FAB 3. What Each Bucs Draft Pick Needs To Work On

Tampa Bay has been in training camp for a month and the PewterReport.com staff has been at every one, looking at the Bucs’ 2017 draft class and evaluating the progress of those players. With two preseason games in the books and two more weeks left in camp, here is the main issue for each draft pick to work on in order to contribute on game days this year in Tampa Bay – and for some late-round picks to make the 53-man roster.

First Round: TE O.J. Howard
Issue: Hands

Howard is a multi-dimensional talent at tight end that can in-line block at the point of attack and also hurt opposing defenses by catching the ball. While Howard had 113 receptions for 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns at Alabama and possesses good hands, he doesn’t have great hands, evidenced by several dropped passes during his initial training camp. For Howard to establish himself atop the depth chart as the starting tight end, he’ll have to become more sure-handed.

Bucs TE O.J. Howard - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

The Bucs threw the ball to their tight ends 113 times, but with the addition of veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson and draft pick Chris Godwin, that number won’t grow and might actually diminish. Last year Tampa Bay’s passing game consisted of Mike Evans, Cameron Brate and Adam Humphries, but now there are more weapons to spread the ball around to, including Howard.

Brate was the leading receiver among tight ends with 57 catches on 81 targets, followed by seven receptions by Brandon Myers on 14 targets, six catches by Alan Cross on 10 targets and five catches for Luke Stocker on eight targets. Brate is a better receiver at this stage of his career than Howard is, although with the first-round pick on board, and the team’s desire to also feature him in the passing game, Brate may only get 70 targets instead of 81 this year.

But that’s going to depend on how quickly Howard can develop into a reliable receiver that is on par with the likes of Brate, Evans, Jackson and Humphries. Will Howard get 50 targets this year or just 30? That depends on how the rookie’s hands improve during the preseason and the regular season. So far so good with Howard catching two passes for 28 yards in Jacksonville after not getting a pass thrown his way in Cincinnati.

Second Round: FS Justin Evans
Issue: Tackling

Evans was drafted in the second round for three reasons. First, he has good measurables at 6-foot, 199 pounds and very good athleticism. Second, the former Texas A&M safety has solid ball skills, evidenced by five interceptions and 11 passes defensed over the past two years, including four picks and eight pass breakups last year. And finally, he’s a hard hitter. Just ask former Alabama running back and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry.

But the biggest concern with Evans in NFL scouting circles was his tackling. Too often going for the big hit – and sometimes missing – and failing to wrap up, Evans needs a lot of work in this area to develop the consistency needed to be trusted as the last line of defense for Mike Smith’s defense.

The problem that impacts Evans is that the Bucs have had a very soft training camp in terms of contact. The team has not had any live contact periods, such as run game goal line, or tackling periods. It’s hard to practice wrapping up and getting a guy to the ground at only “thud” tempo with shoulder pad pops.

Evans went for the kill shot too many times at Texas A&M, leading with a forearm and a shoulder. Without live tackling in practice, Evans will have to use the preseason to gain experience in that area. The Bucs are hoping he’ll rapidly improve in the month of August. Evans had five tackles in the preseason opener at Cincinnati, but did have a miss or two as well. He didn’t record a tackle in Jacksonville, but did break up a pass.

Third round: WR Chris Godwin
Issue: Time

Godwin is the most polished and pro-ready pick in Tampa Bay’s 2017 draft class. Although there were 11 wide receivers drafted ahead of him, Godwin has the tools to be something special. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Godwin has size, strength, impressive hand-eye coordination, strong hands, body control and route-running ability, yet what impresses his teammates and coaches is how well he knows the playbook.

Bucs WR Chris Godwin - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

The only thing holding Godwin back is simply time and experience. While he’s not finished product and can improve in a lot of areas, he’s already shown in training camp that he’s an NFL-ready receiver. Give him more experience and reps on the field and the better he becomes.

It was surprising to see Godwin only get targeted once during the preseason opener at Cincinnati, catching a pass for 14 yards. Bobo Wilson, Freddie Martino and Josh Huff – all of whom are battling for the fifth receiver spot in Tampa Bay – got more looks against the Bengals. Maybe that’s because Godwin is already making the 53-man roster.

Godwin should get more touches as the preseason continues to prepare him for the regular season, though. Look for him to get plenty of reps in the third preseason game so he can get some timing down with Jameis Winston. Godwin has been working with the starters and the second team and just needs time to gain experience. He had two catches for 30 yards in Jacksonville and keeps progressing.

Third round: LB Kendell Beckwith
Issue: Footwork

At 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, Beckwith is easily the biggest linebacker in Tampa Bay. The Bucs wanted to add some size to the linebacker corps, especially at the SAM (strongside) spot where Beckwith would be lined up at the line of scrimmage over a tight end in Mike Smith’s 4-3 Under scheme. A body bigger than Kwon Alexander (227 pounds) and Lavonte David (233 pounds) is needed to set the edge and hold up at the point of attack.

Bucs MLB Kendell Beckwith - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs MLB Kendell Beckwith – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

But what the Bucs are gaining in size with Beckwith, they are sacrificing in speed. The plan was to start Devante Bond, who is 6-foot-1, 236 pounds, at SAM this year and have Beckwith learn the defense as the backup middle linebacker behind Alexander. An injury to Bond has forced Beckwith into the starting lineup at SAM where he’ll have to cover tight ends.

The problem is that Beckwith is a much better downhill player, attacking the line of scrimmage than he is in coverage. He’s been exposed in coverage, especially after 10 yards downfield, during training camp. While it’s hard for a player to improve their speed at the NFL level, Beckwith can work his footwork so he can eliminate any false steps with his pass drops and work on his lateral quickness and agility, which will allow him to more closely cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield.

Another issue with Beckwith’s footwork is that he has a tendency to slow his feet when taking on blockers. He was moved out of his gap several times in the season opener at Cincinnati because of this and needs to become stouter at the point of attack. Whether his footwork issues are the result of him coming off a torn ACL last year and not being 100 percent or not, Beckwith needs to work on this area of his game or he could be a liability on defense.

Fifth round: RB Jeremy McNichols
Issue: Playbook

McNichols missed the OTAs and mini-camps during the offseason while recovering from shoulder surgery. That missed time caught up to him during training camp it seems as Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter and running backs coach Tim Spencer suggested on HBO’s Hard Knocks that McNichols needed to study his playbook more and not make as many missed assignments.

Bucs RB Jeremy McNichols - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs RB Jeremy McNichols – Photo by: Getty Images

McNichols has excelled as a receiver out of the backfield in training camp, and although he was touted as a great pass protector coming out of Boise State, he has work to do in that area in the Bucs’ blitz pick-up drills. Part of the reason why McNichols is not making big strides in camp may be due to being unsure of what he’s doing. That can lead to hesitation, and if a player hesitates on the football field he’s typically not going to be successful.

A case in point is Godwin, who Mike Evans told me knows the playbook as well as he does. Godwin is excelling as a receiver because he knows what he’s doing on every play and that confidence shows in the routine plays he makes in practice. As Spencer said on Hard Knocks, McNichols needs to get in his playbook with any free time he has and try to get to Godwin’s level as quickly as possible.

McNichols has a golden opportunity to get some touches as a running back and a receiver out of the backfield during the first three games of the season when Doug Martin is serving the rest of his four-game suspension from last year. He has an intriguing skill set and could prove to be formidable competition for Jacquizz Rodgers, Peyton Barber and Russell Hansbrough, but those three backs are already well-versed in this offense and that gives at least Rodgers and Barber – who saw the field last year – the advantage for now. McNichols has looked hesitant carrying the ball in the preseason, rushing for 12 yards on two carries at Cincinnati and 32 yards on 11 carries at Jacksonville.

Sixth round: DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu
Issue: Playmaking

Tu’ikolovatu was drafted because the Bucs wanted to bigger up front in an effort to stop the run. Listed at 320 pounds, but likely weighing more, Tu’ikolovatu offers size, strength and some quick feet to play the nose tackle position in goal line and short-yardage situations. The Bucs already have a real big nose tackle on the roster, and not just 320-pound Chris Baker, who was signed as a free agent from Washington.

Bucs DT Stevie Tu'ikolovatu - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Veteran Sealver Siliga, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 345 pounds, is the main competition for Tu’ikolovatu as Tampa Bay doesn’t have room for two of these situational run stoppers on the roster. Siliga is a six-year veteran and has the most playoff experience on the team, so it’s an uphill climb for Tu’ikolovatu to beat him out and make the 53-man roster as a rookie.

But for Tu’ikolovatu to have a chance he’ll need to make some plays behind the line of scrimmage and show that he can do more than draw double teams and anchor at the point of attack. Tu’ikolovatu played two years at Utah before transferring to USC for his final season. He notched nine tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and four fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown, in college and will have to show that kind of playmaking ability to beat out Siliga.

In practice and in the preseason opener, Tu’ikolovatu hasn’t shown the ability to split double teams and make plays in the backfield. Siliga had 6.5 career sacks, including one with the Bucs last season, and has proven that he can make the occasional play in the backfield. At age 27, Siliga is still in his prime, and it will take Tu’ikolovatu showing that he can make some tackles for loss, and perhaps a sack as a backfield penetrator, to beat out the veteran.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

12 COMMENTS

  1. The Bucs looked quite solid last night. I was impressed with the O-line in the first quarter with the amount of time Jameis had time to throw. The trick for Koetter/Bajakian will be to clear up that gray area in JW’s mindset when to give up on a play. I love JW’s scrap, but that INT illustrates the biggest weakness in JW’s game. I love everything else that he’s doing though. Watching MY team with the scary franchise QB that is going to win a lot of games for our team is truly a joy to behold. Other than that, I thought Doug was impressive and I hope that he stays on track.

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  2. So far I didn’t see a whole lot out of our defensive line rush except for McCoy. Chris Baker looked fat and slow. Ayers and Goldston looked like last year. McCoy was the only one who stood out as to our starters on the line. We’re talking so much about the offense all the time maybe we should start paying more attention to our defensive posture.

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  3. After watching last night’s preseason game, a couple of observations made. I re-watched the game today to be sure. Neither OT Caleb Benenoch nor Leonard Wester is ready to step in for RT Demar Dotson if he has to miss time due to injury. And we’ve seen the back-up QB play with Griffin out. The O-Line must now protect Winston like a Faberge’ Egg. If he goes down we’re doomed!

    The Bucs have lots of cap space even if they want to extend WR Evans sooner rather than later. The Bucs have made no attempts to bolster the O-Line at the tackle position. If Kevin Pamphile slides over, then we have a gap at left guard. I would find no comfort in seeing G/C Evan Smith moved there. There were moments in last night’s game where LT Donovan was having difficulty. Benenoch really struggled with Jags starting pass rusher Dante Fowler. He gave up at least one sack, had a costly penalty and a few other QB pressures.

    Jameis will be deadly when he has time to go through his progressions. But if we have to lose him for 2 or 3 games, we can forget about any playoffs because QB Fitzpatrick is not the guy to put this team on his back and pull it through.

    The Bucs FO is not acting like a team gearing up to make a playoff run. Other NFC teams Atlanta/Carolina/New Orleans are all attempting to bolster their O-Lines – it starts up front. I have no idea what the Bucs will do should such a scenario arise. I can only pray that we never have to face that situation. Go Bucs!

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    • Unlike me, Mac is (literally) nearly always right but I completely agree on OL, have been saying that for two years while PR was parroting (and gloating about it) the coaches’ positivity about the players they have to work with – what did you expect the coaches to say?

      We have no quality depth. Fingers crossed on Sweezy but he’s an unknown at this point and Marpet is our only OL that you’d actually draft If you started from a blank sheet of paper. If Smith can’t make the next step this year we will have over-drafted in the second round, again, and need to draft a LT next year when everyone else will be OL shopping in a supposedly deep year at those positions.

      Licht has done some very good things in mid-late rounds but the early rounds have been killing fields for him beyond the ‘obvious easy’ high first round decisions like taking the best WR and one of the two best QBs, and hopefully also the best TE (VH3 still TBD). After 2-3rd round picks like ASJ, Sims, Roberto and Smith, next year I propose that JL excuse himself from the draft room after the first round and come back at the top of the 4th 😀

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  4. I like seeing young guys redeem themselves from last week (Ryan Smith, Beckwith). But I was disappointed in the play of other young players (eg J. Evans, Moxey, VH3, etc).

    All in all this is still a young team so you are going to see up and down play. Pre season game 3 will be interesting though because none of the backup Dlineman have stood out so far.

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  5. Just a few observations: Jameis looked good and consistent. He seems to be cutting down on the eratic mistakes, with of course the one huge exception. I am sure many thought my rant on the one huge brain fart meant that I was a Jameis hater, actually he is by far my favorite player. If you are winning 30 to nothing take a shot, but at that stage in the game with the score margin what it was, cooler heads prevail. It shows he still needs to work on on “Patience,” and I doubt after several conversations with Koetter the last few days we won’t be seeing a repeat of that calamity. The Defense looked good. If a good OT gets cut at the last minute I would not have a problem paying for him. The Dotson injury concerns me and certainly reinforces the need for depth. Finally I see a significant drop off between the starters and back-up. By midway through the season I see a rotational approach to several positions. I realize for preseason play calling is vanilla so I am looking forward to a deeper playbook. One other thing that Jameis needs is work on the long ball. DJAX is going to need better accuracy to be affective.

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  6. Hey Scott, just read that Jaguars signed K Patrick Murray. He beat out Conor Barth and played really well for us a couple years ago before getting hurt – why didn’t go after him?

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  7. Nice Fab 4 SR.

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  8. If the Bucs have really screwed one thing last few years up it’s been the FG kicker. Not having anyone good since 2011 really says it all. It’s not just been one coach or regime getting it wrong either which is kind of crazy to me. Anyways finding a solid, not stellar kicker is just not that hard! It’s like come on man.
    Anyways back on topic of the Jags game. The game was good. I really enjoyed it. Jameis has improved his accuracy thus far. Really want to see him connect on some deep balls to Jackson. The TD Evans dropped was pretty long through with good touch I thought.
    I was disappointed that Sims and Rodgers didn’t play well like last week. Other than that not too many dissapointments on offense.
    It’s already been said but Jameis absolutely needs to learn to give up on a play. At 23 that should only get better with maturity. Koetter chewed his ass pretty good and he needs that. It’s pre-season yes but still don’t throw damn ball up for grabs when going down to the ground that’s just not acceptable and no pro QB does that that’s any good. Other than that nothing too terrbile on offense stood out to me.
    On defense there were lot mistakes and guys wide open. Lucky for us the balls kept getting dropped or thrown too short (Bortles).
    Lots work to do still but you have to be happy with the run defense. Of course we were playing a bad offense with no run game…..
    Still lot to be optimistic about. Hope Folk can give us a solid year until we find a better option. My gut says he can hit 85% or so ok just really have doubts about longer ones like 45-55 yards. He has two more games to get little streak going and get his head right.
    Go Bucs!!!!!

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  9. Having watched the preseason games to date I see the talent that has so many so excited. Unfortunately, as of yet the skill and talent of the players has not yet shown up in games. I know it is preseason but the passing of that period will soon be at hand. Here’s hoping repeated errors will become much more frequent than they are now. Perhaps the cuts will help get the team to that level.

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  10. Thanks for showing all Buc’s Fans how much better off we could have been if Licht had not made so many bone headed mistakes, Scott. If you had been the GM the same time we have had Licht, we would already have been to the playoffs and gone a long way. I watched the Titans last Preseason Game today and it is clear our former head Scout who was made the Titan’s GM already built up the Titans better than Licht has the whole time he has been here with the Bucs.

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  11. The Bengals have two excellent kickers while the Bucs have none. The Bucs should trade a sixth or seventh rounder next year for one of the Bengals kickers.

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