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.
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
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.
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: USA Today
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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2021 BUCS 7-ROUND MOCK DRAFT 2.0
Round 1 – Washington DT Levi Onwuzurike
Senior • 6-3, 290
The Buccaneers have a recent fondness for Washington defensive linemen, evidenced by the drafting of nose tackle Vita Vea in the first round in 2017 and signing defensive lineman Benning Potoa’e as an undrafted free agent in 2020. Tampa Bay turns back to the Huskies program, which is led by former Bucs defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake, for Onwuzurike (pronounced “own-zerr-EE-kay”) with the 32nd overall pick in the first round.
The Bucs will need to invest in their defensive line, as free agent defensive tackles Steve McLendon and Ndamukong Suh, are 35 and 34, respectively, and Rakeem Nunez-Roches turns 28 in July. Defensive end Will Gholston, who is under contract for 2021, turns 30 in July. The Bucs drafted Khalil Davis in the sixth-round last year, but he barely saw the field as a rookie and can’t be counted on as a future starter given his draft status and lack of experience and playing time.
Onwuzurike is an interesting prospect to study because he opted out of his senior year at Washington due to COVID-19. The 23-year old defensive lineman recorded 95 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks in three seasons for the Huskies, often playing out of position at nose tackle where he drew constant double teams. Pro Football Focus had him playing in the A-gap on 184 snaps in 2019 and 274 snaps in the B-gap, with 29 snaps lining up over a tackle and 10 lining up outside the tackle. Onwuzurike’s ability to play all across the defensive line, as he did at Washington, makes him an attractive draft prospect, although he seems best suited to play a 3-tech defensive tackle spot in the NFL due to his quickness and ability to penetrate.
At 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, Onwuzurike is a bit undersized by today’s standards, and if he’s going to be drafted to eventually replace Suh he’s about 23 pounds lighter than the 12-year pro. Yet he’s 10 pounds heavier than McLendon and like McLendon he’s got a very muscular build and showed he could hold up in the trenches at that size at Washington. Still, gaining 10 more pounds of mass and muscle to be able to hold up physically over a 16-game season at the next level would be ideal.
Where Onwuzurike wins is with his initial quickness and his hands. He’s got a great first step and is a very good, well-balanced athlete. Onwuzurike explodes into the backfield in one-on-one situations, and has some pretty polished hands to punch and shed blockers right off the snap. He’s a pretty high-energy player that gives really good effort.
Onwuzurike carries a second-round grade according to many NFL Draft analysts, but the 32nd overall pick is literally one pick away from the second round. And with this being a very weak class of defensive tackles, selecting Onwuzurike at the end of the first round isn’t a stretch by any means, especially given his first-step quickness and skill set. Alabama’s Christian Barmore figures to be gone by No. 32, and there are only about a handful of starting-caliber defensive tackles in this draft class. Yet none have a better, quicker first step than Onwuzurike.
Round 2 – Washington OLB Joe Tryon
Junior • 6-5, 262
Back-to-back Huskies for the Buccaneers – why not? Whether or not free agent outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett returns to Tampa Bay the team must invest a young edge rusher. Barrett turns 29 later this year and Jason Pierre-Paul is in the final year of his contract and will be 33 next January. With Anthony Nelson, a former fourth-round pick, and Cam Gill not showing much pass rushing potential, it’s important that the Bucs get another edge rusher that can get to the quarterback.
Like his Washington teammate Onwuzurike, Tryon opted out of the 2020 football season due to COVID-19, but there is even less tape to evaluate. Tryon only played two years for the Huskies and wasn’t a full-time starter until 2019 when he recorded most of his statistics, including eight of his nine career sacks.
Tryon is far from a finished product, but has a very big upside due to his long, 6-foot-5, 262-pound frame, big-time hustle and play speed. According to Pro Football Focus, Tryon recorded 29 of his pressures in the final seven games of the 2019 season after notching only 12 in the first six games. Tryon’s sack production also came alive during the second half of that season, as he recorded three two-sack games against Utah, Oregon State and Washington State.
Tryon is comfortable rushing from both sides of the defensive line and knows how to effectively come underneath on stunts, which were commonly called at Washington. Like Onwuzurike, Tryon has experience playing in a 3-4 scheme, as well as rushing in a four-man front, so his transition to Tampa Bay’s defense should go rather smoothly.
Drafting this physical, high-energy player at the end of the second round and having him learn for a year behind the likes of Barrett and Pierre-Paul would be ideal for Tampa Bay’s pass rush long term. Tryon could be the eventual replacement for Pierre-Paul, and having him split time during his rookie season could help extend the shelf life of JPP, who is coming off minor knee surgery for the second straight year.
As circumstance would have it, the Bucs draft a third straight player that didn’t play a down in 2020 in Gainwell, the multi-purpose one-year wonder from Memphis. Gainwell had a sensational redshirt freshman season where he ran for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 51 passes for 610 yards and three more scores, but opted out of his sophomore campaign due to COVID-19. Gainwell’s older brother, Curtis, suffered a stroke a few years ago at the age of 18 and he did not want to risk getting COVID-19 and then accidentally spreading it to his brother due to Curtis’ health complications.
Gainwell follows a stunningly impressive conveyor belt of recent running backs at Memphis that features Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard, Antonio Gibson and Patrick Taylor, Jr. – all of whom are on NFL rosters. Gainwell was so productive as a redshirt freshman running back in 2019 that he relegated Taylor and Gibson to backup roles, and neither rushed for 400 yards that season. In fact, Gibson, Washington’s second-round pick last year, had to play receiver to get more playing time.
While lacking ideal size at 5-11, 191 pounds, Gainwell does a good job of making defenders miss, slipping tackles and getting yards after contact due to his tremendous contact balance. Gainwell has good acceleration, but doesn’t have ideal long speed. Yet he is capable of breaking off big runs and should be able to produce a good number of 20-plus runs at the NFL level due to his vision and burst.
What makes Gainwell so intriguing and such a great fit in Tampa Bay is his receiving ability. His hands are better than Clemson’s Travis Etienne and he’s just as productive as a receiver out of the backfield. Gainwell caught six passes for 52 yards in four games as a true freshman and then hauled in 51 passes for 610 yards (12.2 avg.) in addition to three receiving touchdowns. Gainwell is not just adept at catching screens and swing passes, but also running routes downfield.
2018: 6 receptions for 52 yards (8.7 avg.) 2019: 51 receptions for 610 yards (12.0 avg.), 3 TDs
Gainwell produced seven 100-yard games at Memphis and had five more in which he rushed for 80 yards or more. He topped 209 yards and scored two touchdowns against Louisiana-Monroe, and had 106 rushing yards and a touchdown and eight catches for 98 yards against Temple the following week in 2019.
In next game against Tulane, Gainwell became the first collegiate player in over 25 years to have 200 yards receiving and 100 yards rushing when he caught nine passes for 203 yards and two scores and had 104 yards rushing and a touchdown. In his final game at Memphis, Gainwell rushed for 34 yards and a TD and caught seven passes for 78 yards (11.1 avg.) versus Penn State in the Cotton Bowl against the best competition he faced.
It will be interesting to see if Gainwell put on any weight during his year off at Memphis’ pro day on March 19. His ability to run and catch the ball makes him a super fit in Bruce Arians’ offense and might even remind Arians of his former Temple back Paul Palmer, who was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1986. Gainwell would be an ideal third-down back right away in Tampa Bay and has the skill set as a runner to split carries with Ronald Jones II.
Round 4 – Grambling State OG/C David Moore
Senior • 6-1.5, 350
The Bucs start Day 3 by selecting Moore, a versatile interior offensive lineman that can immediately add depth due to his ability to play guard and center. Right guard Alex Cappa and center Ryan Jensen are entering a contract year and Jensen is 30. Finding potential eventual replacements for Cappa and/or Jensen should be on the Bucs’ radar in this year’s draft.
Moore is an absolute mauler with a devastating punch in both pass protection and when he explodes off the line of scrimmage in the running game. That initial jolt can stymie a defensive lineman’s first move right off the bat, but it can work against Moore in that he doesn’t always lock on to his opponent.
He’s a very aggressive blocker and he showed well against his opponents at the Senior Bowl, earning the top blocker award as voted on by the defensive linemen he faced during the week of competition in Mobile, Ala. Moore had to overcome the fact that he hadn’t played since 2019 as FCS programs like Grambling had their seasons cancelled due to COVID-19, but he shook off any rust and performed well at the Senior Bowl to improve his stock.
Moore has average arm length at just over 32.5 inches and has an 82.5-inch wingspan. When Moore locks on to his opponents it’s usually over though, as he has strong, powerful hands. On tape he’s often seen throwing opponents around or burying them into the ground when he wins.
While he lacks ideal height at just under 6-foot-2, Moore’s compact frame and low center of gravity aids him in pass protection as he always deploys a balanced, square stance. Moore also has good acceleration and speed for such a heavy lineman on screen passes, and relishes the opportunity to pound smaller linebackers and defensive backs into the ground on those plays.
Moore’s tough guy mentally fits in well with the Buccaneers offensive line room. Bucs general manager Jason Licht has found some small school studs at the Senior Bowl before in Cappa and left guard Ali Marpet and may have another one on his hands with Moore.
ROUND 5 – East Carolina OT D’Ante Smith
6-5, 291 • Senior
The Bucs take advantage of a deep offensive tackle class by drafting Smith, a very talented developmental offensive lineman that only played in one game during his final season at East Carolina. Smith played in the 2020 season opener against UCF and then missed the rest of the season with an undisclosed injury. He started 26 straight games at left tackle dating back to his sophomore year.
The 6-foot-5 Smith played left tackle at 274 pounds, and he’s slowly added weight to his long, angular frame. Smith checked in at the Senior Bowl weighing 291 pounds and he’s moving in the right direction. Smith can – and should – get up to 300 pounds at the NFL level.
Although he sprained a ligament in his thumb and didn’t play in the actual game, Smith had a good week of practice at the Senior Bowl, showing quick feet, great competitiveness and confidence, a balanced pass set and a nice punch in pass protection. He needed to have a good showing in Mobile to make up for missing almost all of his senior season, and accomplished that by playing well at right tackle and also inside at guard on a few reps.
The Bucs could use a swing tackle candidate, and the versatility that Smith showed at the Senior Bowl will help his draft stock. With his weight at 291 pounds, Smith is a project at this stage and will need a year or two of physical development behind the scenes before he’s ready to compete for a starting job, similar to Demar Dotson when he first joined the Bucs in 2009.
The Bucs have an extra seventh-round pick instead of a sixth-round pick due to the Rob Gronkowski trade with New England. Licht will be looking for special teams help on Day 3 and could find it in Stuard, an inside linebacker that can be a force in coverage units as well as back up Devin White and Lavonte David. Stuard logged over 500 special teams reps at Houston and shined on special teams at the Senior Bowl.
Stuard was a two-year starter for the Cougars and was a high-energy, tackling machine. He’s more of a college football star than he is an NFL linebacker, as he has some limitations in coverage and in the box due to his size. Stuard had the shortest arms of any defender at the Senior Bowl at 29.5 inches, and his 73-inch wingspan was the smallest in Mobile, Ala. That will surely drop him to the seventh round, as tackling could be an issue at the next level.
Still, there is a lot to like about Stuard, especially on special teams. The long-haired, physical defender plays like his hair is on fire and he has the special teams prowess and experience to become a standout like Tampa Bay reserve cornerback Ryan Smith – although not as a gunner. Stuard is a player that the Bucs might not want to ever see the field on defense, but he could carve out a role as a short-yardage linebacker, an occasional blitzer and a special teams ace.
Round 7 – Central Arkansas CB Robert Rochell
Senior • 6-0, 195
The Bucs end their 2021 draft with the selection of Rochell, a developmental, small school cornerback with great athleticism and long arms. Central Arkansas’ season was in danger of being cancelled due to COVID-19, but the Bears were able to cobble together a schedule against seven opponents. Rochell was a Senior Bowl invite and only practiced on Tuesday where he had a poor performance and didn’t seem ready to face tougher competition, which will ultimately affect his draft stock.
Measuring in at just a hair under 6-foot, Rochell had a massive 79-inch wingspan and arms that measured just over 32 inches. His enormous catch radius helped him log 10 interceptions in three seasons for the Bears and break up 23 passes.
Rochell is a developmental product with good traits, including size, speed, leaping ability and long arms. He’s definitely a project, as his poor practice at the Senior Bowl showed, but he has experience playing press man and zone coverage in college, which makes him a good fit in Tampa Bay’s defense. While he transitions to the NFL on defense Rochell will have to make the roster on special teams and carve out a niche on coverage units.
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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