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FAB 1. 10 Big Bucs Draft Questions (And Answers)
This is the last SR’s Fab 5 column before the 2020 NFL Draft, which begins on Thursday, April 23.
That happens to be my birthday, but don’t send flowers or cards (unless there is a birthday check inside) as I’m turning … 48. Ugh.
That’s getting too close to 50.
I’m definitely happy to be alive and healthy, but not happy to be … 48.
I’m getting closer in age to Mark Cook (until his next birthday), and slowly turning into a grumpy old man like him. I can feel it coming as I’m beginning to mumble phrases like “Get off my lawn!” under my breath. Soon phrases like that will become more audible – but I digress.
Not thrilled I have to work on my birthday, but the show must go on – so let’s talk about the 2020 NFL and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Some of you might be thinking, “What about next Friday? Will there be an SR’s Fab 5 on April 24?”
The answer is no.
I’m happy to report that PewterReport.com will be doing its annual Draft Videocast – presented by Edmonson Electric • AC • Security – on Thursday night (and Friday night and Saturday afternoon) and I won’t have time to do a full-fledged SR’s Fab 5.
However, I will be doing my annual Bucs Draft Insider column next Friday that will preview Day 2 and Day 3 of the draft, so be on the lookout for that. The next SR’s Fab 5 column will be published on May 1.
One more big announcement – the final PewterReport.com 2020 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft will be published on Sunday, April 19. Don’t miss it!
So without further delay, let’s ask – and answer – 10 Big Bucs Draft Questions.
1. Which Offensive Tackle Do The Bucs Prefer?
The Bucs have high grades on all four of the top offensive tackles – Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas and Louisville’s Mekhi Becton – in this year’s draft class, and even think highly of Houston’s Josh Jones. Tampa Bay would be thrilled to see any of those four tackles make it to No. 14 in the first round, but if none done, the team could be prepared to select Jones.
Louisville OT Mekhi Becton – Photo by: PewterReport.com
But which tackle do the Bucs like the most? From what I have gathered, Becton has the most intriguing upside of them all – and not just because the 6-foot-7, 364-pound behemoth ran a 5.1 at the NFL Scouting Combine. It’s because Becton is a massive people-mover in the running game in addition to being an athletic freak. He’s a better prospect than Baltimore’s giant right tackle Orlando Jones, and Tampa Bay wants to seriously upgrade its rushing attack this offseason.
In addition to being a mauler in the run game, Becton is a developing pass protector. He didn’t have many true pass sets in his three years at Louisville due to their RPO-based passing game, but his gargantuan arms and wingspan make Becton a difficult guy to simply get around even if his technique isn’t polished or perfect at this stage of his development. I believe Becton is the tackle that the Bucs covet the most.
2. Which Running Back Do The Bucs Prefer?
There are four – maybe five – running backs that carry premium draft grades, including Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins. Florida State’s Cam Akers may be in that group as well, despite less than stellar production because he had to run behind an awful offensive line during his three years with the Seminoles.
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor – Photo by: Getty Images
One of two of those backs – likely Taylor and Swift – could be drafted near the end of the first round. Dobbins and Edwards-Helaire will be second-round selections, while Akers will be drafted no later than the fourth round. I think Tampa Bay would be happy with any of those five running backs, but I think the Bucs like Taylor the most.
PewterReport.com had Taylor going to Tampa Bay in the first round in our third Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, which came out after the 5-foot-10, 223-pound back blazed a 4.39 at the NFL Scouting Combine. If the Bucs do have Taylor ranked as the top running back, I wouldn’t be shocked if they draft him in the first round – perhaps with the 14th overall pick – although trading down a few spots and taking him later in the first round would make more sense.
Taylor averaged over 2,000 yards per season while at Wisconsin and is a developing receiver out of the backfield. Why he’s not considered to be an easy first-round pick the way Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott were over the past few years is beyond me. If Tampa Bay doesn’t draft him at No. 14 and opts for an offensive tackle instead, I could see the Bucs try to trade back up into the first round to select Taylor.
3. What Is The Worst-Case Scenario For Tampa Bay At No. 14?
Here are 13 highly regarded draft prospects that could be drafted in the first 13 selections:
LSU QB Joe Burrow
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa
Oregon QB Justin Herbert
Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons
Ohio State DE Chase Young
Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah
Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs
Alabama OT Jedrick Wills
Louisville OT Mekhi Becton
Georgia OT Andrew Thomas
Auburn DT Derek Brown
South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw
Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb
If those 13 players are drafted prior to the Bucs being on the clock with the 14th overall pick, that means that San Francisco drafted a defensive tackle instead of a wide receiver, and the New York Jets drafted an offensive tackle instead of a wide receiver. So what would the Bucs do if all four of the top four offensive tackles were off the board?
Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III – Photo by: Getty Images
The Bucs could draft Houston tackle Josh Jones, Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor or one of the top receivers – Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs III – left on the board. So this worst-case scenario really isn’t that bad.
And there is actually a decent chance that the 49ers take a wide receiver, which could make Kinlaw available, and if the Jets draft a wide receiver one of the top tackles likely falls to Tampa Bay at No. 14.
4. Who Would The Surprise Pick In The First Round Be?
I think the surprise pick in the first round would be Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, although it wouldn’t surprise us at PewterReport.com. He’s the best pure running back in this draft, the most productive runner in college, and the fastest back in this class. In many ways, Taylor is a generational talent that the NFL Draft community seems to be sleeping on.
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor – Photo by: Getty Images
Tampa Bay wants to upgrade its rushing attack in this draft and that means drafting a right tackle and a running back – but it doesn’t mean that it has to happen in that order. If the Bucs were to select Taylor in the first round they could come back and draft a right tackle in the second round. Players like St. John’s Ben Bartch, Louisiana-Layfayette’s Robert Hunt, Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson or UConn’s Matthew Peart could be Day 2 candidates at right tackle.
5. Who Would The Surprise Pick In The Second Round Be?
While many would be surprised if Tampa Bay drafted a guard in the second round instead of a running back, especially if the team came away with an offensive tackle in the first round, the bigger shock would be a quarterback. Finding an heir apparent to Tom Brady at the QB position is one of the team’s goals, and they may draft a quarterback on Day 3 to try to achieve that objective.
Utah State QB Jordan Love – Photo by: Getty Images
But if Utah State’s Jordan Love, who has first-round talent, somehow slides down to the second round and is available at No. 45 he might be too tempting to pass up from a value standpoint. Love leapt on to the Bucs’ radar during his sophomore year where he had 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions while leading a talented Aggies team to a No. 22 ranking in 2018. Most of that talent left due to graduation or the NFL Draft, and last year saw Love trying to do too much, throwing an FBS-high 17 interceptions with just 20 touchdowns.
Love has a rocket arm, ideal size and mobility in and out of the pocket. He would be an ideal fit for Bruce Arians’ vertical passing offense, and give the Bucs a long-term succession plan at quarterback – even though he wouldn’t be able to help the team win right away.
6. If Licht Should Flood One Position It Should Be …
Offensive line. The Bucs need to upgrade the talent across the board along the O-line and improve the team’s depth, as versatile veteran interior lineman Earl Watford was not re-signed in free agency. Tampa Bay wants to get some competition for newly signed right tackle Joe Haeg, in addition to right guard Alex Cappa, who is entering his second season as a starter. The Bucs had formal interviews with several tackles at the NFL Scouting Combine, including Austin Jackson, Thomas, Jones, Bartch and Hunt, in addition to LSU guard Damien Lewis. The team had informal interviews with Clemson guard John Simpson and Mississippi State guard Darryl Williams.
LSU G Damien Lewis – Photo by: Getty Images
Left tackle Donovan Smith is entering a contract year in that his 2021 salary is not guaranteed, which means the team could part ways with him without any dead salary cap money after this season if it wants to. The same is true for center Ryan Jensen, and the Bucs had formal interviews with LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry III and Washington center Nick Harris at the Combine.
This year’s draft is deep along the offensive line, and drafting at least two – perhaps three – offensive linemen makes sense for Licht and Arians.
7. Who Is The Most Likely Bucs Veteran To Be Traded?
Tampa Bay really likes its 2020 roster, and I’m not anticipating Licht parting ways with anyone via a trade next week. But if there is one veteran that could be moved on draft day it could be tight end O.J. Howard, who had a disappointing season in Arians’ first year in Tampa Bay with several drops and just one touchdown.
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Howard is entering a contract year, and the team has yet to pick up his fifth-year option, although it likely will soon. The Bucs aren’t opposed to keeping Howard, but he does have the most trade value out of anyone the team could part ways with – certainly more than fellow tight end Cameron Brate, who wouldn’t fetch more than a late-round pick.
The Bucs’ tight end position is deep with Howard, Brate, Anthony Auclair, Tanner Hudson, Codey McElroy and Jordan Leggett, so the team could part ways with Howard without missing him too much, especially if Arians opts for more three-receiver sets than two-tight end sets as he did a year ago. If the Bucs could land a second-round pick for Howard it could help them address a bigger area of need, and they could always circle back around and draft another tight end late on Day 3 to replenish the position from a numbers standpoint.
8. When Will The Bucs Make Their First Trade?
I don’t see Licht trading up into the first round for an offensive tackle. I’m sure he’s done his due diligence, and if it’s for a negligible bounty, such as a Day 3 pick, he might move up a couple spots – although he’s never traded up in Round 1 since becoming the team’s general manager in 2014.
Bucs GM Jason Licht – Photo by: PewterReport.com
Instead, I could see Licht trade up in the second round, which is something he’s done before – in 2015 to select guard Ali Marpet and again in 2016 with the drafting of kicker Roberto Aguayo. Tampa Bay has the 45th overall pick, and I could see Licht move up from their to try to get one of the top running backs near the top of the second round, or I could see Licht trade the Bucs’ third-round pick and a Day 3 selection to move back up into Round 2 for another second-rounder.
9. The One Position Licht Won’t Draft (Besides Kicker And Punter) Is …
Tight end. Assuming Licht doesn’t trade Howard, the Bucs are well stocked at the tight end position with Brate, Auclair, Hudson, McElroy and Leggett. This year’s crop of tight ends isn’t that great to begin with, so I don’t think the Bucs will even be tempted to draft one on Day 3.
10. Are The Bucs Better Prepared Or Less Prepared For This Draft?
I think Licht is more prepared for the draft this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed the team’s AdventHealth Training Center headquarters. Like all of the team’s coaches and front office personnel, Licht has been working from home for the last month where he has had more time to watch game film from this year’s draft prospects than perhaps ever before.
Bucs director of college scouting Mike Biehl, GM Jason Licht and director of player personnel John Spytek – Photo by: PewterReport.com
Licht confided in me years ago, suggesting that he was interrupted more during the 2016 draft preparation than he ever was before, and that led to his worst draft class as the team’s general manager. The next year, Licht put his foot down, limited interruptions and his outside appearances on behalf of the organization during the offseason and the Bucs rebounded with a much better draft in 2017. The 2018 draft was good, followed by what appears to be a stellar draft class last year.
Game film makes up about 90 percent of player evaluation leading up to the draft and Licht has been pouring more time into this area than ever. The result could be another significant haul of talented players next week that could put the Bucs over the top in their quest for the playoffs and another NFC South division championship.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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