It’s April 23 – the 2020 NFL Draft is here! Here is a look at what may happen in the first round for the Buccaneers, in addition to a revised PewterReport.com 2020 Bucs’ 7-Round Draft that reflects the team’s draft picks following the trade for star tight end Rob Gronkowski with the Patriots.
Be sure to visit PewterReport.com on Friday morning for my SR’s Bucs Draft Insider: Day 2 column, which will replace my usual SR’s Fab 5 column this week.
Will The Bucs Trade Howard?
The acquisition of Gronkowski – a five-time Pro Bowler, a four-time All-Pro, and a three-time Super Bowl champion – makes tight end O.J. Howard expendable. While general manager Jason Licht might want to pull the trigger and trade Howard during the 2020 NFL Draft he doesn’t have to.
Howard is on the final year of his rookie deal and a tight end room of Gronkowski, Howard, Cameron Brate and Antony Auclair is easily the most talented quartet at the position in the NFL. Gronkowski turns 31 in May and hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2011. He missed eight games in 2016, two games in 2017 and three games in 2018, which was his last year in the NFL before retiring for the 2019 campaign.
But Howard, the Bucs’ former first-round pick in 2017, does have some trade value that Licht might want to take advantage of in the 2020 NFL Draft. There were reports of New England attempting to acquire Howard before the trading deadline last year, but the Patriots didn’t offer the second-rounder that Licht was seeking so no deal was made. Licht might be willing to accept a little less this year – perhaps a third-round pick and a Day 3 pick.
The Falcons set a bit of a precedent when they acquired tight end Hayden Hurst from the Ravens this offseason. Baltimore traded Hurst and a fourth-round pick to Atlanta in exchange for the Falcons’ second and fifth-round picks.
Howard has been way more productive in his three years with the Bucs (94 catches for 1,456 yards (15.5 avg.) and 12 TDs) than Hurst was in his two years with the Ravens (43 catches for 512 yards (11.9 avg.) and three TDs).
The problem is that if a team just doesn’t want to surrender a second and fifth-rounder to Licht during the draft, then he won’t get it.
Yet I don’t think Tampa Bay will trade Howard outright for a draft pick or picks. Instead I could see Licht using Howard and another draft pick to move up in a round to target a specific player. Which player(s) might Licht have his sights set on? Let’s explore two options.
Potential Trading Partners For The Bucs
The latest draft buzz is that Arizona is looking to trade down from the No. 8 spot and acquire more draft picks. Licht won’t want to surrender any draft picks because he views them as precious capital, but would be willing to use Howard as a chip in a trade deal.
The Cardinals are weak at tight end, and could use some star power at the position for second-year quarterback Kyler Murray. It helps that Howard had four catches for 47 yards and his lone touchdown in the 2020 season in Tampa Bay’s 30-27 win over Arizona, in addition to the fact that Licht and head coach Bruce Arians and Cardinals general manager Steve Keim are all friends.
So the Bucs could trade Howard and the No. 14 overall pick to move up to No. 8 for an offensive tackle like Louisville’s Mekhi Becton. Cleveland and the New York Jets, which pick 10th and 11th overall, are two tackle-needy teams that Licht might want to leap over to ensure that the Bucs grab a premier player to replace Demar Dotson.
I wouldn’t rule out a Bucs trade with the Browns at No. 10, either. Rumor has it that Cleveland prefers Boise State offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland, but it’s too high to take him with the 10th overall pick. The only problem is that the Browns already have two quality tight ends in recently-signed Austin Hooper and fourth-year pass catcher David Njoku, so they likely won’t be interested in acquiring Howard.
So what other scenario could happen involving Howard in a trade? Let’s assume the Bucs come away with their right tackle at No. 14 – whether it’s Becton, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas or Houston’s Josh Jones. Licht might not want to wait until the 45th overall pick in the draft to get a premier running back, as they might be gone by the time Tampa Bay is on the clock in the second round.
Licht could package the Bucs’ second-round pick and perhaps a fifth-rounder in addition to Howard to trade back into the first round with New England at No. 23. That would put Tampa Bay ahead of some teams that could be targeting a running back, such as Miami at No. 26, Seattle at No. 27 and Kansas City at No. 32.
The Bucs might have the opportunity to grab the first running back off the board by trading with the Patriots, and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor or LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire could be the target. The benefit to trading back up into the first round to select a running back is that Tampa Bay would have another player – in addition to the offensive tackle earlier in the first round – that would have a fifth-year option on their rookie contract.
Akers Is High On Bucs’ Draft Board
If Tampa Bay has to sit and wait to draft a running back in the second round there is a good chance that Taylor, Edwards-Helaire, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins could all be off the draft board by then. Don’t be surprised if Licht pulls the trigger on Florida State’s Cam Akers in the second round if that is the case.
There is a wide range of opinions on Akers in the scouting community with teams that have him going between the second and the fourth rounds. Akers is a tremendous talent whose production was stymied by playing behind one of college football’s worst offensive lines at FSU.
Drafting a running back is a high priority for the Bucs this year, as they want to be more balanced on offense with Tom Brady under center. Acquiring a pass-catching running back is also important, and like Edwards-Helaire and Swift, Akers has great hands as a receiver out of the backfield.
Flood The Position?
Last year we saw Bucs general manager Jason Licht flood the secondary with three draft picks on Day 2 – cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, in addition to safety Mike Edwards. Which position(s) might Licht flood this year?
This is a very deep draft at offensive line and running back, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Licht come away with multiple players at those positions. The Bucs need a right tackle and some competition at guard and center. Look for Licht to draft at least two offensive linemen – maybe even three.
Tampa Bay needs a running back to replace Peyton Barber and compete with Ronald Jones II for carries. The Bucs could also use another player to compete for the third down back role with Dare Ogunbowale. Licht will draft a running back by the third round, and may even select another one on Day 3 if the right player is there at the right pick giving the team the right value.
A Howard-Williams Trade With Washington?
ESPN reported that the Bucs had previous discussions with the Redskins back in February about trading Howard to Washington in exchange for disgruntled left tackle Trent Williams, but talks broke down and the deal never happened. That deal won’t happen now with the Bucs trading for Gronkowski because he has one year left on his deal that will pay him a $9 million base salary in 2020.
Tampa Bay has less than $5 million in salary cap room left after trading for Gronkowski and Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg, who is the team’s capologist, will need to restructure a deal – perhaps extending Gronkowski’s deal and adding a few years to it – in order to sign all of the team’s draft picks later this summer. The Bucs will need more than $5 million to get all of their rookies signed this year.
Bucs Have Not Picked Up Howard’s Fifth-Year Option
Last year, PewterReport.com broke the story that the Bucs had picked up the fifth-year option on cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, the team’s first-round pick in 2016. That happened a week before the 2019 NFL Draft on April 24.
As of April 23, Tampa Bay has not picked up the fifth-year option on O.J. Howard. That doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. If Howard isn’t traded during the 2020 NFL Draft and Tampa Bay ends up keeping him, it could very well happen next week. The Bucs have until the first week of May to pick up his option.
Revised Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft
Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for – PewterReport.com’s revised 2020 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft. I decided to make some adjustments in our final mock draft after the Bucs traded away their second fourth-round pick – No. 139 overall, which was the team’s compensatory pick – to New England for Gronkowski and the Patriots’ final seventh-round pick (No. 242).
Maybe I’m optimistic, but I think there is a chance that Louisville offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, whom I believe the Bucs covet, just might slide to Tampa Bay at No. 14.
Becton reportedly failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine, although he didn’t fail one at Louisville. That combined with some weight issues – he played as high as 388 pounds, but weighed in at the Combine at 364 – and a reported 15 score on the Wonderlic, could give some teams some real pause about selecting Becton in the Top 10. That would work in Tampa Bay’s favor.
The Bucs signed Joe Haeg as a placeholder at right tackle, and could always re-sign Demar Dotson after the draft as an insurance policy – even if they take a chance on Becton. Dotson could be a tremendous mentor for Becton, and having legendary quarterback Tom Brady around would only increase the accountability level in the offensive huddle that would prompt Becton to keep growing and become a pro’s pro.
Round 1 – No. 14 – Louisville OT Mekhi Becton
Round 2 – No. 45 – LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Round 3 – No. 76 – LSU G Damien Lewis
Round 4 – No. 117 – Memphis WR-RB Antonio Gibson
Round 5 – No. 162 – Arkansas DT McTelvin Agim
Round 6 – No. 195 – Iowa QB Nate Stanley
Round 7 – No. 242 – Tulane WR Darnell Mooney
I kept the other picks the same from the previous PewterReport.com Final 2020 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft except for swapping out LSU defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence, whom I had the Bucs taking with their fourth-round compensatory pick, for Agim in the fifth round. I moved Stanley down from the fifth round to the sixth round, and moved Mooney down from the sixth round to the seventh round.
Let me know your thoughts in the article comments below, and make sure you watch PewterReport.com’s LIVE Bucs Draft Videocast, starting tonight!
PewterReport.com’s LIVE Draft Videocast Starts At 7:00 PM ET
Watch Pewter Reporters Scott Reynolds and Jon Ledyard, PewterReport.com’s newest draft expert and Bucs beat writer, live on-air beginning on Day 1 of the 2020 NFL Draft on Thursday, April 23 at 7:00 p.m. ET.
The Draft Videocast, which is sponsored by Edmonson Electric • AC • Security, will be available for viewing on PewterReport.com, so watch from your phone, tablet or laptop for over 15 hours of Bucs draft coverage from April 23-25.
The PewterReport.com Draft Videocast is the only place to turn for immediate expert analysis on each Tampa Bay draft pick, while keeping viewers informed on players the Bucs are targeting with their next pick, plus instant reaction from the PR staff as they conduct interviews with recently drafted players via conference calls as well as conference calls with Jason Licht and Bruce Arians following the draft selections.
The PewterReport.com staff will also be able to take questions submitted by Bucs fans and NFL fans throughout the 3-day NFL Draft on the @PewterReport Twitter account using the hashtag #PRDraftQ – so it’s a great way to interact with Ledyard and Reynolds.
Here is PewterReport.com’s Draft Videocast schedule:
Thursday, April 23
7:00 pm ET: Draft Videocast coverage begins
8:00 pm ET: Day 1 of the NFL Draft begins – Round 1
Friday, April 24
6:00 pm ET: Draft Videocast coverage begins
7:00 pm ET: Day 2 of the NFL Draft begins – Rounds 2-3
Saturday, April 25
11:00 am ET: Draft Videocast coverage begins
12:00 pm ET: Day 3 of the NFL Draft begins – Rounds 4-7
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