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FAB 1. Spytek, Biehl Offer Insight Into Bucs’ Draft

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a very good haul in the 2020 NFL Draft one week ago, and it really marked the fourth consecutive draft where the team picked up some star power and some really good contributors since the disastrous 2016 draft class. While general manager Jason Licht opted not to talk to the media this week – understandably needing to decompress with his family after a tumultuous draft due to the COVID-19 pandemic – he did allow me to speak to his top lieutenants when it comes to the draft.

I interviewed Bucs director of player personnel John Spytek and director of college scouting Mike Biehl on Thursday to get their insights into Tampa Bay’s 2020 draft class and some of the top undrafted free agents that the team signed. Each interview was lengthy and I’m splitting up their commentary into two week’s worth of SR’s Fab 5 content.

My favorite personal stories from my 24 years of covering the Buccaneers – typically featured in the Fab 4 section – will return in a couple of weeks in mid-May.

This week I’ll feature the Bucs’ first two draft picks, Iowa right tackle Tristan Wirfs and Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., as well as some of the more intriguing undrafted free agents.

In next week’s SR’s Fab 5, I’ll include Spytek and Biehl’s comments on the other five players the Bucs drafted – Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Minnesota wide receiver Tyler Johnson, Nebraska defensive tackle Khalil Davis, Temple linebacker Chapelle Russell and Louisiana running back Raymond Calais.

But first, here are my observations about Tampa Bay’s 2020 NFL Draft, along with some knowledge sprinkled in from Spytek and Biehl.

A Really Solid Draft Class For The Bucs

I won’t grade the 2020 draft class. I’ve found it’s kind of a fruitless exercise as none of these guys have stepped foot on an NFL practice field, much less suited up to play on Sunday yet. At the same time, I think Licht and his staff played it safe with this draft class, getting some really, really solid players. Wirfs and Winfield have a chance to start as rookies, with Vaughn and Johnson potentially seeing plenty of action on offense, and Davis possibly being a wave defensive tackle. If he makes the team, Calais could supplant T.J. Logan as the team’s return specialist.

Bucs director of college scouting Mike Biehl, GM Jason Licht and director of player personnel John Spytek - Photo by: PewterReport.com
Bucs director of college scouting Mike Biehl, GM Jason Licht and director of player personnel John Spytek – Photo by: PewterReport.com

If all that happens that’s quite an impact, and would rival last year’s draft haul, which saw inside linebacker Devin White, cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean and kicker Matt Gay emerge as starters, while Mike Edwards was a rotational player at free safety. Any time a team can field two or three quality starters as rookies from a draft class it’s usually a win.

My favorite Bucs draft pick this year was Winfield, and I explained why in this week’s PR Roundtable, so I won’t repeat myself. I explained how drafting Vaughn in the third round was a bit of a reach in my SR’s 2020 Bucs Draft Insider: Day 3 Preview column, but it’s understandable given that the team didn’t have a fourth-round pick. The Vaughn pick has really grown on me, and the Bucs front office was flooded with congratulations from other team’s general managers, personnel directors and scouts – some of whom had Vaughn rated as the third best running back in the draft class.

Maybe Licht Didn’t Have To Trade Up For Wirfs

Neither Biehl nor Spytek discussed trading up one spot to get Wirfs with me, but I don’t think the move up with San Francisco to No. 13 was ultimately necessary for Tampa Bay. However, I won’t criticize Licht for surrendering a fourth-round pick. Having the chance to get Wirfs, whom many teams rated as one of the top two tackles and a Top 10 player in this year’s draft class, was worth a first- and a fourth-rounder for a team that was picking at No. 14 overall when the 2020 NFL Draft started.

If another team had traded up to get Wirfs then I would assume Licht would have drafted South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, given his affinity for drafting guys who play in the trenches with premium picks. Kinlaw is the player the 49ers wanted and ultimately picked at No. 14 by trading down with Tampa Bay. So really, San Francisco general manager John Lynch couldn’t have traded down any further than No. 14 without risking losing Kinlaw. I think Lynch played some poker with Licht and swiped a fourth-round pick and still got the guy he wanted.

Don’t sweat the fourth-rounder too much, though. Fourth-round picks have a 28 percent of signing a second contract in the NFL, and finding guys like Kwon Alexander, the team’s fourth-rounder in 2017, is a rare feat.

Yet, there were some intriguing names in the fourth round, including defensive linemen like LSU’s Rashard Lawrence and Baylor’s James Lynch, Miami inside linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, Louisiana Tech defensive back L’Jarius Sneed and Miami running back DeeJay Dallas. Minnesota ultimately acquired the fourth-round pick via a trade with San Francisco and selected South Carolina defensive end D.J. Wonnum with the 117th overall selection.

Bucs Got Creative With Technology During Scouting Process

So how did the Bucs cope with the quarantine challenges presented by COVID-19 pandemic?

“It was different and created a new challenge,” Spytek said. “I would say from our standpoint we kind of embraced it. You could piss and moan over the fact that we don’t have the full process that we usually have, knowing that we’re not going to have the full process because of the situation that we have at hand. Or you can acknowledge that’s the way it’s going to go this year and come up with a new process to do it. I think we came up with creative ideas – myself, Mike Biehl, Jason, Rob [McCartney] and [Mike] Greenberg – getting on daily Zoom calls about how we deal with this, and then bouncing some ideas off our scouts. I think we came up with a pretty good overall protocol. We had the Combine, so the biggest thing was getting data on guys that didn’t run due to injury or chose not to run, and then the non-Combine guys. We came up with a good way of trying to capture some of that data that I think worked.”

Bucs WR Tyler Johnson
Bucs WR Tyler Johnson – Photo courtesy of Minnesota

So how did the Bucs get times on players like Johnson, who didn’t run at the NFL Scouting Combine? Tampa Bay used GPS technology and integrated that into the game film.

“We did some digging on that using some of the technology that exists to get a feel for what his speed was comparable to,” Spytek said, regarding Johnson. “We’ll never have a 40-time on him, but I think the 40 times are becoming less and less relevant with more and more of this GPS data where you can see real speed on the field. Miles per hour – and there are ways to capture that now [with technology] both at the school and off of film. Without giving away all of our secrets we did some digging on that and we have some pretty good comparisons.”

Biehl said the Bucs got by just fine without the pro day info.

“It’s just like Jason said, it forced us to go back and rely on the tape more, which is what we should do anyways,” Biehl said. “As far as the on-field workouts and the pro days, I don’t think we missed that a ton. We covered the time to spend with the kids by doing the Zoom calls and we’re still able to dig in there if we were going off on the road.”

I asked Biehl what has changed about the Bucs’ evaluation process since the debacle of the 2016 draft, which saw the team pick cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, edge rusher Noah Spence and kicker Roberto Aguayo with the first three selections. Since 2017, Tampa Bay has strung together four solid draft classes.

“We’ve gotten back to trying to bring in the right kind of guy – the guys that have all the traits that we look for,” Biehl said. “Bringing in guys to become a Buc, which is the work ethic, the coachability, the inner drive, the love of the game – things like that. Not that we didn’t do it before, but we’ve put a re-emphasis on that over the last couple of drafts and it’s paid off.”

Howard Wasn’t On The Trade Block During The Draft

Bucs tight end O.J. Howard wasn’t traded during the draft like some, including yours truly, suspected he might be. Instead, trading Howard was never part of the team’s plan, and rightfully so.

“Two years ago, coming off his rookie year, everyone was saying this was an emerging Pro Bowl tight end,” Spytek said. “Obviously, he had the season he had last year, but we still believe in the kid and the person and the talent. I don’t know why everyone assumed [we would trade him] … I guess because we have Gronk now. I don’t know that that was ever the case. You just can’t have enough good players, especially at the tight end position, where it’s getting harder and harder to find those guys because so many of the college programs are playing with only one – if they are playing with one – and most times that’s almost a receiver position. You end up having discussions about those guys – is he a tight end or a receiver at our level?”

Bucs TEs O.J. Howard and Cam Brate - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs TEs O.J. Howard and Cam Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Newly acquired tight end Rob Gronkowski hasn’t started all 16 games in a season since 2011, and missed 29 games due to injuries from 2012-18. Keeping Howard in the fold gives the Bucs the strongest group of tight ends in the league, factoring in Cameron Brate and Antony Auclair, too.

“One of the things about football is that you hope to stay healthy but you know that’s probably not going to happen,” Spytek said. “The deeper you can be at all of these positions you can be the better. Some years the third tight end, wide receiver or whatever doesn’t play a bunch, but the next year one week into the season that guy is a starter (due to injuries). If you look back in the 2017 season we had Lavonte [David] and Kwon [Alexander] and we still took Kendell [Beckwith] in the third. Three or four games into the season Kwon and Lavonte are hurt and Kendell is starting. You want to build a team and you don’t want to be 17 receivers deep and they never get to play, but you never know when and where the injuries are going to strike, and where you depth is going to be tested the most.”

After the draft, PewterReport.com broke the story that the Bucs picked up Howard’s fifth-year option. Howard is in the final year of his rookie contract, and if he’s on the team in 2021, he’ll have a base salary of $6.2 million.

No Rookie Mini-Camp Or OTAs?

It will be weird not having a rookie mini-camp to cover next weekend due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not just to cover the team’s draft picks, but also to see which rookie try-out players end up getting signed. Remember that former long-time Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries and right tackle Demar Dotson joined the team as try-out players in 2009 and 2015, respectively.

Who knows if the NFL will allow teams to have a rookie mini-camp? It certainly won’t be in May. Will the entire country open up by June or July? Will the NFL have to skip all mini-camps and OTAs and just have the 32 teams head into training camp together in August?

Remember, some states, such as New York and New Jersey where the Jets, Giants and Bills are headquartered have been hit harder by COVID-19 than other states like Florida, which is set to begin to reopen next week. It wouldn’t be fair for the Bucs to have OTAs in May or June if those states are still closed due to the pandemic. The NFL will likely have to wait until the entire nation is free from the quarantine before allowing teams to train at their facilities again for the sake of fairness.

Bucs Might Add A Veteran O-Lineman

Speaking of Dotson, the Bucs aren’t done with their offensive line. Spytek indicated that the team might add a veteran lineman after the draft. Aside from Dotson, former Bucs tackle Josh Wells and former Tampa Bay interior lineman Earl Watford remain unsigned.

“There are some veterans out there too that haven’t signed,” Spytek said. “Just because we didn’t draft one, sometimes you boomerang back the other way to guys that are still looking for a team and we can work something out now that the dust has settled a bit. We’re just not going to force things. You make mistakes that way. We’re always looking for good players.”

Bucs director of player personnel John Spytek and GM Jason Licht
Bucs director of player personnel John Spytek and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

I thought Tampa Bay would flood the offensive line in this year’s draft with two or three players, but only selected Wirfs, and came away empty with interior offensive linemen. Spytek said that the team likes some of the young, unheralded offensive linemen like guards Zack Bailey and Aaron Stinnie, center Anthony Fabiano and tackle Brad Seaton, and didn’t want to force a pick just to select another O-lineman.

“That’s kind of the way it fell in the draft,” Spytek said. “You wish you could have had 15 or 16 picks like the Vikings because we could have accomplished more, but we only had seven. It just didn’t fall that way. I think you make a mistake with any player when you say, ‘We have to add somebody here.’ That’s the easiest way to make a mistake. You look back two days later and you say, ‘We drafted that guy a round higher than should have because we had a need.’ That becomes pretty apparent.

“I’m optimistic about some of those guys inside. Zack Bailey was doing some good things in practice and was on the active roster and was going to come to London with us and then got rolled up on in practice and got that injury. Stinnie, the guy we got from the Titans, we’re excited about him and what he can do. He can play all of the interior spots. Fabiano and Seaton are guys we like, too.”

Now let’s get Spytek and Biehl’s insight and scouting reports on Tampa Bay’s first three draft picks – Wirfs, Winfield and Vaughn.

Do you like this edition of SR’s Fab 5? Please donate to PewterReport.com today to help our business overcome the financial hardship due to COVID-19. One-time donations start as low as $10 – or you can donate monthly for as low as $3 per month. Thank you for your support! CLICK HERE TO DONATE

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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 protected]
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drdneast

LOL. I love how you say fourth round picks have a 28 percent chance of resigning with thier original teams.
Except for Mike Evans, first round players here have a zero chance of resigning with the team thanks to Licht’s drafting acumen.

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surferdudes

I’m in the camp that doesn’t see the need to bring in a veteran RB, corner, or safety. We have three backs from last year still on the team, and added two more. Roll with it. As mentioned Licht has drafted countless safeties, and corners, just used another second rounder on a safety, enough, don’t need anymore at this time. Fans have been talking about moving Wirfs to guard, maybe moving Cappa to tackle, or picking up someone like Peters to play RT, why? Wirfs has played tackle for three years at a high level since his freshman season. Why… Read more »

liquidmuse3

Vea and White are clearly already motoring towards 2nd contracts. VHIII is clearly a failure but unless the best quarterback of all time comes available, Jameis was getting a second contract. So what you meant was “VHIII was a bad pick”, and that’s about it.

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IDGABuc

WRONG! The Bucs had Winston 3rd behind Tom Brady and our former, AND current, division rival in Teddy Bridgewater. THEN they said they’d have tried to sign Winston. You can try to pump up Winston as having JUUUST missed out on a 2nd contract w/ the Bucs because the GOAT was available, but facts are facts. The fact is EVERY TEAM IN THE NFL just had shot at your boy Winston and there was no team biting for MONTHS! He wanted $30m+/yr! And he got $1.1m.. Apparently the Saints decided to be cool & not to knock off a FULL… Read more »

stlbucsfan

Draft is over and it was a solid draft when you consider it as a whole. Simply put Lynch got over on Licht but I’m not shocked Bc he’s a much better GM. I hope we target Taco Charlton who was recently cut by the Dolphins I believe. He registered 5 sacks while only playing a 3rd of the snaps and would a good young guy to add to the rotation at DE. We need more depth at that position Bc we saw what the defense looked like with Shaq and no JPP. People are nervous about the backup OL… Read more »

TCB2W!

No to Taco. He was released by Miami for his disruption in the locker room. He was a first round pick that Dallas let go of after 2 seasons and Miami deactivated him for 4 games because of behavior. Why would we want that in our locker room?

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stlbucsfan

I could careless about what he did in Miami. He would easily be our 3rd best DE, has the talent, would be cheap and is definitely worth the gamble. You can always cut him if it doesn’t work out but there’s not many guys walking the street that averaged 10 sacks on 50% of their snaps. Any injury to JPP or Shaq and this defense will quickly return to the awful mess we saw the first half of last season. Plus I’ve seen enough of JPP to know Taco would quickly be confronted if he became a problem. Not sure… Read more »

IDGABuc

Idk if you caught the part where he said he was a 1ST RD PICK at a premium position and was given the boot after barely making it past TWO seasons with the team that drafted him..? Then he signed w/ Miami after being straight up released by the Cowboys, who are still needing depth at the position, to Miami (notice he wasn’t even traded for a 7th after 2 years??) who released him after 1yr DESPITE him being a productive player to the tune of leading the team in sacks! With 5 but still. That led because he happened… Read more »

stlbucsfan

Reading is key, I said he had 5 sacks on a third of snaps. My 10 sacks were projecting Which is why I think he’s worth the gamble. Not relied upon to produce or start so literally everything would be earned which is great for a player like him. Comparing Desean to a guy who would be signing a 1 year prove it deal are completely different. Desean had a 3 year deal and knew his spot was safe so he could act however he wanted. Plus we had Jameis and a guy that wore Batman pjs as captains, times… Read more »

danielob

I always get hyped when I read about the potential these new young Bucs could bring to the team. Winfield sounds like a exciting player, it might take a few years for him to live up to his potential, hope we don’t throw him in too soon, DB is one of the hardest positions to transition into the NFL and alot of these players lose confidence when they are thrown into the fire. Of all the UFA’s we signed I think that Parnell Motley has the best chance to make the roster, start on special teams and transition into a… Read more »

Bucsfan1983

I wish Licht stayed at 14 and kept that 4th round pick, I really wanted James Morgan with it.

Regarding Winston,

SR get over yourself. BA quit on Winston the moment he named Lefty play caller. I have no problem with what Winston said, even if aimed at BA more so than Koetter and previous coaches.

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liquidmuse3

He accepted the job almost BECAUSE of Jameis. He supported him all year almost to a foolish degree. He turned on him only when the season was over and even then only a little. I sometimes wonder if some fans are just cynics at heart.

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Dave

100% right. Jameis was the reason BA took the job. He didn’t quit on him. If we won the final 2 games and Jameis threw say 5 TD’s vs 1 pick, instead of losing both games and throwing 3 TD’s vs 6 picks, I guarantee we keep him. And Brady isn’t here. He dug his own grave here in TB

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Horse

Most know I wasn’t a fan of drafting Winfield because of his size. His passed injuries clearly shows we can expect the same. Okay, I feel better now. I accept it and won’t remind anyone about it in the future. Enough said! I would like to throw this thought out there? I believe we are better than the Saints as to talent; where we are weaker is in Coaching. We can’t play vanilla against the Saints; we have to be creative and NEVER take our foot off the peddle, or they will come back and beat us most times. Good… Read more »

Dave

Horse: What does size have to do with anything? He’s the same size as the Honey Badger and Earl Thomas. Size has never impacted either one of them. IMO if he stays healthy(which obviously is a risk with him)he’s the surest bet of all our draft picks. He’s got stud safety written all over him. And I think he’ll immediately step in and be productive his rookie year. I don’t know how anyone can watch his tape and not come away with the same conclusion. He can do it all, and do it all well. His football IQ is off… Read more »

Spitfire

What I like about Wirfs is I doubt we will ever hear “He tends to take plays off” or “It seems like he’s on for most the game but then falls off and disappears some plays” at least not due to a lack of effort or drive. He’s got the height and arm length and weight and athleticism. He will no doubt lock down a spot on the Oline for years to come. Hopefully that is RT if not eventually LT.

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Spitfire

It’s easy for anyone that wants to sit there on their couch and moan about giving up the 4th. None of us were the GM sitting there in front of the computer guessing at what would happen with a prize sitting right there one pick away. Nobody in that position would wanna risk letting that prize go. Kinlaw May have been interesting and may overcome his injury concerns, but if he doesn’t and we had to take one of the second level OTs and Brady ended up in the hospital, everyone would be crying that Licht should have done whatever… Read more »

owlykat

Well spoken, spitfire!

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liquidmuse3

Man Scott, you really have a thing against Whitehead. 😉 Last year you didn’t even have him making the team even though he had a very good rookie year and looked bigger in camp, and now you think Edwards is gonna take his spot. They talk about interchangeable safeties and Whitehead and Winfield are almost copies of each other, other than Winfield’s more of a ballhawk.

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chefboho

Agreed. Whitehead was one of my favorite players on defense. He is a heck of a hard hitter. I thought he was pretty darn good back there last year. Even better than Edwards

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Buc on the Move

” If another team had traded up to get Wirfs then I would assume Licht would have drafted South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, given his affinity for drafting guys who play in the trenches with premium picks. ”

Seriously, LOL!

In 6 years you have Vea, Spence, Smith and Marpet, now Wirfs. I would hardly call that an affinity. I think Scott meant to say secondary instead of trenches.

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DonkeyHunter

“If another team had traded up to get Wirfs then I would assume Licht would have drafted South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, given his affinity for drafting guys who play in the trenches with premium picks” SR, are you serious? If you want to count 1st through 3rd rounders as premium picks, Licht has had 25 of them in his tenure. With those premium picks, he’s invested the following: 4 on Offensive Linemen 2 on Defensive Linemen That’s less than 25% of his total premium picks. Now, with those other said premium picks, he’s invested: 8 on defensive backs… Read more »

destinjohnny

So reading this, the Bucs only have one scout for the big 10?? I would think they would have a offensive lineman scout, linebacker scout, running back scout, dB scout etc etc. How is one person able to scout all those positions and all those schools?
Is there a cap teams can spend on scouting?

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Benjamin

Kwon Alexander was drafted in 2015 not 2017.

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johnny

“If another team had traded up to get Wirfs then I would assume Licht would have drafted South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, given his affinity for drafting guys who play in the trenches with premium picks.“ lol what are you even talking about. in a total of 7 drafts done by licht in tampa only 2 1st rd picks used on Oline/Dline. that’s an affinity for using premium picks on trench players to you? on top of that, of the 14 top 50 selections (what i consider a premium pick in the draft) licht has made in tampa, astonishingly… Read more »