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. LICHT IS MASTERING THE DRAFT
In just three years at the helm in Tampa Bay’s war room, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht has learned to master the draft. In his first three years, Licht and his staff of scouts have drafted at least seven quality starters in wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in 2014, quarterback Jameis Winston, offensive lineman Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015, and kicker Roberto Aguayo in 2016. That’s a haul.
Offensive lineman Kevin Pamphile and running back Charles Sims are steady contributors from the 2014 draft, and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, defensive end Noah Spence and fullback Danny Vitale all have the chance to become starters during their rookie campaign. After the 2016 season, the Bucs could have as many as 10 desirable starters from the last three drafts – many with Pro Bowl potential.
Getting six starters – two per draft – is quite a feat. Finding 10 is what general managers dream of.
Mike Biehl, John Spytek and Bucs scouts – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Just as important as knowing which players to draft, is learning how to maneuver within the rounds to get them. Knowing when to trade down, when to stay put, and when to trade up are all skills the 45-year old Licht has quickly mastered.
All of those skills were on display in the first two rounds this year’s draft, too.
In the first round, Licht traded down two spots, picked up an extra fourth-round pick, and drafted Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.
Then he resisted temptation and stayed put for the player he and the Bucs targeted in the second round in Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence.
Licht then boldly traded up in the second round for Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo, which raised some eyebrows and sparked some controversy.
Licht will be the first to tell you, it’s not just him making these decisions. It’s also his able personnel staff, and he values the educated opinions of every single one of them from the higher-ups like director of college scouting Mike Biehl and new director of player personnel John Spytek, to those of the Bucs’ scouting interns.
But every Bucs scout and personnel man takes his lead from Licht, whose former protégé, Jon Robinson, received high marks for his first draft as general manager of the Tennessee Titans this year. To get an inside look at Tampa Bay’s 2016 draft, I returned to Licht’s office for a very insightful sit-down interview this week.
I didn’t spend time asking Licht for his analysis on each of Tampa Bay’s draft picks because he covered that ground at the podium on draft weekend in his press conferences. Instead, I wanted to get inside Licht’s thought process regarding the draft and discuss why and how he made the moves he made. We began by talking about the maneuvering involved in the first and second round.
Hargreaves comes to Tampa Bay with a ton of positives, including quickness, supreme footwork, smooth hips, great ball skills and a competitive nature in both run and pass defense. But I asked Licht point blank if having three 5-foot-10 cornerbacks on the field bothered him in a division full of big wide receivers like 6-foot-3 Julio Jones, 6-foot-4 Devon Funchess and 6-foot-5 Kelvin Benjamin, assuming Hargreaves, Brent Grimes and Alterraun Verner won starting jobs in training camp.
Bucs GM Jason Licht and Scott Reynolds – Photo by: Mark Cook/PR
“Vernon is 5-foot-10 and a half, by the way,” Licht pointed out. “You would be concerned if you didn’t believe in their skill and you didn’t believe in them as players. When you go into it saying, ‘Our corners have to be 6-foot or taller,’ a lot of times you are limiting the players you can bring in and you are pigeonholing yourself into taking corners that don’t have quick transition, that don’t have quick change of direction, that don’t have great ball skills. They just have size. It works for certain schemes where they can get away with a guy that they’re asking to get on the line of scrimmage and not let the receiver get off the line. I don’t think that’s what we’re asking our corners to do full time.
“We’ve done our research. There have been almost as many corners under 5-foot-11 make the Pro Bowl in the last 15 years than there have been corners taller than 5-foot-11. There have been more instances of [taller guys] making Pro Bowls because it’s the same guys making it, but with individual corners there are plenty of them (under 5-foot-11 corners). In Philadelphia we had Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard. Bobby Taylor was very tall at 6-foot-4, and Troy Vincent was too at 6-foot-2, but those are kind of outliers. Size does matter to a certain degree, but sometimes the best players don’t fit into your size requirements.”
It should be noted that the best cornerback in Buccaneers history was 5-foot-10, 185-pound Ronde Barber, who is a future Hall of Famer. He’s already endorsed Hargreaves as the best cover cornerback in the draft.
But Hargreaves wasn’t the absolute clear-cut selection with Tampa Bay’s ninth overall pick. If he was, Licht would have stayed put and picked him at No. 9. Instead, he found a willing trading partner in Chicago to move down two spots.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace wanted to move from No. 11 ahead of the New York Giants, which had the tenth overall pick, to draft Georgia rush linebacker Leonard Floyd because Chicago had received information that Floyd was going to be the Giants’ first-round pick. With Floyd drafted by Chicago, the Giants turned to the secondary, but drafted Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple instead of Hargreaves.
The Bucs dodged a bullet, although there was another player Tampa Bay had rated highly, and drafted Hargreaves. So what would have happened if Hargreaves had become a Giant?
“If it came down to that we had a player that we were very excited about as well,” Licht said. “We were a bit more excited about Vernon. You roll the dice a little bit [when you make that trade], but you always try to be prepared. With every trade you make in the days leading up to the draft [you debate], ‘Would we trade back one spot, and what we would trade for and what would be on the board?’ What if we traded back two spots, what would have to be on the board?’ When we did that trade with Chicago, we knew that we had to have two players we liked and I had to know what Chicago was taking.”
With research and intel gathered from Tampa Bay’s scouts in the days leading up to the draft, Licht’s assertion that the Bears were going to take Floyd – and not Hargreaves – was correct.
Bucs war room – Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“Everything in life is relationship-based,” Licht said. “So you can make trades with teams you have great relationships with. If you feel comfortable with them and they feel comfortable with you it can happen. Ryan Pace and I go way back. I was on the road with him at LSU the day he made his first school call as a scout. He was a scouting assistant. I helped show him the ropes a little bit and we’ve been friends ever since. I know him. We felt good about that trade.
“I had a few calls for No. 9. There were some teams we wouldn’t trade with, such as teams within our division. It wouldn’t make sense to go down [too far] to a certain level because we didn’t have enough players that we felt comfortable taking [in the first round].”
Licht wouldn’t say who the other player Tampa Bay was considering was. The guess here is that it was either Apple or Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who was selected with the 12th overall pick by New Orleans.
Although Licht technically traded down out of the top 10, the Buccaneers have owned a top 10 pick in his first three years as general manager. To say he’s sick of picking that high – and the losing that comes with it – is an understatement.
“Yes!” Licht said emphatically. “Maybe I’ll trade back into the top 10, but I’m tired of it. I don’t want to see us on that TV ticker with us in the top 10 again. I want to be in that last tier on the ticker.”
With Hargreaves in the fold, Licht and the Bucs weren’t done on the first day of the draft. They were eagerly watching the draft unfold to see which players might be available in the second round when Tampa Bay selected with the 39th overall pick. The player the Bucs were targeting was Spence, who Tampa Bay regarded as the best pure pass rusher in the draft.
Prior to the Falcons game in Atlanta, Licht had been to Jacksonville State University in Alabama to see Spence play. He underwhelmed in that game, failing to register a sack and finishing with just three tackles, but that would be only one of two games Spence didn’t record a sack in during his lone season with the Colonels. Yet Spence finished the 2015 season with 11.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss and Licht didn’t let that one game influence what he saw on tape over the course of a season.
Tampa Bay hasn’t had a double-digit sacker since legendary defensive end Simeon Rice in 2005. The Bucs believe Spence could change that and there was some thought to trading up into the end of the first round or near the top of the second to get him. The reason? Tampa Bay had a first-round grade on Spence.
I didn’t think Spence was going make it to the 39th pick in the draft.
DE Noah Spence – Photo courtesy of EKU
“Originally, I would say I was in that same opinion of yours,” Licht said. “Then in the days leading up to the draft, the more and more work we did and the intel that we gathered, there was a pretty good chance he would be there for us. I was very tempted to get up there and get him, but I have a great staff. I keep telling you that, and I had some great opinions telling me I could sit back and be patient. They were right in this case.”
Because Licht was patient and stayed put to get Spence, he reserved the Bucs’ ammunition to trade up in the second round to get Aguayo. Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter, who is a huge believer in strong special teams, had been targeting Aguayo during the offseason and wanted him badly. So badly that the Bucs used the fourth-round pick they acquired from Chicago in the first round trade to deal up for the Florida State kicker.
And with that trade came controversy as Licht shocked the league, the media and some within the Buccaneers fan base by drafting a kicker in the second round.
“Not a lot of people will ever admit that a kicker is worth a first-round pick,” Licht said. “I’m going to be jumping for joy when a few of the people in your business (the media) realize that some are.”
That’s right, the Bucs had a first-round grade on Aguayo.
FAB 2. INSIDE THE BUCS’ SELECTION OF AGUAYO
Bucs general manager Jason Licht didn’t just learn a lesson about the value of a good kicker last year after the trade for Kyle Brindza backfired when he missed three field goals and an extra point in a 10-point loss to Houston, in addition to missing two field goals and an extra point the following week against Carolina. His appreciation for Pro Bowl-caliber kickers truly began after a harsh lesson from legendary New England coach Bill Belichick from Licht’s second stint with the Patriots from 2009-11.
“In New England, Bill Belichick made us scouts list our roster from 1-53 and we had eight practice squad guys and we had some guys on I.R., but he wanted us to rank our guys from first to last,” Licht said. “None of us had the kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, in our top 10 – even though he was an excellent kicker. After we were done, Bill said, ‘Nobody wants to put Gostkowski in our top 10? Why, just because he’s a kicker?’ Bill made us “rethink that” and he got his point across. He said, ‘You tell me 10 other players that are more important than him!’
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick – Photo by: Getty Images
“It was an eye-opening moment for me. I had been around Adam Vinatieri and Gostkowski and those are two of the best. I know how good of a feeling that is to have a guy like that when you know that a lot of the games are going to come down to field goals – a lot of the games come down to the kicker.”
New England’s first two Super Bowl victories came down to two Vinatieri field goals in the last seconds. Finding a franchise kicker was a critical piece of the puzzle that Licht and his scouts are putting together to get the Bucs back to the playoffs. While Connor Barth and the injured Pat Murray were good kickers, the team had determined that neither was a franchise-type kicker.
Tampa Bay spent a third-round pick on Martin Gramatica in 1999 and he helped the Bucs win Super Bowl XXXVII. The Patriots drafted Gostkowski with a fourth-round pick in 2006 and the four-time Pro Bowler helped New England win Super Bowl XLIX.
Not since Sebastian Janikowski was drafted 17th overall by Oakland in 2000 has a kicking prospect been rated as highly as Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo was this year. In addition to winning the Lou Groza Award as a redshirt freshman in helping Jameis Winston and the Seminoles win the national championship, Aguayo set FBS records with 157 points scored and 94 extra points without a miss. He made 21-of-22 field goal attempts in 2013 (95.5 percent).
As a sophomore, Aguayo made 27-of-30 field goals (90 percent), and while his numbers dipped last year to 26-of-30 (80.8 percent), he never missed a field goal inside of 39 yards or an extra point at Florida State.
Yet when Licht and the Bucs were scouting Aguayo by NFL standards, they did some interesting, outside-the-box research and discovered he was actually perfect on all of his field goals the last two years.
Bucs K Roberto Aguayo – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Obviously, it’s harder to kick in college because of the wider hashes,” Licht said. “His percentage the last two years – he was 100 percent on field goals if they were kicked from within NFL hashes.”
Aguayo’s credentials screamed first-round talent. The Bucs’ interviews with him and those around him at Florida State, including Winston, also signaled that he was a rare talent.
“Roberto is wired differently,” Licht said. “He’s very confident. The folks at Florida State said, ‘He’s one of the leaders on our team.’ You just don’t run across that often at all with kickers. Just the way he carries himself, he’s different. He’s more of a normal teammate as a kicker. He’s a core player and a leader. He has a certain confidence about him. You just like being around him.”
Everybody likes being around kickers that make all of their kicks, and with extra points becoming more difficult due to last year’s rule changes, having a franchise kicker in the vein of Vinatieri and Gostkowski warranted Licht trading up to get Aguayo.
“We had Aguayo ranked high – pretty high,” Licht said. “We moved up into the second round to get him, so that should tell you something about where we had him ranked.”
Barth was released shortly after the Bucs selected Aguayo in the draft, and Murray was cut on Thursday. Aguayo is Licht’s franchise kicker and Tampa Bay’s first official starter from the 2016 draft class.
In hindsight, ask Belichick to re-draft all of his picks in 2006 and Gostkowski would have been drafted higher than running back Laurence Maroney, who was New England’s first-round pick that year, or any of New England’s picks that year.
Ask Belichick if Gostkowski is worth a first-round pick and he would answer with a resounding, “Well, of course!”
FAB 3. TAMPA BAY RAKING IN FIRST-ROUND TALENT
Some Bucs fans and media pundits criticized Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht for trading a fourth-round pick to move up and get Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo, especially seeing the value of what a fourth-round pick could be in last year’s rookie sensation, middle linebacker Kwon Alexander.
I wasn’t among those critics as I saw Licht’s wisdom and applauded the move.
Even though I didn’t need any convincing about the justification for trading up to get Aguayo, Licht, who absolutely loves draft-based research, came armed for our interview with some interesting statistics to buttress and fortify his position.
“In the 2005-15 drafts in the fourth rounds, there were 390 players drafted in the fourth round,” Licht said. “Twenty percent of those went on to become starters or Darren Sproles-type players. I consider Sproles as a starter even though he doesn’t really start. He’s a key player. Thirty-seven percent are career backups like Louis Murphy.
“Forty-three percent are out of the league, and 27 percent of those never logged a game in the NFL. You have a better chance of getting a guy in the fourth round that is never going to see a game than you do to get a starter.”
As good as Licht, director of college scouting Mike Biehl and Tampa Bay’s scouts are, they know the analytics of hitting on fourth-round picks every year and finding more Alexanders don’t work in any team’s favor.
“Kwon is an outlier,” Licht said. “He’s like a Lotto ticket – getting a starter in the fourth round. And it’s less and less [likely] in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. We had Kwon rated so high on our board that we thought he was going to go in the second round. Sometimes it doesn’t go like that. In our case, we had Kwon evaluated correctly. We actually had him as the 28th-ranked player on our board.
“To get him in the fourth … I just didn’t think we would. After flip-flopping fourths to move up and get Ali [Marpet] in the second, Kwon was one of a bunch of players we didn’t think would be there. When we got to the fourth round, the whole bunch wasn’t there, but Kwon was still there. That’s why I got antsy and went up to get him as fast as I could.”
The Bucs had Alexander as the 28th-rated player in the 2015 draft, which is classified as a first-round pick, and Licht expected he would be drafted in the second round shortly after Tampa Bay drafted Marpet. He was stunned to find him available in the fourth round.
Bucs MLB Kwon Alexander – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Nobody had him as a middle linebacker, either,” Licht said. “They had him as a Will because he’s 227 pounds. I’m just glad we got him, but this also came into play when doing this research on picks when we planned on drafting Roberto. There was a chance that Roberto wasn’t going to be there for us in the third. But if you play the percentages, there really was a high chance he was going to be there in the third. Yet there were some teams I was worried about in front of us and behind us, and all it takes is one to move up. For a team to move up in the third for a kicker, they aren’t going to take any heat for it. They’re not.”
So Licht made the bold move to do the unexpected and trade up in the second round to get the only kicker that carried a draftable grade.
“So going into the draft, if I picked up a fourth, I was going to use that fourth to go get Roberto,” Licht said. “Now a lot of people were out there saying, ‘That’s Kwon! You gave up a Kwon!’ But it’s highly unlikely that’s the case and the research bears that out. Now we think [fourth-round pick] Ryan Smith can be a player. Don’t get me wrong. But we had Ryan ranked higher than a fourth-round pick [on our boards], too.”
What most fans don’t understand is that NFL teams’ real draft boards don’t resemble the “follow the leader” rankings from notable draft gurus. In fact, the Bucs have drafted seven players they had ranked as first-round caliber talent in the last two drafts alone in Winston, left tackle Donovan Smith, Marpet and Alexander in 2015, and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, defensive end Noah Spence and Aguayo in 2016.
“We think we got four last year,” Licht said. “That’s the goal – to get multiple first-round draft picks each year. When it’s all said done, to look back and say, ‘We got multiple first-round picks in this draft’ – that was the goal.”
Time will tell if these seven live up to Tampa Bay’s initial draft rankings.
FAB 4. THE LESSONS LICHT HAS LEARNED ABOUT THE DRAFT
When former Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith recommended the Glazers hire Jason Licht as the team’s general manger to replace Mark Dominik in 2014, he did so with the knowledge that Licht came with tremendous scouting experience and exposure to some of the league’s best personnel men. I wanted to ask how the influence of people like Jimmy Johnson, Bill Belichick, Tom Heckert and Steve Keim shaped Licht’s views and approach to the NFL Draft.
Licht entered the league in 1996 as a scouting assistant under Heckert in Miami where Johnson served as the team’s head coach and chief personnel man at the time.
Bucs GM Jason Licht – Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“Jimmy Johnson had so much passion for the draft and personnel,” Licht said. “That’s where he spent the majority of his day. He was like a G.M. that also happened to be a coach instead of the other way around in some cases. He loved the draft. He loved to wheel and deal. He wasn’t afraid. He had been in the media, but he didn’t care what the media thought. He didn’t care what the repercussions were for doing something a little outside the box.
“The Herschel Walker trade in Dallas, the way he valued picks – he was just ahead of his time. Being around that and seeing the wheeling and dealing – even though I didn’t know what he was doing at the time, I can look back and study it – I was just a fly on the wall, but it was really cool to be around.”
With Licht trading up to get the likes of guard Ali Marpet in the second round and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander in the fourth round in 2015, and moving down to get cornerback Vernon Hargreaves in the first and trading up in the second round to get kicker Roberto Aguayo this year, it’s clear he got his penchant for draft maneuvering on the phone from “Trader Jimmy.”
After a two-year stint in Carolina from 1999-2000, Licht went to New England from 2001-05 where he was a part of two Super Bowl winning teams under Belichick, who also served as the head coach and personnel guru. Licht would come back to work for Belichick from 2009-11, and during both stints, he learned an awful lot about talent acquisition and setting up a team’s draft board.
“Bill and Jimmy talked a lot actually,” Licht said. “When I think of Bill, I think of him saying, ‘We’re not talent collectors. We’re putting the right 53 together – not necessarily the most talented 53’ – and just understanding what that meant.
“I think from Bill, I learned about having a clean draft board without 300 names up there on draft day. Chipping it down to whom the guys were that we actually wanted, that could actually make our team and help us. I remember one year we cleaned the draft board down to just 75 players going into a seven-round draft. Us scouts said, ‘Are we going to have enough players to draft? What’s going to be there in the seventh round?’ We got down to the seventh round and there were two players left out of 75 and it was [wide receiver] David Givens and we took him. He went on to have a pretty good career.”
Most Bucs fans might be surprised to learn that Tampa Bay – and most NFL teams –have fewer players on its draft board than the 250-something that will actually be drafted instead of more. There were actually 253 draft picks this year, including compensatory draft picks. So how many players did the Bucs actually assign draftable grades to this year?
“We had 135 this year,” Licht said. “Usually if you go back and study each draft there are 100 players in each draft. After the 100 mark, it’s kind of a hodge-podge whether they make it or not.”
Very interesting stuff, right?
Licht left New England from 2006-07 to work for Heckert again, this time in Philadelphia as the Eagles’ assistant director of player personnel and then the team’s vice president of player personnel. What did he learn under Heckert?
“The inclusive approach of having scouts and coaches work together,” Licht said. “To be on the same page and that it’s inclusive until it becomes time not to be inclusive.”
That’s definitely a practice that Licht employs with the Bucs. The last couple of years he has sent position coaches on the road with the team’s college scouts to attend pro days and private workouts to not only get to know the draft prospect through first-hand knowledge and interviews, but also to strengthen the bond and trust between Tampa Bay’s coaches and scouts.
Before becoming a general manager for the first time in 2014, Licht studied under Steve Keim in Arizona and served as the Cardinals director of player personnel in 2012 and the vice president of player personnel in 2013. While in Arizona, the Cardinals heavily researched and rolled the dice on talented, but troubled defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who developed into a Pro Bowl safety.
“Steve is awesome,” Licht said. “I learned about making sure everybody is on the same page and vested in the picks, but then not being afraid to do something outside of the box. Bruce Arians is the same way. He wants to take his guy and not be worried about what others think.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians and GM Steve Keim – Photo by: Getty Images
“Belichick was the same way, too. I always tell our scouts, ‘If you guys have a first-round grade on a guy the 49ers took and he turns out to be a bust, I’m not worried. I’m not going to judge you on that. There are so many factors that go into whether that player will be successful or not. It could be the city. It could be the staff. It could be the team. It could be all that stuff. I’m only worried about our picks and how you evaluated the players that we took.”
Licht certainly adopted his “no risk it, no biscuit” mentality from his good friend Arians, who drafted 156-pound speed receiver J.J. Nelson in the fifth round last year, and raised eyebrows in drafted Robert Nkemdiche, an enigmatic defensive lineman from Ole Miss in the first round this year.
Licht knew there would be some criticism that came with an outside-the-box idea like drafting a kicker like Roberto Aguayo in the second round. But like Keim and Arians, he didn’t care.
Conventional wisdom be damned.
“If we love a player we’re going to go get him,” Licht said. “Don’t worry about it. Go get him. Don’t worry about how other teams have him ranked, either. If you read that this guy is a sixth-round pick and you take him in the second. It doesn’t matter. Get your guy.”
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht is no stranger to welcoming pressure. He admits he thrives on it. In our sit-down in his office, I asked him when he began to embrace performing under pressure.
“I can’t really pinpoint it,” Licht said. “It was when I was young, athletically. I’m not trying to sound like I was anything special, but those ‘got to have it plays’ – those were when I was the most focused. In school, I was a procrastinator like most everybody. It just seemed like when it came time to get it done, I would focus more. It’s just the way I’m wired.”
Licht and I are kindred spirits in that regard. I feel I’m at my best working under pressure, especially writing this 5,000-7,000-word column each week. I’m typically working on my SR’s Fab 5 until 2:00 a.m. each Thursday night, then get up around 5:30 a.m. to add some finishing touches on and photos before it debuts around 9:00 a.m. each Friday. But Licht grew up enduring a different kind of pressure.
“I grew up with a very simple life and we couldn’t afford a lot of things,” Licht continued. “I had a great life, though. Great parents. I love them to death. But I didn’t have what everybody else had and there was always pressure and stress [economically]. I saw the way my dad was – and I mean that in a positive way with him working all the time. I am always better off under pressure. When it’s calm my wife always makes fun of me. After the draft is when I’m edgy and I’m anxious. She always says, ‘I hope this year you can relax and have that ‘Ahh moment.’ But I don’t. I always need to be doing something.”
• Although the draft and picking the right players for the future of the franchise can be quite stressful, Licht makes sure to enjoy the process, too.
“We like to have a lot of fun,” Licht said. “If you can’t make fun of yourself and if you take yourself too seriously this isn’t the right business for you. I love watching tape and I love seeing around here getting everyone’s opinion and arguing players. It’s one of my favorite things to do – getting John Spytek in here, Mike Biehl, Coach Koetter and disagreeing with them and trying to prove your point. I will spend time putting cut-ups together just to say, ‘Watch this! Now tell me what you think!’ And they’ll do the same thing with me. It’s a bunch of fun.”
• I did ask Licht about the one draft prospect I knew the least about – Oklahoma linebacker Devante Bond, who was Tampa Bay’s first sixth-round pick. The 6-foot-1, 236-pound strongside linebacker is thickly built and timed faster for the Bucs than his reported 4.7 time at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Bucs LB Devante Bond – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“We timed him at 4.64,” Licht said. “He’s good at coming off the edge and he did that at Oklahoma. He’s a good athlete and he’s a stouter guy. He’s athletic. He plays hard. He has a burst. He’s looking good in his drops. He has upside, basically. He hasn’t played a whole lot.”
After racking up 17 sacks and 27 tackles for loss at the JUCO level as a sophomore, he recorded 29 tackles and four tackles for loss as a junior for the Sooners. An injury forced him to miss four games during his senior year, but he did have five starts and finished with 43 tackles, seven for loss and three sacks.
“He didn’t play much at Oklahoma [due to injuries],” Licht said. “It’s not like he’s a three-year starter and he’s pretty good and collects a lot of tackles. This guy has upside, though. I don’t think he’s played his best football yet.”
Bond will receive some mentoring from veteran Sam starting linebacker Daryl Smith, who is 6-foot-2, 250 pounds. As long as he maintains his speed, the Bucs won’t mind if Bond adds some more bulk to hold up on the line of scrimmage as the Sam plays over the tight end in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 Under scheme.
• Licht discussed adding massive defensive tackle A.J. Francis to the roster this week. The third-year player out of Maryland stands 6-foot-5, 330 pounds and is easily Tampa Bay’s biggest defensive lineman. Francis has spent time with Miami and Seattle.
“Might as well get a look at as many guys as we can this time of year,” Licht said. “He’s got a big body and he’s played nose. He’s fairly athletic for a big guy.”
Licht also likes undrafted free agent defensive tackle Travis Britz, who hails from Kansas State where he recorded 24.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and blocked five kicks during his career as a three-year starter. Britz was signed last week after a try-out at the team’s rookie mini-camp.
“Britz has done some good things,” Licht said. “We like him.”
• Licht also shared some names of undrafted rookies to keep an eye on during OTAs, mini-camps and training camp.
Bucs RB Peyton Barber – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“[Defensive tackle Travis] Britz, [offensive tackle Leonard] Wester and George Warhop’s nephew [guard Dominique Robertson] – they’ve done a nice job,” Licht said. “Robertson is maybe one of our stronger players in terms of being physically strong. [Linebackers Cassanova] McKinzey and Luke Rhodes – those are kind of the ones that are jumping out to me right now.
“[Running back] Peyton Barber is also one of my favorites right now. He catches the ball. He has great hands. He’s quick and he has a great burst. He’s a lot bigger than I thought, too. He has the quickness and shiftiness of a small guy, but he’s a bigger dude. If he went back and played another year [at Auburn] and had another 1,100 or 1,200 yards he would have been a mid-round pick I think. He’s one to watch for sure. Now Mike James is having a great offseason, too. He looks good. He looks really good. It’ll be a good battle between those two.”
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fabulous work, Scott! I didn’t realize that you were up until 2 a.m. often times to get your “assignments” in… Kudos to you. Meathead is so valuable to this team that if I was starting a franchise tomorrow, I would select him over Winston or anyone else associated with the team in any capacity. One of the most disturbing charts that I have seen was the success chart for NFL teams throughout the teams’ history. The Bucs were, by far, the worst team on that chart of all of the teams. Times are a changin’ … And deservedly so. There are few things truer than long term Bucs fans and I look forward to a long decade of success or more coming up for this team.
Whoops… Drafting history charts, folks!
Yep…another good article. I am excited to see what we have in pre season. Our 7th round pick at fullback/TE will play a lot.
Jason Licht is building a reputation for taking chances and drafting starters. The play of his draft picks speak for themselves. He’s doing a good job! No doubt about it.
Last year he drafted Jameis Winston who came in second place as OROY (should have been first in my biased opinion) and this year may have drafted the DROY. In Today’s Pigskin, the Bucs have two players that (in their opinion) are in the Top 5 of players most likely to be DROY. Of the Top 5, two are hurt (hope Ramsey is not serious) and while not the way you want to win, improves the Bucs chances for DROY. To add to Licht’s resume, LB Kwon Alexander, had he not been suspended, may have been a candidate for 2015 DROY.
The thing that will affirm Licht’s status as a draft guru is to start winning games. If you listen to the latest round of coach’s interviews, that is definitely the plan. I like what the Bucs are doing on defense and apparently future HOFer and part-time Bucs scout (lol) Ronde Barber does too! Go Licht! Go Bucs!
Great insight on Licht and the draft. Thanks SR
Good Article Scott. I’m not sure of Spence success because of his air head thinking in the past. If it is truely gone and he is focusing on having a long career in the NFL, then Licht will look brilliant. You still have to ask why he was still around in the 2nd round. I hope he does good because we need his past rushing ability.
Awesome article, Scott! This maybe some of your best work. One of the many reason I subscribed to “Buccaneer Magazine” in the past and continue to get my Buc info from Pewter Report. Amazing insight.
Iabucfan I agree with ya 100%
Go Bucs !!!
Fantastic article as always. I love these fab 5’s. As for Licht’s drafting, he has been money the last couple of years and I’m glad that the starts were put up about 4th rounders being starters. Every pick has a possibility of busting and if they had Aguayo that high, then go get em. AS for moving around the draft, I think Licht has done that very well and has known when to make a move and when to sit. Ain’t going to lie, I thought for shit sure Spence would be gone when we picked.
Oh boy Scott – you’ve hit an EEB nerve with this one I’m afraid.
1) I’ll start with Aguyao (btw, I tried to just move on from this pick into “acceptance” mode, but you keep bringing it up like an old wound). I’m sure he’ll be a fine kicker…and nobody is disputing that kickers matter…3 points: I) his percentages (as you quoted them 90% and 80.8% are not exactly league-leading by NFL standards…that would be around 10th best, and 10th worst respectively)
ii) the fact that he never missed a kick inside of 39 yards is nice, but sort of “so-what”…most NFL kickers (albeit not all) are near enough to 100% inside 39 yards…maybe at the college level he makes 1 or 2 more out of 50 than the average NFL kicker but whatever…you make your money as an NFL kicker from 40+ (or if you’re really good, from 50+)…and at that level he’s been bottom-quartile by NFL standards,
iii) the big point here really is that WE ALREADY HAD A VERY GOOD (I accept not amazing) KICKER in Conor Barth…the whole “Brindza was a disaster” thing is irrelevant because Aguayo was not chosen to replace Brindza…he is replacing Barth….at the expense of us starting Conte and McDougald at safety this year.
2) this is the one I struggle mightily with…I can accept that someone is a good GM because they get contracting right, they make good salary cap decisions, they do a good job of enticing (some might call it marketing) free agents to come to town, etc…..but in terms of evaluating talent in the draft, I just don’t see the statistical evidence to support that conclusion. What stat tells me that Licht made better draft choices than any other NFL GM did for their team, or than any arm-chair GM would have for the Bucs? I have looked historically at the evidence I see that guys like Kiper/McShay/etc would have just as many successes and busts as our GMs. When Dom selected Brian Price it was heralded as a steal that price had fallen to round 2; Myron Lewis had a frame that DBs would kill for; Mike Williams was a virtual pro-bowler out of the 4th round….it’s easy to call draftees “starters” early in their careers…the Cleveland Browns have drafted a lot of starters too…it’s also crazy to say that Licht’s record of drafting starters should count Aguyao – GMs pick kickers and long-snappers in the 7th round too, should they be counted as drafting starters…it’s not that I disagree that we have some good draftees (I’ll give you the rest of your list), but it’s very very early in their careers and I’m not sure anyone on the list (including Alexander) wouldn’t have been selected by [insert favorite pundit here] too at those spots…I think I’m just going to disagree with the notion of a magic talent evaluating wand and lean on “show me the stats” and “luck has A LOT to do with good drafting”…IMO
Alright, first things first – if you’re going to type posts this long, then you really need to start separating your paragraphs more effectively. It’s really not hard. Watch.
You just hit enter, type two dashes, then hit enter again. It makes for a much cleaner read. Trying to read five paragraphs spread across 30 or so lines is miserable. Reading your post made my eyes bleed.
See – like this.
It makes it much more pleasant for those breaking down your thoughts.
Lol – thanks for the pointers on paragraphs … Couldn’t figure that one out.
Now if there was just an edit button, I coukd back and fix it….hmmmmm
I agree with EEB on Licht, disagree about Aguayo for the most part. I do agree Aguayo’s percentage last year was unimpressive.
“His percentage the last two years – he was 100 percent on field goals if they were kicked from within NFL hashes.”
This has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard a major football decision maker say.
How right you are. Kickers like golfers are aiming at a target. The fact is he missed the target. Licht has a problem. He thinks ALL of the fans are idiots. You have to be totally brain dead to buy this spin. The fact is Licht is getting KILLED all over the NFL by football people calling this what it is… A TERRIBLE overreach!
Just for the record, I still like Licht overall. But man, what an idiotic thing to say. You presented it well – kickers aim at a target. Saying that had he kicked from a thinner spaced hashmark, a kick would have been good….man. That’s just dumb. I dunno any other way to put it. If you’re going to count all of those misses as makes using that rationale, then you also have to figure out which kicks he would have missed had he kicked them at the same angle in the NFL. And those results will be awful.
They’ll also be meaningless because, again, it’s an incredibly stupid way to think of field goal attempts.
Good articles. My only worry (having been a fan for 40 years) is that the recent draftees may be starters because the existing competition is so poor, not becuase they are such great players.
Scott, I am starting to think you have a man crush on Licht and I getting one too. Did you, or any of the other posters notice that he was dressed like Belichick for the interview.OBTW, I was a “Buccaneer Magazine subscriber in the ’90s also. It was my only pipeline to things Bucs out here in Hawaii. Still love the job you guys due.
76- you are correct. SR should be sending Licht roses on Valentines Day. Respect PR but the objectivity is in jeopardy.
SR- another well researched Fab 5 and while I respect your writing I have several points of disagreement. 1- It is WAY to early to call any of these drafts a success. Most football folks say you can’t properly evaluate a draft until 3 years have passed. 2-The Bucs grading all of these players doesn’t matter at all. With respect to Licht, I think he is spinning on this. he wants to project that he got great value. 3-as to the Kickers, what he doesn’t say is that Venetiari and Gostkowski were undrafted free agents and a 4th round pick respectively. It’s not that kickers are not important, it’s that smart talent evaluators don’t over pay for them… see Belicheck.
Very informative and interesting article so I hope only typing in a correction isn’t viewed poorly on my part.
This statistic for Aguayo is off a little bit…26-of-30 (80.8 percent)…that should be 86.7 percent. He really did hit 80.8 percent with a 21-26 total.
I wish PR would stop going crazy over this drafting 4 starters in each of the drafts. That speaks more to the lack of talent on the team and is not a plus. If those players turn out to be pro bowlers or all pro’s, than that’s a different story. I’m not trying to say that these were bad drafts, but that PR should stop measuring success by the number of starters on the team.
Agreed. It would be different if the team didn’t go 6-10 with an easy schedule last year…and 2-14 the year before that.
Yea no kidding. It also doesn’t help that it’s utter nonsense. When you draft a kicker or a FB, you don’t get credit for drafting a starter. Those are both essentially specialists. I doubt there was a single team in the league last year that used a fullback even 25% of their snaps.
It remains to be seen what these 2016 draft picks will accomplish as “starters” but you fellow Bucs fans are being pretty hard on Licht here. The NFL is the NFL, yes 4 players were able to come in and start from last years draft because the team had glaring holes but they didn’t play games against their practice competition, they played versus other NFL starters and all made an impact. Winston throwing for 4000 and having a top 5 rushing attack clearly shows Smith and Marpet are capable of being good players.
They could all regress and then Licht wouldn’t look so good but where is the optimism ! I read Buccaneer bashing on other websites….I don’t need that here.
If Aguayo is average or busts..well shit but right now I am excited to see just how much he can help the team and with any luck that answer is … Significantly. Now, while I am optimistic, I also don’t believe the Bucs are headed to the Superbowl this year whether they drafted Aguayo or some other position player (ex.S) so if this solidifies the kicking game and we can address other positions of need next year …great.
I think there’s room for both those who see the glass as half full or half empty (or 6/16 of the way full or 6/16 of the way empty based on last year’s record). So long as the comments are Bucs related there should be room for all.
One of your very best enlightening articles, Scott. I appreciate your work ethic too. I think Licht will be with us for as long as he wants. I understand now where Licht is coming from!
What I like about Licht is he isn’t afraid to take chances on the small school Marpets, but also brings in a lot of local talent. Alexanders success doesn’t surprise me cause he played big time ball in the SEC. VH3, Barber, Mckinzy, the UDFA’s, Winston, Arguayo. All these kids have been playing with, or against each other growing up. He’s drafting guys who have a bond way before they come in the building. I always thought when in doubt, pick the players from the top programs in the southeast, where they would already be comfortable living.
surferdudes; that makes a lot of sense.
Mac I agree when Bucs start winning then he will start getting a lot of draft recognition. That and if this draft pans out anywhere near as good as last years. I’m excited. It looks like a great draft on paper, but you just never know. If Spence and Hargreaves both start and contribute right away that would’ve awesome. The kicker move only time will tell. It will either go down as brilliant or idiotic no in between. I hope he makes the transition to NFL seamless and stays healthy for a long time and is our next automatica. Go Bucs! Vitale is very intriguing with potential. It’s a very interesting draft overall for Bucs , and I can’t wait for training camp and season to get here!
In Licht I trust. It’s been awhile since I’ve trusted the Bucs FO but they are in good hands now. Licht is building a super talented team. Not collecting talent but building the team the right way – and finding the rigt coaches. Jameis changed everything and Licht is putting the right pieces around him.
Surferdudes, that whole drat players from the south ad the SEC is the most inane concept I continue to hear.
There is so much talent across the country that if you practiced such an illogical notion you would have a continuously bad team like Ray Perkins who followed your line of thought.
Stop judging how good conferences are by useless bowl games, too. That is just as ridiculous.
Scott, another great Fab 5, I always look forward to the information that you provide us, you and your staff keep up the good work. I do have a problem though with how many posters here seem to think of themselves as knowing more than the Bucs GM and his staff. I should think that by now the fans would realize that Jason Licht knows what he is doing, his F/A’s and draftees are working out very well and the results are becoming obvious. Some folks think that we should hold the win/loss record against our GM, I guess that they have forgotten just what an incompetent head coach we had at the time.
I chose to give our GM and coach’s the benefit of the doubt and assume they still know what they are doing. After the season starts and the players hit the field, then we can watch and evaluate just how much talent these players, the GM and his staff, and our coaching staff has and hopefully watch as the number of wins for the Bucs increase. In the meantime, I enjoy learning more about the players and the coach’s due to your efforts, Thanks Scott.
1) the point in the article, and the rebuttals above, was about our GM not our coaching staff…nobody is making comments here about Koetter and his staff
2) the point about our GM is not that anyone on PR (or elsewhere) knows more than him, it’s that specifically when it comes to the task of draft selection (the one aspect of the GM’s job highlighted in the article) there is no all-knowing genius…the stats are very clear that draft selection is largely about luck…whether you’re an NFL GM, a TV pundit, a PR writer or a PR subscriber…
Doesn’t sound like Licht has confidence in his talent scouting; doesn’t he think he can find the right 40% at the fourth/fifth round picks?
just what the hekk are ya trying to say ?
Scott, Great Fab5…really enjoyed this one!
Flashgordon…Licht wanted to make a 95% pick instead of a 40% pick. He’s focused on finding the right guys for the team. At this time of year every draft pick has unbelievable promise. Then reality sets in as we see player production at the NFL level over the next 3 years. I will take Licht’s draft over fan draft every year.
Fan sure things and easy picks:
Maurice Stovall 6’5″ 220 Buc 90th pick draft 2006 (fans really excited)
Wes Welker 5’9″ 185 draft Buc’s undrafted FA 2004 (fan don’t care..just camp meat)
Talent is hard to spot that is why Michael Bennett is play for Seattle and not the Tampa.
I had to hear his MB name enough during the season when all the ” commentators ” were singing his name like he was in the HOF.
We acquired Bennett after he was cut by Denver. Guess he was a late bloomer.
People also seem to forget how bad our coaching has been the last few years. We could have all the talent in the world, but unless you have someone that can coach up that talent, it’s a waste. It’s almost hard to predict how our players will even adapt to the new scheme. Players aren’t always the issue is what I’m saying.
Great read Scott. I think Licht has done a good job with the draft so far. I am a believer in the three year plan to determine a draft picks true value, so we have several players still under the microscope. Personally I liked the Spence pick, I did not care for the Hargreaves pick, and was surprised by the Aquayo pick. At the end of the day however it is all about winning and I think every poster here would acknowledge that there are a multitude a factors that influence winning. It reassuring that we have several players in one or another stage of the draft pipeline that have an opportunity to contribute. Every year I drop $20 in Vegas that the Buc’s will win the Super Bowl, this may be the year.
just give the 20 to me for the next 2yrs, then maybe I’ll match that with ya and we’ll party down!
Another great Fab 5! It’s only a matter of time b4 Licht’s drafting adds up to more wins and playoffs. This year? Possibly, but I’m thinking double digit wins at least. I’m just glad we stopped drafting players only to see them succeed on other teams
All Aquayo has to do is win us 2 games and not lose us any. With all the new kicking rules I hope he is our next automatica !
when the smoke clears…taking 2, yes 2 high draft picks to get a kicker was dumb .He may kick for 10 yrs but bucs had a decent kicker and lots of holes left on team.
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