All the buzz in Tampa Bay has been around selecting the best player available, and I agree with that sentiment to an extent. The Bucs aren’t beholden to draft any one position like they may have been in the first round last year, when they had the good fortune of nabbing their biggest need andstill getting the best player available in Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs.
This year the Bucs options are more wide open, but the decision on who to draft in Round 1 should still be centered around just six position groups rather than all 12. With their first round pick, the Bucs should consider options at guard, center, running back, wide receiver, cornerback and edge defender over any of the following six position groups, regardless of who is on the board.
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The Bucs don’t have any crying needs on their roster, but if we were going to list the team’s biggest weaknesses heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, interior defensive line would rank high. Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston are 30+ while entering contract years, and Rakeem Nunez-Roches is a serviceable at best backup. The Bucs may have some hope for Khalil Davis or even Jeremiah Ledbetter, but they are long shots to ever be future starters in the NFL. So why bypass one of the team’s biggest positions of “need” in Round 1?
Simply put, it’s not a good defensive tackle class at all. As I indicated in my 2021 NFL Draft DT rankings which dropped on Thursday, the teams that wait for the value in this defensive tackle class, which is in the middle rounds, will be the ones who are ultimately rewarded. There are some solid players and some prospects with decent ceilings among this interior defensive line group, but taking one at No. 32 is far too risky. The Bucs should be focused on adding the best player available at an important position, and there is no way that philosophy matches up with this defensive tackle class at No. 32.
That isn’t to say Christian Barmore or Daviyon Nixon, two of the most commonly mocked players to the Bucs right now, can’t become good players in Tampa Bay. I just wouldn’t want to be the team taking that risk in the first round, especially with better players still on the board. The sweet spot for this draft at defensive tackle is in the mid-rounds, where you can get a very capable contributor for a fraction of the cost.
There’s no reason for me to belabor this point, as I’ve already written at length about how the Bucs shouldn’t draft a quarterback at any point in the 2021 NFL Draft. Here’s one thing I didn’t say in my Bucs Briefing column that bears mention: GM Jason Licht doesn’t even know what head coach or what offense he would be drafting a quarterback for. Bruce Arians could very well retire with Tom Brady in two years, which would leave the Bucs in search of their next head coach. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich could get a head coaching offer as soon as next season, which would again leave the QB-coach connection a mystery.
That makes it very difficult for Licht to pin down exactly what he should be looking for in a quarterback right now, especially since you know one of the top talents in the draft isn’t going to be there for you in the first round. There has been a recent groundswell of support for the Bucs selecting a quarterback at No. 32 in mock drafts, and I’m here to put a stop to it.
I’ve heard the whispers from fans about selecting a tight end at No. 32, and on paper it makes sense. Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard are both in contract years, and there is no guaranteed money left on Cam Brate’s deal. Tight end is a more valuable position than many realize, but only if you can get a game-changer. That’s not going to happen for the Bucs at No. 32, as the distance between Kyle Pitts and the next best tight end is vast.
Some have heralded Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth as a potential first round pick, but that would shock me. Freiermuth is a middling athlete without great tape or college production. He can block and has made some tough catches at times, but there just isn’t much on his tape to get excited about, especially in the draft’s first two rounds. The tight end class is weak after Pitts, and the Bucs are better off waiting for next offseason to weigh their long term outlook at the position.
The Bucs lost veteran Andrew Adams to the Eagles in free agency, but should be able to replace his special teams impact with Javon Hagan this season. Even with the loss of Adams, the Bucs still boast three quality safeties in Antoine Winfield Jr., Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards. Licht doesn’t have much reason to address the position even if this class were loaded at safety, which it certainly is not.
Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is the only safety-like player I would suggest to the Bucs at No. 32, and he is more of a big slot defender who could become a full-time linebacker in the NFL. TCU’s Trevon Moehrig might be the first traditional safety off the board, but it shouldn’t be to the Bucs, or in the first 32 picks. After the play of their top three safeties last season, the Bucs are set at the position for 2021. It would take a terrific prospect to warrant a safety selection in the first round, and that’s not going to be the case this year.
Unlike the four aforementioned positions, linebacker is a position group that may have some talent on the board for the Bucs in Round 1. Tulsa’s Zaven Collins, Ohio State’s Baron Browning, Missouri’s Nick Bolton and Kentucky’s Jamin Davis could all be available at No. 32, and they may even be near the top of the Bucs’ board at that point.
But Tampa Bay has two linebackers that won’t come off the field over the next two seasons, and if one gets hurt, veteran Kevin Minter can step in admirably as he did last season. Last year Lavonte David played 99 percent of the defensive snaps, and Devin White played every snap outside of the Week 17 game he missed while on the COVID list. It’s hard to justify a first round pick on the least important defensive position, especially when they would barely play over the first two years of their contract (at least). Tampa Bay will be looking for some level of impact from this pick during Brady’s (maybe) final two seasons, and they are unlikely to get that from the linebacker position.
One of the deepest positions in the draft, it won’t be surprising at all if there is a quality tackle on the board for Tampa Bay at No. 32. It’s pretty obvious the Bucs won’t be selecting a tackle however, as Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs are under contract together for the foreseeable future after the former’s extension last month. The Bucs also retained backup swing tackle Josh Wells, taking Tampa Bay out of the offensive tackle market in Round 1.
Of course, the team could always take a tackle and move him to guard or center in camp. It’s unlikely that Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins or USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker will last to No. 32, but they are prime examples of the kind of value pick I’m talking about. Both players could kick to right guard in 2022 if Alex Cappa departs in free agency, and both players could serve as critical backups at a few spots on the depth chart this season. The most likely scenario is that both players come off the board in the top 25, leaving the Bucs without a desirable tackle-to-guard convert option at No. 32 overall.
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