to guard where he does have experience. In fact, Thuney has experience at all five positions and his versatility is a plus for NFL teams like Tampa Bay. Thuney is incredibly bright and graduated from N.C. State after just three years with a degree in accounting and he is pursuing Master’s degree in international studies.
He’ll need some time to hit the weight room and add some bulk, but Thuney’s size and athleticism compares favorably to a poor man’s Logan Mankins and his NFL future may ultimately be at guard or center depending on his development. Thuney’s athleticism is just a small step below that of Indiana’s Jason Spriggs, who has an outside chance of being a late first-rounder. To see Thuney in action watch number 54, the left tackle, in the following video.
Previous Pick: Texas Tech WR Jakeem Grant
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