SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. THE BUCCANEERS HAVE BIG PLANS FOR SIMS IN 2014
Tampa Bay fans celebrated the selection of wide receiver Mike Evans as the team’s first-round pick last year. The Bucs’ second-round pick, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, was also applauded.
But in the third round when Tampa Bay made a surprise pick, selecting West Virginia running back Charles Sims instead of a guard, Bucs fans grumbled. Running back wasn’t considered a priority for the Buccaneers by some observers, or a need by others, especially with a running back stable that consisted of a healthy Doug Martin, Bobby Rainey, Mike James and Jeff Demps this time last year.
However, by the end of the 2014 season, Demps was gone. James, who was considered to be too slow, was an afterthought with 19 yards on 11 carries (1.9 avg.), while Rainey wound up with the best average (4.3 avg.) with 406 yards and one touchdown on 94 carries. Starter Doug Martin missed five games due to injury and it took him until the final game of the season to become the Bucs’ leading rusher with just 494 yards and two touchdowns on 134 carries (3.7 avg.).
Martin had four games in which he averaged less than three yards per carry and just four games in which he averaged more than four yards per carry. Tampa Bay’s new regime believed he was the best option to start and carry the ball, especially after Sims’ rookie season was derailed by a training camp ankle injury after the first preseason game.
Sims tore the tendon webbing on his ankle during practice in August and was placed on the injured reserve with a designation to return list, which caused him to miss the first eight games of the season. While battling injuries of his own that limited him to five starts out of the initial eight games, Martin had only rushed for a paltry 166 on 57 carries (2.7 avg.) during the first half of the 2014 campaign.
Had Sims been healthy from the beginning of his rookie season he could have helped Tampa Bay’s struggling ground game, and maybe even supplanted Martin as the starter. By the time Sims was healthy enough to re-join the team he was incredibly rusty, having only played in the preseason opener at Jacksonville.
“He had an ankle injury that had him out for a while,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “He didn’t really play in many preseason games. Then he missed eight games before he got back into it with the injury and then he really got back in to it once he played in a few games.”
Sims’ debut wasn’t terribly successful as he had eight carries for 23 yards (2.9 avg.) with two receptions for 17 yards and a fumble in a 27-17 loss to Atlanta. Sims really struggled as a runner down the stretch, rushing for six yards on five carries (1.2 avg.) against Cincinnati, totaling minus-4 yards on five carries (minus-0.8 avg.) at Detroit, and minus-1 yard on four carries (minus-0.3 avg.) versus Green Bay.
But there were two solid games – a seven-carry, 34-yard (4.9 avg.) effort at Carolina, that featured an 18-yard run in which Sims juked Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly, and then an 18-carry, 69-yard (3.8 avg.) outing in which he had a season-long 20-yard carry and his first NFL touchdown against New Orleans in the 2014 season finale.
“It felt great,” Sims said following the 23-20 loss to the Saints in Week 17. “First NFL touchdown and it felt great. The O-line did a great job coming off of the ball. Give credit to those guys for coming off the ball.”
Where Sims really made an impact was as a receiver, catching 19 passes for 190 yards (10 avg.). His best day as a receiver came against Cleveland where he had four catches for 49 yards, including a 21-yarder. He had a career-long 24-yard catch at Detroit, and then had three catches for 45 yards at Carolina before a three-catch, 30-yard day against Green Bay.
“I think with such a freak dynamic out of the backfield catching the ball and running – obviously you can see a little bit each week coming off that injury where he gets a little more explosive with that one step.” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said. “You say, ‘I haven’t seen that step since the first week of camp,’ and then, ‘Okay, that’s something new.’ He’s getting confident too. You can see he’s getting more confident doing some of the stuff. It’s really nice to see because he has a very special skill set.”
Despite the comparisons to Chicago running back Matt Forte, whom Smith drafted when he was the head coach of the Bears, Sims isn’t expected to be Tampa Bay’s feature back. That’s not why he was drafted. He was drafted because he is a running back that is capable of picking up yards running the ball and catching it out of the backfield – just like he did for three years at Houston and a final season at West Virginia.
Sims was a breakout star as a freshman for the Cougars, rushing for 698 yards and nine touchdowns on 132 carries (5.3), and catching a career-high 70 passes for 759 yards and one score. A 72-yard touchdown dash in a 10-carry, 207-yard against Tulane helped Sims average 7.5 yards per carry as a sophomore when he carried the ball 110 times for 821 yards and nine TDs in 2011. Sims caught 51 passes for 575 yards (11.3 avg.), and four touchdowns that year, including an 84-yarder against Tulane in a 49-42 win.
After the 2012 season at Houston in which Sims ran for 851 yards and 11 touchdowns on 142 carries (6.0 avg.) and caught 37 passes for 373 yards and three scores, Sims transferred to West Virginia to play in a major conference for his final collegiate season. Thanks in part to a 76-yard touchdown run against Iowa State, Sims rushed for 1,095 yards and 11 touchdowns on 208 carries, and caught 45 passes for 401 yards, including an 82-yarder against Oklahoma State, and three scores for the Mountaineers.
With 4.48 speed, the Bucs are counting on Sims to continue the growth that he demonstrated at the end of his rookie campaign and to become an even greater force on offense in the running and passing game. Now that he’s healthy, Sims
“I’m excited for the offseason,” Sims said. “I have things I need to work on, like getting stronger, but I’m just excited. I have some real confidence in my ankle now. With each game I felt more comfortable and I thought I did a little bit better. That’s the goal. You want to get better with each game.”
Over the last four games of his rookie season Sims displayed some real playmaking ability with a 24-yard catch against the Lions, an 18-yard dash and a 19-yard reception against the Panthers, an 18-yard catch against the Packers and 20-yard run against the Saints. Right when Sims was beginning to shake off the rust, the 2014 campaign came to an abrupt end.
“I was just getting in the groove and then the season was over,” Sims said. “I’m looking forward to next year and it will be interesting to see what’s going to happen.”
Sims was just beginning to show what he can do, and what he was expected to bring to Tampa Bay before he got injured.
“I think we saw a glimpse of what is to come [against the Saints],” Seferian-Jenkins said. He’s a great player. He’s got a bright future ahead of him. Everyone in the building is pretty excited about him.”
FAB 2. TAMPA BAY WILL DRAFT ANOTHER RUNNING BACK IN 2015 TO PAIR WITH SIMS
The Buccaneers were actually interested in signing free agent DeMarco Murray and remain somewhat interested in trading for Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson – if the price is right and the Pro Bowler decides to take a pay cut. That’s a clear sign that Tampa Bay is definitely interested in upgrading its running game this offseason.
The team’s running game was hindered by poor offensive line play, but the Bucs’ brass definitely believes the running back position needs to be improved, too. For the first time since 1988, Tampa Bay failed to have a running back crack the 500-yard mark.
Just how futile was the Bucs’ ground game in 2014? The team’s 1,375 yards rushing and seven touchdowns last year ranked as the fourth-worst in franchise history. If Tampa Bay hadn’t rushed for 183 yards in the team’s Week 17 game against New Orleans, the Bucs were perilously close to having the absolute worst running attack in league history, which came in 1993 when the team amassed just 1,290 yards and six touchdowns.
The arrival of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will help Tampa Bay’s running game. Improving the talent of the offensive line through the draft – and possibly free agency – will also help. But so will drafting another running back to compete with the likes of Charles Sims’ last year’s third-round pick, Bobby Rainey, Mike James and perhaps Doug Martin if he isn’t traded prior to the start of the 2015 season.
With Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon slated to be drafted in the first round, there are approximately 20 true halfbacks that could be selected in the remaining six rounds, making the running back position one of the deepest in the 2015 NFL Draft. Here is a look at the most likely running backs to be drafted after the first round.
Round 2: Jay Ajayi (Boise State), Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska), Duke Johnson (Miami), Tevin Coleman (Indiana), David Johnson (Northern Iowa).
Round 3: Jeremy Langford (Michigan State), T.J. Yeldon (Alabama), David Cobb (Minnesota)
Round 4: Javorius “Buck” Allen (USC), Cameron Artis-Payne (Auburn), Mike Davis (South Carolina)
Round 5: Karlos Williams (FSU), Dominique Brown (Louisville), Matt Jones (Florida)
Round 6: Zach Zenner (South Dakota State), Malcolm Brown (Texas), Terrance Magee (LSU)
Round 7: Josh Robinson (Mississippi State), John Crockett (North Dakota State), Marcus Murphy (Missouri)
I’ve done an extensive preview of some of these players in a previous SR’s Fab 5, so I won’t get in-depth with all 20 running backs in this edition, but after spending a third-round pick on a slashing, pass-catching running back, the Bucs might want to draft a bigger, more powerful back to complement the 6-foot, 214-pound Sims. Ajayi, Johnson, Yeldon, Cobb, Allen, Williams, both Browns, Jones and Zenner are all over 220 pounds.
Or the Buccaneers might go with a back with speed like Langford, whose 4.42 time in the 40-yard dash was the fastest among running backs at the Combine, Allen, who ran a 4.53 at the Combine at 221 pounds, or Missouri’s all-purpose back Marcus Murphy, who ran a 4.51 at his pro day workout.
The Buccaneers will take advantage of such a running back-rich draft class and likely draft a rusher, but it may have to come on Day 3 as the team has more pressing needs along the offensive line and at defensive end that may have to be addressed in Rounds 2-4. Yet the fact that the Bucs spent a third-round pick on Sims last year, and the fact that Lovie Smith drafted Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte in the second round while in Chicago is evidence that Tampa Bay is serious about how valuable the position is to the team.
It would not be out of the question for the Bucs to use their third- or fourth-round pick on the right running back if that player ranked incredibly high on their draft board even though waiting until round five or six might be the more prudent thing to do.
Keep in mind that running the football was absolutely the worst aspect of a bad 2-14 Buccaneers team last year. Tampa Bay could throw it, evidenced by the fact that both Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans topped the 1,000-yard mark in 2014. Even without a double-digit sacker the Bucs could rush the passer, evidenced by 36 sacks, which was the most by the Buccaneers since the Super Bowl team in 2002.
The Bucs feel that they need to do more to upgrade the running game aside from just improving the talent along the offensive line. And with a rookie quarterback under center in 2015 – likely Florida State’s Jameis Winston – Tampa Bay will need a strong running game this year to take pressure off the team’s first-round pick.
The guess here is that Langford or Cobb could be an intriguing option for the Bucs in the third round, or Allen could be targeted in the fourth round. Like last year, Tampa Bay might draft a running back sooner than some expect because of the need to replace Doug Martin, who doesn’t have the elusive qualities that the Bucs want in a feature back. Starting-caliber running backs can usually be found in the first four rounds of the draft, while complementary runners and back-ups are typically found solely on Day 3 in rounds five through seven.
FAB 3. BUCS MAY HAVE TO MANUFACTURE A PASS RUSH AGAIN THIS YEAR
It might come as a shock to you that Tampa Bay was able to generate 36 sacks last season despite losing the team’s leading sacker, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, for three and a half games due to an early-season broken hand and a late-season knee injury, and the fact that prized free agent defensive end Michael Johnson only produced a disappointing four sacks. The fact that the Bucs manufactured 36 sacks without a double-digit pass rusher is quite a feat, and one that may have to be duplicated in 2015.
The Bucs failed to land the two pass rushers the team coveted the most this offseason, Trent Cole and Greg Hardy, as those defensive ends signed with Indianapolis and Dallas, respectively. Without any other premier defensive ends in free agency, Tampa Bay will likely have to turn to the NFL Draft to add another edge rusher. Banking on a rookie defensive end to come in and get 10 sacks in 2015 to fuel the Bucs’ pass rush is an extremely tall order.
While several media-based scouts boast about a deep draft class at the defensive end position, the group lacks some premier rushers that seem destined to be surefire double-digit sackers at the next level. With the Bucs wisely focused on drafting a franchise quarterback this year, they will miss out on the first-round-caliber edge rushers, as USC’s Leonard Williams, Florida’s Dante Fowler, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Missouri’s Shane Ray, Kentucky’s Bud Dupree and possibly UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizuwa are expected to be off the board when Tampa Bay’s 34th overall pick comes up near the top of the second round.
Big, physical defensive ends like Florida State’s Mario Edwards, Kentucky’s Za’Darius Smith, Miami’s Anthony Chickillo will be found in the middle rounds, but that trio never produced more than six sacks in any season. Edwards and Chickillo are coming off three-sack senior seasons.
In fact most of the defensive ends in this year’s draft don’t have impressive sack production. Williams, who is expected to be the first defensive lineman drafted, had a career-high eight as a freshman. Fowler topped out at 8.5 sacks this season, and three of those came in Florida’s bowl win over East Carolina. Dupree’s career-high is the 7.5 sacks he notched as a senior.
More accomplished pass rushers like Utah’s Nate Orchard and Missouri’s Markus Golden aren’t quick-twitch athletes that the Bucs would typically like to have, and that’s why they aren’t first-round candidates. Golden was productive at Missouri, notching 16.5 career sacks over the past two seasons, including 10 as a senior, in addition to 33 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, and an interception that he returned 70 yards for a touchdown as a junior.
Orchard had just 3.5 sacks with three forced fumbles as a junior, but exploded on to the scene as a senior, notching 18.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Orchard figures to be a second-round pick, while Golden carries a fourth-round grade. Both are options for the Buccaneers.
Small school prospects may be the way to go this year for Tampa Bay as Norfolk State’s Lynden Trail, Montana’s Zack Wagenmann, and North Dakota State’s Kyle Emanuel were all very productive against a lower level of competition.
Emanuel led all college football players with 19.5 sacks last season and had 35.5 during his Bison career. He also had six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two blocked kicks in his career. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound high-motor pass rusher had 16.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in eight games against top 25 teams. His 4.77 time in the 40-yard dash at the Combine stood out, as did his 4.25 in the shuttle and his 27 reps of 225 pounds.
Wagenmann posted 37.5 sacks in his Montana career, including 17.5 last year. He also had 11 career forced fumbles, including six last season. Like Emanuel, Wagenmann is undersized at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, but he showed very good explosiveness at the Combine with a 37.5 vertical jump and a 7.07 time in the three-cone drill. One red flag was the fact that he only benched 225 pounds 14 times.
At 6-foot-7, 270 pounds, Trail is a physical specimen that is still learning how to play defense after playing wide receiver in high school. He had 19.5 sacks in three years as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme at Norfolk State after transferring from Florida. Trail didn’t stand out at the Senior Bowl except as a tight end in the red zone, but he could have a future as a 4-3 defensive end due to his length and pass rushing ability.
Whichever defensive end is drafted by Tampa Bay this year, that rookie will likely start at right defensive end in place of the departed Michael Johnson – unless Jacquies Smith moves to the right side of the defensive line. New Bucs defensive line assistant coach Paul Spicer, a former NFL defensive end, replaces Mike Phair, and along with Joe Cullen he will be responsible for developing the team’s newest pass rusher.
When healthy, McCoy should be able to generate anywhere between eight to 10 sacks, which could make up 20 percent of Tampa Bay’s sack total in 2015. Smith posted 6.5 last year, and could hit that number again. The same could be said of defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who had five sacks last year. New defensive tackle Henry Melton is also expected to deliver at least five sacks. That’s approximately 25 sacks from between those four players.
Tampa Bay’s linebackers could combine for five, and that leaves another five to 10 from the Bucs’ other defensive ends, including the yet-to-be-drafted rookie. McCoy believes that Cullen and Spicer can help the defense cobble together a lot of sacks like the unit had a year ago – even without a double-digit pass rusher.
“If you take a group of guys that you don’t know, a group of guys that are really raw and don’t know much about football – they have talent, but don’t really know how to use it – and you can turn that group that has had the most sacks since No. 99 (Warren Sapp) left, that goes to show a lot about those two coaches and what they were able to do,” McCoy said. “There was like a revolving D-line room for a while. We have a good core group of guys that had some injuries. You never knew who was going to be up each week, but it didn’t matter. It was a ‘next man up’ mentality.
“Regardless of how many guys we had up – whether it was seven, eight or nine guys that day, we had that many starters. That came from them and how they coached. Gerald is not the starter. He may be the first person to run on the field, but when they are on the field then, they are the starter. That’s how we look at it and that’s how they coached us and that’s why we were able to have the success we had. We’re only going to get better.”
FAB 4. PEWTER REPORT’S DRAFT FORECASTING DILEMMA
To celebrate my 20 years of covering the Buccaneers I’m going to share with you some of the behind-the-scenes encounters I’ve had over the last two decades. These stories will appear in the first 20 SR’s Fab 5 columns of 2015, which encompasses much of the offseason.
Perhaps the biggest dilemma that PewterReport.com faces each year in our draft coverage is striking the right balance between forecasting the players we like to Tampa Bay and reporting on the players we found out that the team likes and will likely draft. Basically it boils down to either being right on draft day and nailing who we think the Bucs will draft, or possibly being right in the long run and suggesting a different pick based on our preferences.
Here’s an example. In 2004, one player I did not want the Bucs to draft was wide receiver Michael Clayton. We had gotten wind that Tampa Bay liked him, but because I thought he was a slow and had trouble separating from defenders. He had 78 catches for 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns at LSU, but both general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden loved him.
Allen later boasted that several teams wanted Clayton and that after the first round, San Francisco called him and told him that the 49ers were going to draft him and convert him to safety, which was a position he played before moving to wide receiver. To me, that meant that the 49ers didn’t believe he was great enough to play wide receiver in the NFL, which was a bit damning.
In 2004, PewterReport.com was high on Miami middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Oregon State running back Steven Jackson, but not Clayton. Instead of condemning the Bucs’ selection of the big LSU receiver, we were fair and gave him a shot to prove himself. To our surprise, Clayton had a tremendous rookie season, catching 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns.
In hindsight, we should have condemned the pick because Clayton became an infamous one-year wonder, never catching more than 38 passes for 484 yards in any other of his five additional years with the Buccaneers. Yet in doing so right after the draft, I would have looked like a fool given his fantastic rookie campaign.
The same thing happened in 2005. Former Pewter Reporter Jim Flynn and I had a pre-draft lunch with Gruden where he all but said the Bucs were going to draft Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, which I thought was an awful idea. We had been served up some scoop on a silver platter and foolishly ignored that because I couldn’t stand the thought of the Bucs using the fifth overall draft pick on a player that would likely be the third running back selected in 2005.
But that’s what they did. After Miami and Chicago drafted Ronnie Brown and Cedric Benson, respectively, Williams, whom Gruden fell in love with at the Senior Bowl, became a Buccaneer – on my birthday, which is April 23. Ugh.
Once again, I wanted to condemn the pick, but then Williams goes out and rips off a 71-yard touchdown run at Minnesota in his first game en route to rushing for 1,178 yards and six TDs as a rookie. Williams’ production slumped the next year as he rushed for less than 800 yards and then two torn patellar tendons essentially derailed his NFL career.
To be honest, the two players I liked in the first round in 2005 were USC wide receiver Mike Williams, who turned out to be a big bust, and Troy defensive end DeMarcus Ware, whom defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin loved. I found out that running backs coach Art Valero loved Miami running back Frank Gore, whom we listed as a Bucs’ Best Bet at running back in the third round. The combination of Ware, who would have been groomed to replace defensive end Simeon Rice, and Gore would have been better than selecting Williams, whose career got off to a promising start before injuries derailed it.
Clayton and Williams were two first-round picks that the PewterReport.com staff didn’t like, and there have been others through my 20 years of covering the Buccaneers. Of course it’s great when we hit on a player that our staff likes and the team likes as well, whether it’s in one of our mock drafts or a Bucs’ Best Bet in our draft previews. Running back Charles Sims was such a player that he forecasted to Tampa Bay last year.
The PewterReport.com staff puts an extraordinary amount of work into draft coverage each fall, winter and spring, and we’ve had our share of correct forecasts, including Sims, quarterback Mike Glennon, safety Ahmad Black, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and quarterback Josh Freeman in recent years. There have been a couple of years when we have accurately predicted multiple Bucs draft picks.
In 2010, we had the Bucs drafting McCoy and both wide receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. In 2008, we had Tampa Bay selecting wide receiver Dexter Jackson, offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah and quarterback Josh Johnson. In 2006, we had wide receiver Maurice Stovall, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and tight end T.J. Williams as Bucs’ Best Bets at their respective positions. In 1999, Buccaneer Magazine – as we were called back then – accurately predicted kicker Martin Gramatica, running back Autry Denson and wide receiver Darnell McDonald as Bucs’ Best Bets.
In case you don’t know what a Bucs’ Best Bet is, in our annual draft previews, PewterReport.com will take each position and offer up two players we believe Tampa Bay is interested in. Because we don’t know exactly what round the Bucs will select a certain position due to the fluid nature of the draft, we say that if the team drafts a wide receiver in the first three rounds it will be Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, likely a third-rounder, for example. And if Tampa Bay drafts a wide receiver in rounds four through seven it will be Duke’s Jamison Crowder, likely a fourth or fifth-round pick. So Lockett and Crowder might be our Bucs’ Best Bets at wide receiver this year.
Some of those Bucs’ Best Bets were players we liked and some were players that we didn’t like but knew the team was interested in. Some years it might be difficult for Bucs fans and PewterReport.com readers to decipher if we actually like a player and are advocating for him, or if we are just reporting on the team’s interest in that player.
Some years it’s not so difficult, as I am advocating for Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, whom the Bucs like an awful lot, in addition to Lockett, who will be visiting Tampa Bay next week for a private visit.
I’ve tried to learn from my past mistakes with Clayton and Williams and really try to report on the players that I know Tampa Bay likes, as we did with Bucs’ Best Bet linebacker Quincy Black in 2007, because at the end of the day our job at PewterReport.com is to inform you about which players the Bucs are interested in drafting – regardless of our personal preferences. That’s tough to do when you feel that the Bucs might be making a mistake.
Overall, I feel like PewterReport.com has done a very good job with balancing the draft forecasting dilemma over the years between which players we like and which players we feel Tampa Bay will draft. Our track record of nailing Bucs’ Best Bets – over 20 – certainly speaks to that and is unparalleled by any other organization that covers the Buccaneers.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• There are some Bucs fans out there that are so desperate for a defensive end that can rush the quarterback that they are suggesting Tampa Bay sign former Missouri star Michael Sam. The argument is that Sam was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year just two years ago and recorded 21 sacks during his Tigers career. Here are a few points to consider.
First, collegiate production doesn’t always translate to NFL success. If that were the case, former Buccaneer Daniel Te’o-Neshiem, who set the University of Washington sack record with 30, should have had more than the six sacks he registered in the NFL. Te’o-Nesheim had nine more sacks in college than Sam did, too, and was a former third-round pick. Second, Sam was a seventh-round pick by St. Louis that was cut after training camp for a reason – and not because he’s gay.
Sam is an undersized, slow, mediocre athlete that didn’t last long on Dallas’ practice squad last year, either. The fact that a 6-foot-2, 261-pound defensive end ran a 5.07 and a 5.1 in the 40-yard dash was extremely telling. That’s the reason the Bucs aren’t interested – along with 31 other NFL teams.
• One interesting development on draft day may be a free fall by Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, who has recently admitted that he tested positive for marijuana. Gregory has had struggles with smoking pot in college, but said that he hasn’t smoked since December and that he’s put that behind him. Yet he still failed a drug test administered in February.
That may worry NFL teams to the point where a player with top-10 ability possibly slips to the top of the second round. The Bucs benefitted from a top-ranked player falling to the second round in 2010 when defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who was at one time the No. 1 overall prospect, slipped in the draft due to offseason knee surgery. Of course Bowers was a bust, but that’s because he doesn’t love football – not because he lacks talent.
Gregory, who played at general manager Jason Licht’s alma mater, has fans inside One Buccaneer Place. In just two seasons with the Cornhuskers, Gregory recorded 25.5 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks, two interceptions, including one for a touchdown, and two forced fumbles.
The Bucs have been burned – pun intended – before by a chronic pot smoker in free safety Tanard Jackson, who saw his promising NFL career go up in flames because he couldn’t put down the bong. Yet, Gregory might be worth taking a chance on if he tumbles on April 30 and winds up in the second round. The Bucs are doing quite a bit of research on him.
• Louisville’s Lorenzo Mauldin is a player to keep an eye on. Mauldin had 113 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 20.5 sacks, five forced fumbles for the Cardinals, including 6.5 last year as an outside linebacker in Louisville’s new 3-4 scheme, after notching 9.5 in 2013. He’s got decent size at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, a great, relentless motor and he fared well in the Senior Bowl.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht was in attendance during the Florida State vs. Louisville game last year when Mauldin had four tackles and a sack of Jameis Winston. He figures to be a fourth-round pick, and that just might be the round where the Bucs invest in a pass rusher.
• You’ve got to love the workmanlike attitude of Bucs’ blue collar nose tackle Clinton McDonald. With needs all over the roster, I asked McDonald who the Bucs should draft this year.
“Man, I’m here to play defensive tackle and nose guard and add to the rush and add to the run stopping here in Tampa Bay,” McDonald said. “That’s their job – to worry about the draft. I have to worry about my job – or I won’t have one.”
• And finally, I had the great pleasure of eating at Smokin’ Aces BBQ in Plant City on Thursday at the Keel & Curley Winery and Two Henrys Brewery. Robert Jordan and his family are big Bucs fans and cooked my family some of the most delicious grilled wings, ribs and macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had. Smokin’ Aces BBQ’s grilled wings were voted the 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards’ Best Chicken Wings. Taste them and you’ll see why.
If you are looking for a great date night, head out to Keel & Curley Winery at 5202 Thonotosassa Road in Plant City for some wine and beer and have dinner right on the premises with Smokin’ Aces BBQ. Or visit their Lakeland restaurant location at 5675 New Tampa Highway in Lakeland. Tell them PewterReport.com sent you.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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