Tampa Bay’s 2020 offseason is in full swing with general manager Jason Licht, director of player personnel John Spytek and director of college scouting Mike Biehl attending both the East-West Shrine Bowl practices in St. Petersburg, Fla. and traveling to Mobile, Ala. for the Senior Bowl to scout some of the top prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft. Licht, Spytek, Biehl and the team’s scouts were joined by head coach Bruce Arians and his coaching staff along with director of football administration Mike Greenberg in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine last week.
The Combine is over and only pro days remain before the NFL Draft, which means it’s time for PewterReport.com’s third 2020 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, presented by Edmonson Electric • AC • Security.
Bucs GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Pewterreport.com
The Bucs are coming off a 7-9 season and entering the second year with Arians, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles at the helm.
Tampa Bay has several pressing needs, chief among them is re-signing some of the team’s 19 unrestricted free agents, including outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett – the league’s sack leader with 19.5 in 2019 – and Jason Pierre-Paul, in addition to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who recovered four fumbles, including two for defensive touchdowns. Arians said re-signing all three defenders are among the Bucs’ top priorities this offseason.
Of course determining what to do with quarterback Jameis Winston, who led the NFL with a franchise-record 5,109 passing yards along with 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions, is the biggest offseason question mark in Tampa Bay. PewterReport.com’s initial mock draft assumes the following scenarios:
• The Bucs pursue another veteran QB or re-sign Winston, who won’t get the franchise tag.
• Tampa Bay re-signs starting outside linebackers Barrett and Pierre-Paul, and also squeezes Suh under the salary cap. Barrett may get the Bucs’ franchise tag.
• The Bucs either re-sign starting right tackle Demar Dotson to a cheap, one-year deal or decide to move on and find a replacement in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Making those assumptions, PewterReport.com has determined that the Bucs’ most pressing needs are as follows:
BUCS’ 2020 NFL DRAFT NEEDS
Table of Contents
1. OFFENSIVE LINE – Whether the 34-year old Dotson returns or not, the Bucs need a better, younger option at right tackle, and a guard to challenge Alex Cappa. Tampa Bay’s offensive line isn’t bad, but it isn’t great, either – especially at run blocking. The Bucs also have little quality depth at offensive tackle or inside at guard.
2. RUNNING BACK – Free agent Peyton Barber may not return, and the Bucs will need another running back to complement and challenge Ronald Jones II. Tampa Bay could use a pass-catching running back that could also challenge Dare Ogunbowale for the role of third-down back. Tampa Bay had the 24th-ranked rushing attack in 2019, averaging just 95.1 yards per game.
Bucs FS Mike Edwards – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
3. SAFETY – Justin Evans may or may not return to form in 2020 following surgery on both of his feet/ankles last year, and Mike Edwards didn’t show enough as a rookie to be penciled in as a starter. The Bucs need a real play-maker at the safety spot and there isn’t one on the current roster unless Evans comes back healthy and ready to go after missing 2019. Tampa Bay had just two interceptions from the safety position last year, but the Bucs like their current group – if Evans can make a comeback.
4. DEFENSIVE TACKLE – Beau Allen and Rakeem Nunez-Roches will be free agents and may or may not return, and Suh just turned 33 and also could head towards free agency. Tampa Bay needs a younger heir apparent to eventually replace Suh, and better depth at the defensive tackle spot to pair with Vita Vea, a rising star as nose tackle, if the team wants to continue to dominate in run defense.
5. WIDE RECEIVER – Breshad Perriman may or may not be back in free agency, depending on his price tag, and the Bucs got a glimpse at what life is like with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans injured and out of the lineup in the final two weeks of the season. Scotty Miller and Justin Watson may be better suited as No. 4 receivers, so the Bucs need to add competition here to find a solid No. 3.
if Winston isn’t re-signed, drafting a quarterback becomes the top priority – even if the Bucs find an older veteran quarterback in free agency. And if Tampa Bay can’t bring back both Barrett and JPP, finding an edge rusher also becomes a big priority.
That means the Bucs should have seven draft picks this April, and the final draft order will be determined in late February/early March when the league announces its compensatory draft picks for the 2020 NFL Draft. The three-day NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 23 in Las Vegas, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders.
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ROUND 1: Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor 5-10, 226 – Junior
PREVIOUS PICK: Houston OT Josh Jones
What?! The Bucs draft a running back in the first round – with the 14th overall pick?
Yes, Taylor, who averaged 2,000 yards per season for three years at Wisconsin, is worth drafting in the middle of the first round because he’s an elite player. Several 1,000-yard rushers, including Saquon Barkley (second overall, 2018), Christian McCaffrey (eighth overall, 2017) and Ezekiel Elliott (fourth overall, 2016), were all elite backs coming out of college and were drafted inside the Top 10.
The fact that the top four offensive tackles – Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas – will likely all get drafted by the time Tampa Bay is on the clock allows the Bucs to take the top running back in the draft.
Feel free to bring up that both of this year’s Super Bowl teams – Kansas City and San Francisco – got to the championship game with undrafted free agent running backs, and I’ll counter with the fact that 19 of 26 modern day running backs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame were drafted in the first round.
Of the Top 10 all-time rushers in NFL history, eight of them were first-round picks. Of the 15 1,000-yard running backs in the league last year, seven of them were former first-rounders, including three of the Top 5.
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor – Photo by: Getty Images
There is nothing wrong with drafting a running back in the first round – if it’s the right one. And drafting the right one means finding an elite rusher with solid hands that can contribute in the passing game. That defines the kind of running back that Taylor is. The 5-foot-10, 226-pounder with the 4.39 breakaway speed was 13 yards away from 2,000 yards as a freshman. That would have made Taylor the first running back in college history to record three consecutive 2,000-yard seasons at the FBS level.
Taylor will remind Bruce Arians of Arizona running back David Johnson, who was three inches taller at 6-foot-1, but nearly an identical 224 pounds. Johnson was timed at 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, .11 seconds slower than Taylor, and was slightly more agile – yet not the natural runner that Taylor is.
Johnson only had one 1,000-yard season for Arians in Arizona during the 2016 campaign, rushing for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns, but also caught 80 passes for 879 yards (11 avg.) that year. Taylor wasn’t used in the passing game nearly as often as Johnson was, but caught 21 passes for 252 yards (9.7 avg.) and five touchdowns last year as a junior when given more opportunities.
Taylor’s Wisconsin Career Rushing Stats 2017 299 rushes for 1,977 yards (6.6 avg.) 13 TDs 2018 307 rushes for 2194 yards (7.1 avg.), 16 TDs 2019 320 rushes for 2,003 yards (6.3 avg.), 21 TDs
Taylor’s Wisconsin Career Receiving Stats 2017 8 rec. for 95 yards (11.9 avg.) 2018 8 rec. for 60 yards (7.5 avg.) 2019 21 rec. for 252 yards (9.7 avg.), 5 TDs
While the Bucs had the league’s top-rated passing game (308.2 ypg.) last year, the team had the NFL’s 24th-ranked rushing attack (95.1 ypg.). In 2018, Tampa Bay’s running game ranked 29th in the league (95.2 ypg.), and the last time the Bucs had a ground game inside the Top 20 was in 2015 when Doug Martin’s 1,400-yard Pro Bowl season helped the team rank fifth in rushing, averaging 135.1 yards per game.
Whether the Buccaneers keep Jameis Winston or go in a different direction at quarterback by signing Tom Brady or Teddy Bridgewater, or trading for Derek Carr, Tampa Bay wants to significantly upgrade its running game in 2020 to provide a more balanced attack on offense. That not only means drafting an elite rusher that can compete with Ronald Jones II for carries, but also make an impact in the receiving game like Johnson did in Arizona.
Just because Taylor wasn’t asked to catch the ball a lot at Wisconsin doesn’t mean he can’t do it. Taylor didn’t drop a single pass in the receiving drills at the NFL Scouting Combine last week in Indianapolis, and he has the ability to play on all three downs, which is something that is currently lacking in Jones’ game. The Bucs like Jones, but he’s only had one 100-yard game in two years, and there is some concern that he might just be a good running back, but not a great one capable of rushing for 1,000 yards and becoming a Pro Bowler.
The Bucs could address a top need and opt for drafting the fifth-best offensive tackle at No. 14, or they could select the best running back in the draft and add Taylor to an already potent arsenal of weapons. Tampa Bay only had five runs of 20 yards or more all season in 2019 and just one 100-yard rushing game – all by Jones. Thanks to his blazing speed, Taylor had five runs of over 40 yards last year en route to 10 games with at least 100 yards rushing, including four games of over 200 yards rushing. That’s the kind of production Arians is looking for from the Bucs’ rushing attack.
Scott Reynolds is in his 27th 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 coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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