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FAB 1. Bucs Draft Notes

If you are reading this on Friday, April 6, the 2018 NFL Draft is 20 days away. If you’re like me and you can’t wait to see which players general manager Jason Licht selects for Tampa Bay, I’ll have you know that there is only two more SR’s Fab 5 between now and the first two days of the draft.

Doesn’t it feel like the draft is closer now?

With that said, I’ve got some thoughts on the 2018 NFL Draft prospects that I want to share with you before Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter select the players that could ultimately make or break their tenure in Tampa Bay.

• I’m glad the Buccaneers don’t need a quarterback this year. Say what you want about Jameis Winston whether you are a supporter or a skeptic, but if Tampa Bay were to cut him loose tomorrow he would get gobbled up by a team in a heartbeat and given a multi-year contract somewhere in the Jimmy Garoppolo realm.

If I’m Tampa Bay I’d rather have Winston than any of the quarterbacks that are coming out in this year’s draft that are deemed to be first-round picks. I’m talking about UCLA’s Josh Rosen, USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. I think Winston, Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota and Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz are superior to any of those five, although the future may prove me wrong.

I’m concerned about Rosen’s concussion history and durability. He had two this past season and missed six games with a shoulder injury in 2016. I also have some concerns about his personality and coachability, and the fact that he had good, but not great career touchdown and interception numbers (59 TDs, 26 INTs).

To me, Darnold is a more raw, less accomplished version of Winston without the tremendous leadership ability. Like Winston, Darnold will throw more picks than you would like and is far from being a finished product. Unlike Winston, I didn’t see him dominate enough and simply take over as many games as I would have liked.

I’m concerned that Allen is another Josh Freeman. The career 56.2 percent completion percentage scares the heck out of me, as do his lackluster stats (44 career TDs, 21 INTs). Like Freeman at Kansas State, Allen didn’t have much to work with around him at Wyoming. It doesn’t matter. The big, strong-armed Allen is not nearly as accurate as he needs to be to have sustained success at the next level.

Being a Kansas State alum, I’ve seen plenty of Oklahoma games featuring Baker Mayfield. If he didn’t have such a cocky, competitive attitude I think we’re talking about Mayfield as a second- or third-round pick because he is limited by his height and arm strength. Mayfield is extremely accurate, but I saw him really struggle in certain halves of football games, such as the second half of the Rose Bowl after Georgia’s defense made some adjustments. I think he needs to be in a West Coast style of offense and learn behind a great quarterback.

I’m concerned by his decision-making of Louisville’s Lamar Jackson for not hiring an agent and letting his mom handle it, him not running the 40-yard dash, which should be a bright spot for his questionable offseason, and for his alleged 13 score on the Wonderlic. He needs to work on his mechanics and improve his accuracy, which can be wild at times. If he’s developed properly when it’s all said and done, Jackson could be the best of the bunch.

This draft class reminds me a bit of group of QBs in the 2012 NFL Draft, where quarterbacks went back-to-back with the first two selections as Indianapolis took Andrew Luck first overall, followed by Washington, which traded up to select Robert Griffin III. Ryan Tannehill was also drafted in the first round in 2012. Yet the more successful quarterbacks thus far have been Russell Wilson and Nick Foles, both Super Bowl winners and third-round draft picks that year, as well as Kirk Cousins, who was a fourth-round pick by the Redskins that ultimately beat out RGIII.

I think some of the quarterbacks taken in the middle rounds might actually have just as much success if not more than some of the QBs projected to go in the first round. I’m talking about guys like Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Western Kentucky’s Mike White, Washington State’s Luke Falk and Virginia’s Kurt Benkert. Keep an eye on Lauletta and White, who performed very well in the Senior Bowl game with Lauletta taking the MVP honors.

Bucs QBs coach Mike Bajakian - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs QBs coach Mike Bajakian – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

• Speaking of quarterbacks, the Bucs have been busy investigating this year’s crop of college QBs, sending Mike Bajakian around to different pro days to see, meet with and work out some of the middle round talent. Bajakian was at Richmond to see Lauletta work out, as well as Falk’s pro day.

If the right quarterback drops to the fourth or fifth round the Bucs may take a flier on one this year to compete with Ryan Griffin for the third QB spot. Anticipating a possible NFL suspension to Jameis Winston due to the alleged groping incident from two years ago, the Bucs will need to carry two more quarterbacks into opening day and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick will be one of them.

I don’t think Tampa Bay is sold on Griffin being the long-term backup to Winston because he has hardly played in any preseason games and has yet to make any throws in a real game. I know the Bucs would like to get a much better training camp arm than they got last year in Sefo Liufau, who was just awful and never had any pro potential.

• This is not a very good group of defensive ends in this year’s draft, and one player the Bucs will not be touching in the first round is UTSA’s Marcus Davenport, who did not have a great interview with the team. If he falls to the second round Tampa Bay might consider him then, but with more pressing needs in the secondary and at running back I think the team ultimately passes on him again.

Another pass rusher Tampa Bay is expected to take a pass on is LSU’s Arden Key. There are red flags galore around the character of this kid, whose weight has fluctuated this year from around 270 to 238, which is his current weight. Yet even at a trim 238, Key only ran a 4.84 in the 40-yard dash, which wasn’t spectacular.

• I think Boston College defensive end Harold Landry, who is considered to be a first-round pick, is similar to former Bucs defensive end Gaines Adams. Landry tries to run around guys left tackles too much rather than try to go through them. He lacks the power to have a bull rush, which every good defensive end needs, either as a primary move or a counter move.

Central Michigan DE Joe Ostman - Photo courtesy of Central Michigan Univ.
Central Michigan DE Joe Ostman – Photo courtesy of Central Michigan Univ.

Perhaps my favorite pass-rushing defensive end in this year’s draft class? Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. I think he’s got the chance to be a really good player at the next level. He reminds me of Noah Spence – only with healthier shoulders. I’m glad he’s out of the Big 12 so my Kansas State Wildcats don’t have to worry about him anymore.

My other favorite edge rusher is Central Michigan’s Joe Ostman, who was a NFL Scouting Combine snub. I really liked his game on tape, and loved his relentless motor and pursuit of the ball at the East-West Shrine Game practices. He’s got quick, active hands and a terrific inside spin move. He’s a sixth- or seventh-round pick, and if I’m the Bucs I take him over a player like SMU’s Justin Lawler because he’s quicker and he’s got more juice. Ostman is an underrated athlete, blue-collar tough and will always give you 100 percent.

• Don’t look for the Bucs to draft either Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst or Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan. Hurst is too light at 6-foot-2, 292 for the Bucs’ taste, as the team prefers bigger, tougher defensive tackles that weigh 320 pounds or more. Hurst is lauded by some as the second coming of Aaron Donald because of his quickness off the ball and ability to penetrate and his undersized frame. Yet where is the production?

Hurst recorded 32 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in four years at Michigan – the last three of which he was a starter. Hurst can’t hold Donald’s jock. In four years at Pittsburgh, Donald recorded 66 tackles for loss, 29.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. Donald had two seasons in which he had 11 sacks, including his senior year when he also had 28.5 tackles for loss. That’s almost as many as Hurst had his entire Wolverines career.

As for Bryan, whom the Bucs brought in to further investigate with a pre-draft visit on Thursday, it’s the same story. He can penetrate, but where’s the production? He totaled just 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 career sacks along with three fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one interception. That concerns scouts, in addition to a lot of tape where he’s on the ground and he seems to lack instincts in terms of identifying where the blockers are coming from and where the ball is going.

If Tampa Bay is going to draft a defensive tackle in the first round it’s going to be Washington’s Vita Vea in the top 10 or trading down in the first round and drafting Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne – both of whom are very big, tough and strong. Although he played nose tackle for the Crimson Tide and recorded just five tackles for loss, three sacks and two fumble recoveries, the 311-pound Payne is athletic enough to move to the three-technique position, which could make his production soar at the next level.

• Don’t be surprised if Denver pulls a shocker and drafts Derwin James at No. 5. The Broncos apparently love the hard-hitting Florida State safety. I was surprised when I heard the rumors because it’s kind of out of left field, especially since the Broncos just traded for Su’a Cravens, who also plays strong safety. Denver already has Justin Simmons at free safety and he’s a rising star in the league. Perhaps James was the back-up plan in case the Broncos couldn’t land Cravens in a trade.

If Denver doesn’t pull the trigger on James I think the Broncos either draft a quarterback to compete with Case Keenum or select Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson with the fifth overall pick. We’ll see.

LSU RB Derrius Guice - Photo by: Getty Images
LSU RB Derrius Guice – Photo by: Getty Images

• The Bucs like LSU running back Derrius Guice, the player, and privately worked him out. He’s an angry runner with good production (471 carries for 3,074 yards and 29 touchdowns), but the team wonders if his violent running style will lead to more injuries. Guice played with an ankle injury most of last year, which did show a good degree of toughness.

Tampa Bay may not be too fond of Guice, the person, though. There are some character concerns with him, and the Bucs might opt for a safer running back in the first two rounds instead. The team would draft Penn State’s Saquon Barkley if he fell to Tampa Bay at No. 7, and if he didn’t the Bucs might take Georgia’s Sony Michel or Nick Chubb, USC’s Ronald Jones II, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny or North Carolina State’s Nyheim Hines with their second-round pick. All six of those backs have cleaner slates than Guice does.

If I could pick a running back for the Bucs I would pick Michel or Penny. I really love both backs. My sleeper is Grambling State’s Martez Carter. He could be a late-round draft pick or priority free agent for Tampa Bay as a return specialist and a change-of-pace back.

• Speaking of running backs that run angry, there are two other backs that certainly don’t shy away from contact. Tennessee’s John Kelly and Miami’s Mark Walton are tough, but they don’t have breakaway speed. Walton ran a 4.6 at the NFL Scouting Combine coming off ankle surgery, and Kelly didn’t run – likely because he is not terribly fast. Kelly ran a 4.65 at his pro day, but was hand-timed at 4.5 on his second attempt. His tape certainly doesn’t show much speed.

Kelly had 327 career carries and 53 catches at Tennessee, yet only had three plays over 40 yards for the Volunteers in 380 touches. Walton didn’t fare much better with six plays over 40 yards in 450 touches (394 carries and 56 catches). I’m not a huge fan of either and I think both are fourth- or fifth-round picks on Day 3. If Tampa Bay drafts either one to be a feature back I think it’s a mistake. If Kelly or Walton, who are good receivers, are drafted to be complementary backs to replace Charles Sims, I’m okay with it because both are better runners than Sims was.

• I like Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward, but aside from a 4.32 time in the 40-yard dash, what makes him that much superior over any of the other 5-foot-10 cornerback? Is he really any more special than Louisville’s Jaire Alexander or UCF’s Mike Hughes, both of whom will likely be second-round picks?

If I’m the Bucs I draft the best player available at No. 7 – not a player necessarily at a need position. Ward is a good player, but I don’t think he’s a top 10 player in this year’s draft.

I get asked all the time, so I’ll just rank the top five players I would personally consider if I’m Licht and I have to stick and pick at No. 7.

SR’s Top 5 Picks For The Bucs At No. 7
1. North Carolina State DE Bradley Chubb
2. Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson

3. Washington DT Vita Vea
4. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
5. Florida State SS Derwin James

Washington DT Vita Vea - Photo courtesy of Univ. of Washington
Washington DT Vita Vea – Photo courtesy of Univ. of Washington

You’ll probably question my decision to have Vea ahead of Barkley, especially after last week’s SR’s Fab 5 where I said the Bucs must take Barkley if he’s there at No. 7 (and Chubb and Nelson are gone). That’s the strategy that I think the team would employ if the Bucs were in that situation where he fell to them at No. 7 because he’s an elite player and running back is a huge need.

But this is my personnel list, and I always favor trench play in the top 10 unless there is a Patrick Peterson-type cornerback available, which there is not this year. I think Vea can be a special player and he fits the type of big defensive tackle the Bucs prefer. Don’t think he’s just a nose tackle. He could very well be the heir apparent to Gerald McCoy at the three-tech spot if the Bucs draft him at No. 7.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

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: sr@pewterreport.com
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