After spending all but one pick on the offensive side of the ball over the past years, Bucs general manager Jason Licht knows he must address the defensive side where the secondary needs to be overhauled and a couple of pass-rushing defensive linemen are needed. 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.
What makes this initial mock draft difficult is that Lovie Smith was fired after a disappointing 6-10 season that capped off a dismal two-year stint in which Smith went 8-24. Licht is heading up the head-coaching search for the Glazers with Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter as the leading candidates. Goodwin and McDermott have already interviewed, and Koetter has reportedly interviewed with the San Francisco 49ers for their vacant head-coaching position.
With a defensive-laden draft class coming within the next few months, it will be interesting to see who exactly will be running the Bucs defense as Smith and Leslie Frazier, who was also dismissed, coordinated that side of the ball in Tampa Bay the past two years. If the Bucs stay with a 4-3 defensive scheme, the players listed in PewterReport.com’s first mock draft of the year will fit. However, if a new coach comes in wanting to run a 3-4 scheme, expect some wholesale changes in PewterReport.com’s next mock draft, which will be following the Senior Bowl later in January.
Here is PewterReport.com’s initial round-by-round draft projection in 2016 that focuses 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
PEWTERREPORT.COM’S 2016 BUCS’ 7-ROUND MOCK DRAFT
ROUND 1 – Oklahoma State DE Emmanuel Ogbah – 6-3, 275 – Junior
Tampa Bay needs a premier defensive end and a shutdown cornerback, but with Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey and Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III likely off the board before 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. Ogbah is a strong, quick, athletic defensive end, whose best years may be in front of him in the NFL.
Ogbah has improved every year and has worked hard to become a first-rounder. After notching four sacks as a freshman, Ogbah burst onto the national scene in the 2014 season opening loss to Florida State, sacking Jameis Winston twice and notching six tackles, two tackles for loss and two pass breakups. He went on to record 49 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and a forced fumble during his sophomore year.
As a junior, Ogbah produced 13 sacks and recorded at least half a sack in every game except for two in 2015. He also amassed 64 tackles, which shows his strength against the run, in addition to 17.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Ogbah’s 28 sacks over the past three years make him one of the most productive junior pass rushers in college football and he had six multiple-sack games for the Cowboys.
Ogbah isn’t the svelte, track star-style defensive end like former Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice. Instead, his game and body type are more like NFC South rivals Charles Johnson (Carolina) and Cameron Jordan (New Orleans), who each have multiple double-digit sack seasons in their respective careers. Ogbah has experience playing from both the left and right defensive end positions, and he’s also been an interior nickel rusher for Oklahoma State. He’s probably best suited to start off at right defensive end, but has the ability and flexibility to play either side. It might take a year or two, but Bucs defensive line coach Joe Cullen can get Ogbah to become the long-awaited double-digit sacker Tampa Bay has been searching for.
ROUND 2 – Houston CB William Jackson III – 6-1, 195 – Senior
The Bucs address another need by drafting Jackson III, a playmaking cornerback out of Houston. Jackson III 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.
Tampa Bay will have a new defensive play-caller, who might have a preference for a certain type of cornerback. Yet big cornerbacks that can cover are all the rage in the NFL these days 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.
ROUND 3 – West Virginia SS Karl Joseph – 5-11, 197 – Senior
The Bucs continue to upgrade the talent in their secondary in the third round with Joseph, who was a four-year starter for the Mountaineers until suffering a season-ending knee injury in October during a non-contract drill in practice. Joseph had notched 15 tackles and five interceptions in the first five games of the 2015 season before the injury, which required surgery and will likely keep him out of action until his pro day before the 2016 NFL Draft.
Before the injury, Joseph was one of the most intimidating, hard-hitting, playmaking safeties in the country, notching nine interceptions, forcing eight fumbles and scoring two defensive touchdowns for West Virginia. The Orlando native’s size resembles that of Pro Bowlers’ Eric Berry and Earl Thomas, but he hits like a heat-seeking missile. It will be interesting to see where his draft stock is coming off knee surgery, as he has not yet been cleared to workout. Presently, there is no indication whether or not any portion of his rookie season would be in jeopardy.
Tampa Bay’s safeties have only notched six interceptions over the past two years, which isn’t good enough. The Bucs secondary needs another playmaker with good ball skills and Joseph is that guy if he can return to his pre-injury form. He showed at West Virginia that he could step in and start right away, and if he’s healthy enough during training camp there’s no reason to believe he isn’t capable of starting as a rookie in the NFL, either.
ROUND 4 – Colorado State WR Rashard Higgins – 6-2, 188 – Junior
The Buccaneers like Notre Dame speedy wide receiver Will Fuller, who is a real vertical threat, but with pressing needs at defensive end and in the secondary, burning a second-round pick on a wide receiver is something general manager Jason Licht doesn’t want to do. But the fourth round is a different story, and Higgins, whose speed and skinny frame resemble that of Fuller, might be a good option.
Higgins had a great freshman season, catching 68 passes for 837 yards and six touchdowns before a breakout year as a sophomore with 96 catches for 1,750 yards, 17 touchdowns and an 18.2-yards per catch average. Higgins and Garrett Grayson, who was a mid-round by the New Orleans Saints in 2015, had a great connection, and Higgins’ production declined when Grayson graduated. Higgins caught 75 passes for 1,062 yards and eight scores in 2015, but is leaving school early with 18 games of 100 yards or more.
Higgins is a proven depth threat, proving he could get behind the defense with seven catches of 50 yards or more as a sophomore, but didn’t have the opportunity to have any last year without Grayson throwing him the ball. Higgins is also adept at catching crossing routes and getting yards after catch on bubble screens. His speed make a nice complement to Mike Evans’ size in Tampa Bay, and the Bucs will need an eventual replacement for Vincent Jackson in the starting lineup.
ROUND 5 – Penn State DL Anthony Zettel – 6-4, 278 – Senior
Zettel is a tremendously quick athletic with a great get off that would fit nicely on Joe Cullen’s defensive line in Tampa Bay. Zettel played nose tackle, three technique and defensive end at Penn State and is capable of playing inside or outside for the Buccaneers due to his lightning-fast first step and ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage.
Zettel had 19 career sacks for the Nittany Lions, including eight in a breakout year in 2014. Zettel used ultra-quick hands that he developed from years of martial arts training to sack the likes of Michigan’s Connor Cook and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett among others. He has tremendous hand-eye coordination and picked off four passes at Penn State, including three as a junior – one of which was returned for a touchdown. Although he didn’t record an INT in 2015, he did have six pass breakups at the line of scrimmage.
Zettel may not be fast enough to start at defensive end for Tampa Bay, but he could get a look there to prove whether he could. At the very least, he could be a very productive swing defensive lineman playing inside and out like the kind the Bucs have had in the past with Tyoka Jackson, Ellis Wyms and Will Gholston. Getting a productive player with Zettel’s motor in the fifth round would be a quite a steal.
ROUND 6 – Alabama CB Cyrus Jones – 5-10, 195 – Senior
The Bucs come back and address the cornerback position once again in the 2016 NFL Draft, this time on Day 3 with Jones, who is a developmental prospect on defense and an instant force on special teams in the return game. Jones became a starter for the Crimson Tide defense during his sophomore season where he recorded the first two of his seven career interceptions.
As a junior, Jones notched 46 tackles, 13 passes defensed, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown before posting 32 tackles, two picks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 2015 as a senior. Some of Jones’ interceptions have come in big games, including one in the 2014 college playoffs against Ohio State’s Cardale Jones and one in this year’s playoff game against Michigan State’s Connor Cook. His first pick was against Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Having to defend the likes of Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, Ole Miss’ Laquan Treadwell, LSU’s Travin Durrell and other talented receivers in the SEC, Jones is quite battle-tested.
The real appeal with Jones initially would come on special teams where his four punt returns for touchdowns lead the nation. Jones has a 12.6-yard average returning punts, and the return game is one of the areas that the Buccaneers desperately want to improve this offseason. Drafting a physical, developmental cornerback with the ability to return punts makes sense in the sixth round for Tampa Bay.
ROUND 6 (from Washington) – Texas Tech WR Jakeem Grant – 5-6, 168 – Senior
Tampa Bay general manager Jason 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. If Dirk Koetter is still calling plays in Tampa Bay in 2016, he could have a lot of fun with the explosive Grant on offense.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org