The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.
This week’s topic: If Bucs Had To Trade Up In Round 1 For One Prospect, Who Would It Be?
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Here are the ground rules for this week’s PR Roundtable. First, the Pewter Reporters aren’t allowed to trade up from No. 32 into the Top 10 to take one of the draft’s elite prospects. Second, the PR staff is not allowed to trade up for a quarterback – not even Alabama’s Mac Jones.
Scott Reynolds: Etienne Is The Perfect Weapon For Tampa Bay
With all 22 of the Bucs’ Super Bowl starters back thanks to general manager Jason Licht, director of football administration Mike Greenberg and director of football research Jackie Davidson, whoever Tampa Bay drafts will likely be a backup as a rookie, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it would still be nice to have that first-rounder see the field in 2021 just for value’s sake. That could happen if the Bucs draft a running back early – and they should, as both Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II will be free agents in 2022. As much as I love North Carolina’s Javonte Williams, who was in PewterReport.com’s initial 2021 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft and more recently headed to Tampa Bay in Jon Ledyard’s NFL Mock Draft 2.0, the reason why Williams is the pick at No. 32 is because Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Alabama’s Najee Harris are already off the board.
Clemson RB Travis Etienne – Photo by: USA Today
But in this trade-up scenario, I would have the Bucs move up for Etienne because he would be a perfect fit in Bruce Arians’ offense. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Etienne is considered to be the top back in the 2021 NFL Draft due to his 4.4 speed and instant acceleration. Etienne racked up 4,952 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging an insane 7.2 yards per carry at Clemson. After back-to-back 1,600-yard seasons in which he averaged 22 TDs each year, Etienne only rushed for 914 yards and 14 scores, but played in three fewer games because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More importantly, Etienne improved as a receiver as a senior, catching 48 passes for 588 yards (12.3 avg.) and two TDs. That pushed his career total to 102 receptions for 1,155 yards (11.3 avg.) and eight touchdowns.
The Bucs have a huge need for a pass-catching running back that can play on all three downs, and nobody can fill that role better than Etienne, who had 20 100-yard games for the Tigers, including three 200-yard games. While he isn’t as big as David Johnson, Etienne has the receiving and rushing ability that resembles the former Arizona star that thrived in Arians offense when he was the Cardinals coach years ago. Factor in Etienne’s ability to return kicks and punts, and he can help out Tampa Bay’s return game as a rookie while he develops as a runner-receiver on offense as a part-time player alongside Fournette and Jones. Etienne then could take over as the Bucs’ feature back in 2022 and would be destined for stardom shortly thereafter.
Mark Cook: If Bucs Trade Up For Najee Harris, I’ll Cry Real Tears
Yes I know, you don’t draft a running back in the first round. Yes, I know you can find them in later rounds (Alvin Kamara), sometimes even as undrafted free agents (James Robinson) or other team’s cast-offs (Leonard Fournette). And in normal years not only would I be completely opposed to drafting one, I’d be even more adamant you cannot trade up for one. But Alabama running back Najee Harris is special and worth going against conventional draft thinking.
RB Najee Harris – Photo by: USA Today
The Buccaneers are returning their 2020 Super Bowl starting winning team, which of course is great news. But with the shiny new ring, comes their opponents gunning for them like never before. Even if the team gets the exact same production from all 22 starts, will it be enough to repeat? Don’t forget the other 31 teams are working to improve their roster. The Bucs can’t stand pat and just think they are good enough to repeat just because they won it all in 2020. Tampa Bay must improve over last season and Harris makes them a better football team in 2021.
As I wrote in The Hook on Thursday, there are a number of reasons why you go against the grain and take – and possibly even trade up for – the draft’s best and most complete back. The Bucs offense was seventh best in the NFL in total yards last year and should be even better in 2021 – if they can get more steady production on third down. Adding a running back like Harris solves your third-down woes, as both Ronald Jones and Fournette just weren’t good as receivers. Quarterback Tom Brady needs that reliable outlet and Harris has shown the ability at Alabama to be a complete three-down back.And let’s not forget both Jones and Fournette are only under contract for one more season. I wouldn’t give up the farm for Harris, but if he’s on the board at No. 20 or later, I would be on the hone with the teams in front of me.
Jon Ledyard: If You Make Me Trade Up, I’m Fortifying OL For The Bucs
Let me preface my answer by saying that, unless an elite prospect (there aren’t many of them in this draft) miraculously falls into the 20s, there is zero chance that I am trading up in this draft. There are few players you could convince me to trade up for in the first round of even a normal draft, and in this class there’s no way I would take the risk at No. 32. Most of the top offensive players will be gone in the top 15 of the draft, and most of the top defensive players come with major question marks, on and off the field.
But if you’re going to make me trade up for a non-quarterback, Oklahoma State right tackle Teven Jenkins is probably the guy I would target. I would only think about making a move if he lasted into the deep 20s, and it obviously wouldn’t be to play him at right tackle. Instead, Jenkins would be the long-term solution at right guard, preparing during the 2021 season to become the starter in 2022.
Jenkins is the type of physical people-mover the Bucs need up front, and he and Tristan Wirfs could form a dominant right side of the offensive line for foreseeable future. Jenkins is elite in the run game and has evolved wonderfully as a pass protector despite his lack of elite length. That physical limitation will be less noticeable on the inside, where Jenkins power and deadly strikes will stonewall many bull rushes. With the Bucs starting five returning for the 2021 season, Jenkins would be excellent depth this year before stepping in for Alex Cappa in 2022, allowing the fourth-year guard to get a big-money deal elsewhere in the free agent market.
Matt Matera: Trading Up For Jaelan Phillips Solidifies Bucs’ Future Starting Pass Rusher
With the Bucs almost unthinkable accomplishment of bringing back every free agent starter from last season’s Super Bowl winning team, they are in an enviable position for the 2021 NFL Draft. While other teams are drafting for need, the Bucs are strictly drafting for depth starting at the number 32 pick. If you were to take a glance over to the 2022 season, though, three positions that should be addressed quickly are running back, outside linebacker and interior defensive lineman. In this scenario, the Bucs take care of the edge right away by trading up for Jaelan Phillips out of Miami.
Current outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul has one year left remaining on his deal, so there’s no guarantee that he’ll be back again. This would be the perfect situation for Phillips to gain a ton of knowledge from Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett as he sharpens up his game while waiting in the wings to take over a starting role in the future. Due to his versatile talent, Phillips could slide right into the third spot on the depth chart ahead of Anthony Nelson, giving him opportunities to get some NFL experience while not putting too much tread on the tires for a guy that has an injury history.
Phillips has the size, speed, and power that you want in an edge rusher and he put it all together in his last season at Miami with 45 tackles, eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. The Bucs have shown in the past that they’re not afraid to do what it takes in order to get their guy, and they should do the same here. Remember last year when the Bucs traded up one spot to make sure they could draft Tristan Wirfs? Well, that sure worked out. Even as one of the top pass rushers on the board, it doesn’t look like the Bucs would have to go up more than 10 or 12 picks in the draft to assure that he’s in Tampa.
Taylor Jenkins: Jaelen Phillips Could Step In And Be An Impact Player Early At A Key Position
Most of the trade conversations when sitting at No. 32 in the draft are focused on trading out of the first, not necessarily up in it. That seems to be even more prevalent as the Bucs don’t necessarily have any glaring needs, but that also allows you a bit more freedom in picking your player of choice over addressing said needs. This player of choice could be edge defender Jaelen Phillips
Despite likely having the talent to warrant a selection in the top half of the first round when the 2021 NFL Draft rolls around this April, Phillips has question marks that may see him slide, as noted by Jon Ledyard. And while some of my cohorts have the Bucs trading up for running backs like Travis Etienne or Najee Harris, I just don’t see Tampa Bay trading up if running back is what they’re after, not in the first round at least.
But Phillips on the other hand is the caliber of player at a premier position that could persuade the Bucs to move up, should he fall far enough to make a trade to get him a reasonable value. Despite an injury history that at one time saw him step away from the game before his ultimate return and resurgence at the University of Miami, Phillips’ physical ability and pass-rushing prowess would make him an immediate factor on the Bucs’ defensive line. With Jason Pierre-Paul entering a contract year on the wrong side of 30, and no significant depth at edge rusher, Phillips would have room to develop his play alongside an already stacked front seven and step right in should an injury occur at the position.