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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. SR’s Draft Crushes
I absolutely love the NFL Draft. I always have since I was a kid and look forward to it every year. I love the hope and excitement it brings every franchise.
I remember when I was 16 years old and was in my first relationship. My girlfriend came over unexpectedly for my birthday, on April 23, 1988, which was on a Saturday. She was all excited to see me and spend my birthday together and asked what I wanted to do.
I told her wanted to spend all day in my basement watching 12 hours of draft coverage on ESPN and ESPN2. She was less than thrilled, so she asked what I wanted to do on Sunday. Of course she wasn’t too happy when I told her I wanted to watch Rounds 3-7 all day.
As a huge college football fan, I love watching the sport for sheer enjoyment, as well as for doing my homework on next year’s NFL Draft. I love following some of my favorite draft prospects over the years around the league to see how they fare.
Guys like Seattle wide receiver and return specialist Tyler Lockett (yes, he’s a K-Stater), Jacksonville defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, Cincinnati cornerback Williams Jackson and others. Sometimes the players I like in a given year happen to fit the Bucs’ draft needs. Other times not, although I typically happen to zero in on positions that Tampa Bay will likely need when doing my college scouting from kickoff through the bowl season.
I try not to let my personal biases influence who I think the Bucs will draft. For instance, I believed Tampa Bay was going to draft Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins in the first round instead of Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III in 2016. Of course, Hargreaves was the pick at No. 11, and Rankins, who ranked No. 2 on their draft board that year, went to New Orleans with the next pick.
I knew the Bucs really liked Rankins, but I wasn’t necessarily advocating for his selection. Truth be told, I didn’t watch a lot of his film until after he shined at the Senior Bowl.
I can honestly say that the Bucs have only drafted one player recently that I really had a pre-draft crush on, and that was Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2015. Now, I’ve applauded a lot of Tampa Bay’s draft picks over the last few years even though I didn’t necessarily advocate for them.
Who are my draft crushes this year? I actually get asked this quite a bit, but have never really come out and named names before. So here we go.
San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny
Back in September I began writing about Penny when he was relatively unknown running back after he had a tremendous game in an upset win at Arizona State when the Sun Devils halfback Kalen Ballage was supposed to be the star runner in that game. All of a sudden I found myself taping and watching virtually every San Diego State game, marveling at how many yards he was racking up on the ground – 2,248 yards in 2017 – and in the return game where he’s racked up seven return touchdowns (six kickoffs, one punt) in his career. Penny was one of the players I was looking forward to meeting and watching most at the Senior Bowl where he was a star performer. Penny has some amazing speed and skills that could definitely be utilized in Dirk Koetter’s offense and that’s why we had him going to Tampa Bay in the second round of our second mock draft.
Georgia RB Sony Michel
Penny isn’t the only running back I really like. I’ve watched a lot of Georgia Bulldogs games over the years, dating back to when Todd Gurley was running the ball before his knee injury opened the door for Nick Chubb to take over and become the second-leading rusher in school history. As much as I like Chubb, and wouldn’t mind seeing him in Tampa Bay, I’ve written before that I believe Michel will be the better pro player. I think he’s more of an electric runner with better breakaway speed and receiving ability than Chubb, and I felt that way before his averaged 22.8 yards per carry against Florida when he rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Go back and watch his tackle-breaking performance against Vanderbilt this year when he rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown, averaging 12.5 yards per carry, and you’ll see why we had Michel as a second-round pick in our first mock draft. That will make you a Michel believer.
Georgia OL Isaiah Wynn
Wynn has a body like a guard, which is where he’ll play in the NFL, but he played left tackle for the Bulldogs because he is an incredible athlete and technician. Watching a lot of Chubb and Michel over the last couple of years has made me focus on Wynn. It’s not very often that teams run behind their left tackle, but Georgia sure did – and with good reason. Wynn did a number in the Rose Bowl shutting down Oklahoma defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. It was thing of beauty. Wynn would solidify the Bucs offensive line.
Oklahoma DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
Speaking of Okoronkwo, I have a ton of appreciation for his game after watching him torment my alma mater, Kansas State, and the rest of the Big 12 the last two years. Okoronkwo recorded 71 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, nine sacks and two forced fumbles in 2016, and then won the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors last year with 75 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, eight sacks three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. I got to meet him at the Senior Bowl, where he recorded 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble, and came away very impressed.
Oklahoma State WR James Washington
Staying in the Big 12, I’ve admired Washington since his freshman year when he scored six touchdowns and averaged 16.3 yards per carry. He’s had three 1,000-yard seasons since and averaged 20 yards per catch over those years while scoring 33 TDs in the span. Washington and quarterback Mason Rudolph have lit up the Big 12 and will be missed in Stillwater next year. Washington has a funny build. He’s got a shorter, compact frame and looks like a running back. Washington is not the fastest receiver in college football, but the dude can get behind defenses and make big plays in the passing game. He’s going to make some NFL team happy in the first or second round.
Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson
I didn’t watch Nelson until the Notre Dame vs. Georgia game in Week 2, which was one of the best college games all year – a 20-19 slugfest road win by the Bulldogs. That’s when Nelson had his incredible blitz pick-up. That’s when I found out this guy was an absolute beast. That prompted me to watch Notre Dame play at Boston College the next week when the Fighting Irish rolled up over 300 rushing yards in a 49-20 road victory. He aced his biggest test in a 35-14 win over North Carolina State’s talented defensive line that features Bradley Chubb, B.J. Hill, Justin Jones and Kentavius Street. Nelson was the Bucs’ first-round pick in our first mock draft of the year, and I would love to see what an interior of Nelson, Ryan Jensen and Ali Marpet could do for Tampa Bay’s ground game.
This blitz pick up from the opposite side of the line is simply amazing… talk about looking for work! pic.twitter.com/hScXD5O1Xt
— The Big Guy (@WeAreBigGuys) January 29, 2018
Notre Dame RB Josh Adams
Remember that Boston College vs. Notre Dame game I just spoke about? Well, Adams went off for 229 yards and averaged 12.7 yards – much of it behind Nelson. Adams out-rushed Ronald Jones II in a 49-14 win over USC, rushing for 191 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries (10.1 avg.), and then followed that up by gashing a very talented N.C. State defensive line for 202 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries (7.5 avg.). At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, what’s not to like about a guy that runs of 60, 65, 73, 73, 77 and 84 yards?
UTEP G Will Hernandez
I didn’t watch Hernandez until the Senior Bowl, but once I saw him manhandle some defensive tackles in Mobile, Ala. I was smitten. Yes, smitten. What’s not to love about a 6-foot-2, 348-pound guard built like a cinderblock? He’s the kind of mauler that you want to see end up in Tampa Bay, but not in Atlanta, Carolina or New Orleans.
Fort Hays State DT Nathan Shepherd
Like Hernandez, I first saw Shepherd play at the Senior Bowl – only for a day before he broke his hand. But I saw enough to know that he would be one of the most dominant defensive tackles in this year’s draft. At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Shepherd had tremendous movement skills and strength. Watching his Fort Hays State highlights are impressive, but seeing this mountain of a man up close and in person was impressive. Keep and eye on this guy.
Dubuque CB Michael Joseph
Like Fort Hays State, Dubuque isn’t on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU or any other TV station I get. So my first exposure to Joseph was at the Senior Bowl where he showed he could hang with FBS competition. At 6-foot-1, 181 pounds, Joseph has good size and tremendous athleticism. His performance in Mobile, Ala. led me to watch his highlight film and it was interception after interception after interception. Joseph had eight picks as a senior, including two for touchdowns, and finished with 15 INTs in three years. I had Joseph in the last PewterReport.com mock draft and wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up in Tampa Bay. He’s a real sleeper.
Southern CB Danny Johnson
Hey, there is a reason the PewterReport.com staff goes to the Senior Bowl. Johnson is another player I was interested in seeing in Mobile and he didn’t disappoint. Although not quite as big as Joseph, this small school cornerback plays big and has a knack for getting his hands on the ball, evidenced by 39 pass breakups and 16 interceptions, including seven as a junior. Johnson, who we also had in our last two mock drafts, reminds me of Brent Grimes, and the Bucs could use another Grimes-like player to replace Grimes next year, right? Johnson could be a late-round steal on Day 3.
Will any of my draft crushes end up as Buccaneers this year? I don’t know, but I do know Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht reads this column. So maybe there’s a chance.