SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. WINSTON VS. MARIOTA DEBATE ALREADY UNDERWAY IN TAMPA BAY
With the 2014 NFL season already past the halfway point and a slew of teams, including Tampa Bay, chasing a top 5 draft pick rather than the playoffs, 2015 NFL mock drafts have begun popping up around the Internet. Not surprisingly, most of the major ones having the Buccaneers selecting a quarterback in the first round.
If the foursome of Oakland, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and the NY Jets hold serve and wind up atop the NFL Draft, that could help – or hurt – the Bucs’ chances of landing a player or two that they covet. Tampa Bay isn’t sold on either Mariota or Winston. Despite his gaudy numbers, some NFL teams wonder if Mariota is a product of Oregon’s spread offensive system.
He is not a take-charge, type A personality and is more laid back like Josh Freeman than fiery like Drew Brees. There are some low-key quarterbacks that have had success in the NFL like Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, but most teams want a player like Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger leading their teams.
There is a lot to like about Mariota, but he is not as accurate as his numbers suggest, and despite his mobility he takes too many sacks because of his lack of pocket presence.
Winston is an absolute gamer and has rallied Florida State to wins in the BCS Championship Game last year, in addition to a host of other games during his redshirt sophomore season like North Carolina State, Notre Dame and Louisville. He has the “it” factor that could propel him to stardom in the NFL as it has in college where Winston has in the past 22 games.
Yet NFL scouts have been alarmed by the number of interceptions he’s thrown in his two years (21) with the Seminoles, in addition to the dumb, immature decisions he’s made off the field that caused a great deal of embarrassment to him and Florida State.
The biggest of which was a sexual assault accusation that was levied against Winston stemming from an alleged incident in 2012. Winston wasn’t charged, but he has a student conduct hearing at Florida State set for December 1 that could decide his football future in Tallahassee, although some have speculated that his lawyers will continue to attempt to push the dates back until after the season, when then Winston could leave school and avoid any of scrutiny that may come from the conduct hearing.
Despite the need for a franchise-type quarterback, the Buccaneers would love to have a shot at a pass-rushing defensive end like Nebraska’s Randy Gregory should the junior declare for the 2015 NFL Draft, but neither he nor USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams may be there if Tampa Bay doesn’t pick higher than third or fourth.
Here’s how some of the top four picks in the 2015 NFL Draft look according to several of the top mock drafts around the Internet:
SI.com (last week prior to Week 11 action)
Raiders – Nebraska DE Randy Gregory
Jets – Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Jaguars – USC DL Leonard Williams Buccaneers – Florida State QB Jameis Winston
The Big Lead
Raiders – USC DL Leonard Williams
Jaguars – Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi Buccaneers – Florida State QB Jameis Winston
Jets – Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Raiders – USC DL Leonard Williams
Jaguars – Nebraska DE Randy Gregory Buccaneers – Florida State QB Jameis Winston
Jets – Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Raiders – USC DL Leonard Williams
Jaguars – Nebraska DE Randy Gregory Buccaneers – Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Jets – Florida State QB Jameis Winston
Without a chance at the top two pass rushers if his scenario becomes reality next spring, the Bucs would be faced with the prospects of drafting Missouri’s Shane Ray, who surpassed Aldon Smith and Michael Sam’s single-season record of 11.5 sacks for the Tigers with 12 (and counting), if Tampa Bay is dead set on getting a speedy edge rusher. Otherwise, the Bucs may have to “settle” on a quarterback – either Winston or Mariota – and may not have their pick of QBs if the team is selecting fourth or later in the draft.
The Bucs are doing a lot of research and evaluation of both quarterbacks right now, but one has to think of the lagging ticket sales and lack of enthusiasm about the team from its fan base. When the Glazers took over the team in 1995, the Bucs began to draft a lot of local talent to drive interest in the team.
The 1995 draft featured Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp and Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks. Florida offensive tackle Jason Odom was drafted the next year, followed by Florida State running back Warrick Dunn and Florida wide receiver Reidel Anthony in 1997. The 1998 draft saw the additions of Florida receiver Jacquez Green and Florida State safety Shevin Smith. A year later, Florida State safety Dexter Jackson and fullback Lamarr Glenn were drafted by the Bucs, followed by middle linebacker Nate Webster in 2000 and Florida offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker in 2001.
Perhaps the Glazers will return to that formula and tab Winston to lead the Buccaneers franchise in 2015 – if his character improves and if he’s still on the board when Tampa Bay selects. That move would be cheered by some Bucs fans – likely Florida State alums and Winston followers – and jeered by others that have already become fans of Tampa Bay drafting Mariota.
This is a debate in the Buccaneers fan community that is starting now and won’t conclude for seven more months until the draft arrives.
FAB 2. SCHERFF MAY BE THE SAFEST PICK FOR BUCCANEERS
If the Buccaneers have a top five pick and the defensive end that they covet and the quarterback that they want isn’t available, don’t be surprised if Tampa Bay selects Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff with its first-round pick. That pick may be downright unsexy to Bucs fans, but it would actually be a great selection.
If the Bucs aren’t sold on either Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston or Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota – or both – if the underclassmen declare for the 2015 NFL Draft, then Scherff may be the safest pick in the draft and fills several needs.
First and foremost, Tampa Bay’s offensive line isn’t very good, so adding a blue-chip left tackle candidate in Scherff makes sense. Drafting either Winston or Mariota doesn’t make much sense behind the current line, which has struggled in pass protection and in providing balance to an offense by producing holes for Tampa Bay’s running backs.
Secondly, the Bucs need more nasty players, and Scherff is regarded as the nastiest offensive lineman in the draft. Here is a clip of him pancaking a blitzing defender against Pittsburgh, and another one of him using one arm to drive block a Northwestern defender seven yards, followed by a pancake block at the line of scrimmage two plays later.
Scherff’s toughness is legendary on the field where he bullies defensive linemen and inspires his teammates. Scherff tore the meniscus in his knee against Ball State and stayed in the game and played through the pain. He had surgery three days after the game and was supposed to miss 2-3 weeks. Instead he returned to practice and played four days against Iowa State and hasn’t missed a game since.
“He’s the best we’ve ever had,” said Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, comparing Scherff to the other linemen that have been in the Hawkeyes’ program.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has built a solid program for nearly two decades centered on great offensive line play. Ferentz has put several great Iowa linemen into the NFL, including the likes of All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda, second-round pick Eric Steinbach and first-round draft picks like Robert Gallery and Bryan Bulaga.
“We’ve had a lot of outstanding linemen over the last 15 years,” Ferentz said. “And I think Brandon really embodies a lot of the best qualities of all those guys. Certainly he has some physical characteristics that are just highly unusual, quite frankly.”
Scherff was recruited as a 280-pound quarterback out of Denison High School in Iowa where he was also a fast-ball pitcher (mid-80s), a basketball star that averaged a double-double, a varsity letter-winning tennis standout as a freshman, and a state champion shot putter as a sophomore. Although his 6-foot-5, 321-pound frame passes the eyeball test, Scherff is much more athletic than he looks.
He has a vertical jump of 32 inches, which is great for an offensive lineman, and can clean and jerk 400 pounds over his head. According to a report on ESPN.com, Scherff ran a 1.58 in the first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash.
Compare that to former Auburn tackle Greg Robinson, who was the second overall pick last year, who ran a 1.68 and 4.92 in the 40-yard dash. Former Michigan star tackle Taylor Lewan ran a 1.64 in the 10-yard split and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.87. Scherff is expected to run as fast if not faster than Lewan did in Indianapolis next year.
As athletic as Scherff is, he’s a sound technician on the field. He is one of those safe, can’t-miss prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft. You know, the kind of player losing teams pass over because he may not fit an immediate, more pressing need. Whoever drafts Scherff will benefit because he is a player that has multiple Pro Bowls ahead of him due to his competitiveness, drive and effectiveness as a blocker.
Some NFL scouts compare him favorably to former Texas A&M star Jake Matthews, who was a first-round pick by Atlanta last spring. Other scouts believe he will be better at guard like Logan Mankins was after he transitioned from left tackle at Fresno State to left guard in New England.
Whether Scherff can play left or right tackle, or whether he is better suited inside at guard won’t matter to Tampa Bay. The Bucs need help at both guard and tackle. And if a player becomes a multiple Pro Bowler at any offensive or defensive position, it’s a good first-round pick whether it’s the fifth overall pick or the 25th.
When a team picks as high as the Buccaneers probably will next spring only four positions warrant a selection in the top 10 – a quarterback, a left tackle, a pass-rushing defensive end or a three-technique defensive tackle. Tampa Bay already has a Pro Bowl three-technique, so the other three positions are fair game in the first round.
The Bucs can’t afford any more misses in the draft. Misses, especially with first- and second-round picks, have crippled Tampa Bay’s roster over the past decade and it’s no wonder the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007.
Tampa Bay has only drafted three Pro Bowlers since 2000 – guard Davin Joseph, who is no longer on the team, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and running back Doug Martin. Yet it should be noted that linebacker Lavonte David, a second-rounder in 2012, was snubbed for the Pro Bowl last year, although he did make the All-Pro squad.
The Bucs desperately need to hit on their first-round draft picks with players like Scherff in the future to add more star power to the roster. After Tampa Bay lets defensive end Adrian Clayborn, the team’s first-round pick in 2011, and running back Doug Martin, a first-rounder in 2012, go next year, the Bucs will only have two first-round draft picks left from any draft – defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (2010) and wide receiver Mike Evans (2013). No wonder Tampa Bay is 1-8.
FAB 3. WRITING IS ON THE WALL FOR GOLDSON, KOENEN
Bucs free safety Dashon Goldson went from being a Pro Bowler and a prized free agent to a player that rotated with unheralded Bradley McDougald against Cleveland and Atlanta. Goldson has missed 26 snaps on defense over the past two games, and with an $8 million cap hit in 2015 the writing is on the wall that the Buccaneers will be parting ways with their overpriced safety.
If Tampa Bay can get the same level of play out of McDougald, an undrafted free agent out of Kansas two years ago, for about $7.25 million less – and that’s what the Bucs are examining – then that’s a big plus for the team’s salary cap next year.
“Well, we want to take a look at Bradley,” Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “He’s done some good things to warrant being on the field and taking a look at him and that’s really the only way to get it done. Dashon has done some good things for us and we think he will this Sunday and in games to come, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t take a look at Bradley and see what he’s capable of doing. So we’ll see how he progresses.”
The hard-hitting McDougald, who forced an interception with a big wallop on Cleveland tight end Gary Barnidge, has the range to play free safety and the physicality to play strong safety in the Tampa 2. The Bucs like his versatility.
“At this point he’s one of those guys that can be interchanged,” Frazier said. “He can play down low but he can also be flexed out and cover tight ends and there were a couple of occasions on Sunday where we actually matched him up with their core wide receivers and he handled himself well. So he’s got some flexibility, not just being a run stopper but having some man cover ability as well. In our league, with the way people spread you out, you need that. So he’s not a one-dimensional guy.”
Goldson, who has just two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and an interception in 20 games in Tampa Bay over the past two years, will likely be released as a salary cap casualty in March. Because $3 million of Goldson’s $7.5 million base salary is guaranteed, the Bucs will save $4.5 million of cap room, in addition to another $500,000 in a roster bonus that he wouldn’t receive if he were to be released in March.
With the Buccaneers being approximately $18 million under the salary cap next year, the $5 million in cap room the team gains should it release Goldson pushes the available cap room at $23 million.
Tampa Bay can pare several other players – even some recently signed free agents – from the roster to clear more cap room to sign better players in 2015. Punter Michael Koenen has been a huge disappointment this season, and that prompted the team to sign punter Jacob Schum to the practice squad on Thursday.
Koenen is on the books for $3.25 million in base salary next year, which is way too much for the type of performance he’s given over the past two years. Cutting Koenen doesn’t result in any dead cap money, so the Bucs are now up to $26.25 million in cap space in this hypothetic exercise.
Tight end Brandon Myers has been replaced as the starter by rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and carries a base salary of $2.25 million next season. That could come off the books with no dead cap money and push Tampa Bay’s available cap room to $28.5 million.
If the Bucs wanted to pursue another, cheaper center, Evan Dietrich-Smith’s release wouldn’t carry any dead cap charge and would free up $3.75 million. Now the Bucs are up to $32.25 million.
If the Bucs felt compelled to release cornerback Alterraun Verner, there would be no salary cap hit if he was released prior to the fifth day of the league year in March. Tampa Bay would save $4.25 million with Verner’s release. That would push the available cap room to $36.5 million.
Running back Doug Martin will enter the final year of his contract next year and his lack of production will see the Bucs release or trade him in the offseason. That will free up $1,315,572 in salary cap room and drive the available cap room to approximately $37.8 million.
Left tackle Anthony Collins has underperformed and only $3 million of his $6 million base salary in 2015 is guaranteed. The Bucs would take a $3 million charge in dead cap room if it cut him, but would have $3 million in base salary freed up – so it would be a wash.
The same thing applies to defensive end Michael Johnson. He has $9 million left in guaranteed money that would result in a dead cap charge, but the Bucs would save that much in base salary and the team would clear a roster spot if it wanted to part ways with the underachieving edge rusher, who has just two sacks this season.
A couple of veterans the team wants to keep – wide receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Logan Mankins and quarterback Josh McCown – will make a lot of money in base salary in 2015. The Bucs may want to approach those players and ask them to take pay cuts.
Jackson is scheduled to make $9,777,777 in each of the next two years, while Mankins is slated to make $6.25 million in 2015 and $6.75 million in 2016 and 2017. McCown has just one more year left on his deal and has a base salary of $4.25 million. Perhaps the Bucs could renegotiate some of these deals and free up another $3.5 million.
That would leave Tampa Bay with approximately $41.3 million in salary cap room to pursue players like defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who can void the final year of his deal and become a free agent, or a defensive end like Jerry Hughes. The Bucs made a big splash in free agency last year, but the way director of football administration Mike Greenberg and general manager Jason Licht structured most of those deals Tampa Bay can walk away from some of those mistakes without cap penalties.
The ability to essentially hit the “do-over” button in free agency means the team can try once again to hit more than it misses when it comes to signing players that can help Tampa Bay next year.
FAB 4. TEDFORD WON’T RETURN TO TAMPA BAY IN 2015
Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, who is taking a leave of absence following a heart procedure during the preseason, won’t be returning to Tampa Bay. Not just in 2014, but also next year. Tedford is done with the Buccaneers and the team is done with him.
That might seem like big news, worthy of the lead mention in SR’s Fab 5. So why am I burying the lead in the fourth segment of this week’s column?
Because Tedford not returning to Tampa Bay isn’t really news, it’s simply a foregone conclusion that we all anticipated. Remember Lovie Smith’s press conference on September 24 when he was visibly agitated about answering questions regarding Tedford’s absence heading into Week 4 when the team anticipated his return by then?
“We’re going on as if Jeff isn’t coming back,” Smith said. “That’s why I won’t be giving updates or anything like that. This group is what we’re going with right now.
“There’s nothing more I can tell you about the situation. He can’t go, there’s no need for me to get into any more details and we’re going on like Jeff won’t with us for the rest of the year. Going into something medically that I don’t know a lot about just wouldn’t be beneficial to anybody.”
The reason why Tedford was placed on indefinite medical leave was because he didn’t feel like returning after he was cleared from his heart surgery. That’s about all I can disclose at this time due to HIPAA laws. Tedford has a right to privacy regarding his medical conditions, and I’m going to respect that right.
At the same time, the Bucs were expecting him to return by Week 4 and he chose not to for reasons the team thought he could ultimately manage, which deeply upset some inside the organization. Tedford most likely wouldn’t be welcomed back at One Buc Place because the organization feels like he left the team – and quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo – in the lurch.
For a team that has never truly had a franchise quarterback or a potent offense in the history of the Buccaneers, this is the second time in the last decade that Tampa Bay has had someone else run the plays of a departed offensive coordinator. Former Bucs quarterbacks coach Greg Olson was thrust into the role of play-caller when Tampa Bay fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski prior to the fourth preseason game in 2009.
Ironically, the Bucs started off that season 1-8 in Raheem Morris’ first year as head coach, and finished with a 3-13 record. As expected, the offense struggled mightily in 2009 as Tampa Bay scored 14 points or less in eight games. This year, the Bucs have scored 14 points or less in three games with seven contests left in the 2014 campaign, so there are some unfortunate similarities.
The real story isn’t the fact that Tedford won’t return. It’s the fact that Smith will need to find a new offensive coordinator in his second season as a head coach in Tampa Bay.
There have been a lot of reasons why the Bucs haven’t been successful this year. Tampa Bay whiffed in free agency with a lot of the new players that were signed in the offseason. It’s taken too long for the players to grasp the Tampa 2 defense. Special teams have been a disaster this year in every phase.
But the real culprit of Tampa Bay’s demise has been the offense, which was supposed to have been run by Tedford.
While Olson remained the Bucs’ play-caller in 2010 and used the offseason to implement his own scheme that led to a 10-6 record, Arroyo won’t be calling plays in 2015. Not in Tampa Bay anyways.
There will be a new offensive coordinator at One Buccaneer Place next year, and it’s doubtful that he will come from the college ranks. The last two offensive coordinators that came from college – Jagodzinski and Tedford – haven’t even made it to the regular season. That has shocked and embarrassed the organization twice. I don’t think the Glazers will sign off on a play-caller from the college ranks again.
Let the speculation on who will be coordinating Tampa Bay’s offense next season begin.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans is leading the team in receiving yardage (585), receiving touchdowns (five) and yards per catch (15), and is one catch away (39) from tying Vincent Jackson for the team lead in receptions (40). As great of a rookie season Evans is having – and he’s on pace to have 73 catches for 1,096 yards with nine touchdowns – he’s disappointed in one aspect of his game that takes a great deal of pride in. Run blocking.
“In the run game I’m missing more blocks than I usually do and I can make more plays,” Evans said. “When the ball comes my way I could make more plays.”
In pre-draft interviews, Evans expressed his love for using his massive 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame to block on the perimeter in the running game, suggesting he liked the feeling of a knockdown block almost as much as scoring a touchdown.
“I like scoring a touchdown more because it’ll give us a better chance to win, but I thrive off blocking. Last game, I had a couple knockdowns and that really got me going early. People don’t see that, but that’s a big part of my game. I like putting people on their back and making them fear me. I can control that. I can’t control the ball coming to me every play, but if somebody’s out there and I can help my running back, then I’m going to lay a block on somebody.”
It’s that type of attitude that made the Buccaneers fall in love with Evans prior to the draft and select him with the team’s first-round pick.
• All rookies have to go throw growing pains in their first initial season in the NFL. Wide receiver Mike Evans dealt with not getting his feet in bounds for a touchdown that was called back earlier in the season, and also for fumbling the ball at the 1-yard line in the preseason by not having it in the proper hand. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins lost the Vikings game with a fumble and had a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct after a touchdown catch last Sunday against Atlanta, which drew the ire of head coach Lovie Smith.
Fellow rookies Charles Sims and Kevin Pamphile experienced their first gaffes in the 27-17 loss to the Falcons on Sunday. Sims, the Bucs’ third-round pick, lost his first fumble in the fourth quarter, and Pamphile, a fifth-rounder, gave up his first NFL sack to Kroy Biermann in the fourth quarter while subbing for the injured Demar Dotson.
These rookie mistakes have contributed to the Bucs’ losing ways this year, but it’s good that these players are going through these growing pains in a wasted season. The hope is that they can learn from these mistakes and that they won’t be repeated in 2015 and beyond.
The veterans have done a great job of mentoring to the rookies, and each one of these four players has a great deal of promise ahead of them wearing red and pewter.
“I think all of the veterans have taken me under their wings,” Pamphile said. “Even though I don’t play center, Evan [Dietrich-Smith] has taught me a lot about reading defenses. Demar has been teaching me about technique. They’ve all done a good job of helping to prepare me. There are a lot of great veterans on this team that have helped us rookies.”
• You may remember me hyping East Carolina wide receiver James Hardy earlier this year in a previous SR’s Fab 5. The 6-foot-1, 188-pound receiver is a smooth pass-catcher with what could be the best hands in college football. After catching 88 passes for 1,105 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore, Hardy had 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns on 114 receptions last year. Thus far in 2014, Hardy is up to 80 catches for 995 yards and seven touchdowns.
Factoring in a freshman season in which he had 64 receptions for 658 yards and six scores, the chain-mover now has 346 career receptions for 4,042 yards and 32 TDs. Hardy needs just 19 more catches to surpass Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles as college football’s all-time leading receiver in terms of career receptions with 350. In Thursday night’s loss at Cincinnati, Hardy had 15 catches for 188 yards and a touchdown, and also added another score on a 7-yard end around.
• While I like East Carolina wide receiver James Hardy, who carries a second- or third-round grade, USC junior receiver Nelson Agholor, who hails from Tampa, is quickly emerging as one of my favorites, too. In USC’s 38-30 win over California on Thursday night, Agholor posted a career-high 16 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 78-yard catch-and-run score called back due to a penalty.
I mentioned Agholor in last week’s SR’s Fab 5 when talking about USC junior quarterback Cody Kessler, who had four touchdowns in Thursday night’s win, and it’s worth noting that he became the first receiver in Trojans history to record back-to-back 200-yard games.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Agholor has a similar build to Hardy, but has more breakaway speed than the ECU Pirate receiver. Agholor has five touchdown catches that have traveled 60 yards or more, and has 157 catches for 2,337 yards and 18 touchdowns in his career.
Agholor has a career-high 82 receptions for 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season, in addition to two punt return touchdowns, which ties his career high. Agholor had two punt returns for touchdowns last year, including one for 93 yards.
After drafting all offensive players last year, Tampa Bay will need to address the defensive side of the ball in 2015. But with a receiving corps that needs more speed, the Bucs might want to consider selecting Hardy or Agholor if he declares for the 2015 NFL Draft.
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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@example.com
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