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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 Will Be Scouting QBs For 2019 Draft
Jason Licht thought the biggest decision as Tampa Bay’s general manager was to select quarterback Jameis Winston over Marcus Mariota with the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Up until now it was.
But an even bigger decision for Licht looms in the future – provided he is still the Bucs’ general manager past the 2018 season. That is deciding whether or not to sign Winston to a long-term contract extension before or after the 2019 season when Winston is expected to make $20.922 million in the fifth-year option that the team picked up in the spring.
Winston will be suspended for three games for allegedly groping a female Uber driver – this on the heels of a sexual assault allegation at Florida State a few years ago. Another such incident could result in a year-long suspension from the league or possible banishment.
Instead, Licht and the Bucs should be patient and let Winston play out the final year of his contract in 2019 and then decide to either place a one-year franchise tag on him or sign him to a long-term deal with specific language in the contract that voids any guaranteed money and includes the repayment of any bonus money should Winston be suspended by the league for any future conduct issues. That protects the team long-term at the position from a financial standpoint.
But Licht must take it a step further and protect the quarterback position in Tampa Bay for the long-term, too. That means preparing for a season when Winston isn’t available because he was suspended for an entire season, which would likely mean his immediate release from the Bucs if that were to occur, or if Winston suffers a year-long injury.
Beyond 2018, the Bucs currently don’t believe that either backup Ryan Fitzpatrick or Ryan Griffin is the answer at the quarterback position. That means Licht needs to turn to the draft and find a starting-caliber quarterback in 2019 – even if it means drafting one as high as the second round.
Licht should treat the quarterback position the same way he did the defensive line this offseason when he attacking the D-line through free agency (Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein and Vinny Curry), through a trade (Jason Pierre-Paul) and through the draft (Vita Vea). Licht should be open to trading for a veteran quarterback with starting potential – possibly Teddy Bridgewater, who is with the Jets along with first-round pick Sam Darnold and veteran Josh McCown – in addition to looking at the 2019 NFL Draft.
The quarterback position is the most important position in football. Do you know why the Buccaneers haven’t been to the playoffs in a decade? It’s been a lack of stability and excellence at the QB position. New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina all made it to the playoffs multiple times with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, respectively.
I’m not suggesting the Bucs give up on Winston just yet, but Licht has to prepare the franchise for life without him otherwise he would be derelict in his duties as Tampa Bay’s general manager. That means having a long-term starting-caliber quarterback as the backup in 2019 and beyond.
The good news for the Bucs is that an early look at the 2018 roster doesn’t show nearly as many holes as Licht and the front office had before filling some big needs in free agency and the draft. Tampa Bay may need a better strong safety next year, and could always use talented depth along the offensive line, defensive line and at the cornerback position.
But the team’s biggest need may actually be at quarterback in 2019 – whether or not Winston plays well in the 13 games he’s expected to play this season when he returns from his suspension.
Licht has a philosophy of drafting and developing a quarterback every year due to the importance of the position that he has yet to get to. Now that he doesn’t have to fill a lot of pressing needs, he can implement that strategy in Tampa Bay. Actually, he was poised to pull the trigger on Washington State’s Luke Falk in the sixth round this year before his good friend, Tennessee general manager Jon Robinson, beat him to Falk by six picks.
On the surface, the 2019 draft doesn’t look as deep and talented as the 2018 QB class was, but there are still some good prospects worth knowing about. Here are five quarterbacks that fit Dirk Koetter’s offense that I’ll have my eye on this year during college football season.
Given the position Winston has put this franchise in, I’m sure Licht and his Bucs scouts will be scouting them, too.
Missouri QB Drew Lock – Senior
Lock has completed 590-of-1,082 (54.5 percent) of his passes for 8,426 yards with 70 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in his 2.5 years as Missouri’s starter. After struggling with four touchdowns and eight picks as a freshman, Lock passed for 3,399 yards with 23 TDs and 10 INTs as a sophomore. During his breakout junior year, Lock passed for 3,695 yards with an SEC-record 43 touchdowns and 12 INTs and an incredible 9.6 avg. as his completion percentage rose from 54.6 percent in 2016 to 58.2 percent last season.
After starting off the season 1-5, including five straight losses to South Carolina, Purdue, Auburn, Kentucky and Georgia, Lock came alive and reeled off six straight wins against the softer part of the schedule, passing for 26 touchdowns and just five INTs during that stretch to make the Tigers bowl eligible. An uneven performance in a bowl loss to Texas prompted Lock to return for his senior year where he’ll need to show he can fare better against top-flight SEC competition and post a completion percentage above 60 percent. Mizzou’s offense calls for a lot of deep, lower-percentage passes, which may prevent that from happening.
At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Lock has prototype NFL size and a very strong arm capable of pushing the ball down the field. He had a throw of 50 yards or more in 10 out of 13 games last year. Lock has a chance of being the top QB in this draft, and potentially a top 10 pick. If that’s the case, the Bucs wouldn’t select him (or hope they wouldn’t have the chance to) with a high first-round pick. But with his skill set, if Lock slips to the second round the Bucs might be interested despite the fact that he plays in a spread, RPO-based offense.
West Virginia QB Will Grier – Senior
Grier was kicked out of Florida after he was suspended for PED usage. While with the Gators in 2015, Grier completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 1,204 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions before transferring to West Virginia. In his lone season as a starter as a junior, Grier completed 250-of-388 passes (64.4 percent) for 3,490 yards with 34 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for the Mountaineers, and proved he was in the discussion with Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph as one of the best quarterbacks in the Big XII.
Grier’s junior season could have been even bigger and better if not for a gruesome finger injury on his throwing hand in loss to Texas. He sat out the next game at Oklahoma, as well as the bowl loss to Utah. Grier completed at least 70 percent of his passes in six of his 11 starts for West Virginia last season. Grier also completed a pass of at least 50 yards or more in seven of his 11 starts in 2017.
The strong-armed, 6-foot-2, 214-pound Grier likes to push the ball down the field and is a very accurate deep ball thrower. With his long locks flowing, Grier is a fist-pumping, energetic, competitive quarterback that could see his stock rise to the first- or second-round with a great senior campaign. If he is a second- or third-rounder, the Bucs could very well be interested in having Grier as Winston’s backup.
Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham – Junior
Stidham began his career at Baylor where he completed 75-of-109 (68.8 percent) passes for 1,265 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions and had three starts, beating Kansas State and Oklahoma State and losing to Oklahoma before a neck injury that caused him to miss the final two games in 2015 against TCU and Texas, as well as the bowl game against North Carolina. He sat out the 2016 when he transferred to Auburn where he started last year as a junior.
Stidham helped Auburn start the season 10-2 with only a 14-6 loss at Clemson and a 27-23 loss at LSU marring the Tigers from an undefeated regular season. Among the wins were a 40-17 trouncing of Georgia and a 26-14 win against Alabama – both of whom played in the National Championship. Auburn would lose its rematch with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, as well as the Peach Bowl to undefeated UCF. But Stidham had a great season in Auburn’s balanced offense, completing 218-of-327 passes (66.5 percent) for 3,158 yards with 18 touchdowns and just six interceptions. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Stidham played through 2017 with a shoulder injury that was fixed with minor surgery this offseason. That could mean an even better year for the junior than he had in his first season with the Tigers.
Stidham had six games where he completed 70 percent of his passes or more last year, but also had four games where he completed less than 60 percent of his throws at Auburn. If Stidham can even out his completion percentage and become more consistent, the 6-foot-3, 214-pounder he could enter the 2019 draft and be an attractive backup candidate due to his accuracy, leadership and his penchant for avoiding interceptions, which would please Koetter. Stidham has above-average arm strength, throws a beautiful spiral and appears to be a Day 2 pick with another good season.
Arkansas State QB Justice Hansen – Senior
Hansen began his career at Oklahoma where he quickly saw the writing on the wall when Baker Mayfield emerged as the starter for the Sooners, and transferred to Butler County Community College before making his way to the Red Wolves program. After winning the starting job in 2016, Hansen completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 2,719 yards with 19 passes and eight interceptions going 8-2 as a starter, including a bowl win against UCF.
Hansen is a big, muscular 6-foot-4, 210-pound quarterback that is very mobile and runs a good deal of QB draws where he rushed for 121 yards on 13 carries (9.3 avg.) and a touchdown against Louisiana last year, in addition to six other rushing TDs during his junior season. Hansen improved as a passer last year, completing 305-of-487 passes (62.6 percent) for 3,967 yards with 37 TDs and 16 INTs.
Hansen, who has an unorthodox three-quarter-arm delivery, has a live arm and likes going deep, which should appeal to Koetter and the Bucs. His size, mobility and improving accuracy are all traits that would interest Tampa Bay, which will be monitoring his senior season. Hansen is likely a Day 3 pick, but with another good season at Arkansas State he could up his stock into Day 2.
Iowa State QB Kyle Kempt – Senior
Kempt began the year as the team’s third-string QB and injuries forced him to make his college debut at Oklahoma where he engineered one of the biggest upsets in college football last year, beating the Sooners in Norman by completing 18-of-24 passes (75 percent) for 343 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Kempt helped lead the Cyclones to wins over Kansas, Texas Tech and a 14-7 victory over TCU before two narrow defeats at West Virginia and against Oklahoma State by a combined 11 points. A narrow, 20-19 defeat at Kansas State on the game’s final play was avenged by a 21-20 win over Memphis in the Liberty Bowl.
For the season, Kempt completed 161-of-243 passes (66.3 percent) for 1,787 yards with 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions in eight games worth of action. Iowa State runs a balanced offense and is not one of the pass-happy Big 12 teams like Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or Baylor. Projected over a 13-game season, Kempt would have thrown for 2,903 yards with 24 TDs and just four interceptions in the Cyclones’ pro-style offense. He received a sixth year of eligiblity due to a medical hardship and returns to lead Iowa State this year.
The Bucs like tall quarterbacks, and at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Kempt looks the part. If he continues to improve and has a great senior season, Kempt could see his draft stock rise from Day 3 to Day 2 and he could be an ideal backup quarterback at the NFL level with possible starter potential.