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FAB 1. Bucs’ Fantastic First-Rounders
Bucs general manager Jason Licht hit a home run in his first swing at bat, selecting three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans with his first-ever draft pick. Evans was the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and became the first ever NFL player to record seven straight 1,000-yard seasons to begin his pro career. Now with a Super Bowl ring on his resume, Evans seems destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But Licht was no one-hit wonder when it came to drafting first-rounders.
For years it looked like Evans was going to be Licht’s best first-rounder. Especially with the likes of quarterback Jameis Winston, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and tight end O.J. Howard being drafted in the first round by the Bucs over the next three seasons.
But Licht was hitting more often with later draft picks, such as left tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet in the second round in 2015 and wide receiver Chris Godwin in the third round in 2017. Then the Bucs front office got on quite a roll in the first round too.
Tampa Bay drafted nose tackle Vita Vea with the 12th overall pick the first round in 2018. The next year saw Licht and Co. select middle linebacker Devin White fifth overall.
Last year, Licht traded up one spot to draft right tackle Tristan Wirfs in the Top 10, and then used the No. 32 pick to select outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. While the jury is still out on Tryon-Shoyinka, who has yet to play a down in a regular season NFL game, the rookie has been mightily impressive in training camp and in the first two preseason games.
As time has marched on, it’s become clear that Vea, White and Wirfs have the chance to become elite players. Vea is regarded as one of the best nose tackles in football and the Bucs’ picked up his fifth-year option for 2022.
White, who is entering his third year in the league, is becoming one of the most dynamic playmaking linebackers in the game. Bucs head coach Bruce Arians called him a young Patrick Willis in a press conference this week.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians, LB Devin White and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Wirfs is coming off one of the best rookie seasons for an offensive tackle in recent memory. The wire-to-wire starter allowed just one sack last year, to All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack, and handled the likes of Joey Bosa, Cameron Jordan and Montez Sweat with ease.
All three players should be candidates for the Pro Bowl this year with another great season.
Look no further than the Super Bowl to gauge how awesome those former first-round picks played for the Bucs in their 31-9 dismantling of the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
Pro Football Focus gave Wirfs a 91.7 overall grade in Super Bowl LV. He was the highest graded Buccaneer in the game.
Vea happened to be the highest-graded starter on the Bucs defense with an 81.7 grade from PFF – even higher than Shaq Barrett’s 79.7 grade. Barrett was talked about as a potential Super Bowl MVP.
PFF just doesn’t like Bucs middle linebackers, dating back to Kwon Alexander, so it’s no surprise that White had a 64.9 grade in Super Bowl LV. Yet, he certainly filled up the stats sheet with a game-high 12 tackles, two QB hurries and an end zone interception in the fourth quarter.
And although PFF short-changed White’s grade in the Super Bowl, the fact that he had 15 tackles and a fumble recovery in the NFC Championship Game, and 11 tackles, a fumble recovery and a game-changing interception against New Orleans in the divisional playoffs the week prior speaks volumes about his ability – especially in big games.
Given his athleticism and promising start to his rookie season, Tryon-Shoyinka might be the fourth first round pick in a row to garner Pro Bowl consideration. We’ll know more for sure in 2023.
Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul and GM Jason Licht / Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Not only has Licht done a great job of drafting impact players in the first round, he’s also acquired several other first-round picks as well in recent years.
When it’s all said and done, the Bucs will likely have 10 first-rounders on this year’s 53-man roster. Six of them – Evans, Howard, Vea, White, Wirfs and Tryon-Shoyinka – will be homegrown. The other four – Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, Blaine Gabbert and Leonard Fournette – are players Licht has imported.
Licht’s collection of talent doesn’t end there.
There are also 11 former second-rounders that are going to make the final roster. Eight of them are Bucs draft picks – Lavonte David, Smith, Marpet, Carlton Davis III, Ronald Jones II, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Antoine Winfield, Jr., and Kyle Trask. Three others – Kevin Minter, Rob Gronkowski and Giovani Bernard – are Licht acquisitions.
Going a round further, Tampa Bay currently has seven former third-round picks on its roster in Godwin, Jamel Dean, Mike Edwards Alex Cappa, Robert Hainsey, C.J. Prosise and Ke’Shawn Vaughn. All except for Prosise are expected to make the 53-man roster.
Add it all up and the Bucs should have 27 players that were first-, second- or third-round picks. That’s over half the roster.
No wonder the Bucs won Super Bowl, right?
And no wonder this loaded roster is ready to repeat as Super Bowl champions this season.
FAB 2. Final Bucs 53-Man Roster Prediction
As I pointed in Fab 1, Tampa Bay will have 27 former first-, second- and third-round picks making the 53-man roster in 2021. But who will be the other 26 Buccaneers?
On the eve of the Bucs’ final preseason game at Houston against the Texans, here’s my best guess.
Quarterbacks – 3
QB Tom Brady QB Blaine Gabbert QB Kyle Trask
Bucs QB Kyle Trask – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Analysis: This personnel group has been set the day the Bucs spent a second-round pick on Trask. Veteran Ryan Griffin will spend this season on the practice squad, but if there is a serious injury to either Brady or Gabbert, he’ll get elevated to the roster and be moved ahead of Trask, who in reality is the fourth-string QB based on his play this August. Expect a great year from Brady, who could throw for 50 TDs this season in Bruce Arians offense after tossing 40 last year in his first season in Tampa Bay.
Running Backs – 4
RB Ronald Jones II RB Leonard Fournette RB Giovani Bernard RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn Analysis: Jones figures to emerge as the starter, as he’s the more talented running back. How will Fournette react after becoming Lombardi Lenny last year? That’s worth keeping an eye on. Bernard will have a huge role on third downs this year. Look for the Bucs’ third-down conversion rate to increase from 43.5 percent a year ago. Vaughn has made some strides in practice this year, but is just buried on the depth chart behind three veterans – all of whom are in contract years.
Wide Receivers – 7
WR Mike Evans WR Chris Godwin WR Antonio Brown WR Scotty Miller WR Tyler Johnson WR Jaelon Darden WR Jaydon Mickens
Bucs WR Jaelon Darden – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Analysis: The top three of Evans, Godwin and Brown is the best trio of receivers in the NFL on the same team. The Bucs end up keeping seven receivers because Darden couldn’t establish himself as the return specialist in the preseason. That role – for now to start the season – goes to Mickens. Look for Johnson, who is ahead of Darden on the depth chart right now, to challenge Miller for the WR4 role because he is more versatile due to his ability to block.
Tight Ends – 3
TE Rob Gronkowski TE Cameron Brate TE O.J. Howard Analysis: The Bucs only keep three tight ends because Tanner Hudson can’t block and Codey McElroy can’t catch consistently. Tampa Bay got away with three tight ends last year by using reserve offensive lineman Joe Haeg as an extra blocker. This year Josh Wells, Aaron Stinnie or rookie Robert Hainsey could fill that role. Antony Auclair, who was the fourth tight end last year, was inactive for the Super Bowl for that reason, and wasn’t re-signed this offseason. Look for Brate to get the No. 2 tight end job unless Howard catches the ball more regularly.
Offensive Line – 9
LT Donovan Smith LG Ali Marpet C Ryan Jensen RG Alex Cappa RT Tristan Wirfs OT Josh Wells C Robert Hainsey G Aaron Stinnie OL Nick Leverett Analysis: Tampa Bay returns its starting five offensive line, plus its’ top two reserves from last year in Wells and Stinnie. Jensen, Cappa and Stinnie are in contract years, so expect the best from both of them. The Bucs are excited about Hainsey, who makes his preseason debut on Saturday at Houston. He figures to be the eventual replacement for Jensen in time. Leverett’s versatility and effort have impressed the Bucs in training camp and the preseason and he wins the final roster spot.
Defensive Line – 6
DT Ndamukong Suh NT Vita Vea DE Will Gholston NT Rakeem Nunez-Roches DE Pat O’Connor DT Khalil Davis
Bucs DT Khalil Davis – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Analysis: Suh, Vea and Gholston are formidable up front and stop the run as well as any trio in the league. Vea should make his first Pro Bowl if he’s healthy for the whole season. Nunez-Roches is a quality backup nose tackle, and O’Connor is proving to be more than just a top-notch special teams player. He’s become quicker, stronger and more versatile. Davis makes the final spot on the depth chart over veteran Steve McLendon. The Bucs go with Davis’ youth, quickness and upside over the 34-year old McLendon’s experience. He’s flashed too much in the preseason to try to stash on the practice squad.
Outside Linebackers – 4
OLB Shaquil Barrett OLB Jason Pierre-Paul OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka OLB Anthony Nelson
Analysis: Barrett and Pierre-Paul have each made one Pro Bowl over the last two years and are still in their prime. Tryon-Shoyinka, the team’s first-round pick, has shined in the preseason and looks like he will play a big role as a designated pass rusher this year. When that happens, look for Pierre-Paul to kick inside as an interior rusher in nickel defense. Nelson has played well, but just doesn’t have the physical tools or athleticism that Tryon-Shoyinka does. Look for his playing time to be reduced as a result.
Inside Linebackers – 4
ILB Devin White ILB Lavonte David ILB Kevin Minter ILB K.J. Britt
Bucs ILB Kevin Minter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Analysis: The first three linebackers have been locked in all offseason. White and David may be the best inside tandem in the NFL. Minter was a special teams captain last year and is a valuable veteran reserve. The big question – who takes the fourth linebacker spot on the depth chart? – gets answered on Saturday night. Britt, the team’s fifth-round pick, has the inside track. But he needs to flash like Grant Stuard did against Tennessee and Joe Jones did versus Cincinnati.
Cornerbacks – 5
CB Carlton Davis III CB Sean Murphy-Bunting CB Jamel Dean CB Antonio Hamilton CB Dee Delaney
Analysis: The Bucs have a young, promising trio in the secondary with Davis, Murphy-Bunting and Dean. Davis is in a contract year, while Dean needs to really step up and create more takeaways. All three cornerbacks need to become ballhawks to take their games to the next level. Hamilton and Delaney have both have solid preseasons on special teams and defense. They excel in run support, but have also made plays on the ball in practice. Hamilton and Delaney steal Herb Miller’s spot on the roster.
Safeties – 5
S Antoine Winfield, Jr. S Jordan Whitehead S Mike Edwards S Ross Cockrell S Javon Hagan
Bucs S Javon Hagan – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Analysis: Winfield is a star in the making, while Whitehead enters an all-important contract year at strong safety. Edwards might have had the best camp of any safety and will steal some reps from Whitehead during the fall – or force Todd Bowles to deploy some three safety looks. Cockrell is not only the fourth safety, but he’s also the fourth-string cornerback on the team. He’s excelled as a ball-hawking free safety in practice, but has been just fair in games. Hagan has flashed in run support and against the pass, yet consistency is missing.
Specialists – 3
K Ryan Succop P Bradley Pinion LS Zach Triner
Analysis: The Bucs’ battery returns intact for another season. Succop was rewarded for a record year (136 points) with a big contract extension. Pinion is excellent as kickoff specialist, holder and punter. Triner is as solid as they come as a snapper, but needs to anchor better against punt rush units. He does have the speed to run downfield and make tackles, though.
FAB 3. Five Bucs To Watch On Offense vs. Texans
Tampa Bay will likely play its starters for the entire first half against the Texans in the preseason finale at Houston. We’ll get our first extended look at Tom Brady and Co. on Saturday night as the Bucs will likely focus on establishing their ground game and deciding who will be the starting running back.
RBs Ronald Jones & Leonard Fournette
The Bucs’ running game has been pitiful this offseason, averaging less than two yards per carry. Of course Jones and Fournette have only received four carries between them. That will change on Saturday night as the running game is expected to be featured in the first half when the starters are in. Jones, the team’s leading rusher last year with just under 1,000 yards, is currently atop the official depth chart. But Fournette started the preseason opener and usually gets the first carry in practice.
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: USA Today
Both backs are in a contract year and believe they’ve earned the right to start. As run game coordinator Harold Goodwin said on Thursday, the preseason finale at Houston could go a long way to determine who the starter is. Both backs will play this year, but Bruce Arians likes to stick with the hot hand. Look for Jones, who is the more talented rusher, to win the starting job against the Texans.
TE O.J. Howard
Howard’s rough August continued last Saturday night against Tennessee. He dropped the first two passes his way and also gave up a sack in pass protection. Howard has also suffered through some drops in practice and must become more consistent catching the ball.
Having a good night at Houston would go a long way towards bolstering his confidence. It’s clear that Howard is not yet over the mental hurdle of his torn Achilles yet. He still has a good deal of rust to shake off. The only way that happens is with more playing time in games. If the Bucs were smart they would play Howard into the third quarter on Saturday night.
C Robert Hainsey
Tampa Bay is very high on Hainsey, the team’s third-round pick, who looks to be the future at the center position. Despite playing right tackle in college, Hainsey has been solid at center in practice. Unfortunately, the rookie has missed two weeks of practice and both preseason games due to injury.
But he’s returned to action in practice and he’ll be ready to go on Satuday night in Houston. Look for Hainsey to start and play the entire second half for the Bucs. If I’m Arians, I also get the Notre Dame product a series with Tom Brady and the starters during the first half – just in case Ryan Jensen gets injured. Then the moment won’t be too big for Hainsey should that occur in the regular season.
Darden has flashed potential, but not been consistent as a receiver or a return specialist in the first two preseason games. Darden hasn’t played better than either Scotty Miller or Tyler Johnson in August, so he’s essentially WR6 right now. The Bucs have given him ample time with the starters to possibly elevate to WR4 and overtake Miller, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Tampa Bay loves his talent, but he just needs more experience and time to adjust to the NFL. The hope was that Darden would at least win the return specialist job from Jaydon Mickens, but that hasn’t materialized either. Darden needs to come out and catch every ball thrown his way and make some plays in the return game to avoid being a game day inactive against Dallas on September 9.
FAB 4. Five Bucs To Watch On Defense vs. Texans
Tampa Bay’s starting defense has only played six snaps in the preseason, but that will change at Houston where the Bucs’ starters will see plenty of action in the first half. The team will want to stuff the run and tee off on starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor on third down.
OLB Shaquil Barrett
As I wrote about in my PR Roundtable on Tuesday, Bucs outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka have really stood out in training camp. Pierre-Paul, the veteran, looks as good as new with his surgically-repaired knee. Tryon-Shoyinka looks like a steal as the 32nd overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
That’s not to say that Barrett hasn’t played well. He’s just been going up against Tristan Wirfs every day – one of the best right tackles in football. There have been many times where Barrett and Wirfs have stalemated each other – where Barrett gets a pressure, but not a sack. On Saturday night, Barrett will have the chance to get some real sacks against Texans right tackles Tytus Howard and rookie Charlie Heck. A sack or two in Houston could prime Barrett for a big 2021 season.
FS Mike Edwards
Bucs S Mike Edwards and OLB Shaquil Barrett – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Edwards will get the start in place of the injured Jordan Whitehead on Saturday night. He’s been an absolute star in training camp, showing off improved tackling angles in run support and picking off passes in coverage. Edwards is a natural ballhawk – perhaps the best playmaker in the secondary.
If Edwards has a good showing on Saturday night, it could prompt defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to use more three-safety sets, as he did in Super Bowl LV to get him on the field. Or it could mean that Edwards has earned the right to see some snaps in regular defensive sets. That could mean cutting into Whitehead’s playing time in 2021.
DT Khalil Davis
The Bucs’ sixth-round pick a year ago has really flashed in practice and in the preseason games. Davis’ quick first step is evident. On a team of big, but not overly quick defensive linemen, Davis is a backfield penetrator. With Ndamukong Suh and Steve McLendon likely in their final year in the NFL, the Bucs need Davis to show he’s capable of being a future starter – or at least a part-time starter.
Davis nearly had a sack last week against the Titans and made several plays behind the line of scrimmage. If he has a repeat performance against the Texans he will solidify his spot on the roster, possibly beating out McLendon. If he doesn’t, Davis might have to settle for a role on the practice squad in 2021.
ILB K.J. Britt
Britt heads into the preseason finale as the fourth linebacker on the depth chart. It’s his job to lose, but he needs to play well on both defense and on special teams at Houston. The Bucs believe he’s the best linebacker out of the group that also includes fellow rookie Grant Stuard and veteran Joe Johnson, but the fourth linebacker has to be a special teams standout to dress on game days.
Britt hasn’t had a splash play outside of recovering a fumble against the Bengals in the preseason opener. Johnson had a pick-six in that game, and Stuard had six tackles and a sack in last Saturday’s game against the Titans. It’s time for Britt to stop missing tackles and make a big play in the second half against the Texans.
OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
Bucs ILB K.J. Britt and OLB Joe Tryon – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Tryon-Shoyinka doesn’t have anything to prove in Houston. He’s lived up to his draft billing as a first-round pick in training camp practices and in the first preseason game. Tryon-Shoyinka got robbed of a sack in the first game, but had one that counted last Saturday night against Tennessee. He’s a force as a pass rusher and has cemented a role in the Bucs’ nickel rush package.
So why is he on this list? Because Tryon-Shoyinka is just fun to watch. He’s an incredible athlete with the perfect mix of size, speed and athleticism. Not too many 6-foot-5 edge rushers play with ideal pad level like the first-rounder does. Keep sacking the QB, JTS.
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• BUCS POSITIVITY FROM AUMAN: Leave it to good friend and statistician extraordinaire Greg Auman of The Athletic to put some sugar on the Bucs’ sour 34-3 loss to the Titans last Saturday night in Tampa Bay’s second preseason game. Hey, that loss could be the sign of good things to come.
Want the glass-half-full version? Last time the Bucs lost a preseason game by 30 points … it was 2002, and they won a Super Bowl that year. But if score holds up at 34-3, it ties for third-worst preseason loss in Bucs history, being 45-0, Bengals, 1977 and 38-0, Seattle, 1984.
• NEW PEWTER GAMEDAY PODCAST STARTS SATURDAY NIGHT: Pewter Report is launching a new Pewter Gameday Podcast this Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET that will run during the Bucs vs. Texans game. The game itself will not be featured or shown, but Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and other Pewter Reporters will be live on PewterReport.com analyzing the game and interacting with Bucs fans in the live chat.
If you liked Pewter Report’s Live Draft Shows in April it will resemble that format – but be discussing the game in real time. Pewter Report will have live Pewter Gameday Podcasts for every Bucs game this year beginning right at kickoff. Log on to PewterReport.com at 8:00 p.m. ET to watch the debut of Pewter Gameday – energized by CELSIUS.
• BUCS PRESEASON ANALYSIS ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week during the final week of the preseason – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:00 p.m. ET unless – and one hour after the conclusion of the Bucs vs. Texans game on Saturday night.
The Pewter Reporters spent the week analyzing the final week of training camp on this week’s episodes of the Pewter Report Podcast on our YouTube channel. Check out all of this week’s shows below.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and J.C. Allen discuss the early success of Bucs outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and break down his game film.
Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds and Matt Matera take a look at the Bucs’ depth chart and the position battles that remain heading into the preseason finale at Houston.
Ledyard and Reynolds preview the Bucs vs. Texans preseason finale on Wednesday’s show.
Ledyard and WDAE’s Zac Blobner discussed the Bucs player stats projections for the upcoming season on Thursday’s show.
Watch the Pewter Report Podcasts live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. All Pewter Report Podcasts are archived so you can watch the recorded episodes if you missed them live.
There is no better time to listen to or watch a new Pewter Report Podcast – energized by CELSIUS – than Friday afternoon on the way home from work, or early Saturday morning during your workout or while running errands.
• THORN THINKS HIGHLY OF MARPET: Good friend and NFL offensive line guru Brandon Thorn came out with his guard rankings for the 2021 NFL season. Tampa Bay’s Ali Marpet ranks awfully high on the list. Click the link to find out where.
My top 10 left guards heading into the 2021 season. 1-2 = tier 1 3-7 = tier 2 8-10 = tier 3
Bucs vice president of football administration Mike Greenberg – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
• TIGHT TAMPA BAY CAP RIGHT NOW: The Bucs managed to squeeze all of their signings and re-signings in this offseason with just a couple of cap maneuvers by vice president of football administration Mike Greenberg. But according to OverTheCap.com, the Bucs currently have $346,057 in cap space. Don’t think roster cuts will create a bunch of cap space for the Bucs, though. Most of the players that will be cut are below the Top 31 salaries that comprise the offseason salary cap roster on all 32 NFL teams.
One veteran to watch who could be released is reserve defensive tackle Steve McLendon. He’s set to make the veteran minimum $987,500. So the Bucs would gain that much in cap space as it’s among the Top 51 salaries. If the Bucs need to sign additional players due to in-season injuries, Greenberg may have to go to a player and do a contract restructure to create a bit more cap room.
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: email@example.com
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