Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht, director of player personnel John Spyteck and director of college scouting Mike Biehl have spent the fall and winter scouting prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft where Tampa Bay will have the 19th overall pick. The focus needs to be making Dirk Koetter’s offense more explosive and finding more weapons for quarterback Jameis Winston. Tampa Bay just returned from scouting the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl for the next group of Buccaneers.
The suspension of oft-injured starting running back Doug Martin and the injury-prone status of Charles Sims suddenly makes the running back position an area of need, in addition to wide receiver where the team lacks speed and big-play ability outside of Mike Evans and occasionally Adam Humphries.
While the offensive line is a concern for many Bucs fans, this year’s draft class is not strong at tackle, guard or center, and PewterReport.com doesn’t have Licht taking a lineman due to the fact that he’s selected four – guard Kevin Pamphile in 2014, tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet in 2015 and guard-tackle Caleb Benenoch in 2016 – in the last three drafts. That may change in future mock drafts as the Bucs need a right tackle to replace aging veteran Gosder Cherilus and eventually starter Demar Dotson, yet the team has three in-house candidates in Pamphile, Benenoch and Leonard Wester.
Tampa Bay’s defense could use help at safety, cornerback, defensive end and possibly defensive tackle, but it will be challenging to fill all of those holes in the 2017 draft given the needs on offense. Brent Grimes will be 34 next season, and the Bucs may cut overpaid cornerback Alterraun Verner. Bradley McDougald and Chris Conte, who began the 2016 season as starters, are unrestricted free agents, as is defensive end Will Gholston and defensive tackle Akeem Spence.
With the NFL Scouting Combine a few weeks away, PewterReport.com offers up its second Bucs’ round-by-round draft projection in 2017, focusing mostly on adding skill position players for Tampa Bay’s offense. PewterReport.com’s 2017 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft is sponsored by Holliday Karatinos Law Firm – the official personal injury attorney for PewterReport.com. Call attorney Jim Holliday for a free consultation at (813) 868-1887 or visit them on the web at HelpingInjuredPeople.com
Round 1: Alabama TE O.J. Howard – 6-5, 249 – 4.58 – Senior Previous Pick: Western Michigan WR Corey Davis
It’s no secret that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need some athletic playmakers on offense and Howard certainly fits the bill with the 19th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. While drafting a wide receiver may be tempting in the first round, Davis and Clemson’s Mike Williams will likely be gone by the time Tampa Bay is on the clock. The same might be said for Washington speedster John Ross, who has some medical questions about his knee after having micro-fracture surgery in 2015, but his blazing 4.3 speed will attract attention.
With the wide receiver position deep this year, the Bucs can wait until later rounds and have the chance to select the first tight end off the board in Howard, who was recently selected the top practice player at the Senior Bowl. Howard, a sure-fire first-round pick, earned the praise of NFL scouts for not skipping the Senior Bowl due to his draft status and for putting on a show during the week and on game day for NFL talent evaluators, including the Buccaneers.
Howard, who had four catches for 39 yards in the Senior Bowl, including a gain of 24 yards, had just one 100-yard game in college, but it was a doozy. It was Howard’s five-catch, 208-yard performance in the 45-40 win over Clemson in the 2015 national championship game in which he had touchdowns covering 53 and 51 yards.
Howard’s Alabama Career Stats 2016: 45 catches for 595 yards (13.2 avg.) with 3 TDs and a long of 68 yards 2015: 38 catches for 602 yards (15.8 avg.) with 2 TDs and a long of 63 yards 2014: 17 catches for 260 yards (15.3 avg.) with 0 TDs and a long of 53 yards 2013: 14 catches for 269 yards (19.2 avg.) with 2 TDs and a long of 52 yards
At just under 6-foot-6, and weighing 249 pounds, Howard used his size and speed to create mismatches against linebackers and safeties to make big plays downfield. Howard had 14 catches of 30 yards or more at Alabama, which shows his explosiveness, but was incredibly under-utilized in his four-year Crimson Tide career.
Consider that his 208-yard effort against Clemson accounted for one-third of Howard’s production during the entire 2015 season and both of his touchdowns that year. And his production didn’t rise much the following year with just seven more catches for seven fewer yards and one more score. Howard didn’t know why he didn’t have a bigger role in 2016.
“I have no idea, honestly man,” said Howard at the Senior Bowl. “It was kind of a question mark my whole career about that, but I’ve never been able to give an answer to this day.”
The Bucs could use another tight end to team with Cameron Brate in 2017 and allow Dirk Koetter to go back to his original plan of using both Brate and Austin Seferian-Jenkins together in 2016 before a DUI prior to Week 3 prompted ASJ’s release. While Brate enjoyed a breakout season with 57 catches for 660 yards eight touchdowns, which tied for the NFL lead among tight ends, his presence as sorely missed in the final two games of the season when he suffered a back injury at New Orleans and Tampa Bay’s passing game nearly ground to a halt.
With only Luke Stocker and Brandon Myers behind Brate on the depth chart, and neither is much of a receiving threat, Tampa Bay wants another tight end that can work the seam and make big plays in the passing game. But given the fact that the Bucs struggled to run the ball well last year, and that Brate is not an exceptional in-line blocker, Tampa Bay is looking for a tight end that can block and catch. And there aren’t too many complete tight ends coming out of college these days.
After facing Jimmy Graham in New Orleans, Tony Gonzalez in Atlanta and Greg Olsen in Carolina for years in the NFC South, the Bucs finally have not just one, but two tight ends to threaten their division rivals with Brate and Howard as head coach and playcaller Dirk Koetter incorporates more two tight end sets in 2017 the way New England does with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett.
“I think he had two goals, one, show he can separate against man-to-man coverage, and two, confirm that he is a much better blocker than he was a couple years ago. Both goals were accomplished,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of Howard at the Senior Bowl. “In my opinion, he’s a top-20 pick and my NFL comp for him will be Greg Olsen. He can block, he can be in-line, and he can beat you downfield vertically.”
Click below to view Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in 2017.
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