Although drafting an offensive lineman isn’t as enticing as selecting a quarterback or skill player, it is certainly necessary. The Bucs’ third-round selection of Notre Dame offensive lineman Robert Hainsey was an important one. It also killed two birds with one stone.
There’s no immediate need on the offensive line in 2021. The Bucs should also have one of the better units in the NFL. However, center Ryan Jensen and right guard Alex Cappa are both in a contract year. There’s no guarantee that either player will be back in 2022, which is where Hainsey comes into the fold.
His versatility as an offensive lineman was the reason why Tampa Bay selected him with the 95th pick. It all began with a willingness to put himself out there at the 2021 Senior Bowl.
While starting three straight years at right tackle for the Fighting Irish, Hainsey was willing to play guard and center at the Senior Bowl. They were positions that he never played before, but he was confident he could do it.
“I went down to the Senior Bowl having not played those positions before in practice, in a game or in anything,” Hainsey said. “But I’m confident in my abilities as a football player in what I can do. I was really excited to get down there and showcase that.”
The gamble paid off, catching the attention of the Bucs front office.
“We liked him at right tackle,” general manager Jason Licht said. “But the fact that he went in there against the best and held his own, and played very well at both positions – guard and center and tackle, he moved up and down the line throughout the week –really helped. It was very helpful for us to see him there, just like it was several years ago when we drafted Ali [Marpet] to see him at the Senior Bowl and the week that he had.”
Hainsey’s ability to play anywhere on the offensive line makes him of great value to the Bucs. They could groom him to be a replacement for Jensen or Cappa if they leave in free agency, or he eventually might be a starting tackle down the road. Either way, he’s a viable option off the bench.
“We see him as a real versatile guy,” Licht said. “He has all the traits that our current group has. I think he’s going to fit in great. He’s going to be a guy that we can hopefully plug in a four positions; be a four-spot guy at some point.
“Like all of our picks, these guys don’t have to go in right away and play and we’re not relying on them, so we have the luxury of developing these guys and into their future roles whether it’s offensive lineman, starting guard, starting right tackle – whatever it is.”
Head coach Bruce Arians and assistant coaches Harold Goodwin and Joe Gilbert will make that decision as to where Hainsey fits best on the line. But even with that type of positional flexibility, he’ll leave it up to Hainsey to find out what’s best for him once he arrives and is practicing in Tampa.
“I think that’s really up to him,” Arians said. “It’s just coming in and finding what’s the best niche for him and for us to find that niche. But we feel like he could play outside or inside.”