The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the Super Bowl LV champions and will have the 32nd overall draft pick for the first time in franchise history. Just days after the confetti rained down at Raymond James Stadium following the Bucs’ 31-9 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs, 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 will begin their scouting collaboration in preparation for the 2021 NFL Draft.
The scouting process will be 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 this winter and spring as a result.
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 first 2021 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft of the year, presented by Edmonson Electric • AC • Security.
TOP 5 BUCS NEEDS
Table of Contents
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
It’s easy to suggest that the Bucs could have a pressing need at defensive tackle if potential free agents Ndamukong Suh, 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. The Bucs would want the 34-year old Suh back for one more year at the right price, in addition to Nunez-Roches, who is a good role player.
Jeremiah Ledbetter is a situational defensive lineman, and 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. Whether it’s in the first round or the middle rounds, defensive tackle is a big need.
Shaquil Barrett is slated for free agency and fellow outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul is 32 and entering the final year of his contract, so drafting a young, starting-caliber EDGE rusher also makes sense. 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.
With Leonard Fournette likely leaving for greener pastures in free agency and 32-year old LeSean McCoy likely retiring, 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 will be 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 back 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.
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs could move on from left tackle Donovan Smith, who is set to make $14.25 million in 2021, without any dead cap ramifications this offseason, but that would be unwise given how well he played down the stretch. 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 this season – and a potential long-term option to replace Smith down the road.
Center Ryan Jensen turns 30 this summer and is set to make $10 million in the final year of his contract. 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 and provide depth along the interior.
It’s a shallow year for 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. 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 and could look for another Day 3 linebacker for depth again in 2021 if David returns, as expected.
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2021 BUCS 7-ROUND MOCK DRAFT
ROUND 1 – North Carolina RB Javonte Williams
5-10, 220 • Junior
The guess here is that Suh returns for one more year, as does Barrett, so defensive tackle and outside linebacker remain needs, but future needs rather than immediate needs. Running back could be considered an immediate need, especially if the Bucs can draft one with good hands that can catch the ball out of the backfield to replace Fournette and McCoy and team with Jones in the backfield.
With teams like the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills picking No. 23 and No. 30 overall and needing a starting caliber running back, Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Alabama’s Najee Harris could well be gone by the time Tampa Bay is on the clock. Williams has some Harris-like qualities and would be a sensational selection for the Bucs with the final pick in the first round.
Don’t think running backs are worth drafting in the first round? Well, the Bucs are picking No. 32 overall, so it’s essentially a second-rounder with the added benefit of Williams on his rookie contract for five years when you consider the fifth-year option for first-rounders.
If you watched Fournette and Jones combine for 150 yards and a touchdown in the Bucs’ Super Bowl win you know how important the running back position is in Arians’ balanced offense. Arians also likes to use two backs, evidenced by Jones and Peyton Barber splitting carries in 2019 and Jones and Fournette sharing the workload this year. That would means Williams would see plenty of action on the field during his rookie season.
Williams split time with Michael Carter at North Carolina, so he’s already used to that role. Williams logged 366 carries for 2,297 yards (6.3 avg.) with 29 touchdowns in his Tar Heels career, in addition to catching 50 passes for 539 yards (10.8 avg.) and four TDs.
He had nine 100-yard games in his career, including a 23-carry, 236-yard (10.3 avg.), three-touchdown masterpiece versus Miami in his final game at UNC. The 5-foot-10, 220-pound bruising back is a punishing runner with good breakaway speed, solid vision, above average hands.
JONES’ NORTH CAROLINA CAREER RUSHING STATS 2018: 43 carries for 224 yards (5.2 avg.), 5 TDs 2019: 166 carries for 933 yards (5.6 avg.), 5 TDs 2020: 157 carries for 1,140 yards (7.3 avg.), 19 TDs
JONES’ NORTH CAROLINA CAREER RECEIVING STATS 2018: 8 receptions for 58 yards (7.3 avg.) 2019: 17 receptions for 176 yards (10.4 avg.), 1 TD 2020: 25 receptions for 305 yards (12.2 avg.), 3 TDs
Williams has a wicked stiff arm, sets up his blockers well and does a nice job running to daylight when there is a crease. He does not shy away from contact and breaks plenty of tackles due to his tremendous balance. When Williams is brought to the ground he always falls forward and drags would-be tacklers for extra yards.
Williams won’t turn 21 until April 25, which means he’ll only be 26 years old when he hits free agency after five years in Tampa Bay. If he’s a Pro Bowler by then, maybe he gets re-signed. In the interim he becomes the Bucs’ feature back in 2022, replacing Jones after learning Arians’ offense and contributing as a rookie this season.
Tampa Bay addresses its need at outside linebacker by drafting a former Temple guy – which will please Arians – in Roche, who transferred to Miami for his final season. While at Temple, Roche was a monster in the American Athletic Conference, racking up 26 sacks as a three-year starter, including 13 as a junior in 2019, which earned him AAC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Not only did Roche terrorize quarterbacks as an EDGE rusher, but he was also a turnover machine, forcing six fumbles and recovering five, along with breaking up six passes for the Owls. While his sack number dropped to 4.5 during his senior year after transferring to Miami, Roche still forced two fumbles and recovered three others, showing he still had big-play capabilities.
Roche has experience as a stand up rusher in a 3-4 scheme, so he should be a perfect fit for Todd Bowles’ 3-4 scheme. He recorded a sack in his first college game as a freshman against Notre Dame and notched eight multi-sack games in college, which shows he can take over games. He notched three sacks against UMASS in 2017 and had 3.5 sacks against USF and three sacks against Tulane in back-to-back games in 2019. Roche was impressive during the Senior Bowl week and had half-a-sack in the game.
The 6-foot-3, 243-pound Roche is similarly built to Tampa Bay’s Shaq Barrett, who is 6-foot-1, 250 pounds, and both have 32-inch arms. Roche hails from Baltimore, plays with toughness and has a certain edge about him. He’s a complete defender that excels against the run, evidenced by 182 tackles and 54 tackles for loss in his career. Roche would be an ideal player to come in and learn from Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul as a rookie playing a situational pass rusher role early on before becoming a starter in time.
The Bucs address offensive line in the third round with the selection of Meinerz (pronounced “minors”), who starred in the Senior Bowl. The 6-foot-3, 320-pound Meinerz played 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 in over a year was the Senior Bowl.
Not only did Meinerz shine in Mobile, Ala. during practice and the game, he did so playing center for the first time, which was quite a feat. Meinerz showed the ability to compete with Division I athletes right away and displayed toughness, tenacity and competitiveness.
A quick look at Meinerz’s Twitter page shows him not only dunking a basketball, but a highlight clip of another small school prospect, who excelled at the Senior Bowl in Bucs left guard Ali Marpet, in addition to some posts about Tampa Bay center Ryan Jensen, who played left tackle at Northern Colorado. It’s obvious that Meinerz has been studying Jensen, as their style of play is very similar.
While Meinerz generated plenty of buzz at the Senior Bowl, he didn’t play football at all last year, so scouts will have to rely on his junior and sophomore tape to scout. Meinerz was far from perfect in practice and has some technical issues he needs to clean up, which will make him a late Day 2/early Day 3 selection – and a great fit in Tampa Bay learning behind Jensen and Marpet.
ROUND 4 – BYU DT Khyiris Tonga
6-4, 320 • Senior
Tampa Bay starts Day 3 drafting a big, defensive tackle with good athleticism and power in Tonga, who was a three-year starter at BYU and a team captain. Tonga doesn’t have the elite size and athleticism that starting nose tackle Vita Vea does, but he’s built in the same mold, as he’s a relentless run stuffer with the initial quickness to be effective against the pass, too.
Tonga recorded 130 tackles in his Cougars career with 16 tackles for loss, 12 pass break-ups, 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Licht always likes defensive linemen who have a high number of pass break-ups as it shows good pass rushing awareness.
Like Vea, Tonga has seen some action on offense at BYU as a blocking fullback near the goal line. He even scored a 3-yard rushing touchdown from the fullback position in 2019 due to his rugby background.
Licht has drafted two types of defensive tackles in Tampa Bay – big guys like Vea and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, a 6-foot-1, 330-pounder seventh-rounder in 2017, and lighter guys like Khalil Davis, a 6-1, 308-pounder in the sixth-round last year, and Terry Beckner, a 6-foot-4, 296-pounder in 2019. With Tonga, Licht goes back to the big, beefier defensive tackle, as the Bucs saw what life was like without Vea for most of the 2020 season due to his fractured ankle.
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 also 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 being 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 don’t have a sixth-round pick due to the Rob Gronkowski trade, but do have New England’s seventh-rounder in exchange for the talented tight end. With reserve receiver Justin Watson entering a contract year and Antonio Brown slated to be a free agent, the Bucs add another young receiver in Grimes to the mix to compete for a role on the team and to help on special teams.
Grimes transferred from Ohio State to Florida and served as a role player early in his career before emerging as a starter as a junior. Grimes was often the third option for quarterback Kyle Trask behind star receiver Kadarius Toney (984 yards, 10 TDs) and college football’s most productive tight end Kyle Pitts (770 yards, 12 TDs), catching 38 passes for 589 yards (15.5 avg.) and scoring nine touchdowns as a senior.
GRIMES’ FLORIDA CAREER RECEIVING STATS 2017: 3 receptions for 20 yards (6.7 avg.) 2018: 26 receptions for 364 yards (14 avg.), 2 TDs 2019: 33 receptions for 491 yards (14.9 avg.), 3 TDs 2020: 38 receptions for 589 yards (15.5 avg.), 9 TDs
The lack of career production will hurt Grimes’ draft stock, as he only had two 100-yard games at Florida and just two more games with 90 yards or more. Grimes did have his shining moments in 2020, catching six passes for 109 yards (18.2 avg.) and two TDs against Arkansas, hauling in four catches for 98 yards (24.5 avg.) against LSU and finishing off his Gators career with four receptions for 78 yards (19.5 avg.) and a touchdown against Alabama.
The Bucs like big receivers, and at 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, Grimes fits the Bucs’ mold. He’ll need to run a fast 40-yard dash time to get drafted, but could be an ideal eventual replacement for Watson, who has failed to develop into anything more than a special teams contributor in Tampa Bay.
ROUND 7 – TCU ILB Garret Wallow
6-2, 230 • Senior
The Bucs continue to look for special teams contributors on Day 3, and address inside linebacker with the selection of Wallow, who was a two-time first-team All-Big 12 defender. Wallow was supposed to participate in the Senior Bowl, but missed that opportunity after testing positive for COVID-19.
Wallow split time between safety and linebacker at TCU and has the closing speed, range and athleticism to be a decent coverage linebacker at the NFL level. He was a tackling machine for the Horned Frogs, totaling 295 tackles during his career, including an average of 107.5 stops over his last two seasons.
The appeal of drafting Wallow is not just his ability to tackle, cover or play special teams. It’s that he’s an effective blitzer, recording 8.5 sacks and forcing three fumbles at TCU. Hard-hitting and full of energy, Wallow would be an ideal fit in Bowles’ defensive scheme.
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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