The 2020 NFL Draft is just a few weeks away as head coach Bruce Arians, general manager Jason Licht, director of player personnel John Spytek, director of college scouting Mike Biehl and director of football administration Mike Greenberg returned from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis to have to work from home at the start of free agency as the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s April, which means the first wave of free agency is done and it’s time for PewterReport.com’s fourth 2020 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, presented by Edmonson Electric • AC • Security.
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 moved on from former first-round pick Jameis Winston and landed the NFL’s top offseason acquisition in six-time Super Bowl quarterback Tom Brady at the start of free agency. The Bucs also re-signed outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, in addition to using the franchise tag on outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, the league’s leading sacker.
The Bucs lost No. 3 wide receiver Breshad Perriman in free agency, and addressing the position is now among the team’s more pressing needs. Let’s examine exactly what Tampa Bay’s needs are heading into the draft.
BUCS’ 2020 NFL DRAFT NEEDS
1. OFFENSIVE LINE – Tampa Bay signed Joe Haeg, and he might replace the 34-year old Demar Dotson at right tackle, but the Bucs need a better, younger option at the position, in addition to another 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. Look for Tampa Bay to select two or three offensive linemen in this year’s draft.
2. RUNNING BACK – The Bucs let Peyton Barber sign with Washington in free agency, 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. The Bucs will select one or two running backs in this year’s draft.
3. WIDE RECEIVER – 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. They’ll take advantage of this deep wide receiver draft and add one later this month.
4. DEFENSIVE TACKLE – Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Suh returned on one-year deals, but the team needs to replace backup nose tackle Beau Allen, in addition to adding some more young talent. Tampa Bay needs a younger heir-apparent to Suh, and better depth at the defensive tackle spot to pair with Vita Vea, a rising star at nose tackle, if the run defense is to continue its’ dominant play.
5. 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. Tampa Bay re-signed Andrew Adams, but the Bucs need a real play-maker at the free 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.
The Bucs enter the 2020 NFL Draft with seven draft selections due to trading wide receiver DeSean Jackson and its seventh-round pick to Philadelphia in exchange for the Eagles’ sixth-rounder last year, but gained a fourth-round compensatory pick for losing middle linebacker Kwon Alexander to San Francisco in free agency last year.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the league still plans on having the the three-day NFL Draft, beginning with the first round on Thursday, April 23. The Bucs plan on finding some more weapons and protection for Brady, so expect an offensive-oriented draft for Tampa Bay.
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ROUND 1: Georgia OT Andrew Thomas
6-5, 315 – Junior – 5.22
PREVIOUS PICK: Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor
The Bucs have a pressing need at offensive tackle, especially on the right side with the contract of 34-year old Demar Dotson expiring this offseason. Joe Haeg was signed this offseason and is the current projected starter there until Thomas is ready to assume that role. That could very well come in Week 1 of Thomas’ rookie year because he’s that talented.
Tampa Bay was fortunate to see Thomas slide down to No. 14 and doesn’t hesitate pick him. Of the top four tackles in the 2020 NFL Draft class, Thomas ranks behind Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and Alabama’s Jedrick Wills in terms of athleticism, but he’s athletic enough to be a quality starter in the NFL for a decade.
Thomas wins with his size, his 36-inch arms, his 10 1/4-inch hands and a powerful punch. He’s a smart player that really understands the blocking schemes, including the timing of combo blocks and being able to hit targets at the second level. He blocks with a plan and a purpose at the line of scrimmage, and on screen passes and second level blocks he really looks for work.
What the Bucs have to like about Thomas, who had a formal interview with the team at the NFL Scouting Combine, is that he has the versatility to play either left or right tackle in Tampa Bay. Thomas could start his NFL career on the right side and then be an option to transition to the left side after the 2021 season if the team doesn’t re-sign Donovan Smith.
Thomas started 15 games at right tackle as a freshman and then played left tackle in each of the last two seasons. He’s been a first-team All-SEC selection for the past two years and was a first-team All-American last year.
Thomas was the top-graded offensive tackle in college football, according to Pro Football Focus, and was a top-three prospect in terms of win rate and pressure rate allowed in pass protection. He is stout and hard to move in pass protection when he anchors. Thomas plays with a good, wide base, but doesn’t always have the smoothest footwork. His pass sets can look choppy and uneven at times, but he’s a gritty finisher that may not always look pretty, yet gets the job done.
There are some areas of Thomas’ game that he needs to work on, and a big one is his tendency to overextend on his pass sets at times due to his lack of elite athleticism. But Thomas is battle-tested from playing in the SEC, having gone up against some of the better edge rushers in the country while blocking for the likes of quarterback Jake Fromm and running backs Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and D’Andre Swift.
Thomas will battle Haeg for the right to start at right tackle as a rookie and then potentially move to the left side a year or two down the road to block the blindside of Brady or his heir apparent.