PewterReport.com analyzes the top players in the 2021 NFL Draft with its’ position previews. Jon Ledyard previews the guard position with a comprehensive look at what the Bucs have and what they need at offensive guard, while also providing a detailed list of this year’s top guards. In addition, Scott Reynolds offers up the team needs and the annual PewterReport.com Bucs’ Best Bets – the most likely offensive guards for the Bucs to select in Rounds 1-3, and in Rounds 4-7.
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What The Bucs Have At Guard
Table of Contents
The Bucs are set at their starting guard spots for the 2021 season, as Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa return to the lineup for the third consecutive season. Backing them up will be Aaron Stinnie, who admirably stepped into the fray for three starts in the playoffs, the first three starts of his career. Unproven guards John Molchon and Nick Leverett represent what remains of the team’s inexperienced depth on the offensive line, although the team definitely has some interest in seeing what Molchon looks like in year two.
What The Bucs Need At Offensive Guard
The Bucs could use some more talented depth in 2021, but their primary need at guard is for 2022 and beyond. With Cappa set to hit free agency next offseason, it seems unlikely that he’d be back with Tampa Bay if he has another strong season. That could open the door for a 2021 rookie to become a starter by season No. 2, which could put guard near the top of the Bucs’ needs entering the 2021 NFL Draft.
Vera-Tucker is not only hands down the best guard in the class, he might also be the draft’s best offensive lineman. His tape is remarkably consistent and physically dominant, which is very uncommon at the college level. Not many guys can be a star guard and kick to left tackle to post an elite season in a Power 5 conference. Vera-Tucker has all the tools to be a star guard in the NFL. If he’s on the board in the second half of the first round, somebody messed up.
2. Ohio State G Wyatt Davis – RS Junior – 6-4, 315, N/A
Davis’ best traits are his power and physicality, with the size and strength to maul opponents when he can lock them up. Unfortunately he also plays way too high, inviting contact into his pads with questionable hand placement, especially as a pass protector. Still, Davis managed to get good results in the run and pass game at the college level despite inconsistent attention to detail. He might not get away with it to that extent in the NFL, but he can be a solid starter if he cleans some things up. The best guess is he comes off the board in the 55-75 range of the draft.
3. Tennessee G Trey Smith – Senior – 6-5.5, 321, 5.09
If you collected Smith’s best blocks, he’d be in the Round 1 conversation. But the lows are just as low as the highs are high for Smith, who has battled blood clots in his lungs throughout his college tenure. His health will obviously be closely monitored by NFL teams, but even Smith’s on field play is a concern. The Tennessee product is powerful and violent in the run game, but sloppy with his form and can get over-extended far too often. Smith’s feet looked like cinder blocks in Mobile, especially in pass protection. With experience starting all over the O-line, Smith is a definite potential pick for the Bucs in the third or fourth round, if his medicals check out.
4. Georgia G Ben Cleveland – RS Senior – 6-6, 343, 5.01
Cleveland looks like a giant action figure in real life, with an impossibly chiseled 6-foot-6, 343-pound frame and the on-field power to match it. Perhaps it’s all his muscle, but Cleveland’s mobility is not ideal the position, as he struggles to change directions and can be worked over by smaller, quicker interior defensive linemen with good hands. There is no questioning Cleveland’s strength, but he isn’t as physically dominant as you’d hope he’d be on tape, largely due to his inability to always find optimal angles and leverage points as a blocker. Teams will have to do their due diligence on his character and his health, which could push him down the board in Round 3, or even into Round 4.
There is no denying the edge Mayfield plays with as one of the best finishers in the 2021 class. Length destroyed him as a pass protector, due to his short arms and his inconsistent strike timing and placement. It would be hard to play him at tackle in the NFL given how many flaws there are in his technique. But as a developmental guard, Mayfield is an intriguing mid-round prospect. He’s a possible fit for the Bucs and he’s not even 21 yet, but poor athletic testing suggests Mayfield’s ceiling may be a bit lower than many thought.
There’s a little bit of Wyatt Davis in Banks in that it’s not always pretty. But he’s big, aggressive and tough to win clean against. Banks is a hulking guard who can control defenders despite getting his hands too wide and playing too upright. That’ll be much tougher to do in the NFL, where opposing defensive linemen are far better at slashing gaps than most interior rushers in college. Banks’ technique will have to improve and he’s almost 24 already, so teams are probably getting a decent starter at best. Banks should come off the board sometime between late Day 2 and the end of Round 4.
7. Alabama G Deonte Brown – RS Senior – 6-3, 344, 5.57
A squatty and powerful guard-only prospect, Brown’s pro day athletic testing went about how we thought it would go. He tested like a bottom tier athlete at guard. Brown has to be in a run-heavy scheme that won’t expose him too much in pass protection. His mobility is always going to be a deficiency that could bump his value back in the draft, perhaps even into Day 3. Brown wasn’t exactly dominant at the Senior Bowl and his tape at Alabama was pretty average. He’s started full seasons at right and left guard though, and will be a solid backup for the right team. That team is probably not Tampa Bay.
8. Notre Dame G Robert Hainsey – Senior – 6-4.5, 306, 5.21
Hainsey was out of his depth at right tackle for Notre Dame last season. He really did all he could to keep rushers at bay. Technically, Hainsey is more pro-ready than many players ahead of him on this list. He simply lacks the great physical gifts in length or power to compete with more tools-y players. In the NFL, almost everyone is toolsy, putting an onus on Hainsey to make a position switch, possibly even to center. He’s explosive, technical and competitive, all traits that could make him a fun fit in a zone heavy offense as a third or fourth round pick. Hainsey is unlikely to be a fit in Tampa Bay.
Best Of The Rest
9. Grambling State G David Moore – RS Senior – 6-1.5, 330, 5.13
I’m not sure Moore spared any opposing defender at the Senior Bowl. He pancaked everyone in sight throughout the week. He is extremely powerful with some of the nastiest hands in the class, torquing defenders to the ground regularly. Moore has room to grow in his attention to detail as a pass protector. That’s something he didn’t get a chance to improve on after his 2020 season was canceled. The best could be yet to come for Moore.
10. Middle Tennessee G Robert Jones – Senior – 6-4, 307, 5.37
The Bucs might love Jones’ passion for the physical aspects of the game and his small school edge. Yet he’s a work-in-progress. It’s hard to win in the pass or run game without clean footwork, and right now Jones needs some coaching in that regard. If he has the right demeanor and mentality, he could be a Bucs draft target late on Day 3.
11. Ole Miss G Royce Newman – RS Senior – 6-5, 310, 5.13
Newman’s best ability is his versatility, as he’s played 70-plus college snaps at every offensive line position except center. Newman spent full season at left guard and right tackle. He gets bullied far too often on tape to be a high consideration in the draft. Play strength is a big deal for me, and Newman doesn’t have it. Most of Newman’s intrigue was in his rumored athleticism and tools, but his average-to-below-average pro day may have plummeted his stock.
Bucs’ Best Bets: Guards
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 1-3: Tennessee G Trey Smith
Tampa Bay’s power run game could use a powerful run blocker. That’s exactly what the 6-foot-5, 321-pound Smith is. With 33.5-inch arms and hitting 32 reps on the bench press, Smith is plenty strong to move bodies inside at guard. Plus he brings the versatility of also seeing limited time at both tackle spots. As a four-year starter, Smith is battle-tested in the rugged SEC and should adjust quickly to life in the NFL.
The Bucs will draft high character players who are passionate about football. Smith is so passionate about the game that he sat out the last five games in 2018 due to blood clots in his lungs but returned to the field the next year. Tennessee coaches rave about his work ethic and commitment. He needs work in pass protection, but Smith has the right temperament to play in Tampa Bay as a pick in the third round.
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 4-7: Grambling State G David Moore
If the Bucs wait until Day 3 to address the interior line, drafting Moore in the fourth or fifth round would be ideal. Compactly built at just under 6-foot-2, 330 pounds, Moore is a beast in the run game. Despite his less-than-ideal height, Moore has the arm length of a 6-foot-5 prospect, measuring 34 inches. He put up 31 reps of 225 pounds, and has one of the most explosive punches in football as a result.
Where Moore needs improvement is in his pass sets. Playing against a lower level of competition didn’t necessarily make him an NFL-ready prospect. Yet he opened some eyes at the Senior Bowl with a good week in Mobile. Moore proved he belonged alongside higher-grade competition and is viewed as a developmental player. With the ability to play center, Moore gives the Bucs a versatile interior line depth in the draft with starter potential down the road.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft