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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Bucs, Licht Must End Round 2 Woes
Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht is a prideful man.
He has an ego. All NFL general managers do.
But Licht’s pride is bigger than his ego, and that’s a good thing for the Bucs.
That’s why he was able to admit a mistake after one fateful year of missing on one of the biggest draft gambles of all time – trading up in the second round in 2016 to select Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo – and kick Aguayo to the curb, knowing there would be plenty of laughs from his critics, and a round of “I told you so” from those who said Licht should have known better than to draft a kicker before Day 3 – if at all.
It wasn’t a proud day for Licht to have to jettison Aguayo, who is arguably his biggest draft mistake, just over a year later in 2017. But the ego move would have been keeping Aguayo around another season – even though he clearly didn’t deserve it as the worst-ranked kicker in 2016 – with faint hopes that he would rebound to help Licht’s reputation, which clearly took a shot with the Aguayo selection. Licht’s pride about doing the right thing and being a good steward to the Bucs franchise wouldn’t allow that to happen.
Through five years, Licht has done a good job of stockpiling talent through the draft. Notice I didn’t say great. There has been a trio of Pro Bowlers selected in quarterback Jameis Winston, wide receiver Mike Evans and former middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, in addition to some players that could have some Pro Bowls in their future, such as left guard Ali Marpet, tight end O.J. Howard. There have also been some solid selections so far, with promising young players like left tackle Donovan Smith, wide receiver Chris Godwin, defensive tackle Vita Vea and cornerback Carlton Davis.
There have been a few more hits than misses for Licht in the draft, and that’s why the Glazers have kept him around for a sixth draft despite a 27-53 record as G.M.
Licht’s pride probably won’t let him admit that his track record in the second round has been shockingly bad, especially because he would point to the fact that there is still time for several of those players to turn things around. That’s a valid point, but the clock is ticking.
Here is a look at the nine players Licht has drafted in Round 2 since taking over the war room in 2014:
Licht’s 2nd Round Picks
2014: TE Austin Seferian Jenkins
2015: LT Donovan Smith
2015: LG Ali Marpet
2016: DE Noah Spence
2016: K Roberto Aguayo
2017: FS Justin Evans
2018: RB Ronald Jones
2018: SS M.J. Stewart
2018: CB Carlton Davis
For the time being, Licht is right. Underachieving second-rounders like Noah Spence, who is moving to outside linebacker in Todd Bowles’ 3-4 scheme, free safety Justin Evans, running back Ronald Jones II, safety M.J. Stewart and cornerback Carlton Davis are still on the roster and expected to play up to their draft billing this season with what is supposed to be a better group of teachers on Bruce Arians’ staff.
No one at One Buccaneer Place wants to see the likes of Spence, Evans, Jones, Stewart and Davis to improve more than Licht does. He and Arians need Evans to become more assertive and make more plays in the secondary, Spence to recapture his rookie form – minus the shoulder injury, Davis to start taking the ball away, and for Jones and Stewart to look like anything like the busts they looked like last year.
All of that isn’t going to happen overnight in the team’s initial mini-camp on April 23-24, nor is it going to happen in the OTAs and mandatory mini-camp that will follow in May. The improvement of those players will be a work in progress through training camp and the preseason and on to the regular season. Odds are only half of those aforementioned Bucs second-rounders will come around and the others will fail to live up to expectations or possibly be busts.
What Licht can do in the interim is make sure he doesn’t make another questionable second-round pick. He can’t take a risk on a guy with character concerns like he did with Austin Seferian-Jenkins in 2014, nor can he overdraft a player like he did with Stewart, who was a fourth-round prospect on other team’s draft boards.
Don’t worry. Licht won’t draft another kicker, either.
Licht would do well to look for a player that has plenty of on- and off-field maturity, too, given Jones’ tough learning curve last year and the fact that he was 20 years old on draft day.
Licht won’t be able to atone for the Aguayo sin with a home run in the second round this year, but it would be a huge step in the right direction. Not only does he need to find an impact player in the first round, Licht needs to come through with his best-ever second-round pick, too.
The Bucs need another Marpet – a player who started from Day 1 and looked like a legit NFL player full of promise and Pro Bowl potential from the get-go. The good news for Licht is that this year’s draft is deep at a lot of positions of need for Tampa Bay and that there should be quite a few damn good players available with the No. 39 overall pick.
Here is a look at some of the players that Licht could have to choose from at a number of positions. The players listed are believed to be the ones Tampa Bay has an interest in possibly drafting due to a formal interview at the NFL Scouting Combine, a private workout, a pre-draft visit to One Buccaneer Place or a combination of all three elements.
Mississippi State DT Jeffery Simmons
The Bucs had Simmons in for a pre-draft visit even though he’ll likely go in the first round despite tearing his ACL in February. He’s a Top 10 talent that would replace Gerald McCoy in 2020.
Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence
Lawrence visited the Bucs, and if they take him, he’ll take over at nose tackle and Vita Vea, last year’s first-round pick, will slide to the three-tech tackle spot to replace McCoy.
Boston College DE Zach Allen
Tampa Bay loves Allen’s size, strength, quickness and hustle. He’s a better pass rusher than Will Gholston and would replace him at the five-tech defensive end position.
Louisiana Tech OLB Jaylon Ferguson
Ferguson had an NCAA-record 45 sacks in college and visited the Bucs. He’s a bit stiff, but has nice speed-to-power and could be a star edge rusher in the NFL.
Florida OLB Jachai Polite
Polite bombed some interviews at the Combine, in addition to the drills in Indy and at his pro day, but he can get to the QB with skill – and he visited One Buc Place.
Michigan OLB Chase Winovich
Edge rushers will be in demand in the first 40 picks, and Winovich was more productive than Rashan Gary, a player that will get drafted ahead of him, at Michigan.
Notre Dame CB Julian Love
Love is quick, physical and really has a nose for the ball. He’s ultra-competitive and forces a ton of pass breakups to go along with the occasional interception.
Penn State CB Amani Oruwariye
The Tampa native has good size and instincts to make up for his lack of speed. He’s an ideal No. 2 cornerback, but may not be talented enough to be anything more.
Clemson CB Trayvon Mullen
Mullen would bring championship experience, physicality and some good instincts to the cornerback position in Tampa Bay.
Florida SS Chauncey Gardner–Johnson
Gardner-Johnson played both single high safety and in the box at Florida and is a lights-out hitter and skilled playmaker in the secondary.
Delaware FS Nasir Adderley
Adderley was coached by Bucs safeties coach Nick Rapone at Delaware last year, and this play-making ballhawk could play free safety or cornerback in Tampa Bay.
Maryland SS Darnell Savage
With sub-4.4 speed, Savage is a heat-seeking missile in the box, and his coverage ability in the slot makes him an intriguing, multi-purpose safety for Todd Bowles.
Oklahoma RT Cody Ford
There’s a pretty good chance Ford goes before No. 39, but the Bucs brought him for a pre-draft visit and have the need for an eventual replacement for right tackle Demar Dotson.
Kansas State RT Dalton Risner
The Bucs had a private workout for Risner and love his strength, leadership qualities and his ability to play either right tackle or right guard at the next level.
Alabama RT Tytus Howard
This might be a stretch for Howard, who visited the Bucs, due to his small school background and the fact he’s raw, but his projection is between the second and fourth rounds.
Oklahoma WR Marquise Brown
The Bucs had the speedy, undersized Brown in for a pre-draft visit and he’s a DeSean Jackson-type receiver that could help stretch the field vertically.
Ohio State WR Parris Campbell
Campbell is a fringe first-round talent that the Bucs like an awful lot. He’s fast and polished, and is a big play waiting to happen.
South Carolina WR Deebo Samuel
It’s a little too early for Ohio State’s Terry McLaurin, who is also on Tampa Bay’s radar, but Samuel is a Chris Godwin clone with a running back build and 4.48 speed.
Other Players Of Interest
Boston College RG Chris Lindstrom
The Bucs still have a hole at right guard where veteran Eric Watford is expected to battle Alex Cappa for the right to start. Lindstrom reminds some of Marpet and is a Day 1 starter.
Memphis RB Darrell Henderson
It’s doubtful that the Bucs would draft another second-round running back after taking RoJo, but Henderson can run and catch – and absolutely fly. He’s special.
Penn State RB Miles Sanders
Sanders is bigger than Henderson, but isn’t as fast or explosive. Still, he has less mileage on his tires after being Saquon Barkley’s understudy for three years and is on the rise.
It’s safe to say that at least half of these 21 draft prospects will be there when the Bucs are on the clock with the No. 39 overall pick. Now it’s up to Licht to buck his trend of highly questionable picks and draft an impact player for Tampa Bay in the second round.