The Super Bowl LV champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers are making good on their pledge to try to re-sign as many of their own free agents as possible in March. Each free agent that comes back to Tampa Bay is one less immediate need that the Bucs have to address in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Bucs have 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 are now knee deep in the process of conducting Zoom calls with draft prospects and attending pro day workouts in late March and early April.
Now it’s time to see what Tampa Bay’s personnel needs are following the Super Bowl, and who the Bucs select in PewterReport.com’s third 2021 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft of the year, powered by Edmonson Electric • AC • Security.
The Bucs are still in pursuit of free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, hoping he returns for another year at age 34. Both sides are talking and there is a chance that a deal gets done in the coming days. That’s a good thing because the 2021 DT draft class is extremely weak. Knowing this, the Bucs re-signed Rakeem “Nacho” Nunez-Roches to a two-year deal. Steve McLendon recently turned 35 and it would be no surprise to see him retire. 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. While defensive tackle is a big need for the future as finding Suh’s heir apparent is important, this might not be the year to do it.
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.
The Bucs re-signed Shaquil Barrett to a four-year contract extension, which lessens the team’s need to find an edge rusher. Yet fellow outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul is 32 and entering the final year of his contract while coming off knee surgery. Drafting a young, starting-caliber edge rusher to groom behind Barrett and Pierre-Paul makes sense.
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.
It looks like Leonard Fournette might return to Tampa Bay, as he may not have much of a market in free agency, and the team expects 32-year old LeSean McCoy to retire. That will create a vacancy the team will need to fill in the draft. 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.
It’s not a great year for inside linebackers in the 2021 NFL Draft, and the Bucs don’t have to draft one early to replace Lavonte David, who re-signed for two more years. But the Bucs will be looking for depth behind David, Devin White and Kevin Minter, who is 30 and only re-signed for one more year. Jack Cichy couldn’t stay healthy and Chapelle Russell, who was drafted last year in the seventh round, was cut. So look for another Day 3 linebacker for depth again in 2021.
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The Buccaneers could use help at running back with their first pick, especially if Clemson’s Travis Etienne, Alabama’s Najee Harris or North Carolina’s Javonte Williams is still on the board at No. 32. Yet general manager Jason Licht has said that without many holes to fill in the draft this year that the Bucs could afford some luxury picks. Because of their situation, selecting a talented edge rusher with tools like Ossai makes a lot of sense at No. 32.
Jason Pierre-Paul is entering a contract year and neither Anthony Nelson nor Cam Gill has proven that they have the talent or the pass-rushing ability to be anything more than a reserve. So the Bucs draft Ossai and use him as a situational pass rusher as a rookie while he learns how to play the position from JPP and Shaquil Barrett. In a year or two he’s ready to step in and replace Pierre-Paul, who will be 33 next January.
Ossai hails from Nigeria and grew up playing soccer. He didn’t discover football until he was in high school after migrating to Houston, so he’s a late bloomer. Ossai weighed 256 pounds and has the frame to carry another 5-10 pounds at the next level. But where he wins as a pass rusher is with his motor and his athleticism, which were on display at the Texas pro day when he put up 19 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, had a 10-11 broad jump, a 41.5-inch vertical leap and ran a 4.63 in the 40-yard dash.
That athleticism shows up on tape as Ossai began his Longhorns career as an off-the-ball linebacker before switching to defensive end as a junior in 2020. Ossai recorded 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble in 13 games during his sophomore season before becoming more of a full-time pass rusher. Ossai had 15.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in nine games in 2020.
The Texas standout has flashed the ability to dominate with a pair of three-sack games against Utah and Oklahoma State in his career, notching the game-clinching sack against the Cowboys in 2020. Due to his linebacker background, Ossai also has the ability to drop in coverage, as Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will have his outside linebackers do on occasion in zone blitz situations.
Ossai is far from a finished product. He’s not ready to come in as a full-time starter and dominate at the NFL. But he’s an ideal developmental pass rusher that has plenty of upside and tools to work with. It usually takes defensive linemen or edge rushers a year or two to get adjusted to the speed of the game in the NFL, in addition to the size and the talent level of the offensive linemen at the pro level. Why not start that process now with Ossai without the pressure of him having to come in and start right away in Tampa Bay?
Meinerz makes a return appearance in the PewterReport.com 2021 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft as we had him going to Tampa Bay in the third round of our first mock draft back in February. After killing it at his pro day with a 4.9 time in the 40-yard dash, a 32-inch vertical and a 9-3 in his broad jump, Meinerz jumps up to the late second round where the Bucs draft him to compete at right guard and perhaps eventually replace Ryan Jensen at center. Keep in mind that Jensen, Alex Cappa, Aaron Stinnie are all in contract years.
The 6-foot-3, 320-pound Meinerz (pronounced “minors”) starred in the Senior Bowl at center after playing left guard for Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he was named a first-team All-American in his first season as a full-time starter in 2019. Because of COVID-19, all Division III football was canceled for the 2020 season, so the first football game Meinerz played in over a year was the Se