The Super Bowl LV champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers have all 22 of their starters back in 2021. Bucs general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg re-signed the most important free agents in March. That means that Tampa Bay has very few needs to address in the 2021 NFL Draft, all of which we will try to cover in our latest 7-round Bucs Mock draft.
The Bucs have the 32nd overall draft pick for the first time in franchise history. The pro days have wrapped up. Now 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 in the process of finishing Zoom calls with draft prospects and setting their draft board.
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 fourth 2021 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft of the year, powered by Edmonson Electric • AC • Security.
The Bucs re-signed 34-year old defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a one-year deal. The team also signed Rakeem “Nacho” Nunez-Roches to a two-year deal. But more talent and youth is needed along the defensive line. Defensive end Will Gholston is 30 and in a contract year. Khalil Davis, last year’s sixth-round pick, is a developmental tackle that was inactive for all but four games in 2020. Finding Suh’s heir apparent is important, this might not be the year to do it with a weak defensive tackle class.
Left tackle Donovan Smith signed a two-year extension this offseason. That was a big win for the organization, as was re-signing backup tackle Josh Wells. Yet center Ryan Jensen turns 30 this summer and is set to make $10 million in the final year of his contract. Right guard Alex Cappa and Aaron Stinnie are also entering a contract year. 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.
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Leonard Fournette returned on a one-year deal, and 32-year old LeSean McCoy will likely retire. 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. He also struggled with turnovers and drops. It’s unclear whether or not Vaughn is starter material or just a role player. The Bucs could use a starting-caliber back to eventually replace Jones and Fournette in 2022.
Lavonte David, 31, was 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. Chapelle Russell, who was drafted last year in the seventh round, was cut. So look for another linebacker to be drafted for special teams and to possibly replace David in the future.
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The Bucs will be looking for players who love football and play the game with a passion. No one may be more passionate about football than Dickerson, who is selected with the No. 32 overall pick.
After tearing his ACL in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, Dickerson still dressed for the National Championship Game and begged head coach Nick Saban to snap the ball at the end of the end of the game. After that happened and the Crimson Tide won, Dickerson hoisted Saban into the air – doing so with a surgically-repaired knee.
Injuries are the only thing keeping Dickerson from being a Top 20 pick. He is easily the best interior line prospect in the draft when healthy. The problem for Dickerson is that he tore one ACL as a freshman at Florida State in 2016. Ankle injuries limited him to just six total starts from 2017-18 at FSU before he transferred.
Once at Alabama, Dickerson started 24 straight games (20 at center) before his latest ACL tear. Surgery went well and he could be available by the start of the season. The good news for the Bucs is that they don’t have to count on Dickerson for the 2021 campaign at all. He could come in and get healthy while learning behind center Ryan Jensen and right guard Alex Cappa as a rookie.
There is a good chance that either Jensen or Cappa or both may not return in 2022 due to salary cap concerns. That means Dickerson, who won the Jacobs Trophy (top SEC blocker) and the Rimington Award (nation’s best center), could take over at center or right guard – where he had 11 collegiate starts – next year.
Dickerson is a massive man at nearly 6-foot-6, 333 pounds. This is what draft expert Dane Brugler had to say about the first-team All-American.
“Old-school, nasty competitor and is always looking for a warm body to bury (NFL scout: ‘He’s a foxhole type, the kind of guy you hate to play against, but love to play with.’)”
Dickerson has an infectious personality and is a great leader. He’s a tone-setter up front and would be a great heir apparent to the center position in Tampa Bay. Bucs general manager Jason Licht believes in building a team through the trenches and will have a hard time passing up on Dickerson if he’s there at No. 32.
There will be a run on edge rushers in the second round. Expect the Bucs to grab one before all the good ones are gone. The 6-foot-5, 268-pound Turner won’t make it into the third round and Tampa Bay would be fortunate to draft him at No. 64.
Turner is a big, physical edge rusher that has the tools to play outside linebacker or beef up to play some interior reps. He has experience playing both positions in a 3-4 scheme.
While Turner didn’t run the 40-yard dash at his pro day, he did post a 35.5-inch vertical. He also benched 23 reps and his measurements were impressive. Turner’s 35-inch arms are among the longest in the draft, as is his 84-inch wingspan. Those long arms are used to bull rush and club offensive tackles. Turner’s pass rush has improved over the last two seasons and he recorded five sacks in five games in 2020.
Turner had a two-sack game against Tulane last year and also recorded a sack of BYU’s highly-rated QB Zach Wilson. He was named a team captain last year and battled through a knee injury and COVID-19, which cost him three games.
With his big, muscular frame, Turner’s size is more akin to Jason Pierre-Paul’s, and he could be his heir apparent. The Bucs are getting a high-motor, relentless edge defender, who is equally good against the pass and the run in the second round.
ROUND 3 – North Carolina RB Michael Carter
5-7.5, 201 • Senior
The Bucs address their need at running back in the third round with the selection of Carter. Not only is the North Carolina star an accomplished runner, he’s also a talented receiver out of the backfield. Carter has second-round talent, but will likely slide to the third round because he’s just under 5-foot-8.
Carter’s smallish frame allowed him to hide behind his offensive line before making decisive cuts at the line of scrimmage and bursting through the hole for big gains. He averaged eight yards per carry as a senior and led the team in rushing despite splitting carries with Javonte Williams, who is a higher-rated running back prospect.
Carter, who ran a 4.5 at his pro day, is the faster back, and had nine 100-yard games at North Carolina. He also had five more games with at least 90 yards. Carter rushed for 214 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 12.6 yards per carry versus Virginia Tech. In his collegiate finale, Carter rushed for a career-high 308 yards and two TDs on 24 carries (12.8 avg.) against Miami.
CARTER’S NORTH CAROLINA CAREER RUSHING STATS 2017: 97 carries for 559 yards (5.8 avg.), 8 TDs 2018: 84 carries for 597 yards (7.1 avg.), 2 TDs 2019: 177 carries for 1,003 yards (5.7 avg.), 3 TDs 2020: 156 carries for 1,245 yards (8.0 avg.), 9 TDs
CARTER’S NORTH CAROLINA CAREER RECEIVING STATS 2017: 11 catches for 100 yards (9.1 avg.), 1 TD 2018: 25 catches for 135 yards (5.4 avg.), 1 TD 2019: 21 catches for 154 yards (7.3 avg.), 2 TDs 2020: 25 catches for 267 yards (10.7 avg.), 2 TDs
CARTER’S NORTH CAROLINA CAREER KICK RETURN STATS 2017: 2 returns for 28 yards (14 avg.) 2019: 19 returns for 466 yards (24.5 avg.) 2020: 8 returns for 156 yards (19.5 avg.)
Carter opted out of the Tar Heels’ bowl game, but played in the Senior Bowl. He led all rushers with 60 yards, including a 27-yard jaunt and a 12-yard touchdown. Carter also had two catches for 15 yards. He finished with 82 receptions for 656 yards (8.0 avg.) and six touchdowns in his North Carolina career.
That receiving ability could put him in position to be Tampa Bay’s third-down back as early as his rookie year. He has exceptional vision, lateral agility and good contact balance and strength for a small back. Carter could also help the Bucs on special teams as he has experience returning kicks at North Carolina.
Tampa Bay begins Day 3 with the selection of Barnes, which addresses the immediate need for young depth at inside linebacker. The Bucs only have three inside linebackers on their roster – Devin White, Lavonte David and Kevin Minter. With David and Minter both 31, the team will need to get younger, faster and more athletic at the position.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said the team wants fast, physical defenders who love the game of football. That’s a perfect description of Barnes, who was featured in the latest SR’s Fab 5 and the PR Roundtable.
Barnes ran a 4.57 at his pro day and posted a 37-inch vertical and a 9-11 broad jump. More importantly, he’s a relentless linebacker capable of roaming sideline-to-sideline and packing powerful hits.
Barnes was named a team captain as a senior after moving from defensive end as a junior to middle linebacker as a senior. Despite being just 6-foot, Barnes has 33-inch arms and an 81-inch wingspan. Those are typically the measurements of a 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 defender.
While playing defensive end, Barnes had a pair of multi-sack games against Boston College (two) and Indiana (2.5) in 2019, along with 11 tackles for loss. Barnes recorded his first career interception and had 54 tackles in just six games in 2020. He was invited to the Senior Bowl where he played well and finished the game with three tackles. Barnes had five games with double-digit tackles at Purdue and eight additional games with eight tackles or more.
Drafting Barnes in the fourth round would give the Bucs an eventual replacement for David and a linebacker who could star on special teams as a rookie. He can also be a situational blitzer from the linebacker level, or an occasional edge rusher with his aggressiveness and burst off the edge.
The Bucs continue to stockpile depth on Day 3 and find players that can help on special teams. Harris is an interesting prospect because he’s an undersized tight end, weighing just 219 pounds. Yet he was physical enough to get the job done at the line of scrimmage as a blocker.
According to draft expert Dane Brugler, Harris “has the temperament needed to block at a high level … UCF coaches have praised his work ethic and ‘get better every day’ mindset.” He’ll likely need to add at least 10-15 more pounds to be an occasional in-line tight end in the NFL. But the Bucs could use him also use him as a big receiver instead.
Harris blazed a 4.39 at his UCF pro day and had a 40-inch vertical and an 11-1 broad jump. He’s a tremendously gifted athlete that was the Knights’ deep ball threat the last two years. Based on what Licht prefers when scouting receiver, as researched by Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard before last year’s draft, Harris fits the physical and athletic profile of a Tampa Bay wideout. Harris averaged 23.6 yards per catch as a junior and 18 yards per reception last year.
HARRIS’ UCF CAREER RECEIVING STATS 2019: 19 catches for 448 yards (23.6 avg.), TD 2020: 30 catches for 539 yards (18 avg.), 8 TDs
Harris lit up USF for five catches for 110 yards (22 avg.) and three touchdowns last year. He’s just scratching the surface on offense and could step in to replace Justin Watson on the depth chart.
Aside from being a developmental receiver, Harris could put his blazing speed to use on special teams. He recorded seven special teams tackles and a fumble recovery in five games in 2018. Harris logged 10 special teams stops in his UCF career.
The Bucs add another weapon on offense, selecting Felton in the sixth round. In Pewter Report’s last mock draft we had Felton as a fourth-round pick. But an underwhelming pro day (4.59 speed) sent Felton’s Day 3 stock tumbling.
Yet Felton could help as a pass-catching runner out of the backfield in addition to playing wide receiver. Felton began his UCLA career playing receiver and then moving to halfback as a senior in 2020. This athletic, jack-of-all-trades can help the Bucs in more ways than one.
Felton had 99 career catches for 958 yards (9.7 avg.) and eight touchdowns for the Bruins, while carrying the ball 233 times for 1,101 yards (4.7 avg.) and scoring seven times on the ground. Felton had three consecutive 100-yard rushing games in UCLA’s six-game season in 2020, including 167 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries against Oregon and 206 yards and one TD on 32 carries against Arizona.
While he would never be a 20-touch per game guy in the NFL, Felton did show the toughness and durability to occasionally tote the rock on a full-time basis as a feature back at UCLA. Felton has a sturdy build, resembling the frame of former Buccaneer Warrick Dunn, who rushed for nearly 11,000 yards in his NFL career at 5-foot-9, 187 pounds.
FELTON’S UCLA CAREER RUSHING STATS 2017: 10 carries for 75 yards (7.5 avg.), TD
2018: 5 carries for 27 yards (5.4 avg.)
2019: 86 carries for 331 yards (3.8 avg.), TD 2020: 132 carries for 668 yards (5.1 avg.), 5 TDs
FELTON’S UCLA CAREER RECEIVING STATS 2017: 2 catches for minus-2 yards
2018: 20 catches for 207 yards (10.4 avg.), 1 TDs 2019: 55 catches for 594 yards (10.8 avg.), 4 TDs
2020: 22 catches for 159 yards (7.2 avg.), 3 TDs
FELTON’S UCLA CAREER KICK RETURN STATS 2018: 5 returns for 105 yards (21 avg.)
2019: 13 returns for 338 yards (26 avg.), TD
2020: 8 returns for 168 yards (21 avg.)
But it’s the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield in the flat, on screens and on angle routes that excites Tampa Bay. The Bucs have already met with Felton following his eye-opening week at the Senior Bowl where he caught two passes for 26 yards and scored the game’s first touchdown. Felton primarily played wide receiver in Mobile, Ala. and the Bucs could use his quickness and burst on bubble screens and smoke routes.
Aside from being a versatile weapon on offense, Felton could also help Tampa Bay’s kickoff return game. Felton had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Washington State in 2019, also catching seven passes for 154 yards and a pair of scores against the Cougars. Compactly built, the muscle-bound Felton has a good stiff arm and the ability to bounce off some tackles, in addition to making defenders miss. Yet another weapon for Brady and the Bucs offense.
Jason Licht has drafted three defensive tackles on Day 3 in his tenure as the Bucs general manager. Marshall becomes the fourth, as Tampa Bay is looking for some depth at the position.
This year’s defensive tackle class is weak, so it’s not a surprise to see the Bucs wait until the later rounds to address the position. Remember, Tampa Bay is looking for guys with traits on Day 3. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Marshall didn’t become a starter until his senior season, but was named a team captain and started all 10 games.
While his stats are underwhelming, especially as a pass rusher, Marshall posted a 4.81 time in the 40-yard dash. He also showed off his strength with 36 reps on the bench.
Marshall has experience playing at nose tackle and as a three-tech defensive tackle. He’s an excellent athlete that just needs better coaching and time to develop. Marshall turns 24 in September and has the maturity and work ethic to come in and win a reserve roster spot as a rookie.
ROUND 7 – Virginia TE Tony Poljan
6-6.5, 251 • Senior
In conclusion, Tampa Bay caps off the draft by getting another player that could help on special teams in Poljan. After spending his first two seasons at quarterback at Central Michigan, Poljan switched to tight end where he showed promise, hauling in six touchdowns and averaging 15.9 yards per catch.
Poljan was a grad transfer in 2020 and enrolled at Virginia where he caught 38 passes for 411 yards (10.8 avg.) and scored six TDs. With Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Tanner Hudson all entering a contract year in 2021, the Bucs could use more young talent at tight end in the future, especially after losing Antony Auclair in free agency.
POLJAN’S CENTRAL MICHIGAN CAREER RECEIVING STATS 2017: 5 catches for 97 yards (19.4 avg.) 2018: 7 catches for 125 yards (17.9 avg.), 2 TDs 2019: 33 catches for 496 (15 avg.), 4 TDs
POLJAN’S VIRGINA CAREER RECEIVING STATS 2020: 38 catches for 411 yards (10.8 avg.), 6 TDs
At nearly 6-foot-7, 251 pounds, Poljan has ideal size to be both an in-line blocker and a receiving threat in the passing game. After just two years at the position Poljan is a work in progress, but his background at quarterback has aided his development. Poljan scrambled for 248 yards and two touchdowns on 91 carries (2.7 avg.) and passed for 89-of-168 passing (53 percent) with two TDs and five INTs at Central Michigan.
While he battles it out on offense in training camp, Poljan’s size and speed (4.83) could be used on special teams to help block and cover kicks and punts.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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