After a few days of reflection – and reasoned research – I’ve come up with my analysis of Tampa Bay’s 2019 draft, which was predictable and excellent on Day 1, curious and unexpected, yet solid on Day 2, and simply uninspiring (again) on Day 3.
White Must Pan Out For This Draft To Be Successful
There has been so much commotion about Bucs general manager Jason Licht using a fifth-round pick on kicker Matt Gay that it seems like many have forgotten about the fact that Tampa Bay’s draft started with a bang with LSU inside linebacker Devin White. Because of Licht’s second kicker drafted in four year, the selection of White somehow got overshadowed, which is wrong.
I guess that because Day 3 of the draft is the most recent, Licht’s uninspiring Day 3 picks this year are top of mind, but they shouldn’t sour fans on the 2019 draft class as a whole because White is a bona fide star, and upon reflection, I like what the Bucs did on Day 2 with the selections of speedy cornerbacks Sean Bunting and Jamel Dean and safety Mike Edwards.
If you were expecting Licht to draft four studs on Day 3 you were dreaming. The percentages of Day 3 draft picks making NFL teams after two years is very low. In my 24 years of covering the Bucs and witnessing Tampa Bay’s 119 Day 3 picks, here are my Top 5 selections.
Bucs’ Top 5 Day 3 Picks Since 1995
2015 MLB Kwon Alexander – Round 4
1999 FS Dexter Jackson – Round 4
2002 FS Jermaine Phillips – Round 5
2010 WR Mike Williams – Round 4
2013 DE Will Gholston – Round 4
Kind of underwhelming, huh? One Pro Bowler in Alexander, a Super Bowl MVP in Jackson and three decent players in Phillips, Williams and Gholston.
Fifth-round picks and Day 3 players don’t make or break GMs. NFL general managers are typically measured by the success or failure of their first-round picks. With that in mind, here are Licht’s six first-round picks in Tampa Bay.
Licht’s First-Round Picks
2014 WR Mike Evans
2015 QB Jameis Winston
2016 CB Vernon Hargreaves III
2017 TE O.J. Howard
2018 DT Vita Vea
2019 ILB Devin White
Evans is one of the game’s best wide receivers and is coming off a Pro Bowl season. And he’s already Tampa Bay’s best all-time receiver at age 25.
Winston has his supporters and detractors, but he’s been to one Pro Bowl and smashed a great number of Tampa Bay passing records at age 25. Can Bruce Arians take Winston’s game to the next level?
Hargreaves has been misused in Mike Smith’s defense and should thrive in Todd Bowles’ press man coverage style of defense. Can Hargreaves stay healthy to live up to his potential?
Howard has the tools to become one of the league’s elite tight ends. He was a steal with the 19th overall pick and will become a Pro Bowler if he can stay healthy for 16 games.
It takes defensive linemen a while to develop, although Vea had the same number of sacks Warren Sapp and Gerald McCoy had as rookies. Vea should pick up where he left off at the end of his rookie season, and is back playing in a 3-4 defense like he did in college.
While some fans would have preferred Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Allen instead of White, he bring speed and playmaking ability to the Bucs, in addition to culture-changing leadership. I would be shocked if White isn’t a perennial Pro Bowler.
Compare Licht’s first-rounders with those of the three previous Bucs general managers.
McKay’s First-Round Picks
1994 QB Trent Dilfer
1995 DT Warren Sapp
1995 LB Derrick Brooks
1996 DE Regan Upshaw
1996 DT Marcus Jones
1997 RB Warrick Dunn
1997 WR Reidel Anthony
1999 DT Booger McFarland
2001 OT Kenyatta Walker
Allen’s First-Round Picks
2004 WR Michael Clayton
2005 RB Cadillac Williams
2006 G Davin Joseph
2007 DE Gaines Adams
2008 CB Aqib Talib
Dominik’s First-Round Picks
2009 QB Josh Freeman
2010 DT Gerald McCoy
2011 DE Adrian Clayborn
2012 SS Mark Barron
Four of McKay’s nine first-round picks made the Pro Bowl, with Sapp and Brooks winding up as two of the greatest draft selections in team history as members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Allen drafted just one Pro Bowler in his five years in Tampa Bay, which was Joseph. Talib went on to be a more successful player after he left the Bucs via a trade. Dominik also drafted just one Pro Bowler in his four drafts with that being McCoy.
So far, Licht’s first-round track record is better than that of Allen’s and Dominik’s, and time will tell if Evans or another one of Licht’s first-rounders winds up in Canton. But so far his first-round can be considered “good” as long as his picks continue to progress and White turns into the elite player the team expects him to be.
Wake Up Call Issued To Bucs Secondary
Licht has drafted nine defensive backs since 2016, and with the selection of cornerbacks Sean Bunting and Jamel Dean, in addition to safety Mike Edwards this year, he essentially put the first six DBs he drafted on notice. And with how Tampa Bay’s secondary has played over the last several years, that’s a good thing.
Two injury-riddled seasons have prevented us from seeing what Hargreaves can become, and this is a big year for him. It’s acceptable that Ryan Smith has not developed into a starting-caliber cornerback because that’s not the norm for a fourth-round pick, especially one coming from a small school like North Carolina Central.
Bucs free safety Justin Evans, the team’s second-round pick in 2017, had a promising rookie year and then succumbed to Mike Smith’s awful defense and injuries have kept him sidelined him since last November. He needs to take his game to the next level ASAP.
Licht’s draft class of second-round cornerbacks M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis and fourth-round safety wasn’t particularly good upon their initial impression. Stewart was over-drafted, as he was a fourth-round talent that lacks the speed and athleticism to start either at cornerback or safety. Whitehead was a fourth-round pick for a reason, and not an ideal starter.
Davis has shown the most promise out of the three DBs from last year’s draft class, and the hope is that a return to the press-man coverage style of play from his days at Auburn will help him take the next step. But Davis needs to do a better job of picking off passes after having zero as a rookie. Dean and Bunting will challenge both he and Hargreaves for he right to start.
The secondary needed to be flooded with talent this year the way Licht flooded the defensive line last year to improve the team’s sack total from a league-low 20 in 2017 to 38 in ’18.
Uproar Over The Bucs Drafting (Another) Kicker
Licht is getting crucified for drafting another kicker after the Roberto Aguayo debacle in the second round in 2016, and that’s understandable. He literally scarred the fan base – and hurt the team – with the Aguayo pick, which was a waste of a second-rounder. Yet if Licht didn’t draft Aguayo, and Matt Gay was his first-ever drafted kicker, there would be far less uproar.
Perhaps some raised eyebrows would have been over spending a draft pick on a kicker if Gay were the first kicker Licht drafted, but not the moaning and groaning we’ve heard since Sunday since he was actually the second. Generally speaking, it’s better to find a kicker in undrafted free agency, but the reality is that we’re talking about a fifth-round draft pick.
Fifth-round picks generally have less than 17 percent chance of making the roster two to three years after they are selected. Whether it’s an offensive lineman, a linebacker or a wide receiver, fifth-round picks are typically back-ups. If Gay winds up as Tampa Bay’s kicker, beating out Cairo Santos, and ends up being a competent kicker in the Michael Husted-Connor Barth realm, the Bucs would be getting a starter in fifth round.
If Gay pans out that would represent tremendous value to the Bucs. If Gay winds up as a credible starting kicker, he could wind up being the best fifth-round pick since I’ve covered Tampa Bay. Here’s the list.
Bucs’ Fifth-Round Picks Since 1995
1995 CB Clifton Abraham
1996 DT Jason Maniecki
1997 TE Patrick Hape
1999 DE John McLaughlin
2000 TE James Whalen
2001 G Russ Hochstein
2002 S Jermaine Phillips
2003 G Sean Mahan
2004 G Jeb Terry
2005 WR Larry Brackins
2006 DL Julian Jenkins
2007 DE Greg Peterson
2008 QB Josh Johnson
2009 OT Xavier Fulton
2011 FS Ahmad Black
2012 LB Najee Goode
2013 DE Steven Means
2014 G Kadeem Edwards
2014 OT Kevin Pamphile
2015 WR Kenny Bell
2016 OT Caleb Benenoch
2017 RB Jeremy McNichols
2018 WR Justin Watson
2019 K Matt Gay
As you can see by the list of fifth-rounders in Tampa Bay spanning the last four general managers that there are far more misses and underwhelming picks than picks that could actually play. Out of Bucs’ 24 fifth-rounders since 1995, only Phillips really stands out to me.
Personally, I would have rather seen Maryland defensive tackle Byron Cowart, Texas A&M defensive tackle Daylon Mack or Florida linebacker Vosean Joseph taken instead of Gay, but we’ll have to see how it all shakes out. History shows us that fifth-round picks rarely stick beyond two years – let alone become starters. And Tampa Bay’s fifth-round history is actually a who’s who of failed draft choices.
Evaluation Of Bucs’ 2019 Draft Class
I don’t believe in draft class grades following a draft, which is why PewterReport.com doesn’t do them. Who knows which players will pan out?
It’s kind of like picking wins and losses and making predictions immediately after the NFL schedule comes out and before the draft, training camp and preseason injuries occur. It’s pointless and we don’t do that either.
I’ve been excited about a Day 3 guy before like Northwestern’s Danny Vitale, a seventh-round tight end, and he didn’t even make the team after getting beaten out by undrafted free agent Alan Cross. I didn’t think former LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander, a fourth-rounder, was a good pick at the time. His production at LSU was spotty because he was playing strongside linebacker, and his highlight reel was awfully short.
In the end, Alexander has been Tampa Bay’s best Day 3 pick since I began covering the team, and likely the team’s best Day 3 selection over the past quarter century.
Just because I’ve never heard of Bowling Green receiver Scotty Miller before or am not too familiar with Missouri defensive tackle Terry Beckner, Jr. doesn’t automatically mean they are bad picks. And just because Central Michigan’s Sean Bunting isn’t the household name that LSU’s Greedy Williams is doesn’t mean he’s the lesser player.
Could both Miller and Beckner been signed as undrafted free agents? Sure, and it’s quite curious that Licht has a better track record with undrafted free agents – tight end Cameron Brate, receiver Adam Humphries, running back Peyton Barber and tight end Antony Auclair – than he does on Day 3.
I am a huge fan of the Devin White selection. I think this guy is a perennial Pro Bowler – ultimately a better version of Lavonte David. This is an absolute home run for Tampa Bay, although Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Allen, who went No. 7 overall to Jacksonville, is a fine player, too.
I’ll admit that this Bucs draft class is a bit puzzling to figure out. But instead of assigning grades to each player or Licht’s 2019 draft class, I’ll rank the draft picks in order of best to worst.
1. LSU ILB Devin White – Round 1
White is special both as a play-making athletic linebacker and a leader. He’s a foundational player on the defense for the next decade as the starting Mike linebacker and change the losing culture in Tampa Bay.
2. Central Michigan CB Sean Bunting – Round 2
Bunting adds size, speed, aggressiveness and ball-hawking skills to a Tampa Bay secondary that needs all that. He has a chance to start as a rookie and will push Carlton Davis and Vernon Hargreaves III.
3A. Iowa DE Anthony Nelson – Round 4
Although I think third-round safety Mike Edwards is the better player, this is a great value pick in the fourth-round. Nelson is a cross between Carl Nassib and Will Gholston and has good tools to develop.
3B. Kentucky SS Mike Edwards – Round 3
Edwards has a chance to start opposite Justin Evans as a rookie due to his speed, striking ability and knack for interceptions. Edwards also brings leadership qualities to the secondary.
5. Auburn CB Jamel Dean – Round 3
Dean is blazing fast and physical, but might need a year to develop into a contender for a starting spot. He’ll star on special teams in the meantime.
6. Bowling Green WR Scotty Miller – Round 6
Miller has superb acceleration and sub 4.4 speed. His lack of size – he’s 20 pounds lighter than Adam Humphries – is a concern.
7. Missouri DT Terry Beckner, Jr. – Round 7
Beckner has a chance to develop into a reserve three-technique defensive tackle. The Bucs are thin at this position if Gerald McCoy doesn’t return.
8. Utah K Matt Gay – Round 5
It’s not a great idea to draft a kicker and I don’t condone the move. Yet if Gay pans out and can be a competent kicker, the reality is the Bucs get a starter in the fifth round.
More Bucs Draft Analysis
In case you missed some of my other analysis and editorial during Bucs draft weekend with the avalanche of stories about Tampa Bay’s eight new draft picks, here are links to stories you shouldn’t miss.