PewterReport.com has a long track record on accurately forecasting the selections of a Buccaneer player or two each year with our Bucs’ Best Bets, which are found within our Bucs’ Draft Previews at each position – presented by Edmonson Electric • AC • Security.
The Bucs’ Best Bets give PewterReport.com readers a suggestion as to which draft prospect Tampa Bay may select if the team were to spend an early (Rounds 1-3) or late (Rounds 4-7) pick on a player at each position.
Now that all of PewterReport.com’s Draft Previews are done, here is a cheat sheet with all of the Bucs’ Best Bets for 2020 in one place.
PR’s 2020 Bucs’ Best Bets
Table of Contents
QUARTERBACKS Utah State’s Jordan Love / Iowa’s Nate Stanley
RUNNING BACKS LSU’s Clyde Edwards Helaire / Florida State’s Cam Akers
WIDE RECEIVERS Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III / Memphis’ Antonio Gibson
OFFENSIVE TACKLES Houston’s Josh Jones / Louisiana-Lafayette’s Robert Hunt
LSU C Lloyd Cushenberry III – Photo by: Getty Images
GUARDS LSU’s Damien Lewis / Clemson’s John Simpson
CENTERS LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry III / Washington’s Nick Harris
DEFENSIVE TACKLES Ohio State’s Davon Hamilton / LSU’s Rashard Lawrence
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson / Utah’s Bradlee Anae
INSIDE LINEBACKERS Mississippi State’s Willie Gay / Miami’s Shaquille Quarterman
CORNERBACKS Virginia’s Bryce Hall / Louisiana Tech’s L’Jarius Sneed
SAFETIES Cal’s Ashtyn Davis / Georgia’s J.R. Reed
If you would like to read the analysis of each Bucs’ Best Bet and watch a highlight video of each Tampa Bay draft prospect that can be found below.
Bucs’ Best Bets: Quarterback
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 1-3: Utah State QB Jordan Love
Love left school after a junior year in which he threw for 3,402 yards with 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, which was the most in FBS. Love excited the NFL scouting community, including Tampa Bay, after he completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,567 yards with 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions. In 2018, Love led the Aggies to an 11-2 record and a No. 22 ranking with the only two losses coming to ranked teams Michigan State and Boise State. But Utah State lost almost all of Love’s offensive weapons, which led to him trying to do too much last season, too many mistakes and a 7-6 record.
NFL scouts would have liked Love staying in school for his senior year, but he does have an intriguing skill set. The 6-foot-4, 224-pound Love has good size, large hands, decent speed and a very strong arm. Love had a good showing at the Senior Bowl, and there is some thought that he could be a first-round pick. But he’s not ready to start, and his high interception total will give some teams pause. The Bucs won’t use the No. 14 overall pick to draft him, but if Love slides to the second round they may be tempted. After parting ways with Jameis Winston, the team could use an heir apparent to Tom Brady in a few years and Love might be an ideal choice. – Scott Reynolds
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 4-7: Iowa QB Nate Stanley
With the arrival of Brady in Tampa Bay and the team’s win-now mentality, it’s highly unlikely that the Bucs will draft a quarterback until Day 3. This is not a particularly deep draft at quarterback, but one third day signal caller that fits Bruce Arians’ need for a tall, strong-armed pocket passer is Stanley, who was a three-year starter at Iowa and threw for 8,297 yards with 68 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Stanley has the courage to stand in the pocket and throw the deep ball all day long, which makes him a good fit in Arians’ scheme. And his 4.81 time in the 40-yard dash was close to that of Love’s 4.74 time, and much faster than Winston’s 4.97.
What impresses the Bucs and others about Stanley is the fact that he’s a winner with a 26-12 record, including a 10-3 mark as a senior when he lost most of his offensive weapons, including first-round tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, prior to the 2019 campaign. Stanley also went 3-0 in the Hawkeyes’ bowl games, including an impressive 49-24 win over No. 22 USC in the Holiday Bowl last year. Stanley’s shining moment came as a sophomore when he passed for 226 yards and five touchdowns in a 55-24 rout of No. 6 Ohio State. What’s keeping him from Day 2 consideration is his career 58.3 completion percentage and the fact that he needs to work on his mechanics and footwork to become a more accurate short and intermediate passer. Stanley would be a solid developmental quarterback behind Brady as a fifth- or sixth-round pick. – Scott Reynolds
Bucs’ Best Bets: Running Back
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 1-3: LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
The Buccaneers like Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who appeared in PewterReport.com’s 2020 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft 3.0 as the team’s first-round pick, but it doesn’t seem like the team would pick him at No. 14, and it’s doubtful he’ll be around in the second round with the 45th overall pick. If the Bucs want to pick a running back in the second round, the one player who could still be there when the team is on the clock is Edwards-Helaire, who only had one year as a feature back, which was his junior season. Edwards-Helaire led the SEC in rushing last year with 1,414 yards and 16 touchdowns, while averaging 6.6 yards per carry after posting just 658 yards and seven TDs with a 4.5 average as a sophomore the previous season.
Aside from just one real season’s worth of premium production, Edwards-Helaire lacks ideal size at 5-foot-7, 207 pounds, and didn’t wow anyone with a 4.6 time in the 40-yard dash. But what appeals to Tampa Bay are his elusiveness, tackle-breaking ability and receiving skills. Edwards-Helaire caught 69 passes for 595 yards (8.6 avg.) and one score, including 55 receptions for 453 yards and that TD last year. Edwards-Helaire nearly beat Alabama single-handedly with 103 yards rushing and three TDs on the ground, in addition to catching nine passes for 77 yards and one receiving score. Edwards-Helaire, who had a formal interview with the Bucs at the NFL Scouting Combine, would be a terrific complement to Ronald Jones II in Tampa Bay.
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 4-7: Florida State RB Cam Akers
Akers is a very talented runner between the tackles and can also make the most of his opportunities in space. Akers ran behind one of the worst offensive lines in college football for the past three years, which hindered his production, but also pleased NFL scouts given the circumstances. He only had two 1,000-yard seasons at Florida State and averaged just 4.9 yards per carry, which isn’t terribly impressive. Akers is an urgent, decisive north-south runner with tremendous balance. There isn’t much hesitation to his game, and he picked up a lot of yards after deploying a wicked stiff arm.
Akers, who had a formal interview with Tampa Bay at the NFL Scouting Combine, has good size at 5-foot-10, 217 pounds and ran a solid 4.47 time in the 40-yard dash. Akers’ Combine performance and his receiving skills make him an intriguing prospect. Akers totaled 69 receptions for 486 yards and seven touchdowns in three years at Florida State, and also took snaps as a wildcat QB for the Seminoles. He totaled 27 touchdowns on the ground, including 14 as a junior. There is a chance that Akers could go higher in the draft – perhaps in the lower half of the second round or the upper part of the third round, but with his pedestrian production he could slide into the fourth round where he would be a steal for Tampa Bay. The Bucs might also consider taking him in the third round if they haven’t addressed the running back position in the second round.
Bucs’ Best Bets: Wide Receiver
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 1-3: Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III
If the Bucs miss out on the top offensive tackles in the first round and are forced to stick and pick at No. 14, don’t be surprised if the team pulls the trigger on Ruggs at No. 14. Ruggs is the fastest receiver in the draft, running a 4.27 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine at 5-foot-11, 188 pounds, in addition to posting a ridiculous 42-inch vertical jump. Bucs general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians love speed the receiver position. Arians had John Brown and J.J. Nelson in Arizona, while Licht signed DeSean Jackson in Tampa Bay. They both drafted Scotty Miller last year, and would love to add another speed receiver to replace Breshad Perriman, who left for the New York Jets in free agency.
Ruggs was the No. 3 receiver at Alabama behind DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy, so he’s used to sharing touches as he recorded 98 catches for 1,716 yards (17.5 avg.) and 24 touchdowns in his three years with the Crimson Tide. Ruggs posted back-to-back years of over 700 yards an averaged nine touchdowns over the past two seasons. Ruggs’ speed is special – like Tyreek Hill kind of special. Ruggs also returned kicks at Alabama, averaging 21 yards per return, so in addition to playing receiver alongside Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, he would bring additional value to Tampa Bay on special teams.
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 4-7: Memphis WR Antonio Gibson
Gibson is an interesting prospect because he only had 77 touches on offense in his two years at Memphis, but it’s his speed and athleticism that really intrigue the Bucs and other NFL teams. The 6-foot, 228-pounder blazed a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and had a formal interview with the Bucs in Indianapolis. Gibson had 44 catches for 735 yards and eight touchdowns, while rushing 33 times for 369 yards and four touchdowns as a senior as a part-time running back. Simply put, Gibson is a bona fide weapon, given his 19.3 yards per catch average and his 11.2 yards per carry average for the Tigers. The only reason why he didn’t get more touches on offense is because of the likes of running backs Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard, Patrick Taylor, Jr. and freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell, in addition to receivers like Anthony Miller, who is in the NFL, and Damonte Coxie, who has an NFL future.
Gibson, who had a great showing at the Senior Bowl as a runner, has great versatility and can be used as runner or receiver out of the backfield, in addition to being used as a slot receiver or split out wide. The only thing Gibson needs is more experience, as he didn’t get a chance to shine until his senior year due to the logjam of offensive talent at Memphis. Gibson also brings return ability to special teams, and he averaged 28 yards per kick return in 2019 and scored a touchdown. His production suggests a late Day 3 selection, but Gibson will likely be drafted in the fourth round near the top of Day 3 due to mix of size, speed and ability and potential.
Bucs’ Best Bets: Tight End
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 1-3: Dayton TE Adam Trautman
It’s doubtful the Bucs will draft a tight end this year, and most likely won’t select one before Day 3. But for the purpose of the Bucs’ Best Bets exercise, if Tampa Bay were to draft a tight end on Day 2, Trautman would be a great choice. At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, Trautman has ideal size to both block at the line of scrimmage and as a move Y tight end off the line of scrimmage, in addition to being a viable target in the passing game. Some NFL Draft analysts expected Trautman’s 40-yard dash time of 4.8 to faster, but his three-cone drill time of 4.76 shows great quickness and agility, which aids him in getting open and creating separation from defenders.
Trautman totaled 178 receptions for 2,295 yards and 31 touchdowns in his Dayton career, and had 43 catches for 537 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore with 41 catches for 604 yards and nine TDs the next year. As a senior, Trautman exploded for 70 catches for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns, while averaging 13.1 yards per catch. That production has him regarded as the second- or third-best tight end in this draft, and a solid third- or fourth-round pick. What makes Trautman so appealing is the fact that he is such a willing and effective blocker in addition to being a weapon as a receiver. If the Bucs plan on moving on from O.J. Howard or Cam Brate via a trade in 2020, Trautman has the tools to develop into a starter sooner rather than later.
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 4-7: Georgia TE Charlie Woerner
If the Bucs select a tight end at all it would likely be late in the 2020 NFL Draft for a couple of reasons. First, the team doesn’t really have a need to add another tight end to a group that includes Howard, Brate, Anthony Auclair, Tanner Hudson, Codey McElroy and Jordan Leggett. Second, this is not a good group of talented tight ends in this year’s draft. The Bucs will likely add a tight end for training camp competition, but it likely won’t happen until after the draft with an undrafted free agent. But if Tampa Bay was going to draft a tight end late, Woerner might be a good choice.
The Bucs want to upgrade their running game and a tight end like Woerner could help in that area. Woerner was used as a blocking H-back and was also split out in the slot as a Y tight end to help block for Georgia’s perimeter run game. Woerner has blocked for the likes of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift during his four years with the Bulldogs and has some room to add more size to his 6-foot-5, 244-pound frame. His 4.78 time in the 40-yard dash turned some heads at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he’s a competent receiver with 34 catches for 376 yards (11.1 avg.) with one TD in his Georgia career.
Bucs’ Best Bets: Offensive Tackle
Bucs’ Best Bet Rounds 1-3: Houston OT Joshua Jones
It would be tempting to put Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, who might be the Bucs’ favorite offensive tackle in this class, or Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, who might be the most likely to slide down to No. 14, in here for this Bucs’ Best Bet, but we’re going with Jones, who most likely will be available when Tampa Bay is on the clock. There is a consensus opinion that Becton, Thomas, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Alabama’s Jedrick Wills comprise the top four offensive tackles in this class, but there isn’t much of a fall off with Jones as the fifth tackle.
Jones is a four-year starter with the size at 6-foot-5, 319 pounds and enough athleticism to play either tackle position for the Bucs. Pro Football Focus gave Jones a 93.2 grade, which was the best ever given by PFF to a group of 5 offensive tackle. Jones is known for his pass protection ability, evidenced by just 18 pressures on 1,282 pass snaps, but it was his run blocking that took a huge step forward in 2019. PFF noted how his run blocking grade improved from 62.8 to 92.7 last year. Jones dominated at the Senior Bowl and showed that he is a nasty finisher with a mean streak. The Bucs are definitely interested in him as they interviewed him in Mobile and then again at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. He could start his career at right tackle and then move to left tackle if Tampa Bay wants to move on from Donovan Smith in 2021. Watch Jones’ highlights below – he’s the left tackle No. 74.
Bucs’ Best Bet Rounds 4-7: Louisiana-Lafayette OT Robert Hunt
Hunt might get drafted in the third round due to his talent, but he is coming off surgery for a groin injury that limited him to just seven games during his senior season. That injury kept Hunt out of the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine, and could cause him to slide to the fourth round where the Bucs would pounce on him if he fell that far. At 6-foot-5, 336 pounds, Hunt has ideal size to play either right tackle or guard in the NFL, and he has a reputation for being a dominant run blocker.
Hunt started his college career at guard before moving to right tackle for his senior year where he showed he could pass protect on the edge, allowing just two pressures on 196 pass sets in 2019. Before he was hurt, Hunt earned an impressive 87.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in his seven games during his senior campaign. Hunt’s versatility should appeal to the Buccaneers, but they would be wise to give him a crack at right tackle first, where he would compete with Joe Haeg for the right to start. Watch Hunt’s highlights below – he’s the right tackle No. 50.
Bucs’ Best Bets: Guard-Center
Bucs’ Best Bet Rounds 1-3: LSU G Damien Lewis
Put on Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s highlight tape and it’s hard not to notice Lewis, who was LSU’s right guard. Time after time Edwards-Helaire runs right behind No. 68 for first downs and touchdowns. Lewis, a junior college transfer, lined up next to center Lloyd Cushenberry III to not only block for Edwards-Helaire, but also Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow during LSU’s national championship season. Lewis, a second-team All-SEC guard, is solidly built at 6-foot-2, 324 pounds and is an absolute mauler in the run game, which is an area where Tampa Bay wants to improve in 2020.
Where Lewis needs to continue to work on his craft is in pass protection. He has a good, stout base when pass blocking, but he needs to continue to work on his footwork to stay square when mirroring his opponents. What helps Lewis is his incredibly strong hands and punch in both pass blocking and run blocking, along with his nasty demeanor. The Bucs conducted a formal interview with Lewis at the NFL Scouting Combine and also scouted him at the Senior Bowl where he performed well. NFL scouts have mixed opinions on Lewis, grading him between a second-rounder and a fourth-rounder. He would be an ideal selection in the third round and could compete with Alex Cappa for the starting right guard.
Bucs’ Best Bet Rounds 4-7: Clemson G John Simpson
At 6-foot-4, 324 pounds, Simpson has great size and massive 11-inch hands, which helps him as both a pass protector and as a run blocker. Like Lewis, Simpson has played against top-notch competition in college, and played in the national championship game, albeit on a sprained ankle. The Clemson coaching staff thought enough of Simpson to put him in the backfield for a touchdown carry, which is rare for offensive linemen at any level of football. Simpson, a two-year starter for the Tigers, is regarded as one of the leaders of the offensive line.
Where Simpson needs to improve at the next level is firing off the ball quicker and with a greater sense of urgency. That has led to too many false starts as he tries to overcompensate by getting a quicker jump after he’s been beaten, and it has led to too many holding calls. If Simpson can spend time improving his footwork he’ll be a much more effective guard at the next level. All the tools are there for him to succeed and be a competent NFL starter. Simpson, who had an informal interview with the Bucs at the NFL Scouting Combine, is a middle round pick who should be off the board by the end of the fourth round.
Bucs’ Best Bet Rounds 1-3: LSU C Lloyd Cushenberry III
The Bucs don’t have a pressing need at center with Ryan Jensen as the anchor of the offensive line, but he’s only under contract for two more years and the team could be looking for long-term continuity at the position. Jensen turns 30 next season and is slated to make $10 million in each of the next two years. Drafting a player like Cushenberry and developing him behind Jensen for a year could help the team long-term and would give Tampa Bay a much cheaper option at center in 2021 if the team wanted to make a switch.
Cushenberry, who will likely be drafted in the second or third round, was the leader of LSU’s talented offensive line and helped spearhead the pass protection for Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and lead the blocking for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the SEC’s leading rusher. He could work on improving his footwork in pass protection, but he excels in firing off the ball in the ground game. Tampa Bay had a formal interview with Cushenberry at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Bucs’ Best Bet Rounds 4-7: Washington C Nick Harris
Harris has one of the worst bodies in the draft. At 6-foot-1, 302 pounds with short arms, he does not look like an NFL offensive lineman until you turn on the game film. Then you see what Harris does best, which is win with impressive technique, great leverage and incredible mobility. Harris might be the best mobile lineman in the draft, capable of effectively getting to the second level to block linebackers in the interior run game and the perimeter run game, and he’s deadly on screen passes.
Where Harris’ physical limitations show up is in pass protection as he loses effectiveness when blocking one-on-one due to his penchant for getting overpowered, especially if doesn’t strike first. He’s much better helping double-team with guards. The Bucs like Harris’ physicality, high football I.Q., sound technique and competitiveness and conducted a formal interview with him at the NFL Scouting Combine. If Harris was two inches taller and 15 pounds heavier he would be a second-round pick. Instead, he’s likely a fourth-round pick. Harris, a four-year starter, played guard early at Washington where he squared off against Vita Vea in practice, but doesn’t have the size to start at guard in the NFL.
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: email@example.com
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