Tampa Bay’s 2020 offseason is already in full swing with general manager Jason Licht, director of player personnel John Spytek and director of college scouting Mike Biehl attending East-West Shrine Bowl practices in St. Petersburg, Fla. this week before traveling to Mobile, Ala. for the Senior Bowl next week to scout some of the top prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft.
That means it’s time for PewterReport.com to debut its initial 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 head coach Bruce 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:
• Winston is re-signed, given the franchise tag or the Bucs pursue another veteran QB.
• Tampa Bay re-signs starting outside linebackers Barrett and Pierre-Paul, and also squeezes Suh under the salary cap.
• 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
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.
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.
4. DEFENSIVE TACKLE – Beau Allen and Rakeem Nunez-Roches may or may not return, and Suh just turned 33. 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.
The Bucs enter the 2020 NFL Draft with six 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 Tampa Bay expects to a receive a fourth-round compensatory draft pick for losing star linebacker Kwon Alexander to San Francisco in free agency last year.
That means the Bucs should have seven draft picks this April, and the final draft order will be determined in late February 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: South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw
6-6, 310 – Senior
Picking at No. 14, Licht has the chance to get Kinlaw, the second-best defensive tackle in the 2020 NFL Draft behind Auburn’s Derrick Brown. Licht pulls the trigger on Kinlaw to add more size and play-making ability to Tampa Bay’s dangerous front seven. The Bucs had the league’s top-ranked run defense in 2019, allowing an average of 73.8 yards per game, and will attempt to re-sign outside linebackers Barrett and Pierre-Paul, and defensive tackle Suh before they hit free agency.
But Barrett will turn 28 in 2020, and Pierre-Paul just turned 31, while Suh turned 33. Licht knows that he needs to add some young, up-and-coming players to the mix in Tampa Bay’s front seven, and Kinlaw is versatile and athletic enough to play all three defensive line spots – defensive end, nose tackle and three-technique defensive tackle. He would probably start off at defensive end where he would compete with Will Gholston, who turns 29 this summer.
Kinlaw, who is built like Gholston at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds but much more agile and athletic, could compete for playing time at end and then get some reps spelling Suh at three-tech as a rookie, while learning from the Bucs’ elder statesmen on defense. Kinlaw was double-teamed an awful lot by opponents due to his size and ability, but was still able to record 17 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in his three years with the Gamecocks.
Kinlaw’s South Carolina Career Defensive Stats
2017: 17 tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 FRs, 1 FF, 1 PBU
2018: 30 tackles, 9 TFLs, 4 sacks, 2 FFs, 5 PBUs
2019: 35 tackles, 6 TFLs, 6 sacks, 2 FRs, 2 PBUs
Kinlaw is battle-tested having played in the SEC against the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, LSU and Florida, in addition to South Carolina’s annual rivalry against ACC powerhouse and defending national champion Clemson. Pro Football Focus compared Kinlaw to Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones, and gave Kinlaw a 90.7 pass-rushing grade in 2019 due to his six sacks and 40 QB pressures.
Kinlaw, a first-team All-American and All-SEC selection, was named a team captain at South Carolina and was voted the Gamecocks Defensive MVP, while also being honored with the Tenacity Award, the Most Productive Award and the Unselfish Teammate Award, according to TheBigSpur.com. He’ll get a chance to prove that he’s a first-rounder at the Senior Bowl, where he has accepted an invitation to perform.
The Bucs have a big need at right tackle, but with top talent like Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristian Wirfs – and possibly Louisville’s Mekhi Becton – likely to be gone by the time Tampa Bay picks at No. 14, Licht and Arians can’t resist getting Bowles a big, physical presence inside like Kinlaw to keep the Bucs dominant in the trenches.