With the 2017 NFL Draft all wrapped up, chances are you thought we’d be taking a break from our draft coverage. Not so fast my friends.
So much will change between now and the beginning of the 2018 NFL draft, not only in the college football world but for the Buccaneers as well. However, for people who have an unhealthy obsession with the draft like myself, it’s like the drug we can never quit.
So, just for fun, here are ten prospects who the Buccaneers might be keeping a close eye on for the 2018 NFL draft as soon as when college camps start in a few months.
DERWIN JAMES – S – FSU – JUNIOR
Chances are the Buccaneers will not be picking anywhere near high enough to be considered for Derwin James, but I’m going to list him because no matter what you think of him – strong safety, free safety, nickel corner, edge player – James will be coveted by every single team in the NFL.
James’ tape is almost hard to believe. At 6-3, 215 pounds, James is a former five-star recruit and was the No. 5 player in the country according to Rivals.com. He missed all of two games in 2016 because of a knee injury, but as a true freshman the year before, recorded 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and almost 100 tackles. He has rare instincts and athleticism, and might just be the best safety prospect we’ve seen in over a decade.
ARDEN KEY – DE- LSU – JUNIOR
Key, like Derwin James, will be a true junior with a lot of production already under his belt going into his draft-eligible 2017 season. As a true freshman in 2015, this 6-foot-6, 235-pound pass rusher recorded 6.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. The following season, he recorded 12.5 tackles for loss with 11 sacks and two forced fumbles.
It was reported that Key had stepped away from the team during their spring workouts for personal reasons, and it was unknown whether or not he would be stepping away from LSU for good. But, on the eve of this year’s draft, Key tweeted out that he will not be sitting out his junior year and will be returning to LSU.
He’s another player the Bucs probably won’t have a chance to select due to how high he’s projected. But, if they’re anywhere near him, they would certainly consider it.
SAM HUBBARD – DE – OHIO STATE – JUNIOR
Where Arden Key may be the more explosive athlete and speed rusher off the edge, Hubbard fits the mold of where Tampa Bay seems to be going in terms of their defensive line. At 6-foot-6, 256 pounds, Hubbard is a monster on the edge. Hubbard was only a 3-star recruit out of high school as an outside linebacker, but after putting on more than 20 pounds, he’s been able to wreak havoc for the Buckeyes as a defensive end.
In his freshman season, Hubbard recorded 8.0 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, playing in all 13 games. In his second season, Hubbard recored 8.5 tackles for loss with 3.5 sacks, again playing in all 13 games.
Hubbard has the appropriate size to play a key role in the kind of versatile defense Mike Smith is building.
JOSH SWEAT – DE – FSU – JUNIOR
At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Josh Sweat is another type of player who fits Mike Smith’s defensive end mold. He was a five-star recruit and the No. 2 defensive end in the nation coming out of high school.
At FSU, though he’s had to battle some injuries, Sweat has been productive on the field. As a true freshman, Sweat notched five tackles for loss and two sacks. He also recorded an interception. The following season Sweat’s production multiplied. He had 11.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks with a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Staying healthy is key for Sweat, because if he can, the first round is certainly a reality with that size and production.
MINKAH FRIZPATRICK – CB – ALABAMA – JUNIOR
Minakah Fitzpatrick (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) has been making plays in the one of the best defenses in college football since he was just a true freshman – and that doesn’t happen very often in Nick Saba’s defense. Saban’s recruiting power is so deep that there is usually just too much talent on the roster for true freshman to play. But, with Fitzpatrick, they made an exception.
During his freshman season, Fitzpatrick player mostly nickel corner and safety. He recored three tackles for loss, two sacks and 45 tackles. He also had two interceptions, both of which he turned into touchdowns. The following season, in more of a cornerback role, Fitzpatrick had 5.5 sacks and six interceptions.
Fitzpatrick is one of the most versatile defensive backs in the country, and will most likely get treated as such when he is selected in the Top 15 of next year’s draft. If he falls, however, the Buccaneers failed to take a cornerback in 2017 and would surely target a player with his size and skill.
HAROLD LANDRY – DE/OLB – BOSTON COLLEGE – SENIOR
Harold Landry was a player who many expected to come out for the 2017 NFL Draft after an very impressive 2016 season where he recored 22 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks. Landry wasn’t just a one-hit wonder either. In 2015, he recored 16. tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in more of a linebacker role.
At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Landry would be an ideal hybrid player for Mike Smith’s edge and outside linebacker presence as a SAM or BUCK linebacker – if he chooses to go more in this direction. That means he could either play a traditional linebacker role in a 4-3 set, or contribute as a pass rusher along with Noah Spence on disruption downs. If he has a third stellar year in a row, he could be going as high as Key and Hubbard.
CECE JEFFERSON – DE – FLORIDA – JUNIOR
At 6-foot-1, 265 pounds, Jefferson is more of the traditional 4-3 defensive end that William Gholston plays on the weak side. He’s a former five-star recruit and was the No. 2 defensive end from the class of 2015.
Jefferson has been contributing since his freshman season at UF. In his two season with the Gators, Jefferson has recorded 15 tackles for loss and five sacks, all while playing alongside Jon Bullard and Caleb Brantley.
JAIRE ALEXANDER – CB – LOUISVILLE
Alexander was a three-star prospect in the class of 2015, but since then has played to out perform that rating.
As a spot contributor his freshman season, he only recorded one interception. But, the following season, he recorded five. At 5-11, 190 pounds, Alexander has the build of a “Buccaneer corner”. He has exceptional ball skills, and can blanket most receivers he faces. He won’t come at the price Minkah Fitzpatrick will, so if the Buccaneers are looking to add a cornerback next year in the Top 50, look for Alexander to be on their radar.
MIKE McGLINCHEY – OT – NOTRE DAME – SENIOR
If I didn’t put some offensive linemen on here, I think Bucs fans would come at me with pitchforks and torches – but, it does make sense.
Next year is going to be a defining year for the current Buccaneers offensive line. Left tackle Donovan Smith will be in his third year. If he can’t clean up the penalties and just be more consistent overall, the team will start to look elsewhere. On top of that, right tackle Demar Dotson is getting up there in age, and to the end of his contract.
At 6-foot-7, 291 pounds, McGlinchey would have been considered a potential first round pick with the other players in the 2017 class, but opted to stay another year. He heads into 2018’s cycle as the top man to get as a potential left tackle.
MARTINAS RANKIN – OT – MISSISSIIPPI STATE – SENIOR
Rankin came on well in the 2016 season as a run blocker and pass protector for Mississippi State. It was reported that he received a second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board for this year’s 2017 NFL Draft. If he continues to show good consistency, he would be an ideal right tackle option to add at a cheaper price than McGlinchey will likely warrant.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: email@example.com