Bucs GM Jason Licht - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
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. INSIDE THE BUCS’ SELECTION OF O.J. HOWARD
There was no debate inside the Buccaneers’ war room when Tampa Bay came on the clock with the 19th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Once it was known that Tennessee was going to draft USC cornerback Adoreé Jackson, a player that the Bucs really liked, the drafting of Alabama tight end O.J. Howard was as automatic as breathing for general manager Jason Licht. While the Bucs were prepared for the slim possibility that a player Licht had ranked near the top 5 in this draft would fall to them, they couldn’t believe it was happening.
As Howard began sliding down the first round of the draft, Bucs director of football administration Mike Greenberg sensed the Alabama star could actually be available at No. 19 because the tight ends is a position that is prone to slip in the draft, and he made that point known to Licht. When it came time to turn the card in the Bucs did so immediately.
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and GM Jason Licht – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
There was no debating or deliberating Florida State running back Dalvin Cook at that point. Tampa Bay liked Cook, but there were some real concerns about some of the people from his hometown of Miami that ran in Cook’s inner circle. He wasn’t going to be the pick at No. 19.
It was clear it was going to be Howard.
Licht, head coach Dirk Koetter, director of college scouting Mike Biehl and everyone in Tampa Bay’s war room was in unison that Howard was going to be a Buccaneer.
“It was a very relaxed room,” Licht told me in post-draft interview with PewterReport.com. “We had gone over so many different scenarios. I, at one point, told one of our owners during the National Championship Game, ‘I hope this tight end is staring us in the face.’ Then we were at the Senior Bowl and there were a couple of plays O.J. made where Dirk looked at me and said, ‘Wow!’ Then we went to the Owners Meetings and Dirk and I were talking about O.J. and two other players that were very high on our board – I don’t want to say who they were, but very high on our board – and maybe at a need position for us. I said, ‘If O.J. is sitting there are you comfortable taking him over these other two? I’ll tell you my answer at the same time and we’ll go 1-2-3.’ We both said yes.
“We went through that scenario. It was surprising he came to us, but it wasn’t something that was out of the blue. We had talked about it enough that when I found out who Tennessee was taking before it was announced it was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ It was the calm before the storm. I was sweating my ass off, but I was still calm!”
Many in the media have said that the Bucs got the steal of the draft in selecting Howard, who was widely regarded as a top 10 pick, with the 19th overall pick. While some Tampa Bay fans were struggling to see tight end as a need position with the emergence of Cameron Brate, who scored eight touchdowns last year, which was tied for the most in the league by a tight end, it was a huge need in the eyes of the Bucs front office and coaches.
Brate is an ideal “F” tight end, which is a “move” tight end whose primary role is to be a pass-catcher rather than a blocker. A “Y” tight end is an in-line blocking tight end, who is featured at the point of attack. Brate is a decent blocker who gives maximum effort, but blocking isn’t his biggest strength.
Bucs TE Cam Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Cam has great ball skills and can contort his body and make contested catches,” Licht said. “That’s what makes him so special.”
In Howard, the Bucs got a big, 6-foot-6, 251-pound “Y” tight end that can block, as he did often at Alabama for the likes of T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Kenyon Drake and Bo Scarborough. But Howard has 4.51 speed and was an underused pass-catching weapon for the Crimson Tide. The Bucs plan on featuring Howard in a passing game that also includes Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and Brate.
The Bucs plan on using a lot of double tight end sets – otherwise known as 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends, two receivers) – in 2017 with Howard’s arrival, and that was actually the plan last year until Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brate’s backup and a good receiving tight end, was cut prior to Week 3 for a DUI among other character concerns. Remember that Tampa Bay began the 2016 campaign with five tight ends on the roster in Brate, Seferian-Jenkins, Luke Stocker, Brandon Myers and Alan Cross. Stocker was also used at fullback, and Cross, an undrafted free agent in 2016, was primarily used as a fullback and on special teams.
“Without a doubt I’m excited,” new Bucs tight ends coach Ben Steele said. “Obviously being a first-year tight ends coach here and adding two very good tight ends in our first-round pick, O.J. Howard, and Antony Auclair has me excited. Our guys understand that we are not a single tight end offense. We are a two-tight end offense.”
With the Bucs opting to not re-sign Myers, who will be 32 in September, the team only had two proven tight ends on the roster in Stocker, who is a good blocker, but isn’t much of a receiving threat, and Brate. Tampa Bay was going to add a tight end in this year’s draft – maybe two – but Howard was the only one with a first-round grade.
Howard has the chance to be very special, and Licht has studied the impact that tight ends have on the quarterback positions. The conclusion? Most great quarterbacks had great tight ends.
Alabama TE OJ Howard – Photo by: Courtland Richards
“A tight end is the quarterback’s best friend,” Licht said.
That was true for Winston at Florida State where Nick O’Leary compiled over 1,000 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns in two years playing with the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, and also last year where Brate was Tampa Bay’s second-leading receiver with 57 catches for 660 yards and eight touchdowns. History shows that Licht is right when it comes to having a great tight end aid a quarterback in becoming great.
Dave Casper, one of the few tight ends in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was a five-time Pro Bowler in Oakland where he played from 1974-80. Casper quickly became quarterback Kenny Stabler’s favorite target and helped Oakland win Super Bowl XI in 1976.
Although he never played in a Super Bowl in San Diego, Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts was greatly aided by five-time Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow, who is one of only eight tight ends in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One of the best quarterbacks of all time, Joe Montana, won four Super Bowls in San Francisco – two with two-time Pro Bowler Dwight Clark and two with four-time Pro Bowler Brent Jones.
Denver quarterback John Elway was unsuccessful in winning three Super Bowls until the Broncos drafted Shannon Sharpe in 1990 coming off a defeat in Super Bowl XXIV in 1989. With Sharpe, who became an eight-time Pro Bowler, Elway finally won two Super Bowls back-to-back in 1997-98 and helped Sharpe amass over 10,000 receiving yards and 62 touchdowns in his Hall of Fame career.
While Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman had a Hall of Fame receiver to throw to in Michael Irvin, he also had Jay Novacek, a five-time Pro Bowl tight end as his security blanket. Novacek was instrumental in helping the Cowboys win three Super Bowls in the 1990s. Green Bay Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre won his only Super Bowl in 1996 with three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Chmura to throw to down the seam.
Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning only won one Super Bowl in Indianapolis and that came with Dallas Clark as his receiving tight end. Although Clark only made one Pro Bowl in 2009, he totaled 427 catches for 4,887 yards and 46 touchdowns in his nine years with the Colts. That’s actually better production than what Novacek had in Dallas with 422 catches for 4,630 yards and 30 TDs during his illustrious career.
Drew Brees didn’t win a Super Bowl in New Orleans in 2009 until the Saints acquired Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey a year earlier. Shockey had previously helped New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning beat New England in Super Bowl XLII. Shockey’s last season in New Orleans came in 2010 when the Saints drafted his replacement in Jimmy Graham, who became a four-time Pro Bowl tight end and helped Brees become an eventual Hall of Famer by catching 386 passes for 4,752 yards and 51 touchdowns from 2010-14.
In February, New England’s future Hall of Famer, Tom Brady, became the best quarterback in NFL history when he won his fifth Super Bowl. Head coach Bill Belichick stockpiled the tight end position with Martellus Bennett even though the Patriots had four-time Pro Bowler Rob Gronkowski on the roster. Gronkowski didn’t play in the Super Bowl due to injury, but helped Brady win Super Bowl XLIX over Seattle with a touchdown catch in that game. Bennett, who was New England’s second-leading receiver last season, had five catches for 62 yards in the Super Bowl LI victory.
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
With Howard the Bucs believe they have a player that can be a dominant tight end with rare speed and size that can help Winston get to a whole new level.
The drafting of Howard also had to do with Licht’s mantra to add more speed to the offense this offseason. During the season when watching receivers struggle to separate and watching Winston have to hold on to the ball he wrote the word “SPEED” on his white board in the office as a constant reminder to find faster players in free agency and the draft.
“Horizontal passes, the seam passes the outlet pass – it had a lot to do with the lack of speed we had at the position [outside of Brate],” Licht said. “But with our lack of speed on offense – we’ve picked it up with DeSean Jackson and O.J. – and I felt that’s why Jameis took a lot of hits. Mike Evans was getting doubled and things were slow to develop. It has an effect on your protection and makes your offensive line look bad.”
Drafting Howard not only helps Tampa Bay’s run game because he’s a dominant in-line blocking “Y” tight end, but also the passing game from giving Winston another weapon to helping the offensive line because of his speed and his ability to quickly separate and present himself as a viable target.
“The great quarterbacks have a revolving door of running backs in their careers,” Licht said. “Troy Aikman did have Emmitt Smith, but it’s usually a revolving door. Most of the great quarterbacks had a really good tight end, though.”
Next I’ll take you inside Licht’s Bucs draft board.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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 protected]
I love all of this new found stability in the organization. With the scouting staff staying the same and Smitty coming back, knowing that the team leaders are the same and they’re all coming back, familiarity will help breed more success with this group. It’s also great to be moving back to that early Dungy era where fans can see the same players grow year to year as oppose to other years when there was little patience with younger players and free agents would be flying through the turnstiles.
I remember on Draft night, after the Titans selected Jackson, how quickly the notice came up that the Buccaneers’ pick was in. They made the Howard selection faster than an Iowan eating a pork chop. Good for them. Why mess around?
I remember the days when we are were fretting about our starting qb situation. Thankfully, those concerns have been switched to the backup qb situation.
Fab5 is one reason I look forward to Fridays!
Do people eat pork chops in Iowa?
I know, hard to believe. 🙂
I always enjoy Scott’s annual post draft fab 5 with Licht. We will never be able to completely look up the BUCS skirt, but it is as far up as it gets. I really enjoy Licht and believe he is a grounded GM that brings his people together, and the BUCS have found their long term GM.
To “e’s” point above the BUCS have one thing that they haven’t had in a verrrrry long time, stability & continuity. I personally believe that is the most important aspect of an organization. If you look at the NFL organizations with the best long term sustained success they are: 1st stable and 2nd usually have a franchise QB. I think the BUCS have both now which only brightens their future.
Thanks Scott, in Licht we trust, and GO BUCS
My guess about Martin is if the other running backs are okay, they will first try to negotiate a lower contract or they will release him. I just can’t forget Martin has had an up and down career and that could make any Coach and GM nervious about keeping him . There’s a lot of money involved with their decision.
Lotta really good stuff Scott. The fall to 19 by Howard was incredible. While it totally screwed up by mock I love the idea of having to excellent tight ends. With one surprise in the first round we gained a run blocker, fast, target for Jameis. The draft could have ended on day one and with the free agents signed most would agree that we had a great offseason. The Godwin pick was icing on the cake.
I believed all along that the Buc’s would take a mid round running back. Koetter and Licht told us on several occasions that they liked their backs. The one thing that folks must remember is the change of Market to center and the addition of Sweezy. That combined with the huge additions to the receiving corp (Djax, Howard, and Godwin) will sustain a running game. The addition of Mc Nichols addressed competition, Doug Martin, fresh legs, and the future. I would keep 5RBs, 6WRs, and 3 TE’s. Plenty of weapons to cover for injuries. I would not keep 3 QB’s. I hated the Glennon loss and even more when Chicago drafted Trubisky. I would be on the look out for a FA with real game experience. I just don’t think you can turn all this firepower over to a QB who hasn’t played a down in the NFL.
Marpet. dam auto correct.
I love the insight Scott. But here is the question I think you left out, “when are they going to redo Martin’s contract?” Thank you for all the hard work you guys bring us on a weekly basis.
This is the kind of insight that you just can’t get anywhere else. The Tampa Bay Times is a joke with Tom Jones spewing his liberal pablum and the rest of the staff just regurgitating what they hear in press conferences and giving it their own spin. I like Ira Kaufman’s insight and thought it unfair that PR took a shot at him in reference to the Hall Of Fame presentations. (we all knew that Lynch was going to take several years to get in). However, week after week, you get more in depth analysis of strategy, X’s and O’s, behind the scenes insight, and intel from sources inside One Buc Place, than anywhere else.
One point that is interesting is that while some outlets were saying that the Bucs were never going to draft Dalvin Cook no matter where he fell, it appears that the Bucs did have a high grade on him, but it just didn’t fall right to take him. If you have a choice between a tight end ( which can provide many years of service) and a running back ( which can provide 3-4 serviceable years) you have to take the tight end, even if they have the same draft grade. In addition, it provided the offense with much needed speed. Personally, I was disappointed we didn’t get to draft Cook because I believe he would have taken a lot of pressure off of Winston, but I think they made the right choice.
Oh, but Cook did fall to the Bucs in the Second Round. Why they put a high number on Justin is beyond me when he is a poor tackler and loves to hit high which can bring flags and suspensions, and then took him over Cook, and Licht acted like Cook just didn’t fall to us. We don’t need a Free Safety. Tandy is a better playmaker with a lot more experience, studies tape and is well prepared, is fast, and a good tackler. We will need to keep both our shrimp running backs because both are easily injured taking a pounding between the tackles.
Bucs picked at 50, Cook gone at 41. Is this math that hard?
Doug Martin : 223 lbs
Dalvin Cook : 209 lbs
Who is smaller?
Cook might be good in Minnesota, but I bet Martin finishes with more yards, carries, and touchdowns in 3 less games.
There is often good insight on the Bucs here, but the PR writers don’t have a monopoly on it. I’m not a fan of Jones, but quite often good insight and good reporting comes from other folks at the Times, including Rick Stroud and Greg Auman. They were not on the “cut Martin” bandwagon as several of the PR staff were, and were much more correct in their reporting than PR that the Bucs were not going to extend Evans this offseason, and if need be franchise him next year
PR is very good too. Read them all
Awesome Fab 5!!!!! Thanks Scott!! GO BUCS!!!
The reason why the team likes Barber is because of his size and he methodically reads his blocks. Can’t succeed at the NFL level if you don’t read your blocks as a runner.
As for the o-line, I would argue if the team is going to ask for more vertical routes that you also need more OTs that are better in pass pro. Speed helps address this a little bit, but you still need pass blocking OT’s to make Koetter’s offense work. Play action and a TE phenom like Howard can only do so much to mask deficiencies at OT.
Dotson used to be one of the better pass blocking RT’s in the league so there is optimism for him to returning to form. D. Smith though simply looks out of place as a LT, so we have to wait and see how he improves this season. Because, if Smith was in 3 step WCO most wouldn’t complain about him at LT IMVHO.
Interesting Fab 5 as usual.
Most interesting is that Jason tells us he and other GMs dont think or act in terms of draft rounds, like the media (and by inference, the fans) do, but just individual players on their board of 100-150 names. Fans tend to get caught up in media analysis and mock drafts that have little basis in reality. I love that Jason calls BS on PFF and other online analytics shops. It’s all basically fan porn and useless drivel.
Can’t help filling in one more Te not mentioned – Brees to Gates. I remember winning a fantasy football season because I had those two alone. The rest were so inconsistent!
Some more stuff . . . I remember noting that O.J. Howard reminds me of Ricky Dudley. Ricky’s faster, but not as good hands, and couldn’t block much. I mean that O.J. Howard has a similar body structure to Ricky Dudley.
“and if we have an extreme need with one position over another – and if they are the same grade the need will trump those other positions.”
– I’d still argue that one should prioritize the trenches(o and d lines). I was o.k. with the O.J. Howard pick instead of trading down. I’m even maybe o.k with the safety pick. Licht and Koetter probably felt that, say, Willis going to be better than what we’ve got on the team right now. Maybe they’re right – Ayers, Spence., and Jacquies Smith are hard to argue with.
Years prior to this years draft, Id go through “Great Blue North Draft Reports” list of players in each positions. I didn’t do that this year. I only did so for Hb and Dt. I of course checked out various player that people get excited about in various positions; but, for the most part, I did less draft prep this year than every before. Seems every year, I do less and less . . .
– anyways, McNichols at first didn’t impress me. then the second time around, I said o.k. Then, the third time around I was pretty excited. When the Bucs drafted him, I was checking him out somemore . . . I saw this one game where he got wacked; but, McNichols wasn’t phased by it . . . like the way Deacon Jones use to hit Ot in the head to phase them, and get them unbalanced . . . McNichols just got down to business and found the hole and ran through it. I’m really excited about this guy now!
I was very disappointed that Licht failed to draft another DE. However, I am encouraged by the DE that they just signed from the U. Of Pittsburg. Though he only had 5 sacks last year and 9 in his career, he is very disruptive. He picked up 30 pressures on QBs just last year by PFF’s Count, and he had 3 forced fumbles too. He is 6’8″ and 280 , 5.4 40, and 22 reps with the weights at the combine, about the same as Howard. I think he will be a keeper. Wait til he hits the QBs in our Division!!!
While I’ve become a fan of McNichols, I’m still a fan of Dougie Martin; in fact, I never lost faith in him through this whole drug process. Dougie’s still an underrated football player for the Bucs.
For me, the drafting of McNichols was “drafting the best available player.”
SR- Another GREAT fab 5. I think our RB’s will be fine. I am most worried about an injury at LB or CB. We are VERY thin in those positions.
Great job SR!
So are we going away from the hot take that the Bucs wouldn’t have taken Dalvin Cook even at 50 after speaking with Licht?
I was prepared to see only 2 RB’s taken in Rd 1 (could’ve made some money at Vegas with the line at 3) but to think that the team would have soured so much on the player to steer clear in Rd 2 seemed a little unreasonable given that Jason stuck his neck out to take Jameis number one overall without exactly a spotless college history two years prior.
I’ll be interested to see whether Justin Evans and Kendall Beckwith have a bigger impact than Dalvin Cook. Hopefully they can prove Jason Licht right for standing pat.
I didn’t interpret Jason’s remarks about the potential drafting of Cook the same way you did devasher. The way I read it Cook would have been considered at #19 and there was perhaps some discussion about moving up from #50 to get him, but Licht didn’t want to give up the “Draft capital” to move up the 10 spots. There was no doubt in my mind that Howard would be the pick once he got past the Titans.
Um that’s exactly how I read it too? What exactly were you inferring from my post?
Scott used the Bucs taking OJ Howard, an absolute steal at 19 as some sort of “PR told you so” that the Bucs didn’t like Cook. As if taking a falling star is conflated to mean they didn’t like Cook at all. Then Scott followed it with his belief that the Bucs wouldn’t have taken Cook at 50. Jason’s own comments seem to differ particularly when he is vague on whether the Bucs ‘may or may not’ have attempted to move up to get Cook.
Were the Bucs prepared to pass on Cook in Rd 1? Possibly, particularly knowing he looked like he would fall out of the round. Did that mean they wouldn’t have lit a victory cigar if he had fallen to 50? I doubt it.
I guess I read your post before my morning cup of coffee had time to activate second stage brain function or my reading comprehension went haywire after reading two Olykat comments. After re-reading it, you and I are thinking alike regarding Licht’s Draft strategy.
There is no doubt in my mind that had Cook lasted until 50 the Bucs would have taken him.
He was a steal when Minnesota took him.
The best that could have happened to Cook was that he was sent to Siberia, er, I mean Minnesota. His bad influence Miami buddies and cousins are less likely to follow.
Really enjoyed this Fab 5 Scott. It’s interesting to me to get a bit inside the mindset of the staff regarding the Draft and the evaluation of our rostered players. I know Jason can’t give too much of a “peek up his skirt” as MudManVa would say, but he does continue to say things that some fans and media refuse to hear because they’re too close-minded to listen.
Love this info! Good reporting. Good comments.
It is great to have someone say “In Licht we trust”. The Buccaneer organization has progressed. Though we do have areas of weakness we don’t have the large gaping holes to fill that we have had in the past. With one more quality off-season the Bucs should become perennial contenders.
In Licht we trust! Go Bucs!!!
Scott, you really put the local newspaper flacks to shame. What a great report. I live 1000s of miles away from my home town of Tampa. What would my family do without PR? Best.
Scott, as always the best insight of the Bucs you’ll ever read is in your weekly SR’s Fab 5. This week’s FAB 5 knocked it out of the park!!! Great insight and I appreciate the work you put in to give us this kind of insight. Thanks and Go Bucs!!!
owlykat, were u going to offer up your house for Cook’s Miami posse to hang out at.
Really good Fab 5. Excellent reading and insight.
Some of the comments, like owlykat’s, have been extremely humorous to read but the pork chop comment was the prize winner.
As always, Horse continues to worry about the Glazer’s money
more than their own accountants and Licht combined.
As it relates to running back, I wouldn’t be too concerned.
Opportunity has been given, it has to be taken.
Barkley, Guice, Scarborough, Chubbs would certainly take it if no one else does.
The question that needs to be asked of Licht is “If you bring Martin back, are you going to re-negotiate his current contract?”
Another frustrated CPA has spoken.
Marin’s paycheck is of no concern of yours, the public or the medias, magoobee.
Martin’s salary is between the Glazers, Licht and Martin.
You would be better concerned with wondering how much your dentist turns a profit filling a cavity, your insurance agent when he bills you for your home or auto policy, or Duke Energy when they charge for a non existent nuclear plant that was never built.
I doubt, however, you do any of those things.
If you want to get worked up about something, perhaps you should ask Donald Trump what over inflated room rates he is charging Secret Service agents who provide him with security at al of his rich snobby golf course resorts he runs to every weekend.
So why all the worry over Martin’s salary since it has no affect on you.
I think Magoo makes a good point drd. The salary cap is plentiful now, but let’s not forget that we have Mike, Jameis, Kwon, Ali, and Donovan who all need to be resigned within the next 2-3 years. Cap management will be an issue moving forward so spending wisely will be a must.
I hope that what I’m about to say is taken as it’s intended – a hopefully constructive minor criticism.
Personally, I don’t see this as Fab 5 material. Not because it’s not good and useful content – it unquestionably is (I really want to stress that – the stuff in here is GREAT, and I’m not saying it’s not) – but because I’ve always thought of the Fab 5 as touching on 4 different major, independent topics related to the team at the time. This is just basically a long interview with Licht broken up into 4 pages.
Just one idea for an alternative: I love the interview stuff. It’s awesome. But why not get the interview with Licht done, give the transcript to a low level writer at PR and have them put together a basic structure using those quotes, fill in the blanks, and have this as an awesome piece of content totally separate from the Fab 5? You or someone else you trust could have edited/adjusted that original draft without TOO much effort, which would have preserved your time for a whole other bunch of unique sections of content.
I dunno, maybe I’m somehow underestimating the work that goes into putting together a piece like this, which seems like it is like 70% quotes. Couldn’t anyone have typed those out, while you, the most valuable member of the PR team, worked on other stuff? Or, heck, maybe we could have heard an edited tape recording of this whole exchange and gotten just as much out of it, and the Fab 5 could be what it usually is, rather than what is truly one piece just stretched into 4 pages to fill the Fab 5.
I dunno, like I said, this just doesn’t really feel like a Fab 5 to me. Maybe I’m being a stickler for some reason. All of this stuff aside, I really enjoyed this piece. It’s really cool to get such a candid, honest look at how Licht and co. handle their business. Thank you for the interview.
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