Not much has changed for the Super Bowl LV champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers since PewterReport.com’s initial 2021 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft in February. The team still has the 32nd overall draft pick for the first time in franchise history, and general manager Jason Licht, head coach Bruce Arians, director of player personnel John Spytek, director of college scouting Mike Biehl and Tampa Bay’s scouts and coaches have begun their scouting collaboration in preparation for the 2021 NFL Draft with NFL free agency up first on March 15-17.
The scouting process is difficult this year without any college all-star games outside of the Senior Bowl, and without the NFL Scouting Combine for the first time due to COVID-19. Extra emphasis will be placed on the draft prospects’ pro day workouts that have just begun and will continue through March and early April.
The Bucs have expressed a sincere desire to see free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh return for another year at age 34, and that probably happens – although at a smaller price tag than his $8 million salary in 2020. Yet there is also a chance that Steve McLendon and Rakeem “Nacho” Nunez-Roches don’t return in March. McLendon recently turned 35 and it would be no surprise to see him retire. Nunez-Roches, who is a good role player, could return for a one-year deal at or around the league minimum.
Khalil Davis, the team’s sixth-round pick from a year ago, is a developmental, undersized tackle that was inactive for all but four games in 2020. So whether it’s in the first round or the middle rounds, defensive tackle is a big need to find Suh’s heir apparent.
Shaquil Barrett is slated for free agency and fellow outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul is 32 and entering the final year of his contract. Drafting a young, starting-caliber EDGE rusher makes sense for now and in the future. That player could be an immediate starter if Barrett leaves.
Anthony Nelson, the team’s fourth-round pick in 2019, got more playing time in 2020, but only had one sack, and lacks the suddenness to be a quality pass rusher. Cam Gill, who recorded half a sack in the Super Bowl, played mostly on special teams as a rookie, but may be nothing more than a role player on defense as he develops.
The guess here is that Leonard Fournette leaves for greener pastures in free agency and 32-year old LeSean McCoy retires. Thus half of the Bucs’ backfield will be gone in 2021. Ronald Jones II ran for 978 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020, but lost his starting role to Fournette in the postseason. Jones is entering the final year of his contract and history shows that paying big money contracts to running backs usually backfires. Licht experienced that first hand with Doug Martin in 2016.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, last year’s third-round pick, only rushed for 109 yards and caught five passes for 35 yards and a touchdown as a rookie, but struggled with turnovers and drops. It’s unclear whether or not Vaughn is starter material or just a role player, but the Bucs could use a starting-caliber running back to eventually replace Jones in 2022. Tampa Bay needs two runners and will likely find one in the draft.
Licht confirmed that left tackle Donovan Smith, who is set to make $14.25 million in 2021, will be on the 2021 roster on a recent appearance on the Pewter Report Podcast. The belief is that he’ll actually be rewarded with a contract extension to help ease the team’s cap situation this year. Yet with the 2021 NFL Draft so deep at offensive tackle, the Bucs could use a young, developmental lineman to serve as a swing tackle after having veterans Josh Wells and Joe Haeg in that role in 2020.
Center Ryan Jensen turns 30 this summer and is set to make $10 million in the final year of his contract, as is right guard Alex Cappa. The Bucs would be wise to draft an interior offensive lineman that can play center and guard to serve as Jensen’s understudy and eventual replacement – or Cappa’s eventual replacement – and provide depth along the interior.
It’s not a great year for inside linebackers in the 2021 NFL Draft, and the Bucs are hoping that they don’t need to draft one early to replace Lavonte David, who is slated for free agency in March. Both sides want to get a deal done, so if Tampa Bay is looking to draft a linebacker, it will be for depth behind David and Devin White.
The contracts for Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon expire and both are expected to hit free agency, yet the team might not mind having Minter back on a cheap, one-year deal again. Bucannon was a late-season addition to replace Jack Cichy, who can’t stay healthy. The Bucs drafted Chapelle Russell in the seventh round last year, but cut him midseason and could look for another Day 3 linebacker for depth again in 2021.
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