FAB 4. Potential Senior Bowl Gems For The Bucs

The Reese’s Senior Bowl takes place next week in Mobile, Ala. and yours truly and PewterReport.com’s Trevor Sikkema will be reporting live from the premier college all-star game and scouting some of the Bucs’ top prospects. There will be several big-name players at the Senior Bowl that could help Tampa Bay’s areas of need, including a couple of my favorites in San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny and UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport.

But I’ve written about them before and wanted to preview some under-the-radar prospects that are looking to raise their draft stock in Mobile. Here are five players I’ll be keeping a close eye on and I’m sure the Bucs will be scouting. (Note that there isn’t a defensive end on this list because Davenport is the only defensive end on the Senior Bowl roster that excites me as a pass rusher.)

Southern Miss RB Ito Smith – 5-9, 195
Penny and Oregon’s Royce Freeman are the bigger names as far as Senior Bowl running backs go, but keep an eye on Smith, who rushed for 4,536 yards and 42 touchdowns on 820 carries (5.5 avg.), including back-to-back seasons with at least 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns. Smith has good speed, tremendous balance and an uncanny start-stop ability with an impressive jump-cut that makes him one of the more elusive backs in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has 18 plays of 40 yards or more, including seven plays of 65 yards or more.

Smith had 23 100-yard games and played well against some good defenses, including Nebraska and Florida State. Where Smith adds value to NFL teams is his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. Smith has 140 career catches for 1,446 yards (10.3 avg.) and seven touchdowns.

Look for Smith, who is a Mobile native, to put on a good show for his hometown friends and family. The Bucs will have some inside scoop on Smith as he was recruited to Southern Miss by Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Todd Monken and played two seasons for him, including his sophomore year where he rushed for 1,128 yards and 10 touchdowns on 171 carries (6.6 avg.) and caught a career-high 49 passes for 515 yards (10.5 avg.) and three touchdowns. Smith is projected to be a Day 3 draft pick.

South Alabama S Jeremy Reaves – 5-11, 205
Reaves will have some home-field advantage during the Senior Bowl, which is played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, home of the South Alabama Jaguars. For four years, Reaves was the best player on the field for his school, and now he has a chance to become the first defensive player in South Alabama’s nine-year history to make an NFL roster.

Reaves recorded 301 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 22 pass breakups, nine forced fumbles, eight interceptions, two fumble recoveries and 1.5 sacks over his Jaguars career, which included his first three seasons at cornerback and his senior year at safety. He set the school career record for pass breakups, forced fumbles and interceptions and is South Alabama’s all-time second-leading tackler.

Reaves, the 2017 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, successfully made the transition to safety where he recorded 104 tackles, eight pass breakups, seven tackles for loss, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 1.5 sacks. His versatility will be attractive to teams like the Buccaneers who may be scouting the hard-hitting Reaves as a safety or a cornerback. He reminds me of former Louisiana Tech safety Xavier Woods, who was Dallas’ fifth-round pick last year.

“Jeremy Reaves is definitely among the best we’ve ever had,” South Alabama head coach Joey Jones said. “He’s great on the field. Leadership-wise, he’s become the epitome of what we want. That’s what makes me feel good. He’s always been good on the field, he’s developed and all that, but what he’s done off the field, he’s become a great leader – truly leading. People talk about leading, and sometimes they’re not leading like they should, but he’s a true, vocal leader who does it on the field, always in a great mood, definitely one of the most valuable people we’ve ever had in our football program.”

San Diego State CB Kameron Kelly – 6-1, 200
Kelly, who was Penny’s roommate at San Diego State, is the exact opposite of Reaves, where he spent his first three years at safety before switching to cornerback for his senior season. He recorded seven of his 10 career interceptions at safety, including five during his junior season, but was switched to cornerback to replace all-conference performer Damontae Kazee, who was drafted by Atlanta last year.

“I feel like I have all the confidence in the world,” Kelly said. “My confidence is getting to Rashaad’s level, and his confidence is crazy. … I have so much confidence in him that I tell him he can take a kickoff 9 yards in the end zone and turn it into a touchdown. I feel like having all that confidence in myself out there has helped me a lot. I’m not going to sit here and say I’m the best DB in the country. But I don’t think any receiver can catch a pass on me. That’s my mindset.”

At cornerback, Kelly recorded 67 tackles, seven pass breakups, five tackles for loss, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. He finished his Aztecs career with 164 tackles, 15 pass breakups, 10 interceptions, eight tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two sacks. Kelly is a physical cornerback, who is solid in run support.

Although he’s a bigger corner than the Bucs typically deploy in the secondary, having a defensive back with Kelly’s length could be beneficial going up against big wide receivers in the NFC South like Atlanta’s Julio Jones, New Orleans’ Michael Thomas and Carolina’s Devin Funchess. Kelly is projected to be a third-round pick.

Texas A&M S Armani Watts – 5-11, 205
Watts played in the Texas A&M secondary with Justin Evans, who was Tampa Bay’s second-round pick last year, and it’s possible that the two former Aggies reunite with the Buccaneers. The muscular Watts is similarly built to Evans and plays like him, too. He’s a ball-hawking safety with great range, in addition to his ability to lay a lick on ballcarriers.

Watts, a four-year starter, finished his Texas A&M career with 324 tackles with 24 tackles for loss, 17 passes defensed, 10 interceptions, seven forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 1.5 sacks. He recorded a career-high 126 tackles as a sophomore in 2015. Watts went out with a bang as a senior, recording 87 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five passes defensed, four interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and half a sack.

“I think he’s grown mentally and matured as a young man and as a player and blossomed into one of the better players in the league, even though the preseason SEC team didn’t reflect that — for any of the safeties,” Former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “He’s a guy that’s a tackler, he’s a guy that’s a pass defender, he’s a guy that’s a leader on our defense.”

Tampa Bay needs another safety to pair with Evans in the secondary for the long haul. Why not Watts, his former Texas A&M teammate? Watts is projected to be drafted in the second or third round.

Georgia G Isaiah Wynn – 6-2, 302
Wynn began his Bulldogs career at left guard before finishing the last five games at left tackle during the 2015 season. Then he moved back to guard the following season except for a return to left tackle in 2016. By the time he was a senior, Wynn was permanently moved to left tackle where he dominated as Georgia earned a berth in the National Championship Game.

Yet at 6-foot-2, 302 pounds, Wynn will be forced to move inside to guard due to his size. Evan at guard he won’t be mistaken for Nate Newton. Instead he’s closer in size to Tampa Bay offensive lineman Evan Smith, who is 6-foot-2, 308, or Baltimore’s Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, who is 6-foot-3, 305 pounds.

When you line up against Isaiah, you think, ‘Oh he’s a little short guy, he’s not going to be too bad,’” said Lorenzo Carter, the outside linebacker who goes up against Wynn in every Georgia practice. “I’m used to going up against a 6-6, 300-pounder. But man, he’s one of the toughest guys.”

Wynn is a tremendous athlete with great technique, a strong punch and quick feet. He’s adept at pulling and led the way for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to be the most productive running back duo in college football history during his Georgia career. The Bucs definitely need help at guard and Wynn, who is projected to be a second- or third-round pick, will show what he can do against some of the best defensive tackle prospects like Michigan’s Maurice Hurst.

Fort Hayes State DT Nathan Shepherd – 6-4, 300
Shepherd is a tremendous athlete with NFL size and strength that has the scouting community buzzing. He was first invited to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, which is lower in stature to the East-West Shrine Game before he was invited to the Senior Bowl where his skill set can best be evaluated against better talent.

Shepherd had a good career at Fort Hayes State where he recorded 168 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and two blocked kicks in his three-year career. Shepherd finished his senior campaign with 38 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.

Scouts will want to know why he didn’t produce more against a lower level of competition. He has great athleticism that jumps off the tape, but was it a lack of quality coaching? NFL scouts will also be curious as to why he didn’t transfer to a bigger school to play against better competition.

Tampa Bay could use a young tackle to develop next to Gerald McCoy and will likely draft one this year. Shepherd could generate some real buzz with a good showing in Mobile and is currently projected as a fourth or fifth-round draft pick.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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Pete Wood
2 years ago

I’m just not buying that the Titans are any sort of model of NFL success. I would argue that the Bucs had a better draft in 2017. If the Titans have more starters from 2016, it is solely because they had so many second round picks. I am not convinced that the Titans are on the way up and would not be surprised if they are out of the playoffs next year with a losing record. The team I think the Bucs should look to is Jacksonville. Those guys, thanks to perhaps the best drafting in the league, are going… Read more »

FLBoy84
2 years ago
Reply to  Pete Wood

Curious if the Jags fans are going to start contributing to Chris Baker’s charity since he inspired their team with his “3 wins in the playoffs” comment in the preseason. Wait.. what.. he didn’t say playoffs??

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Horse
2 years ago
Reply to  Pete Wood

Don’t forget they are in a weaker conference too than the NFC and especially NFC South.

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Horse
2 years ago
Reply to  Horse

I meant NFC South being the toughest to play in.

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Buc 1976
2 years ago
Reply to  Horse

Horse I agree NFC south is a much better Division and will be for years to come.

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FLBoy84
2 years ago

Definitely agree Scott that LIcht has seemed to miss the boat when it comes to stocking positions with more than one potential starter for depth. Koetter likes to use the “our guys” line a lot. Team might need to do a better job evaluating “our guys” and grade them more on actual production than perceived promise and potential. Something’s wrong with the current formula. New England seems to be one of the few teams that can plug in their no-name depth guys and not lose too much production. Maybe Licht needs to remember he doesn’t have BB on the sidelines… Read more »

FLBoy84
2 years ago
Reply to  FLBoy84

Don’t get me wrong guys, I’m a fan of most of what Licht has done since he’s been here, but stocking positions with players actually capable of pushing the starters for playing time isn’t one of them. While the need to maintain salary cap space for upcoming contracts is understandable, missing the playoffs for the past 10 plus years while consistently being in the Top 5-10 in available cap space each year doesn’t seem to be working. Understand FA is a crap shoot as well, as most pundits lauded the under-the-radar signing of Baker as a great move. Doesn’t mean… Read more »

ahenneke
2 years ago

I agree that NFL teams can sometimes make the play-offs with a great defense, and a solid running game helps. But to make the play-offs on a year-to-year basis, teams need a franchise QB. That has been proven over and over. It also helps to play in traditionally weak divisions like New England, but that’s another story. I would be willing to wager that the Jaquars and Vikings don’t have the same success next year, although the Eagles will with Wentz returning. New England gets by with a mediocre defense because they are often playing with a lead, making the… Read more »

FLBoy84
2 years ago
Reply to  ahenneke

Might wanna throw RB in there with OG as an offensive need.

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cheveliar
2 years ago

We like the “Informative” Scott Reynolds!!!! Nice read dog. I always knew you had it in you. LOL

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surferdudes
2 years ago

I think making the playoffs in your fourth season as a Q.B. is living up to expectations. Bortles was key last week in the Jags win, you act like the Jags defense won that game Scott, they didn’t, Bortles did, to me he is a franchise Q.B.. Should’ve promoted Robinson, and fired Licht. Licht has shown he doesn’t know how to build a team. His first draft was Evans, over Donald, big mistake. You build from the front back, Licht hasn’t shown in anytime in four years he gets that. When Coughlin was with the Giants he’d draft 2 D… Read more »

FLBoy84
2 years ago

Enjoyed the Licht/Robinson comparison as well, well researched (ht to Trevor I’m assuming). And noticed Joe Flacco’s name was missing in Fab 1. Are we really considering him “elite” now?

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e
e
2 years ago

I agree, Scott, that I hope that Koetter has a more “nose to the grindstone” approach this offseason. It seems pretty obvious that the OL & DL are where the upgrades need to take place. Nelson seems like a great prospect, but why not a guy like Ohio St. C Billy Price who is the unquestioned captain of that O-Line and shows all of the leadership that you look for, beyond simply a guy that blocks? Moving Ali back to his natural guard position would help set up both the running game and passing game. Last thing, not a huge… Read more »

chefboho
2 years ago
Reply to  e

Agreed. And I feel like markcwalton will get lost in the shuffle because of so many good rb’s entering the draft this year. Would love to get him in the third round. He can catch the pass out of the back field and has great wheels

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Graham
2 years ago

Hindsight articles are fun. “But what Licht should have done immediately there after is not believe that the real Martin was the 1,400-yard guy in the contract year, but rather the sub-500-yard guy the two previous seasons in 2013 and ’14, because that’s who he is – evidenced by two more sub-500-yard seasons in ’16 and ’17. He should have signed Martin and then signed another highly talented running back or do what the Titans did and draft Henry with a premium pick even though they just acquired Murray, who signed an extension worth $6.3 million per season.” Tell me,… Read more »

Pete Wood
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham

It’s funny to me that most of the pundits and fans seem very happy with Bucs free agent moves and draft picks at the time. Graham is right about twenty twenty hindsight. There was universal relief when Bucs signed Martin to a new contract. Most fans were thrilled to keep him. And, pundits from the local to the national level all praised the signing of DJax. Let’s be real here. The only draft picks that I have not liked the past few years were Hargreaves and that second round picker. Would I have preferred more defense overall? Sure. But, I… Read more »

Naplesfan
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham

The best running backs often get drafted well back of the first half of the first round. All the hype and PR went to Leonard Fournette last spring … but the guy who will win OROY this year is Alvin Kamara, a third rounder. Good drafting isn’t just about picking decent first rounders … it’s about finding talent throughout the draft, particularly in the mid-round Day 2 picks. Licht has been pretty uneven in finding value. He’s had a couple of good ones, like Justin Evans and Kwon Alexander , but he’s also had some stinkers, like ASJ and Noah… Read more »

Devasher
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham

Licht, who gave Doug Martin a top 5 leaguewide contract for a RB with the first two years guaranteed didn’t believe in Martin at all? So when he kept Doug at his inflated top 5 salary even though it wasn’t guaranteed this year due to his drug suspension and still had to serve the remaining 3 of his 4 game suspension this year you think that shows a lack of belief in a him? 😂 If we want to go the hindsight route, then Jason could have merely drafted Devonta Freeman in the third round in 2014 instead of Charles… Read more »

Graham
2 years ago
Reply to  Devasher

What kind of contract do you think Doug was going to get elsewhere as a free agent coming off his 2015 season? You think he would have signed here without any guaranteed money?! The fact Licht was smart enough to put language in the contract that got the Bucs out of it if Martin got himself suspended was brilliant. My guess is they were all set to take Dalvin Cook with the 19th pick and release Martin until OJ Howard fell. When that happened they made the decision to give Doug another chance. Justin Evans, Chris Godwin, and Beckwith are… Read more »

Devasher
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham

NFL contracts ALL have clauses for outs when a player is suspended due to drugs/PDA’s. Remember Eric Wright? Do you think Mark Dominik was just really shrewd when he magically inserted that into Wright’s contact? No, it’s common for ALL NFL contracts to included clauses like that. LOL First, Licht failed to take on Martin’s option year, which would have been the one year he played well, allowing Martin to become a free agent when he otherwise would not have. THEN he compounded his previous mistake (par for the course for him) by keeping Martin around and not renegotiating his… Read more »

macabee
2 years ago

A few thoughts regarding free agency and the up-coming draft. I do not believe the Jason Licht strategy of waiting until the end of free agency to get value (not hiring top dollar free agents) has worked – we get Chris Baker instead of Calais Campbell. Incredibly, six of the top 10 2017 spenders in free agency, a period formerly reserved for desperate teams to throw money at anyone, made the playoffs: the Patriots, Titans (yes Jon Robinson, a Licht understudy), Rams, Vikings, Panthers, and the Jaguars (who spent $20 million more than any other team). Maybe it’s time to… Read more »

Naplesfan
2 years ago

Certainly agreed that a strong running game and a strong defense are keys to championship football. But let’s not make the same mistake the Bucs have repeated over and over again since the Super Bowl team of relying upon superstar running backs and failing to build and maintain the strongest possible offensive line. A super running back like Cadillac Williams or Doug Martin may temporarily boost the running game, but when these backs are continually running into brick walls they inevitably get injured too much and their productivity drops off the proverbial cliff. Been there done that twice now. But… Read more »

Bob Will
2 years ago

The biggest thing that gets me about all of this is adjustments. Look at all the playoff teams, look at the teams that just lost and they are making adjustments. They fire some coaches and hire others, special teams, OC’s, DC’s. They evaluate why they didn’t make the Super Bowl and they are making changes. I agree with keeping our head coach but when we look at the rest of the staff and say, “Oh no we did fine this year we are keeping everything as it is.” Are we crazy? If you make no changes you will get the… Read more »

FLBoy84
2 years ago
Reply to  Bob Will

Had a similar reaction when no changes were announced, but in hindsight, it’s easy to see how some of the coaches might’ve gotten a little complacent after the D in particular started to come around during the last half of 2016. Hard to imagine they all just magically forgot how to coach overnight. Thinking they’ll have a better approach in 2018. And hard to put all the poor production and results strictly on the coaching staff, as most of the players, if they were being completely honest. would probably say they could’ve executed their assignments better and left some plays… Read more »

Pick6
2 years ago

the biggest difference between the bucs and titans is that 2015 season. while the bucs ascended to mediocrity under lovie smith, the titans continued to be horrible. that led to them getting a king’s ransom from the eagles for the right to draft wentz, and they turned that incredible haul into multiple starters and all pros. while the titans parlayed the #3 overall into multiple premium picks over the next 2 drafts, the bucs took their smaller quantity of picks and used 2 of them to trade up for a kicker who is no longer with the team. Rate this… Read more »

Horse
2 years ago

I could care less about comparing Titians and Bucs; I’d stay focused on NFC and especially the South. I’ll stick to the only thing I have heard out of Licht’s mouth, ” our need is DE and RB”. We shouldn’t be discussing any Center or Guard under 6’2″; same for DE’s. I’m hoping Licht will find a way to pick up more draft picks and not for trading back up. Time for GM and Head Coach get tough with their players in how they practice in 2018. I remember we practiced very hard in Orlando during the preseason of our… Read more »

JustaBuc
2 years ago

Wow. I know this wasn’t the point of this Fab 5, but Mariota is starting look very suspect right now. Not a bust, but suspect af. How the heck are you going into a complete nosedive in production on a playoff team that’s supposedly built around keeping as much pressure off of you with a good line and a great running game? 15 games – 281-of-453 (62 percent) passing for 3,232 yards 13 TDs / 15 INTs with 2 fumbles, 1 fumble lost and a 79.3 QB rating. Like what?!! That’s getting close to like Blake Bortle’s rookie numbers. Not… Read more »

Garv
2 years ago

When we saw how much better the running game was with Peyton Barber in there over Doug Martin, even with a depleted OL minus the Bucs two best starters, doesn’t it seem likely that a good running back can make an OL better just as much as the other way around? Imagine having great running back? If Barkley happens to fall to 7? Bucs have to take him IMO. Right away Jameis gets better. One of his strengths is play action. Imagine it with a legitimate threat! Of course if he’s not there and the only one of the top… Read more »

Horse
2 years ago
Reply to  Garv

Garv, agree with you. It is one of the priorities.

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scubog
2 years ago

Gee, a lot of really nice comments respecting each others’ opinions and philosophies on how to construct a play-off team. Bravo fellow commenters! Fact is, there are a number of ways to achieve success. To me, having a stout Defense that can limit the opponent’s ability to score, makes having a high scoring offense of our own a lesser priority. As Sapp used to say, “Just give me 17 points.” That said, having a great ball-control running game that maintains possession of the ball, also limits the opponents’ ability to score. Do both and victory will be a much easier… Read more »

Horse
2 years ago
Reply to  scubog

Scubog, Amen!

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drdneast
2 years ago

This was really a great read, Scott and it solidified many of my preformed opinions. First off, it really clarified the performances of Mariota’s and Winson’s last three years. Mariota has really benefited from having a solid running game and defense to play with. In the meantime, Winston has had to shoulder the burden of carrying the offense himself while not being able to rely on a defense that has been lackluster except for an 8 game stretch in 2016. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t worry to much about Winston’s INT’s, it’s the fumbling that drives me nuts.When… Read more »

Horse
2 years ago
Reply to  drdneast

Drdneast, do you think you were the only one who said the same thing? Despite the pleads for the last couple years to draft defensive ends, it could have easily been the correct moves that they chose except they chose the wrong players. We got to live in the now, not the past. Let’s hope they do better this time in drafting.

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jvato24
2 years ago

I agree, Get a Beast Running game and every stat on Offense and Defense will Improve .. Get some Big Backs

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martinii
2 years ago

Nice thing about this time of year is that everyone is right and no improvement idea should be ignored. If you choose you can Bash everyone and everything about the Buc’s or you can focus on minor improvements that in your mind would push the Buc’s into the playoff’s and possibly beyond. Remember what reality hands us at the end of the season may be totally different. That being said, I agree with Macabee, Defense has historically been our strong suit as proven by the Dungy years and the very chemistry of the team. Until the last few years offense… Read more »

surferdudes
2 years ago

Since there has been no change to the coaching staff, or front office, I’m not expecting much change to our record in 2018, 7-9, 6-10 seems reasonable. I believe the Glazers should’ve brought in an outside consultant to assess the whole organization. They could use a Tom Coughlin type, vice pres of football operations, to at least make some recommendations on F.A., and the draft. Maybe the Glazers should mend fences with Dungy, and just pay him for some different opinions. Licht, and Koetter seem fixed on certain players, like Martin last year. While we were screaming for Barber, they… Read more »

Freeman Strickland
2 years ago

The Bucs do a good job limiting the commitment of guaranteed money to the first year or two of a contract. That makes it all the more puzzling that they do no “overstock” more. CB Haden mentioned in the article is such a failure to overstock. The one that has made me crazy all year is LT Andrew Whitworth who left the Bengals for the Rams in 2017 and had his third straight Pro-bowl year. I still hope for the best with Donovan Smith, but “overstoking” with a guy like Whitworth could have helped Smith’s professional development and allowed a… Read more »

drdneast
2 years ago

I have no reason to doubt your word Horse. But the overwhelming number of and Pewter Report wanted the Bugs to draft Bargreaves. This year they wanted the FSU kid who had a history of injuries in college. Not surprisi fly, they followed him to the NFL.
I also have blundered as a GM. I urged the Bugs to resign Martin and then ,esp hi for another year. Unfotunaly since Martin got his big money, I believe he has lost his hunger for the game

Ll

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owlykat
2 years ago

If you study Licht’s philosophy in our drafting most of the time he ignores our real needs such as great linemen on both sides of the ball and instead drafts trying to take the best player available. So we had a great TE and could get another TE in later rounds who could both block and catch, Auclair, just as big as his first choice last year but he still used his first choice on another TE we didn’t really need, instead of taking the highest rated DE which we badly needed. Remember his first draft when he spent a… Read more »