Bucs QBs Tom Brady (12), Kyle Trask (2), Blaine Gabbert (11) and Ryan Griffin (4) – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of reporting and analysis on the Bucs from yours truly, Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds. Here are four things that caught my attention this week, plus some random tidbits in my Buc Shots section at the end. Enjoy!
FAB 1. 5 Bucs On Offense That Need A Big Offseason
Table of Contents
The Bucs offseason program is underway and OTAs (organized team activities) and mini-camps will soon be here. Let’s a take a look at some of Tampa Bay’s offensive players that need to make the most of the offseason and gain some momentum heading into training camp.
QB Kyle Trask
Bucs QB Kyle Trask – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
After basically redshirting last season as a rookie, Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in 2021 will get a chance to challenge Blaine Gabbert for the right to back up Tom Brady this year. Trask was essentially the team’s fourth-string quarterback. He was even behind veteran Ryan Griffin, who was on the practice squad as the team’s emergency QB. Trask spent his rookie season working on his body. He slimmed down and worked on pocket quickness and mobility, in addition to quicker releases of the ball.
Now it’s time for Trask to rise up from a mental standpoint and prove to the coaches that he can execute a game plan and make all the necessary throws. When Trask did get to throw the ball in practice last year it was usually operating the scout team offense. Trask will be operating Byron Leftwich’s playbook this offseason and needs to make a strong impression. Gabbert is in his fifth year in this system and has a decided advantage from that standpoint. But if Trask is worthy of a second-round pick, he needs to make a move this offseason and really challenge Gabbert for the No. 2 QB role.
WR Scotty Miller
Bucs WR Scotty Miller – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Miller went from at one point leading the team in receiving yards in 2020 before Antonio Brown’s arrival to being a backup later that season. Then he went from catching an amazing, critical touchdown at Green Bay in the 2020 NFC Championship Game to being an afterthought last season. Miller hurt his foot in Week 3 and just about vanished from the offense – even when he was healthy later in the season. The reason is because he’s a bit of a one-trick pony, simply being used as a vertical guy on deep routes. Miller is more fast than quick, and that’s a reason why he isn’t used on wide receiver screens more often.
This offseason he needs to prove to the coaching staff that he can do more as an underneath receiver. Late last year Miller had some success on end-arounds, scoring on a 33-yard run in Week 17 against Carolina. Miller is in danger of not making the team this year, and must also find a way to stand out on special teams. He had success in a limited role as a gunner in 2021. Perhaps it’s there where he finds his niche.
OL Robert Hainsey
Bucs C Robert Hainsey – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Hainsey spent his rookie season behind the scenes transitioning from playing right tackle at Notre Dame to playing center in Tampa Bay. Last year’s third-round pick was lauded by the coaches and starting center Ryan Jensen for picking up the offense so quickly and working so hard in practice. Where Hainsey has to improve this offseason is reshaping his body to look and operate more like an interior lineman. That means working on his trunk and lower body in the weight room, adding size and strength.
With Jensen re-signing this offseason, the coaches are cross-training Hainsey to play guard. Ali Marpet retired this offseason and left guard is a big hole to fill. Hainsey is expected to compete against the likes of Aaron Stinnie, Nick Leverett, Sadarius Hutcherson and John Molchon for the right to start. The Bucs traded for Shaq Mason to replace Alex Cappa at right guard. Stinnie has more experience and is the early favorite to take over. But if Hainsey can hit the weight room hard and gain the necessary lower body strength, he can make it a real battle at left guard in camp.
WR Jaelon Darden
Bucs KR-PR Jaelon Darden – Photo by: USA Today
The selection of the 5-foot-8, 174-pound Darden in the fourth round last year was a curious one. The Bucs even traded up to get him. Not only is Darden very undersized by NFL standards, he’s not even that fast, running a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash. Bruce Arians might have thought Darden could become the next John Brown. But Brown was a blazer, running 4.34 when he entered the 2014 NFL Draft. Darden is more quick than fast, but even that quickness didn’t serve him well. After shining in training camp, Darden struggled when the pads came on and the games began. The North Texas product did not have a smooth transition from a small school to the NFL.
He had just six catches for 43 yards with a long of 29, and did not excel with the limited opportunities he got with wide receiver screens. One of the quick passes he attempted to catch went off his hands and turned into a costly interception at Washington. Darden was pressed into the role as a returner and floundered there, too. He averaged just 19.9 yards per kick return and 7.5 yards per punt return. Darden would also hit the ground and slide early to avoid getting hit. He needs a big dose of confidence and courage this offseason or he risks not making the roster.
TE Codey McElroy
Bucs TE Codey McElroy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
As of right now, McElroy is one of only two tight ends on the roster. Veteran Cam Brate, who turns 31 this summer, is the other. Tampa Bay hopes to re-sign starter Rob Gronkowski this offseason and will likely draft a tight end this year. With O.J. Howard moving on to Buffalo, there is a vacancy on the depth chart that McElroy can fill with a great offseason and training camp. McElroy has spent years on the Bucs practice squad developing behind the scenes.
The team loves his length and athleticism, but it’s time for the 6-foot-6, 256-pounder to show he can consistently block and catch the ball. Although he’s considered a first-year player, McElroy is 29 years old. Brate is likely in his last year with the Bucs, and if Gronkowski returns it will likely only be for the 2022 season. McElroy has the chance to not only earn a roster spot this year, but can set himself up for some real playing time in the future if he can make the necessary improvements in his game. Because he’s rarely played McElroy has plenty of tread left on his tires, but it’s now or never to make the 53-man roster.
FAB 2. 5 Bucs Defenders That Need A Big Offseason
After examining the five offensive players in Tampa Bay that need a big offseason to get their careers heading in the right direction, let’s look at the defensive side of the ball with the same mission.
CB Sean Murphy Bunting
Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
No other player on defense enters the 2022 offseason under more scrutiny than Murphy-Bunting. Coming off a year in which he missed eight games due to a dislocated elbow, Murphy-Bunting had just three pass breakups and no interceptions in 2021. What’s even worse is that Murphy-Bunting allowed 13.7 yards per reception and a 113.7 passer rating when QBs targeted him. By comparison, Carlton Davis III allowed 10.2 yards per completion and an 80.4 passer rating. Jamel Dean allowed 10.5 yards per completion and a 60.7 QB rating.
The Bucs signed veteran Logan Ryan this offseason. He is expected to see some time in the slot challenging Murphy-Bunting for playing time. Murphy-Bunting is in a crucial contract year and needs to play with more confidence and tighter coverage this offseason. He also needs to get back to his playmaking ways. Murphy-Bunting had a team-high three interceptions, including a pick-six, as a rookie. Then he had three interceptions in three straight playoff games in 2020.
S Mike Edwards
Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Bucs S Mike Edwards – Photo by: USA Today
Edwards doesn’t have the physicality to be a box player like Jordan Whitehead. So he wasn’t an ideal replacement for Whitehead at strong safety. But with Antoine Winfield, Jr. becoming a Pro Bowl free safety last year, Edwards likely won’t have a starting job on the Bucs defense yet again. The Bucs signed veteran Keanu Neal to play strong safety. So Edwards will likely have to star once again as a rotational player, splitting time with Winfield at free safety and Neal at strong safety.
Edwards enters a pivotal contract year, yet made big strides last season earning more playing time. He had four starts due to Whitehead and Winfield’s injuries and played in 14 games. Edwards had a career-high three interceptions, including a pair of pick-sixes versus Atlanta in Week 2. He also had a key forced fumble at Indianapolis. Edwards needs to keep making splash plays in coverage during spring ball to show the coaches that they need to find a way to get him – and keep him – on the field. He also needs to erase an ugly performance versus the Rams in the Bucs’ playoff loss.
ILB K.J. Britt
Bucs ILB K.J. Britt – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Britt, a fifth-round pick last season, earned a roster spot with his special teams ability and promise at the linebacker position. At 6-foot, 235 pounds, Britt is a throwback linebacker who plays downhill. He ran a 4.76 in his pro day and that caused his stock to drop to the middle of Day 3. Does Britt have enough speed and athleticism to be anything more than a guy covering kicks and punts?
Britt needs to work on his coverage ability if he’s to be more than just Kevin Minter’s replacement as the primary backup to Devin White and Lavonte David. That means working on lateral movements and his drops into coverage to become more fluid. The Bucs will need to find an eventual replacement for David, and initially that doesn’t seem like Britt. If he can become quicker and faster this offseason with speed coach Roger Kingdom’s help he might change the minds of the Bucs’ brass.
OLB Elijah Ponder
Bucs OLB Elijah Ponder – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
As of right now, the Bucs have four outside linebackers with playing experience. Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, last year’s first-round pick, are slated to be the starters. Jason Pierre-Paul, an aging, oft-injured veteran, is not expected to be re-signed. Anthony Nelson, last year’s primary backup at outside linebacker, had a breakout season with five sacks. He’s entering a contract year in 2022. The final outside ‘backer with playing time is Cam Gill, a seldom-used designated pass rusher and special teamer.
Unless the Bucs draft another outside linebacker, Gill will be Ponder’s main competition for a roster spot. The two are completely different players. Gill is 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, whereas Ponder is 6-foot-3, 275 pounds. Ponder was a 3-4 defensive end, which is an interior D-line position, in college at Cincinnati. While he plays with strength and quickness, Ponder won’t be allowed to show his power until the pads come on in camp. In the meantime, he’ll need to impress this spring with an improved get-off and initial quickness.
Potoa’e has been on the Bucs practice squad for the last two years and it’s time for him to break through this offseason. He’s only seen action in two NFL games – one in 2020 and one last year – in a reserve capacity. As of right now, the Bucs have yet to re-sign Ndamukong Suh and Steve McLendon. Last year, Pat O’Connor beat out Potoa’e for the final roster spot in the defensive line room. In order to win a roster spot this year, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound Potoa’e needs to kick off a great offseason by showing he can be a factor on special teams. That’s where O’Connor made his mark and earned a place on the 53-man roster.
Potoa’e won’t get to show what he can do physically until the pads come on in training camp. But a great offseason can kick start a critical preseason for Potoa’e, who needs to show he can stuff the run and pressure the passer. If he does he could be Tampa Bay’s sixth defensive lineman on the opening day roster. Potoa’e will get the stiffest competition from O’Connor and fellow practice-squader Willington Previlon (6-5, 287).
FAB 3. Bucs Don’t Want To See These Guys Drafted In NFC South
If you are a draftnik like me, there are certain players you develop draft crushes on each year and hope the Bucs end up selecting in the first round. Conversely, there are also some players that I dread Tampa Bay’s division rivals will draft because they could develop into future Bucs killers. Atlanta tight end Kyle Pitts might end up being one of those types of players in the future.
But who are some of the players I don’t want to see wind up in the NFC South – unless they’re wearing red and pewter – this year? Let’s take a look at the Bucs’ division rivals and the players they could target in the first round.
NFLMockDraftDatabase.com has Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett, Mississippi State tackle Charles Cross, North Carolina State tackle Ikem Ekwonu and Neal as the most likely candidates to be drafted by Carolina. The Panthers know that Sam Darnold isn’t the answer at QB and could be tempted to draft another signal caller at No. 6. Pickett has a relationship with Matt Rhule, who committed to play for him at Temple before Rhule left to coach at Baylor. Once that happened Pickett de-committed and opted for Pitt instead.
Alabama OT Evan Neal – Photo by: USA Today
Pickett was a late bloomer for the Panthers and I would be fine if Carolina drafted him because I don’t think he’ll be an elite pro whatsoever. He’s not even considered to be the best quarterback in the class. There is no consensus No. 1 guy in this year’s sub-par QB class.
The Panthers also need offensive line help badly. Left tackle Cameron Erving is a weak link and the team is not sure if backup Brady Christensen can be good enough as a full-time starter. Cross and Ekwonu are pure left tackles, whereas Neal played guard and right tackle before moving to left tackle last year.
Neal is a massive man at 6-foot-8, 337 pounds. If he reaches his potential he could be the best of the bunch. Huge offensive tackles like New Orleans’ Ryan Ramczyk and L.A.’s Rob Havenstein and Andrew Whitworth have always given the Bucs’ edge rushers fits.
Atlanta – No. 8 overall – DE Kayvon Thibodeaux
NFLMockDraftDatabase.com has Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson, Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson and Thibodeaux as the three most likely players to be selected by Atlanta. The Falcons need help everywhere, but wide receiver and defensive end would be a great place to start.
Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux – Photo by: USA Today
If the season began today Olamide Zaccheaus, KhaDarel Hodge and Damiere Byrd would be Atlanta’s starting receivers. I’m not kidding. If Tampa Bay has the best receiving corps in the league, Atlanta easily has the worst. I get paid to cover the NFL, and folks, I’ve never heard of those wide receivers. Wilson would give the Falcons the passing game the juice it needs without Calvin Ridley, who is suspended for gambling. And his speed and ability would take some pressure off tight end Kyle Pitts.
The Falcons signed Lorenzo Carter to help rush the passer, but he’s average at best and coming off a five-sack season with the Giants. I love Johnson, who had 11.5 sacks at Florida State, but not at No. 8. That’s a little early. He plays with relentlessness and physicality, but he’s not the athlete that Thibodeaux is. If Thibodeaux slides to Atlanta at No. 8 he might be too tempting to pass on. If the Oregon pass rusher is focused and motivated he can make more of an immediate impact and have a higher ceiling than Johnson. He had 19 sacks in three years, including seven last year.
New Orleans traded away future draft picks with Philadelphia to grab another first-round pick in this year’s draft. With a pair of mid-first-round picks, the Saints may not be done moving up, either. The educated guess is that New Orleans wants to get a franchise left tackle to replace Terron Armstead, and may have to trade up into the Top 10 to grab one.
Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt – Photo by: USA Today
NFLMockDraftDatabase.com has these most commonly mocked players to the Saints – Alabama receiver Jameson Williams, Ohio State receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Tulsa tackle Tyler Smith, Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning, Burks and Wyatt. Most think that the Saints need a receiver and an offensive tackle. Smith has plenty of athletic upside and Penning has plenty of physicality, but neither player would scare me if I were the Buccaneers. The same goes for Williams, Olave and Wilson. Good receivers, but nothing special.
Burks, however, is a special receiver. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he’s a load. He wins contested catches, has plenty of run-after-catch ability and he’s tough to bring down at his size. Unless Burks is in red and pewter, I don’t want to see him in the NFC South. The same goes for Wyatt. The Saints could use another defensive tackle to team with David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle inside. Keep in mind that new head coach Dennis Allen is defensive-minded. Seeing Allen possibly draft Wyatt at No. 19 would sting.
FAB 4. The Player The Bucs Should Trade Up For In The Draft
This will be my final SR’s Fab 5 column before the NFL Draft where I’ll be discussing draft prospects. I’ve got something different and special planned for next Friday’s SR’s Fab 5 on April 24.
So I’ll use this opportunity to discuss the one draft prospect the Bucs should consider trading up for in the first round. That’s Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks. I think he’s the best receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft, and Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard agrees.
No, receiver is not nearly the pressing need that defensive tackle and tight end are for the Bucs. Tampa Bay just re-signed Chris Godwin to a three-year extension that averages $20 million per season. And the Bucs just added receiver Russell Gage on a three-year deal worth $10 million per year.
Arkansas WR Treylon Burks – Photo by: USA Today
Yet the Bucs offense is receiver-driven. We all saw what happened in the playoffs last year without Godwin, Breshad Perriman and Cyril Grayson, Jr., who were out with injuries, in addition to Antonio Brown, who defected during the Jets game in Week 17. With really just Mike Evans at wide receiver, the Bucs scored only three points in the first half of the playoff loss to the Rams.
Having four starting-caliber receivers in Tampa Bay is a must for the offense to keep functioning at a 30-point-per-game level. Think I’m overacting over one bad year injury-wise? Remember that the Bucs offense also sputtered down the stretch in 2019 when Evans, Godwin and Scotty Miller were all out of the final two games of the season with hamstring injuries.
Burks is a special receiver with a unique blend of size (6-3, 225), speed and athleticism. While some might be disappointed at his 4.55 time in the 40 and expected a faster time, Burks doesn’t get caught from behind on the field. As Evans showed in the playoff loss to the Rams where he smoked Pro Bowler Jalen Ramsey for a 55-yard touchdown, running a 4.53 at the NFL Scouting Combine, which Evans did in 2014, doesn’t mean you’re slow.
Moving up to draft Burks might be necessary. Although some mock drafts have him sliding to Tampa Bay at No. 27, if he gets by New Orleans at No. 16 and No. 19, New England (No. 21), Green Bay (No. 22), Arizona (No. 23) and Dallas (No. 24) could pounce on him. The Bucs might need to call Pittburgh (No. 20) or New England to make a move for him if they want him.
Burks had a school-record six 100-yard games last year at Arkansas where he caught 66 passes for 1,104 yards (16.7 avg.) and 11 touchdowns. His best game was against Alabama when he had eight catches for 179 yards and two TDs in a 42-35 loss. Burks played mostly in the slot, but has the frame and ability to play outside at the next level. I like the fact that he can be a slot receiver too, just in case Godwin’s rehab stalls and he’s somehow not ready for Week 1.
This guy just has the right mental makeup to be a great pro, too. Part of my draft evaluation process is trying to get a feel for the person and not just the player. As general manager Jason Licht has told me, the Bucs draft the person and not just the player. Watching interviews can give some insight into who the person is, and I came away impressed with his attitude. Hearing him speak, Burks reminds me so much of Godwin. See for yourself.
In a recent ESPN story, Burks’ high school coach Bo Hembree praised his team-first attitude. He’s a great passage from that article.
He was only the second freshman to ever start for Hembree, and he did it all. Once, as a junior, he scored five touchdowns four ways in a game: twice rushing as a Wildcat quarterback, one punt return, one interception return and one bubble screen he caught as a receiver and ran 61 yards to the house.
Arkansas WR Treylon Burks – Photo by: USA Today
But he wasn’t a stats guy, Hembree said. If they were up by two or three scores, Burks would take it upon himself to put his backup in the game. He’d burn a defensive back in practice and instead of taunting, he would circle back and walk the DB through what he’d done wrong.
“He’s not a self-promoter, he’s a team-promoter,” Hembree said. “That’s what’s going to make him a great pro.”
There are enough passes to go around in Tampa Bay where Burks would get plenty – even as the fourth receiver on the depth chart. Tyler Johnson was targeted 55 times for example. Burks is not the kind of guy who will complain about a lack of targets, either.
And the fact that Mike Evans will turn 29 in August is also noteworthy. Evans still has plenty of good football left in him. But by the time Burks’ fifth-year option rolled around in 2026, Evans would be 33 at that time. Tampa Bay would already have an incredible in-house replacement for him in Burks – if Evans decided to retire after an illustrious 13-year career.
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• HERE’S ANOTHER REASON TO DRAFT BURKS – THE MAN HUNTS BOARS … WITH A KNIFE! One of the wildest aspects of Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks isn’t that he hunts boars. It’s that he hunts them with a knife! Not a gun, bow and arrow or a crossbow … a knife! Check out this passage from Arkansas head coach in a recent ESPN story.
“He hunts wild boar with his dogs and the whole nine yards,” Pittman said.
Yes, you read that correctly. Burks doesn’t just fish. He doesn’t just hunt deer with a crossbow. He goes out into the woods in search of wild boar with nothing but his dogs and a knife.
Arkansas WR Treylon Burks – Photo by: USA Today
Essentially what happens is this: The dogs find the hog and corner it. Then another dog is sent in to hold the wild animal in place. If it’s too small, they’ll turn the hog loose. But if it’s big enough to feed them and others, it’s time to go in.
Emphatically, Burks explained, “We do not use guns.”
“Using a gun takes the fun out of it,” he added. “Having a knife, it’s more of a thrill that you’re getting up on a wild boar that could kill you. Honestly it’s just a thrill being out there with your friends and family and having a good time.”
Burks knows how all of this sounds. The average wild boar is around 200 pounds. They’re powerful and their tusks are there for a reason.
“Some people probably consider me crazy,” Burks said, “but that’s just how I am.”
Draft this man, Jason Licht.
• I HOPE T-KRAS IS RIGHT: The Bucs would be thrilled to see all three of their NFC South rivals draft quarterbacks this year like good friend and WDAE host Tom Krasniqi thinks will happen. This is not a good crop of quarterbacks, and having to wait years for each of them to develop could keep Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans down for years. Of course the Bucs would have to find the answer at QB themselves once Tom Brady moves on – possibly in 2023.
I think every team in the NFC South except the #Bucs drafts a QB. Your thoughts plus a former #NFL MVP crushes his chances of getting a gig? https://t.co/QTJgi5GdI7
• BUCS DRAFT PREVIEWS CONTINUE ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week. Pewter Report Podcasts typically air on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:00 pm EST in the offseason.
Jon Ledyard and Scott Reynolds analyzed the latest Pewter Report Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft on Monday’s show.
Reynolds and Matt Matera discussed what transpired in the Bucs’ press conferences on Tuesday.
Ledyard and Matera evaluated the 2022 NFL Draft prospects at the defensive tackle position on Wednesday.
Ledyard, Kasey Hudson and JC Allen did a live Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft on Thursday’s show.
Watch the Pewter Report Podcasts live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. We archive all Pewter Report Podcasts. So you can watch the recorded episodes if you missed them live.
There is no better time to listen to or watch a new Pewter Report Podcast – energized by CELSIUS – than Friday afternoon on the way home from work. Or early Saturday morning during your workout or while running errands.
• RONDE RULES: The fact that Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber hasn’t been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame yet is a crime. As one of the best defensive backs in NFL history, he should get inducted on this stat alone.
Scott Reynolds is in his 27th 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 coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.