Following the Bucs’ 2020 draft, expectations were sky-high for top picks Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield. Both looked like easy choices to start at their respective positions in Week 1, and even fifth-round pick Tyler Johnson was given a strong chance t0 earn the No. 3 wide receiver role.
Obviously all three acquitted themselves brilliantly during their rookie seasons, especially as key cogs to the Bucs’ Super Bowl run in the playoffs. The level of expectation for each draft class is vastly different, however, and realistic outcomes should be set for Tampa Bay’s 2021 class. With no starting spots and very few key backup jobs available, it will be much more difficult to be wowed by this year’s Bucs’ draft class – at least early on.
Round 1, Pick 32: Washington OLB Joe Tryon
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The Bucs made Tryon the 32nd pick with the hope that he would earn an opportunity as the team’s no. 3 edge rusher over third-year pro Anthony Nelson. Tryon instantly becomes the outside-linebacker-in-waiting behind Jason Pierre-Paul, who is in the last year of his contract. Barring injury, Tryon’s role will be a part time one this season, probably around 300-400 snaps if he beats Nelson out in camp.
That should be enough to get Tryon the valuable reps of experience he needs on the field, while also not asking too much of him in year one. Tryon should see the field plenty on long and late downs, especially if the Bucs are able to build a few leads late in the game. The rookie may even rush from the interior at times, or at least allow defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to kick Pierre-Paul inside for extra pass rush juice on third-and-long.
Round 2, Pick 64: Florida QB Kyle Trask
Florida QB Kyle Trask – Photo by: USA Today
Lord-willing, we never see Trask on the field during a regular season game this year, except in clean-up duty. But preseason will be critical in evaluating how Trask measures up to Ryan Griffin and Blaine Gabbert, if the veteran quarterback is re-signed. I don’t think it is too lofty an expectation for Trask to win the No. 2 quarterback job this offseason, especially if Griffin is his only competition.
Even if Tampa Bay doesn’t name Trask the No. 2 due to his inexperience, it should be obvious to those of us watching him in practice and preseason games that he is the second best quarterback on the team. If Trask can earn the backup role, look competent in preseason action and perform adequately if called upon in a regular season game, Bucs fans will feel good about his start in Tampa Bay.
Round 3, Pick 95: Notre Dame OL Robert Hainsey
The Bucs starting offensive line is set in stone for the 2021 season, but if Hainsey performs well, he could still get a chance to make an impact this year. Right now, Tampa Bay is without a No. 2 center, a position Hainsey projects best to in the NFL. At the Senior Bowl in January, Hainsey looked as if he’d made a seamless transition from a career at right tackle for the Fighting Irish to snapping from the gun or under center. If something happened to Ryan Jensen and the coaching staff felt Hainsey was ready, the rookie could see the field in 2021.
Ideally Hainsey will spend this year in the weight room, transforming his body like Alex Cappa did over his first few offseasons in the NFL. Hainsey is competitive and tough, but between the transition to a new position and the physical progress he needs to make in the weight room, it would be best for Hainsey to sit next season. Hopefully he’s an option to replace Jensen or Cappa in 2022, if one of them leaves as a free agent next offseason.
Round 4, Pick 129: North Texas WR Jaelon Darden
The Bucs traded up in the fourth round for Darden, sacrificing their sixth round pick to nab the diminutive wide receiver. The Bucs will always roll the dice on speed, and Darden has plenty of it. Bruce Arians and Jason Licht are hoping that Darden’s ability to accelerate and make opponents miss in space translates to the return game right away, despite his limited success as a punt returner in college.
If Darden can’t win the return job in camp, it’s a little bit of a mystery as to how he will make the final roster unless the team carries seven receivers. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson are clearly ahead of him on the depth chart, and his offensive role would be more of the gadget variety right away. I do think Darden will beat out Jaydon Mickens for the return gig in the preseason, likely earning himself a hat on game days during the season. Offensive expectations should be limited, but the hope is that if Darden gets a few opportunities, splash plays will abound.
Auburn ILB K.J. Britt – Photo courtesy of Auburn
Round 5, Pick 176: Auburn LB K.J. Britt
If Britt sees the field defensively, the Bucs are probably in trouble. He’s a solid run defender, but has such limited range and movement skills that he could easily be attacked schematically by opposing coaches if he sees the field too long. Where Britt’s impact will need to be felt is on special teams, as he should be a 4-phase teams contributor this season. Britt’s physicality and tackling should project very well to that role, and perhaps as a replacement to Kevin Minter in the future.
Round 7, Pick 251: BYU CB Chris Wilcox
Wilcox has an opportunity to beat out Herb Miller as the team’s fifth cornerback, one of the few positions where a seventh round pick actually had a shot at a roster spot. The lanky corner will need to stay healthy however, as Miller has impressed the coaching staff and even recorded an interception last year in limited playing time. Wilcox hasn’t missed a tackle since 2017, which should bode well for his chances as a gunner in Tampa Bay.
Round 7, Pick 259: Houston LB Grant Stuard
The last pick in the draft is always a long shot, and Stuard does not look like an exception. Even if he performs admirably during training camp and preseason, Stuard would have to beat out Britt for a role, or hope the team decides to carry five off-ball linebackers. With how little Lavonte David and Devin White leave the field, that seems unlikely. If anyone has the mentality and play demeanor to beat the odds it is probably Stuard, as the long-haired, big hitter should at least earn a spot on the practice squad.
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