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 has the 19th overall pick. The focus needs to be making Dirk Koetter’s offense more explosive and finding more weapons for quarterback Jameis Winston.
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 needs to add more big-play ability outside of Mike Evans new free agent addition DeSean Jackson.
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, defensive end and possibly cornerback and 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 have cut overpaid cornerback Alterraun Verner. The Bucs signed two safeties in Chris Conte and J.J. Wilcox, and have Keith Tandy as a starting caliber player, too. The Bucs re-signed defensive end Will Gholston and added defensive tackle Chris Baker in free agency to bolster Tampa Bay’s defensive line.
PewterReport.com offers up its third edition of the 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: Miami TE David Njoku – 6-4, 245 – 4.64 – Junior Previous Pick: Alabama TE O.J. Howard
Alabama tight end O.J. Howard was the pick at No. 19 in PewterReport.com’s second edition of its 2017 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, but after his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine it doesn’t seem likely Howard makes it to Tampa Bay’s selection. At 6-foot-6, 251 pounds, Howard ran a 4.51 and a 6.85 time in the three-cone drill. That display of athleticism, combined with his stellar performance at the Senior Bowl, his game tape and his reputation as the best all-around tight end could even make him a top-10 pick. It’s doubtful Howard gets past Tennessee, which has the 18th overall pick.
Instead of Howard, the Bucs take the other first-round caliber tight end in Njoku, who at age 20 is one of the youngest players in this year’s draft. Njoku was hoping to run a faster 40-time than 4.64 in Indianapolis, but his 11-1 broad jump, his 37.5-inch vertical leap and his 6.97 time in the three-cone drill reconfirm the athleticism that is shown on his game tape.
Njoku showed off his athleticism on the gridiron where he had eight catches of 40 yards or more and four catches that topped 50 yards for the Hurricanes as one of the most explosive tight ends in the nation. Njoku had a pair of touchdowns a 40-21 win over Duke last year that traveled 76 and 58 yards.
Njoku’s Miami Career Stats 2016: 43 catches for 698 yards (16.2 avg.) with 8 TDs and a long of 76 yards 2015: 21 catches for 362 yards (17.2 avg.) with 1 TDs and a long of 58 yards
Njoku, who was born in Nigeria and grew up poor in New Jersey, continues the tradition of talented NFL-caliber tight ends to come out of Miami, including the likes of Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow, Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham. Shockey serves as Njoku’s mentor.
“I talk to him all the time,” Njoku said in the Palm Beach Post. “He just tells me, ‘Kill or be killed’ — You’ve got to compete to get your food, to get your money, you know? Then again, I knew that when I was younger. I just compete. I love competing.”
At age 20 with just two years of playing experience, Njoku is far from being a finished product. He needs to add 10 more pounds of muscle and better technique to become a better in-line blocker in the running game.
“I’m working on both with my power and speed,” Njoku told The Sporting News. “I came into Miami as a receiver, so it’s easier to say my blocking [needs the most improvement], but obviously there’s things that I need to work on with running routes. They both need some serious work, but I’m far from reaching my peak.”
Njoku also needs to continue to work on his hands, as he would make some spectacular catches for the Hurricanes, but drop a few easy ones. Although he was the most targeted tight end in the nation last year, he also had eight dropped passes in his two years at Miami.
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, who isn’t much of a receiving threat, behind Brate on the depth chart, Tampa Bay wants another tight end that can work the seam and make big plays in the passing game. Pairing Njoku and Brate together in a two-tight end set should create a mismatch somewhere on the field for quarterback Jameis Winston to exploit.
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 Njoku as head coach and playcaller Dirk Koetter incorporates more two tight end sets in 2017 the way New England did last year with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett.
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
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.