FAB 3. The Bucs’ Forgotten Draft Pick

PewterReport.com forecasted the overhaul of the Buccaneers defensive line and the release of defensive tackle Chris Baker a month ago. When the construction of the 2018 defensive line is complete it may not even resemble the 2017 unit, which could be a very good thing considering Tampa Bay finished dead last in sacks with just 22.

In addition to Baker, Tampa Bay is contemplating the release of 32-year old Robert Ayers, who is slated to make $6 million this year, including a $1 million roster bonus if he’s on the team by March 18, and there are several free agents along the defensive line that may or may not return, including defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, defensive tackle Sealver Siliga and defensive end Will Clarke. Defensive end Ryan Russell is a restricted free agent.

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

Instead of trying to figure out who may be leaving Tampa Bay, the easier question to answer might be which defensive linemen are staying? Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive ends Will Gholston and Noah Spence will suit up in red and pewter this season, but they are the only sure things. Defensive lineman Davonte Lambert is also under contract, as are defensive ends Channing Ward and Pat O’Connor, but they are far from locks to make the team.

There is also one other defensive lineman that is on the Bucs roster that you might have forgotten about. That would be defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, Tampa Bay’s seventh-round pick from a year ago.

Tu’ikolovatu spent his rookie year on injured reserve after suffering an MCL sprain in the preseason, but could figure into Tampa Bay’s plans at defensive tackle this season, especially with Baker’s departure and McDonald and Siliga currently unsigned. The 2017 season was generally a disappointment for every Tampa Bay Buccaneer after the team finished 5-11, but for Tu’ikolovatu it was doubly disappointing because he couldn’t practice, he couldn’t get better from a technique standpoint and he couldn’t gain a greater understanding of Mike Smith’s defense because he wasn’t out there on the field.

“It was definitely different being more of a student than a player last year,” Tu’ikolovatu said. “I just focused on learning from the older guys and the tricks that they have learned and how they maintain their bodies through the season and see what they do, it helped me. It’s hard to believe how long some of these guys have played for, but after seeing some of the tricks they know, you can see why. That was a big thing for me to learn.”

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy does a great job of taking young players under his wing as a team captain, and did that with Tu’ikolovatu during his rookie season.

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

“Stevie came in and handled his business,” McCoy said. “He’s a great man that made sure his family was in order, and he didn’t have to be around here. Some guys on I.R., they do their workouts and rehab and leave. Stevie would stick around and help us, whether it was running errands for us or going to get us food. He was here for us and that’s what I love about him. In order to be a diligent guy and a great teammate there has to be something inside you as a man first. He has all that, and I’m excited to have him here.”

McCoy imparted some of the wisdom he’s gained as a six-time Pro Bowler on the USC product, but there was another Bucs defensive lineman who also mentored Tu’ikolovatu, and that was Siliga. Tu’ikolovatu formed an instant connection with Siliga, and not just because of their shared Pacific heritage. Siliga and Tu’ikolovatu are both near 340 pounds and that was beneficial to the rookie.

“Sealver’s a lot buffer than me, but we have similar body types,” Tu’ikolovatu said. “I know a lot of rookies when they go to different teams and different clubs and there is nobody with a similar body type, they have to figure things out themselves, and that can be rough. Sealver has been the person this whole season that I can lean on for anything because he moves like I move. He’s been a huge help. I hope he comes back so I can keep learning from him.”

The Bucs haven’t shut the door on Siliga’s return, but having a similar-sized defensive tackle like Tu’ikolovatu might make him expendable, especially after Siliga was seldom used last year and recorded just eight tackles while making over $1 million. Tampa Bay needs to increase its sack totals in 2018, and Siliga had just 6.5 sacks in his seven years in the league, including one with the Bucs in 2016. Siliga wasn’t much of a pass rusher at either Utah or USC, but is quicker and has more upside, which might give him the upper hand if the team plans to keep just one of their mammoth defensive tackles.

“I think the pass rush is always a priority, but we just didn’t get in a groove this year,” Tu’ikolovatu said. “I think once we catch that groove we’ll get on a roll. I know our guys weren’t happy about it and will be working extra hard on it this offseason.”

Because the Bucs like to deploy a multiple defense that can shift from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 front, Tu’ikolovatu has some scheme versatility from his college days.

“I feel comfortable in a 3-4 or a 4-3 front,” Tu’ikolovatu said. “I know that both defenses require certain things from nose tackles and I have what it takes to play in either.”

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

It will be interesting to see what Tu’ikolovatu can bring to the table in 2018 after what was essentially a redshirt season last year and most of the experience he picked up was cerebral. Linebacker Davante Bond was essentially redshirted the same way in 2016, spending his rookie season on injured reserve after suffering a hamstring injury in training camp and he wound up as a contributor on special teams and on defense last year.

But, two years ago after wide receiver Kenny Bell missed his rookie season due to a season-ending hamstring injury during training camp he didn’t survive the preseason and was released before his second year in the NFL even began.

“Last year I feel like I improved the most in learning how this business works,” Tu’ikolovatu said. “I wasn’t able to do much physically, but what I was able to do is learn that the competition is real. Guys can come and go quickly. You can’t just come in and do what you did in college. You have to be prepared. There are no scholarships here.

“You won’t last if you aren’t prepared. This is grown men feeding their families. You’re trying to do the same. What I need to work on is not being on I.R. I need to be physically ready to do my job.”

McCoy is ready to see Tu’ikolovatu apply what he learned behind the scenes last year when OTAs start up in April.

“He just sat in the room, learned and got better,” McCoy said. “He’s hit the weight room and worked diligently to get himself ready for next season and I can’t wait to see him back out there on the grass.”

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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]

46 COMMENTS

  1. LIcht has stated multiple times he likes how certain guys are “wired” (Aguayo, Baker and Folk come to mind as recent ones). Hoping he’s learned he’s not an electrical mentalist and tweaks his style of evaluating a bit. He has hit on some solid draft picks though, hoping this draft produces 4 or 5 as well.

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    • Like the new Point Chart as well, along with their idea that “trading down on day three and picking up veterans is the smart move”. Believe this is NE’s alternative to signing free agents, which has worked out fairly well for them, especially when they’re only giving up 4th-7th round picks typically.

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  2. Sam Hubbard needs to be on the list of players in that second pool.

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  3. Huh?
    The Bucs should give up an additional pick for the Bills picks? No way. I say the Bills should toss in some additional picks. What the charts don’t reflect is that with the number of QBs being drafted the Bucs are essentially giving up a number three pick,not a seven, as far as the players that interest Tampa.
    I don’t care what the official charts say. The charts are wrong.

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    • I can agree in some way. Being politically correct you have to go with what he wrote about.

      I don’t think that we should give up another pick for the Bills to move up. The trade chart placed in the article is close to accurate with the last years QB trades but there was about a 100 point variance and with the Bills likely desperate need for a QB (thanks to the coach starting Petterman for that one game) Jason Licht should be able to pull it off. Have all the faith in him!

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      • The one good thing about trading down for the Bills picks is that the Bills will undoubtedly pay too much for he number seven pick. I’m not opposed to the idea, but think pewter’s numbers are off.

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        • 90% agree with you, and 10% need to add an extra point that wasn’t mentioned.

          Competitors drive the price up regardless of the value on the draft chart. I’ve heard a lot of word on the street from the Cardinals’ fans that they’re dying to land Lamar Jackson. If SF can convince CHI that they’ll trade down so another team takes Trubisky, which is a very likely scenario this year for QB’s as well, then we sure as heck can fleece our favorite deal from BUF or ARI.

          Organizations also add value to QBs that are “their guy”. They won’t accept substitutes. Trust me, trade talks might start at equal trade chart value, but the price only goes up from there.

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  4. Yeah I’d be okay with both of the Bills picks. I honestly think it could happen too. As a new coach in Buffalo, I’d be going all in on a quarterback this offseason if I’m McDermott.

    Tampa has more needs than draft picks and since we’re not going to get one of the three elite players in the draft then we should drop back.

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    • Some of those needs are going to be filled by FA’s Cody, but agree that with the FA QB’s that are going to be available (Cousins, Keenum, Bridgewater, Bradford and McCarron), there’s a good chance the top targets the Bucs favor may be gone by #7. If that’s the case, then a trade down would probably be wise.

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    • Don’t be satisfied with two 1’s. We can get so much more! This is a QB we’re talking about and BUF is going to have to fight a lot of teams to get one. Especially if, of the 5 likely to go in the first round, they only like 1-3 of them.

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  5. Thanks for doing the hypothetical Bills and Bucs trade!

    With that said where on your Big Board are these players? Also, are the players being mentioned for day one through the end of day two picks?

    Just have seen at other places Penny going in the third round and know that you have more insight into how the Bucs might be seeing things.

    Also, are any of these players good fits for DE with us?
    -Duke Ejiofor from Wake Forest. I know his grown a lot as a player and feel he has a lot of growth left in him.
    -Dorance Armstrong from Kansas.

    How about for RB and taking the place of Simms (in case he isn’t resigned), any thoughts on Akrum Wadley from Iowa or Martez Carter from Grambling?

    Last one (for now), what about the small school tackles;
    -Brandon Parker from North Carolina A&T
    -Desmond Harrison from West Georgia
    -Greg Senat from Wagner

    Thanks again.

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  6. Not advocating this, but if it happens, I like Luke Easterling’s trade chart better. Just for fun here’s a different cut at it.

    https://draftwire.usatoday.com/2018/02/21/2018-nfl-mock-draft-updated-4-round-projections-with-trades/

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    • Maybe I missed it, but in that link to the draft with trades, what did Bucs give up for the two Bills picks?

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      • Pete,

        Read at pick 7. Bucs only gave up 7, got 21 and 22 plus a 2nd rounder. By the standard draft chart that would be an even trade. Bucs have to get something for doing that. That would be hard to turn down. lol.

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        • In a strange way, the less QBs picked in front of us, the more valuable our #7 pick becomes. Don’t be surprised if the trade macabee listed, WITH a potential later year pick, happens on draft day.

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  7. Scott,

    Can you guys make your own Bucs Big Board over at PR? I think that would be more fun than a mock draft.

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  8. Settle looks very Sapp like. If we were going to take Vea at seven, we’d be better off trading down with Buffalo drafting Settle, while gaining another #1, maybe more.

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  9. If Chubb, Barkley, and Nelson are off the board by pick #7 I think the best case scenario would be to trade with the Bills for their 2 first rounders. I would even prefer that over taking Fitzpatrick at #7. Theres just too many holes to fill and there will be some very good talent in the early 20s. Other then the 3 I mentioned I don’t see anyone worthy of the 7th overall pick that fits our needs.

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  10. I’d be happy with a Bucs/Bills trade where the Bucs pick up Billy Price & Deron Payne. Build dem lines!

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  11. Yeah ,I’d take the Bills 21 and 22, but would also consider the Cardinals 15 and 47 if they’re QB hunting. Much more likely to get a Vea or Payne at 15 than at 21. Chargers, Lions, Redskins will have grabbed those guys up by then. If Wynn or Michel falls to us at 38, then grab one. At 47 look at S DeShon Elliott/Jessie Bates/Justin Reid, and then at 69 look at CB Quenton Meeks/Holton Hill. Grab DE Ejiofor at the top of the 4th (he’ll drop due to no combine or pro day due to surgery, the way Beckwith did for us), and then Either OT Brandon Parker, DE Jaylon Ferguson, or RB Nyheim Hines in the 5th. Will Clapp and Jojo Wicker in the 6th.

    Use this chart for trade values (much nicer):

    https://www.drafttek.com/NFL-Trade-Value-Chart.asp

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    • From what I hear, Vea is not going to get past the Chargers. Trading with ARI is the only real potential spot atm where we can trade down and still have a decent shot at Vea. No guarantee, but possible. I like your thinking.

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  12. Depending on who is available at #7, I’m all for trading down with Buffalo. Whether that’s for the 21st and 22nd picks, or their 21st and both of their 2nd round picks (possible 2019 2nd too.) We have so many holes to fill on defense (thanks to that dreadful 2016 draft) and the OL that we need multiple good players. Having 3-4 picks in the first 60 selections is greater than 2 and staying in the top 10, imo.

    A draft like these two would make the team better AND address areas of needs.
    #21) Derwin S
    #22) Price C
    #38) Hubbard DE

    or
    #21) Payne DT
    #38) Wynn G
    #53) D. Jackson CB
    #56) Chubb RB

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  13. I have been encouraging this trade for a while now. If we choose too, we could trade down the 22nd spot and pick up more draft picks in the 2nd/3rd rounds. This would really solve a lot of issues and we would be more competitive in the NFC South this season.

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    • Yeah, that 21/22 spot is a bit of a dead zone for us, especially if Vea, Payne, James, etc are gone. Landry, Price, Hubbard there? No, I’ll pass. Wouldn’t mind trading both 21 & 22 (w/ CLE & NYJ) and getting 8 good players between rounds 2-5. So, basically, if we can pull two additional second & third round picks for our #7, that would be fine.

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  14. Outstanding article as usual, Scott. I have even said I would prefer they fire Licht for not building our trenches and his losing record while he has been here and hire you as their GM. However, if you look at other teams that succeed, they all use first round picks for LT. Using a second round pick for LT and spending three years for Smith to develop has been a failure for the Bucs and has endangered our QB to injury and has upped the QB’s turnovers and resulted in too many holding penalties by Smith because of his lack of skill in pass blocking. I favor moving down in the first round and taking LT Orlando Brown or one of the other projected four first round LTs and moving Smith to LG where he will be a real star. Use Buffalo’s other first pick for Penny who gives us both a breakaway RB as well as a run back specialist who has run back kicks for touchdowns and a good change of pace back for RB Barber and hire Crowell from the Browns as the other RB. At Center our GM can hire Jensen from Baltimore or in the third round either take Arkansas’s Center or Ohio State’s Center or Michigan State’s Center and move Marpet back to RG and Dotson at RT, with Pamphile to back up the Tackle position (having been a basketball player in college like Dotson), Benenoch to back up both Guard positions, and Hawley C/G to backup the Center, and we would have a championship line. With Buckner’s Coaching I think Sevie T will be able to hold down the NT position and McCoy and Gholston or McDonald at DE, use the second round pick for one of five 250 lb DEs in the draft that can be converted to OLB or use Noah Spence there on one side and David on the other or Beckwith and Alexander and Bullough as ILBs, resign Grimes and hire the other CB with Justin Evans at Safety and a punishing tackler hired at the other Safety position.and Pinero as place kicker in the draft 5th pick or lower–only missed one kick all year and kicked an 87 yarder in practice and kicked deep on kick offs. The fourth pick could be used for a second 250 pound DE who can play OLB for the bucs.

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    • Let’s keep focused how bad our pass rush was. Whether we go to a 3-4 or stay with the 4-3 the present defensive ends are not the answer. Why do we talk so much about the offense when we have this defensive problem?

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  15. Re: Fab 1

    The first article that I saw regarding this “trade down scenario” was from DraftWire.

    https://draftwire.usatoday.com/2018/02/21/2018-nfl-mock-draft-updated-4-round-projections-with-trades/

    Just in case you’re interested.
    ____________
    Go Bucs!!!!

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    • Whoops! macabbeeMac had it covered already.

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      • macabee, that is … (clunky typing and a bit of creeping senility)

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  16. How the heck do you guys have Gholston as definitely coming back? We overpaid this guy last offseason, and he did absolutely nothing to help our defense last year. Unless we restructure his deal, he is a total waste of cap space. RESTRUCTURE OR RELEASE! I also think we should move him over to DT or 3-4 DE. Even restructured, he is not good at 4-3 DE.

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  17. Re: Fab 2 … Buckner

    Enjoyed the info and analysis. Looks like the Bucs got lucky when Bruce Arians retired. Kinda like when Howard fell to us in the draft last year. The football gods don’t all frown on us!

    _______
    Go Bucs!!!

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  18. Since we’re just throwin’ things against the wall (old spaghetti trick) lately I’ve been seeing mocks that have Chubb, Barkley, and Nelson off the board. If that’s the case, I’m really starting to like OLB Tremaine Edmunds/Virginia Tech. If we were to say trade down with the Raiders at 10 and pick up a 3rd or the Cardinals at 15 and pick up a 2nd, I would have no problem with selecting Edmunds.

    OLB Tremaine Edmunds is a 6-5 250lb instinctive rushing/tackling machine that is a coupla burgers and a bag of fries away from a 260lb DE. He could make a nice book-end to Noah Spence in 3-4 sets. No serious inclination yet, just thinking out loud. Go Bucs!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlyvMFKaeHM

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    • Who do you think the raiders would trade up to take?

      His an amazing talent as is his brother. My own opinion i think the raiders could really use a guy like that or like smith from Georgia.

      Is a great idea!

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      • Sorry taking a minute to get back to you but I have searched all over for the mock where I saw the Raiders trade and I can’t find it. It may have been a trade where RB Barkley was still on the board (which I would not do). Arizona has made no secret that they would like to trade up for a QB, But I think Edmunds will be gone. I have read that with a good combine, he has a chance to be a top ten pick. Hope you get your guy. Go Bucs!

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    • I agree macabee:
      Tremaine Edmunds has great production, is only 19 and is freak athlete. I expect big things from him.

      Edmunds, Saquan Barkley and Derwin James will most likely come out of the combine looking like the three most freak athletes in the draft.

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  19. What does everything think about them adding cordy glenn to the trade?

    Also ince the rams just acquired marcus peters do you see us trading for a veteran? It worked for us and mankins.

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    • Guessing they made that trade to replace Trumaine Johnson, who’s a FA. Smart move as long as Peters keeps his head on straight. Johnson would be a solid addition to our DB room, though he won’t come cheap as there’s going to be a ton of interest in him.

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  20. This could be a very interesting draft this year.
    We can discuss the draft alot but I am waiting to see what the Bucs do in FA. Go Bucs

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  21. @Fab 2

    I’m so sick and tired of analysts and reporters talking about “attitude” like it actually matters and is the reason people are successful. We spend so little time talking about the amazing results Buckner has delivered in ARI and then immediately undermine it when we talk about how the attitude is the reason for his success. F*ck that! Give the man his real due.

    The title should be “Buckner’s Results Make Him The Right Fit for Tampa”. I couldn’t give less of a sh*t if he was a happy-go-lucky surfer dude and the entire crew of players cried a lot and did ballet. As long as he can show the DLine how to take up gaps, get to the quarterback and stuff RBs that’s all that needs to be said.

    TB needs to stop living under the shadow of irrelevant players and old-boy thinking of how people need “bad-ass mentality” when all they really need is to be able to do the damn job.

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  22. I gave your remarks a thumbs up. Your points are well made.

    “bad-ass mentality”

    Your tone has some of the same attitude, however. Football is ever a violent sport. The players are humans. They are “men playing a man’s game” at the highest level there is. They have to function like machines to some degree and try to remain overgrown “young boys at heart” at the same time.

    The “bad-ass mentality” is just one of the “intangibles” that sports writers use frequently. Cliches reflect the street slang and war analogies of the times.

    __________
    Go Bucs!!!

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  23. 1) trade down, why not…we’ve tried everything else
    2) he sounds good, but if we plan to rush max-4 again (whether that’s out of a 3-4 or 4-3) and expect to get pressure we’re in for another long season
    3) maybe, maybe but I have seen far too many late round picks touted as future stars on our team…I’ll believe it when I see it
    4) just take someone in the trenches….please for once.

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  24. First time ever posting. Lifetime fan from Cincy, OH

    As far as free agency goes, with the thought process of shifting to 3-4 front
    RB Isaiah Crowell-CLE
    C Ryan Jansen-BAL
    DE Sheldon Richardson-SEA (cut or renegotiate Gholston)
    CB Trumaine Johnson -LA

    Draft, make the trade with buffalo. Our first for 21,22 and their 2nd.
    1.1- Vea if available or Settle
    1.2- Darwin James if available or best corner
    2.1- best guard ( Hernandez-UTEP or Wynn-UGA)
    2.2-best safety/corner depending on first round (Harrison-Bama or Alexander-UL)
    3- Best RB available (Penny-SDSU, Ballage-ASU or Freeman-ORE
    4-7 get rotationional players on d-line and developmental linebacker

    This scenario provides us with three capable running backs. An interior O-Line of Wynn Jansen Marpet( finally back at guard). D-Line McCoy Vea/Settle Richardson with Spence and David as OLB and kwon and KBeck in the middle. Johnson and rookie CB on outside, more time for Ryan Smith to develop and VHIII in slot. Evans and rookie/conte at safety.

    Thoughts?

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  25. Welcome to the forum Brian.

    This time of year is always so much fun reading all of the player evaluations and predicted and/or proposed Draft scenarios. Folks toss out so many, some are bound to hit and they can pound their chests like King Kong. Me, I just sit back and enjoy.

    With regards to trading down with the Bills, I have a simple analogy type question. Do you want to go to the Prom with the head cheerleader (7th pick) or two girls from the flute section (21st and 22nd picks)? Both options have some benefits. Many believe more is better. I typically prefer quality over quantity. I’d usually rather have one BMW than two Kias.

    In this case, I’m not so sure the quality I’d want will be there at #7. Thus, a Horse-trade down for the Bill’s 21 and 22 is a bit more palatable; especially if yet another later Draft pick is put into the booty.

    No matter what happens there will be fans rejoicing and fans threatening to cancel their season pass membership. Me, I take a wait and see approach and refrain from jumping to a conclusion like it’s an Olympic event.

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  26. “The Bills might be fine moving up to No. 7 in a quarterback-rich draft prior to April 28 because they know that Chubb, Nelson and Barkley – and possibly Fitzpatrick, too – are gone in the first six picks, and that will leave two or three of the top quarterbacks left for Buffalo to take.”

    Why would Licht trade up BEFORE the Bucs are on the clock? That’s ridiculous. Sure, work the deal out ahead of time with Buffalo if they’re truly interested, but you certainly don’t make anything official ahead of time. Licht would look like an idiot if Chubb, Barkley, or Nelson were available and he’d already taken a deal to move down. You only ever see pre-draft trades for picks if it’s the first or second overall.

    I still haven’t read a valid argument for WHY Buffalo would even want the 7th pick. If they’re trading up ahead of the draft they want to pick #1 or #2 to get their top rated QB. Not the 4th one off the board at #7.

    If Buffalo’s guy somehow IS available at #7 who are they trading up to get in front of? All 5 of the teams drafting after the Bucs already have QB’s. The Bills can afford to wait, spend less draft capital, and move in front of Arizona or Washington later in the top 12 if they want to move up on draft day.

    If we’re truly going to hope for a trade down a more realistic one is with a team in the teens wanting to take their top WR in front of Chicago and SF. Maybe one of the WR prospects can elevate themselves to being worthy of that kind of move.

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  27. This is real simple, and I said it 4 years ago: Blount was better. I know he’s not 100% a starter, but he is a starter, and he was ALWAYS a little bit better than Martin, so there was no reason to even draft Doug. Thanks, Greg.

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  28. I would do the trade with the Bills if we got 21, 22 and their 2nd round pick 53 for 7.

    Then give me, Da’Ron Payne, Sony Michel, Duke Ejiofor and Mike Hughes.

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