The East-West Shrine Game and the Reese’s Senior Bowl are over. The 40 times and medical reports have been collected from the NFL Scouting Combine. Now Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht, director of player personnel John Spytek, director of college scouting Mike Biehl, head coach Dirk Koetter and the team’s scouts and assistant coaches will be attending pro day workouts, hosting NFL Draft prospects at One Buccaneer Place and stacking their draft board.

The Bucs have spent the fall and winter scouting prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft where Tampa Bay has the 7th overall pick due to a 5-11 finish to the regular season. The focus needs to be on bolstering the Bucs’ defense, especially along the defensive line and in the secondary, in addition to improving Koetter’s running game on offense.

The Bucs have moved on ineffective running back Doug Martin and won’t re-sign free agent running back Charles Sims, who is too one-dimensional and doesn’t make enough plays. The team believes in Peyton Barber, but needs another running back or two with some explosive running ability.

The offensive line is a concern for many Bucs fans, but offensive tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson are in the top half of the league at their respective positions, and Dotson had one of his best seasons before getting injured in late November. The real issue is in the interior where the guard play was sub-par. That could mean moving Ali Marpet from center back to guard.

The return of J.R. Sweezy from a back injury was supposed to help Tampa Bay’s struggling ground game and prompted the move of Marpet from right guard to center. Marpet was a better guard in 2016 than he was center in 2017, but it is unclear if the plan is to keep him snapping the ball to Jameis Winston or return to right guard, but guard is a top need due to the fact that neither Kevin Pamphile nor Evan Smith played well at left guard despite both being in a contract season. The Bucs’ running game won’t take off until the interior offensive line is settled and is given an upgrade in talent.

Tampa Bay’s defense definitely needs help at defensive end as the team finished dead last in sacks with 22. Noah Spence is coming off his second shoulder surgery in 12 months and can’t be counted on to make the kind of necessary impact the team needs to effectively rush the passer. If he gets five to eight sacks upon his return that should be seen as a bonus.

Licht needs address defensive end in both free agency and the draft, as the Bucs may part ways with Robert Ayers, who will be 33 next year, due to ineffectiveness and his penchant for getting injured. Licht will also need to get help at defensive tackle where our prediction that the Bucs will be moving on from Chris Baker came true. Baker had half a sack despite getting paid $6 million as a free agent signing last year and failing to beat out Clinton McDonald, who will be a free agent in March.

The Bucs will also need to address cornerback and will try to re-sign Brent Grimes, who turns 35 this year. Tampa Bay had the league’s worst pass defense in 2017 as neither second-year cornerback Ryan Smith nor Vernon Hargreaves III, who was the team’s first-round pick in 2016, played well. Tampa Bay could also use a safety to develop next to Justin Evans, last year’s second-round pick.

PewterReport.com offers up its first edition of the Bucs’ round-by-round draft projection in 2018, focusing mostly on adding players for Tampa Bay’s defense and players to bolster the team’s running game. PewterReport.com’s 2018 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: Washington DT Vita Vea – 6-4, 347 – 5.10 – Junior

Previous pick: Washington DT Vita Vea
NEW ANALYSIS: The Bucs are going to go pick a defensive player with the first overall pick as it is highly unlikely that Penn State running back Saquon Barkley or Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson falls to Tampa Bay at No. 7 overall. The question is, will the Bucs improve their defensive line or their secondary with their first overall selection?

If it’s a defensive back, it shouldn’t be Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick. I’m not buying the hype. He’s a safety or a nickel cornerback in the NFL, and if he’s a safety he’s the second-best safety in the draft behind Florida State’s Derwin James. Fitzpatrick not a pure outside cornerback, and if the Bucs want to go in that direction Ohio State’s Denzel Ward would be the ideal pick.

James has a lot of great qualities. He’s a top-notch athlete with good size and speed, and James is an alpha male, who would be a great fit in the Bucs locker room. I wouldn’t rule him out at No. 7.

But Tampa Bay needs help in the trenches and that’s where Vea comes in. The Bucs enter free agency with just two defensive tackles on the roster as the team released the lazy, underachieving Chris Baker, and Clinton McDonald and Sealver Siliga are slated to become unrestricted free agents – although the Bucs would like to have McDonald back at the right price.

The two tackles on the current roster are six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, last year’s seventh-round pick who spent his rookie season on injured reserve. The last three defensive tackles that Licht has acquired have been the 320-pound Baker, the 340-pound Siliga and the 330-pound Tu’ikolovatu he drafted. So drafting the 347-pound Vea aligns with the Bucs’ philosophy at defensive tackle.

You might think that just because Vea and Danny Shelton, Cleveland’s first-round pick at No. 12 overall in 2015, who just got traded to New England, are defensive tackles from the University of Washington that Vea is just a big, space-eating nose tackle. You’d be wrong.

That’s a mistake.

Shelton is just that – a big, space-eating nose tackle. He ran an ultra-slow time of 5.64 in the 40-yard dash at 339 pounds with a 1.9 10-yard split. Vea is an athletic freak, whereas Shelton simply isn’t.

Despite pulling a hamstring on his second attempt, Vea ran an eye-popping 5.10 in the 40-yard dash at 347 pounds with a 1.76 10-yard split. To put that number in perspective, Nathan Shepherd, an athletic, 315-pound defensive tackle from Fort Hays State ran a 5.10, and McCoy ran a 4.99 at 295 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine. We’re talking a tenth of second difference between McCoy and Vea despite Vea weighing more than 50 pounds more. Vea also had 41 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, which was second only to Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips’ 42.

Vea has cat-like quickness and agility, and rhino-like strength and size and can help the Bucs defense in several ways. The first is as a run-stuffer. Washington had the fourth-ranked run defense in the FBS last year and Vea was a big reason why.

The Bucs do need to upgrade their pass rush this year and boost their sack totals from a dismal 22 last year, but having more pass-rushing opportunities due to stopping the run on the first two downs and setting up third-and-long situations helps, too. Vea played nose tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end in Washington’s 3-4 defense and the Huskies often rushed three and dropped eight defenders into coverage due to Vea’s presence and ability to collapse the pocket and still managed to rank 17th in the FBS with 38 sacks in 13 games.

Vea does have modest statistics, but the stats don’t tell the full story. In three years with the Huskies he totaled 99 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles. But he is a one-man wrecking crew upfront and the disruption he causes by collapsing the pocket resulted in an awful lot of clean-up sacks for Washington’s other defensive linemen and linebackers.

“I’ve coached in the National Football League, and I’ve never seen a guy of his size play with that explosiveness,” said Huskies co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, who used to be a defensive backs coach in Tampa Bay under Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris. “He’s pretty special.”

Vea draws comparisons to both Shelton and former Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata – both of whom were drafted 12th overall in 2015 and 2006, respectively. The 6-foot-2, 335-pound Shelton and the 6-foot-4, 345-pound Ngata are both similar-sized to Vea, but lack Vea’s speed and quickness.

“Shelton was a top 12 pick selected a couple years ago by the Cleveland Browns and that’s about where I expect Vita Vea to go as well,” said NFL Draft analyst Rob Rang on KOMO’s Thursday Night Dawg House show. “He’s one of the freaks of the 2018 NFL Draft, and I use the term ‘freak’ in as kind of a way as possible.

“You’re talking about a man who is 344 pounds, so there will be some plays where he might need to rest and get a second breath. You’re really picking at nits. We’re talking about a player who is physically dominating and in my opinion, still just scratching the surface of his technique.”

Vea’s Washington Career Defensive Stats
2017: 43 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 4 PBUs, 1 punt block
2016: 39 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF
2015: 17 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FG block

Vea’s presence would not only increase the production of Tampa Bay’s defensive ends, he would also occupy a double team on most plays, which would allow McCoy to get freed up for even more one-on-one pass rush situations. Because of his movement ability, Vea could also be moved around the line to play three-technique defensive tackle or even defensive end in some situations if the Bucs wanted to go with a big defensive line that consisted of Vea, McCoy, Tu’ikolovatu and 295-pound defensive end Will Gholston.

Vea’s experience playing nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme also gives defensive coordinator Mike Smith the ability to switch Tampa Bay to a 3-4 defense in 2018, or at least play more multiple fronts consisting of both 3-4 and 3-3-5 schemes in addition to a 4-3 front. For those Bucs fans that want the team to embrace the trend of the 3-4 defense, having a chess piece like Vea is key to making that happen due to the importance of the zero-technique nose tackle in that scheme.

New defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, a former NFL nose tackle, has coached both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts in Arizona and can take Vea’s game to the next level.

“Anyone can go out there and play balls to the wall and do well, but it comes to a point in time where that only takes you so far,” Vea said. “That was me [in 2016], and this offseason I really grabbed a hold of actually learning the game … instead of going out there and just bull-rushing every single play.”

There is much more to Vea’s game than just bull rushing, but the Bucs could certainly use his freakish bull rush up front to wreck havoc against the run and collapse the pocket against the pass.

Click below to view Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in 2018.

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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 protected]
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Sheldon

This is terrible, it’s like you don’t know how Jason drafts by now. A DT in the 1st round makes no sense because it’s not what we need most, either DE,SS, CB or RB in the first round.

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FLBoy84

Accidentally hit thumbs up, definitely a mistake. Count me as -2.

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Horse

Sheldon, So agree!!!

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Honey Bear

We need talent in the trenches. But with Chubb most likely not slipping to us, there is not another DE worth a top-10 pick. Same goes for Barkley, who will likely be gone. Yes we need another safety, but we need help in the trenches the most. If the Bucs believe Vita Vea is a top-10 talent, he is worth the pick over the highly-rated safeties (Fitzpatrick and James). Vita Vea is a disruptor who will make the players around him on the line better and the entire defense better. If we give QBs too much time (like we did… Read more »

FLBoy84

Agree HB, but hopefully we can add some much needed talent to the DL in the next week or two where we can go BPA if a trade down doesn’t present itself. In that case, maybe a guy like Fitzpatrick isn’t so much of a reach and we could possibly lock up, what could be, one of the best starting safety tandems in the league for the foreseeable future.

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wnb0395

Many Mocks have Cleveland taking Barkley 1st and Fitzpatrick 4th with Chubb falling to 3rd to Indy. Then who do we take?

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seat26

Actually, we do need a DT every bit as much as DE. Baker is gone. This draft addresses both of those concerns. My only problem with it is that I don’t think Chubb will last to the 3rd round. And we definitely need help at RB too. The truth is we have too many positions to address in this draft alone. I think this is a pretty good sound mock, but it all comes down to who falls into your lap at #7. If Nelson or Fitzpatrick is there at #7 I think Bucs will have a hard time passing… Read more »

seat26

Vea.

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Buc 1976

Absolutely agree Chubb had a very good combine.
His knee seems to be fine.

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wnb0395

Sheldon who would you pick in this spot if Barkley, Chubb, Fitzpatrick,and James are all off the board and no one wants to trasde with us?

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wnb0395

Sheldon, who would you pick at 7 if Barkley, Chubb, Fitzpatrick, and James are all off the board and no one wants to trade with us?

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Brooks Dunn-Winston

I really like this draft. Vea and Okoronkwo would REALLY help our pass rush and, in Vea’s case, our run defense. Chubb and Cappa would help our running game. Neal and Shelton are both gamers and I love Carter. Thumbs up, Scott.

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Kevin

Please stop trying to sell Vea at #7. He will be around later if we were to trade down.

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FLBoy84

You may well be right, but if a suitable offer doesn’t emerge, someone has to be selected.

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FLBoy84

Come on Jenna (SR), don’t go throwing out that Baker release as a massive surprise to anyone. 🙂 Like the draft, very uncertain how the top three picks go though. Like most, have preferences as to which players we select, though can’t argue with any of the above. Especially like the Martez Carter flier in the 7th. Was curious where the speed factor would come in to play in a RB corp uf Chubb, Barber and Rodgers, though I hope we add another RB as a FA that can outperform Rodgers at least and add more speed as well. Rate… Read more »

Mike Wright

Many say no on Vea. But tell me who else would you go with Defensively If Chubb is gone? Maybe you guys were not watching the same Buc games as me last year. We need BIGTIME help along our D line..anyway we can get it! I’d definitely go D-line with my first 2 choices in this draft. Hell. maybe even the 1st 3rds. I like Scott’s picks here. You can score all day long in this league..throw beautiful Spirals. But you’d better be able to stop somebody and get of the field. We could/can not! It starts up front. Solidy… Read more »

Darin

You’re getting closer to what should happen. Theyve gota go Dline with first 2 picks, maybe first 3. I’d love it if they could trade back and pick up picks but its unlikely. I looked at Lichts entire draft history this morning in detail. He just doesnt go back, very little when so. If he trades back somehow and Veas gone I’d be just as happy with Nathan Shepherd, wether in rounds 1 or 2. I’d personally sign 2 RBs, a guard, a DB and a DE in free agency, then draft all defense. I dont think Chubb will be… Read more »

FLBoy84

Gonna need more than just one G between FA’s and the draft. Depending on where you’re putting Marpet, you’re either going to need another G or C at the minimum. Agree though that the D needs some massive attention at DL and DB.

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jordyn

I say no to waiting till the third round to get a running back. Second round Derrius Guice or Sony Michel.

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Horse

Scott; not bad, but Round 2 pick Okorowkwo is just too small! Surely we have learned our lesson? We need CB’s so take one there if we can’t find a DE. Hope RB Chubb is still there at Round 3, doubt it though. Why are you selecting small DE’s, CB, SS? That might be okay if we already had a good Defense, which we don’t. Would love to understand your thought process here Scott?

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scubog

Horse: You always think players are “too small”. You should look at the typical sizes by respective positions currently playing in the NFL and available in the Draft. I think you’ll conclude that those dimensions are the norm.

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Horse

Just another thought here? Just don’t like where we going as I don’t see much of anything GM & Coaches are changing, but same ole same ole. The three other HC’s in our Division are aggressive, proven, and have much better Defenses; how does this type of draft selecting catch up with them Scott? It doesn’t in my opinion.

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FLBoy84

Would be a very solid DT rotation of McCoy, Poe, Vea and McDonald (assuming he’s re-signed), though possibly might try to find a more penetrating DT than McDonald to spell McCoy at the 3T. Maybe even double-up at DT in Rnds 1 & 2 with Vea and Shepherd to protect for McCoy’s eventual decline. Just a thought, not sure what the quality of the DT class is coming out in the next couple of years though. Anybody know?

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Charlie

Love Vea 1st, and Chubb 3rd if he’s there, but I’d much rather have another trench player that isn’t smaller than a flea and preferably not from Oklahoma since they’re probably a damn whiner.

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jerseybucsfan

Best mock you’ve done so far SR. Agree that they should go heavy on the lines.

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BucWonder

I like this draft and I think it is realistic. If Chubb and Nelson are gone and there is no trade down then Vea makes a ton of sense. Bucs have been trying to fill the spot next to McCoy for several seasons. This would do that very well. I agree on the top need positions too, DL, OL, DB, RB. Of course much depends on free agency. This should be a fun week.

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Pit of misery

I also like ward at 7 depending on free agency or Nelson should know our real needs over the next week or so!

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Jonathan Goodfellow

I can live with Ward at 7 if the bucs were to sign Poe in FA.

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Julian Jordan

This is where my head is right now if Chubb, Nelson and Barkley are off the board.

1- Derrius Guice, LSU RB
2- Jaire Alexander, UL CB
3- Lorenzo Carter, Georgia DE
4- Marcell Frazier, MIZZ DE
5- Dante Pettis, WASH WR
6- DJ Reed, KSU CB
7- Salesi Uhatafe, Utah G

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Hank Scorpio

I don’t really pay much attention to mocks until FA is pretty much over, but if this mock were accurate it would mean Licht bombed in FA imo. I like the 2nd rd pick, but the 1st and 3rd… eh. One player I’d love to see us pick up in a late rd (assuming he’s still there) is Antonio Callaway. 1st rd talent but is likely a 5th-7th rd pick. Would be nice to grab/stash/develop while we get 1 more yr from Desean Jackson this year. Then plug him in with Evans and RodGod at WR in 2019 and we’ve… Read more »

pinkstob

Vea isn’t a bad pick but he’s not the best player available at #7 if we stay there (and I don’t think we will…I think we’ll trade down). He’s a great NT but NT’s don’t have enough impact on the game to take one at #7 overall. We can’t let our lack of talent on the D-line drive us to take a guy that’s not the BPA. I try to state who I think we’ll take and who we should take in the 1st round. There are too many factors for me to try and guess who will be picked… Read more »

Ron Potter

You make a great case for Vita Vea!

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Gareth

Man, im here watching the nick chubb highlights really getting into issiah wynn. Big man can move and move people.

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Tampa 2.2

I disagree with the pick of Vita Vea. First thing I would say is he didn’t have the sacks in his college career and the lack of sacks is and was the Bucs biggest problem. Vita ran a good 40 time but the 3 cone time is the most important event for DT. There is no way I will even think about drafting Vita until I get his 3 cone time. If and when the Bucs sign Dontari Poe please stop mocking Vita to the Bucs. Just for your info Poe had better numbers at the Combine than Vita Vea.… Read more »

morgan1672

This would be excellent draft. I think V Vita is the biggest impact player on the Dline after Chubb. I think he has a higher ceiling regarding the rushing the passer than people think. My favorite pass rusher in this draft after Chubb is DE O Okoronkwo, I think he is a much better against the run then N Spence and is as good of a pass rusher. I think Okoronkwo and a health Spence will improve the pass rush. I like N Chubb but I would rather use the 3rd or move back up to the 2nd if needed… Read more »

SaskBucs

This is a nice mock and best of the 3 imo. Obviously this mock is done without FA in the equation and it should be. In that regard, positions of need as they stand now were addressed. Well done. I have some concerns about the size of a couple players, as others here have mentioned but if you can ball… you can ball. You can’t tell me a good drive and solid pass rushing moves/speed don’t make up for 2 inches and 20 lbs. Chubb in round 3 would be nice, drafting a RB in round 2 would be a… Read more »

Gareth

I like this draft, I think the bucs will sign Poe in FA making vita redundant and opens the door for best non qb ,lb, wr, te available and not need to reach. Also i am more partial to kerryon johnson but would be cool with chubb.

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Jonathan Goodfellow

Perhaps Denzel Ward as a future lockdown CB then?

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hamilton

vita only 5 tfl is a bad sign,payne from crimson tide almost had that vs georgia

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plopes808

I can’t argue with any of these picks. Pair this draft with some FA pickups and we’ll be good to go

FA Pickups:
DE Okafor/Curry
DT Poe
G/C Sitton/Norwell/Jensen
RB Crowell/Hyde/Mckinnon/Lewis
DB Butler/Johnson/Fuller/Gaines

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scubog

I’ve always thought Mock Drafts were for entertainment purposes only, and not a valid forecast of things to come. Nor is the mocking of the Mock Draft that follows to be taken seriously. It’s so comical that every year at this time we are inundated with one Mock Draft after another including the one from Bill Parcell’s neighbor, yet none will be a credible reflection of reality. Equally entertaining is when we will reflect on it with our “woulda, coulda, shoulda” analysis at the end of April before the players have even stepped on the practice field. We all know… Read more »

martinii

Yeah Scubog this time of year can definitely become an exercise in Futility. I usually try to predict the top 3 rounds and on years like this when the potential for getting a top need player is questionable BPA really makes sense. Scott must have insider info on some of these guys because 1) they don’t go to combine, 2) they are small school kids, and 3) they are not ranked in the top 300 prospects by any of the major analyst. Unless you are an alumni and travel to these schools and watch your son play, you would never… Read more »

Pete Wood

If we can’t get Bradley Chubb or Nelson, we just need to trade down. After those two nobody is worth a number seven pick.

I don’t want a repeat of 2016 where we have a decent draft position and squander the pick on the best available player. We should have traded down then. We should trade down now.

Hello Buffalo!

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surferdudes

Best player available works if you’re N.E., but if you’re the Bucs, you can’t afford not to come out of this draft without a top D tackle. McCoy, Stevie T., maybe McDonald, that’s it! Vea is rated as a top ten pick, with 3 Q.B.’s rated ahead of him, which means he falls as the 7th pick in the draft. This is close enough to warrant his selection. I would be for trading down with the thought of at least coming away with Payne as my first pick, and another D tackle with the pick I traded down for. Coming… Read more »

majc32

You draft best player available. In 2015 in the 4th round, the bucs did not need a mlb linebacker because they just signed Bruce Carter to be the starting mlb but kwon who they had a 2nd round grade on was still sitting there. The bucs could have still used a defensive end then, but they chose Kwon who went on to start and now is a pro bowler. Last year the bucs did not need a lb but beckwith was still sitting there at the end of the third round and the bucs also had a 2nd round grade… Read more »

majc32

I am not sure why SR is on this Vita Vea guy. There is no mock draft that has this guy as a top 10 pick. Most I see him as a late teen pick. I get it, his coach sold you on him. He will be a good player if the team around him is good. If not, then you are looking at Shelton who was just traded to the pats from the browns. Derwin James, Nelson, Chubb, Barkley are the players the bucs need to be looking at here at 7. And no, you do not draft for… Read more »

Ja'crispy

This is probably of the best bucs mock drafts ive seen this offseason. The bucs Dline was one of the worst in the nfl last year. I don’t understand how some people can complain about getting the best DT in the draft. DT is just as important as DE. other then Chubb there no other DE worthy of a top 10 pick. So, Mount Vea in the first round would greatly improve our Dline.

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Jonathan Goodfellow

A++. If the draft goes like this, than I couldnt be more happy. I would say that the Bucs need Draft talent at CB earlier than rd 5. But honestly there are just too many holes to fill. Fixing the DL will make the secondary look better. Adding in some “Serviceable” CB talent in FA and then bolstering the DL in the draft will be the most optimal way to turn around the defense. If the Bucs could perhaps trade down a few spots and still pick up VEA that would be fantastic. The other option would be to trade… Read more »

Billy Louis

I highly dislike the first two round picks. If Barkley, Chubb, and Nelson are gone by 7 I would much rather see us take Fitzpatrick, James or Ward. The only way I would be fine with Vea is if say the Bills traded us their two firsts to jump up to 7 for a quarterback that has slipped. And, in the second Sony Michel, Ronald Jones, Derrius Guice, Arden Key, Sam Hubbard, Jaire Alexander, Harold Landry and Harrison Phillips.

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surferdudes

McCoy, Stevie T., maybe McDonald, those are our defensive tackles right now. If you don’t fix that any corner, safety you draft will fail.

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