FAB 4. Inside The Rest Of The Bucs’ Draft
What made Tampa Bay’s 2018 draft a success wasn’t just the selection of Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea in the first round. It was the fact that Bucs general manager Jason Licht was able to successfully pull off three trades and come away with eight picks, including five inside the top 100.
Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter were able to fill several big needs, including running back, cornerback, guard, strong safety and even wide receiver. In an exclusive interview with PewterReport.com, Licht shared some insight into the rest of Tampa Bay’s 2018 draft class.
On second-round running back Ronald Jones II
“We had him as a first-round graded player,” Licht said. “His burst and acceleration and his aggressiveness in the hole – he’s an aggressive runner. He’s not a finesse runner. He’s got really good vision and he can make people miss, but he’s going to be the hammer and not the nail. I love the way he runs. You think you’re watching a 220- or 225-pound back the way he runs and the mentality he has with the ball in his hands. Plus, he can outrun people, too. The time he ran at the Combine, he was nursing a hamstring. So give him credit for even running. He’s a competitor. He ran in the 4.4s at his pro day. That didn’t shock me that he ran that. If he ran a 4.39 it wouldn’t surprise me.”
Licht didn’t say where he had Jones ranked among running backs in the 2018 draft, but reading between the lines in my conversations with him and using a process of elimination, it was either second behind Penn State’s Saquon Barkley or third behind Barkley and Georgia’s Sony Michel. I suspect that Jones, who was the fifth running back taken in the draft, was ahead of Georgia’s Nick Chubb and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny on Tampa Bay’s draft board. Being able to draft both Vea and Jones gave the Bucs a pair of first-rounders based on the team’s draft grades of those two players.
The one concern I have is that if Jones, who brings great speed and playmaking ability, goes down with an injury, the Bucs’ backfield is right back to where it was last year with Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers and third-down back Charles Sims. I would have preferred Licht draft another running back to compete with Rodgers and Sims – perhaps in the sixth round, grabbing Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough, who went to Dallas in the seventh round, Northwestern’s Justin Jackson, who went to the L.A. Chargers in the seventh round, or Grambling State’s Martez Carter, who signed as an undrafted free agent with Washington.
“We added RoJo,” Licht said. “I feel good about Peyton. We like Peyton a lot and we feel he is just scratching the surface of what he can be. Charles Sims has great hands and he’s a really good pass protector. He does a lot of things well. We were fortunate to get him back, too. It didn’t take us out of the thought of taking another running back, it just didn’t fall that way.”
The Bucs did sign Duke’s Shaun Wilson, who rushed for 2,463 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Blue Devils, in addition to catching 81 passes for 725 yards and six more scores. The 5-foot-8, 185-pound Wilson, who ran a 4.46 at his pro day and posted a 37-inch vertical jump, also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns at Duke.
“He falls in line with our theme – he’s an ultra-competitor and super tough,” Licht said. “The guys at Duke felt like he was pound-for-pound their strongest player on the team despite being diminutive in size. He catches the ball well and he’s a good returner – just a football guy. A total football guy.”
On second-round cornerbacks M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis
“If there was a tough decision … I don’t want to say tough decision, but who do you take first – Stewart or Davis?” Licht said. “I wanted both of them. Carlton wants to press. A lot of corners don’t want to press.”
Davis, a 6-foot-1, 208-pounder who broke the mold at cornerback for the Bucs, comes to Tampa Bay with plenty of swagger.
“He’s a Miami kid and you’ve got to love that about him,” Licht said. “Carlton played early, grasped it quickly and it wasn’t too big for him. He was playing in the SEC and going against really good receivers, and he has a lot of confidence. Confidence is sometimes an underrated quality for a player.”
As for Stewart, who impressed at the Senior Bowl where he was voted the top defensive back during the week of practice, Licht saw a very good football player that can play inside or out at the next level.
“We like the versatility that he has, but what jumped out most on tape was his play at nickel,” Licht said of Stewart. “He’s a thick, sturdy guy that is tough and instinctive. He’s a very good tackler. We never really saw him get exposed outside because he’s instinctive and he anticipates well, but I would say that his first opportunity would be at nickel.
“Carlton is an outside player. We’re not by any means giving up on Vernon Hargreaves because he had a down year. We still think Vernon is a very good player and there is going to be some good competition in there in OTAs, mini-camps and training camp to see what the best combination is. We have options now.”
Not only do the Bucs have to find an eventual successor for cornerback Brent Grimes, who will be 35 this year, Tampa Bay may have to replace Hargreaves if the former first-rounder doesn’t show progress. Hargreaves will be given a shot to play outside cornerback again, but may have to move back inside to nickel if he falters.
“Vernon will get an opportunity outside, but we’re going to put the best combination out there,” Licht said. “Ryan Smith is an outside corner and he’ll have his opportunities, too. We thought that Ryan did progress at the end of the year. One thing I love about Ryan is that he’s tough and fearless. It’s very hard to find guys that are tougher than he is. Coming from a small school and now he’s played two years. We’ll see him make a jump in the third year. The first year we had him at safety, but the plan is to keep him at corner.”
The good news for Tampa Bay is that they have five legitimate options for two starting cornerbacks in nickel defense aside from Grimes if you count nickel cornerback Javien Elliott. The guess here is that Davis starts opposite Grimes and Stewart and Hargreaves duke it out for the nickel spot.
On third-round guard Alex Cappa
“With Cappa, we like the versatility,” Licht said. “He played left tackle at Humboldt. We don’t expect him to be a plug-and-play guy whatsoever. Now he’s smart and tough, so he’s got a couple of things working for him. Ali Marpet jumped in there right away. Ali was an exceptional talent, though.”
Cappa has the aggressive, physical style of play to fit in with the Buccaneers, and the versatility that Licht and offensive line coach George Warhop love. The plan is to have Cappa start at right guard where he will compete with Caleb Benenoch and J.R. Sweezy, who we found out is recovering from a broken leg. Tampa Bay had previously called it a leg injury, but it is in fact a broken leg and not a knee injury, as has been speculated.
“You don’t want to overload these guys as rookies where every day you are putting them in a different position,” Licht said. “You don’t want to do that too much. You want them to master one spot before you move them around. I’m not saying that we won’t do that, but Cappa’s best future may be at guard. He’s a smart enough that eventually he could play all five positions, though.”
On fourth-round strong safety Jordan Whitehead
“We really liked Whitehead,” Licht said. “We thought he was an interchangeable guy, which is what our system kind of is for safeties. He’s not the biggest guy, but he plays tough. He’s a good tackler, he’s strong and he has some thump to him. He’s quick and he can run. We just felt like he’s a good fit. He’ll compete back there for a starting role eventually. I wouldn’t say right away, but you never know. He could separate himself. He was just a good player and you have to look beyond the size a little bit. I liked him better than some of the safeties the past couple of years that have gone in the first three rounds.”
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Whitehead is undersized, but has 4.5 speed, ideal athleticism and good toughness. Will he be ready to challenge veterans Chris Conte and Keith Tandy for the starting strong safety spot opposite free safety Justin Evans? Time will tell, but he won’t be the only rookie in the mix.
The Bucs signed priority undrafted free agent Godwin Igwebuike from Northwestern. Igwebuike, the nephew of former Bucs kicker Donald Igwebuike, was a four-year starter for the Wildcats where he recorded 324 tackles, 23 pass breakups, seven interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
“What stood out to me is that he’s a bigger guy – he’s 5-foot-11 and change and is 213 pounds,” Licht said. “He ran a 4.41 and is very tough. He’s a heat-seeking missile out there. He’s a smart guy. He’s going to compete. If he makes our team and is just a special teams player we’ll be very happy.”
On fifth-round wide receiver Justin Watson
“We like his length and he tested really well,” Licht said. “He has really good hands. He accounted for 50 percent of their offense, which is crazy. I just love the way he’s wired. We like Freddie [Martino] and he’ll compete and do his role on special teams, and this guy will provide some really good competition for him. This guy has his arrow pointing up. He could be a No. 3 receiver at some point.”
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Watson gives the Bucs another big receiver with a wide catch radius. And by virtue of his 4.42 time in the 40-yard dash, Watson could also be considered a speed receiver, too. Due to salary cap reasons, this could be the last year in Tampa Bay for DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries. With Chris Godwin, last year’s third-round pick, expected to steal reps from both Jackson and Humphries in his second NFL season, Watson could elevate himself to the No. 3 receiver spot next year.
“I love his story,” Licht said. “He told us that he was complaining one time about being tired and sore and having blisters on his feet and he looked over at his brother [27-year old Tommy, who has cerebral palsy], and his brother can’t talk, and just gave him a look like, ‘If I could be in your body for one day I would run until my feet fell off.’ That put it in perspective for him.
“I love the fact that he’s blue collar, too. You think the guys that go to Ivy League schools are wealthy, but his parents both worked two jobs and did whatever they could to support him and his brother. We think he’s going to be good. He’s got a shot.”
On sixth-round linebacker Jack Cichy
“When he was healthy he was fast enough,” Licht said. “I talked to some teams that said they had him in their top 50 going into this year before the injury on their initial draft board, and I can see why. Out of all of our players, I’ve had more calls and texts come in about this guy saying, ‘He was the favorite guy I’ve coached,’ and ‘He is a coach on the field.’”
Cichy is coming off a torn ACL in training camp that cost him his junior season. Before that he only played half of his sophomore year after suffering a torn pectoral muscle. But the tape that’s out there on Cichy is quite good. The only concern is his speed and ability to drop into coverage. “On the field I thought he was a tackle collector,” Licht said. “He’s an instinctive guy. He’s not known for being a 4.5 guy, but I think he’s fast enough. When we worked him out he ran the shuttles, but didn’t run the 40. He’s only seven months post-op, so we are willing to take a chance on him and see where he is when he comes in. We want to see where he’s at, but we’ll probably start him off at MIKE.”