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FAB 1. Bucs Will Draft A QB, And It Could Be Trask

PewterReport.com and other media outlets have listed several positions of need for the Bucs in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. Not immediate needs, mind you. Because all 22 starters return for the defending Super Bowl champions, Tampa Bay will be drafting for future needs in a few weeks.

The Bucs could use an outside linebacker. There is a need for the eventual replacement for 31-year old Jason Pierre-Paul, who is entering the final year of his contract.

Tampa Bay could also draft a running back, as Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones II and Giovani Bernard will all be free agents in 2022.

Defensive line is also a need, as Ndamukong Suh (34) and Will Gholston (30) are also not under contract next year.

Tampa Bay also needs a depth inside linebacker. The team has just three – Devin White, Lavonte David and Kevin Minter – on the roster.

One could argue that tight end might also need some bolstering. Rob Gronkowski, 31, is only signed through this year, and O.J. Howard is on his fifth-year option. Cameron Brate, who turns 30 in July, is set to make $6.5 million in 2021 and $6.8 million next year. That’s pricey for a backup tight end.

But the one position that has been overlooked is quarterback. Tom Brady, who turns 44 in August, is currently the only QB on the Bucs roster. It’s a safe bet that the Bucs will draft a QB. You could place a wager at Bet365.

Thank goodness the Tampa Bay players want to skip the offseason workouts. With Brady sidelined from knee surgery until the summer, the Bucs literally don’t have a QB that can throw passes in practice.

Tampa Bay is still interested in re-signing Blaine Gabbert. I suspect that Gabbert will be back as Brady’s backup when both sides agree on a price. But I could totally see the Bucs moving on from Ryan Griffin. He had a cap value of $1.645 million last year, and drafting a rookie to be QB3 this year would give the team a cheaper option. Not to mention a player that potentially has more upside.

PewterReport.com’s Jon Ledyard makes a good argument for Tampa Bay passing on drafting a quarterback this year, while PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook implores the Bucs to draft Florida’s Kyle Trask as early as the second round.

Bucs QBs Blaine Gabbert and Tom Brady

Bucs QBs Blaine Gabbert and Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

I’m not advocating that the Bucs draft a quarterback this year. But I think the lack of any other QBs on the roster right now signals to me that Tampa Bay plans on drafting one. Not at No. 32 – but perhaps as high as the second round.

“If the right guy is there that we think is a developmental guy that has the upside that outweighs every other position of those five-six guys that we’re looking at, then yeah,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “We wouldn’t be against it. Same thing in the second round and the third round. If we have five guys and one is a quarterback and we think his development’s better than those positions, sure.”

But who? Which QBs are fits in Tampa Bay?

The Bucs won’t be in the mix for Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Alabama’s Mac Jones or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Those five will likely be drafted within the Top 10. So let’s take a look at four QBs who could thrive in Arians’ system starting with the best fit.

Florida QB Kyle Trask
6-5, 236 • Senior

Some NFL Draft analysts have Trask as the No. 6 QB in this year’s draft class. Other analysts have Trask No. 7 behind Stanford’s Davis Mills. I think Trask is a better fit for the Bucs because he’s more accomplished and has a bigger, more durable frame. The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Trask is a classic pocket passer. Some within the Bucs organization have said he resembles a younger, slightly more athletic Brad Johnson.

Trask came in fourth in the Heisman Trophy race after passing for 4,283 yards with an FBS-high 43 touchdowns with just eight interceptions last year as a senior. After winning the job from Feleipe Franks in 2019, Trask threw for nearly 3,000 yards with 25 TDs and seven INTs in his first real year in Dan Mullins’ offense.

TRASK’S FLORIDA CAREER PASSING STATS
2018: 14-of-22 (63.6 percent) for 162 yards with 1 TD
2019: 237-of-354 (66.9 percent) for 2,941 yards with 25 TDs and 7 INTs
2020: 301-of-437 (68.9 percent) for 4,283 yards with 43 TDs and 8 INTs

Trask had a plethora of weapons to throw to over the last two years at Florida, including tight end Kyle Pitts and receivers Kadarius Toney, Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes. Even if he doesn’t have the talent alone to carry an offense, that’s not a concern in Tampa Bay. The Bucs have the biggest and best offensive arsenal in the NFL in tight ends Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cam Brate, wide receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller and running backs Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones II and Giovani Bernard.

Trask doesn’t have an overly strong arm and he’s not very mobile. He’s more of a touch passer, but he’s accurate, has great ball placement and makes good decisions. Trask’s mechanics could also use some work.

I wouldn’t endorse the Bucs drafting Trask in the second round at No. 64, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. I’d feel better about drafting Trask if Tampa Bay used its fourth-rounder on him, but I doubt he’ll make it to Day 3.

Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond
6-3, 211 • Senior

Mond was featured as Tampa Bay’s third-round pick in PewterReport.com’s 2021 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft 3.0. He is Texas A&M’s all-time leading passer with 9,661 passing yards, 71 touchdowns and 27 interceptions.

Mond showed improvement in each of his four seasons as a starter in terms of completion percentage. He averaged 22 TDs per season in each of the last three years, along with an average of just seven INTs. In fact, Mond threw just three picks in 10 games as a senior in 2020.

While Mond has good athleticism and sneaky speed, he doesn’t take off and run with the ball that often. Instead, he prefers to stay in the pocket and make plays with his arm. Mond has a live arm, which is necessary to push the ball down the field in Bruce Arians’ offense. Mond can scramble for first downs and touchdowns when necessary, as evidenced by 22 rushing touchdowns and 1,609 rushing yards and a 3.7-yard rushing average at Texas A&M.

MOND’S TEXAS A&M CAREER PASSING STATS
2017: 117-of-227 (51.5 percent) for 1,375 yards, 8 TDs, 6 INTs
2018: 238-of-415 (57.3 percent) for 3,107 yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs
2019: 258-of-419 (61.6 percent) for 2,897 yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs
2020: 188-of-297 (63.3 percent) for 2,282 yards, 19 TDs, 3 INTs

MOND’S TEXAS A&M CAREER RUSHING STATS
2017: 89 carries for 340 yards (3.8 avg.), 3 TDs
2018: 149 carries for 474 yards (3.2 avg.), 7 TDs
2019: 126 carries for 501 yards (4.0 avg.), 8 TDs
2020: 74 carries for 294 yards (4.0 avg.), 4 TDs

Mond raised his draft profile at the Senior Bowl where he was named the game’s MVP after completing 13-of-25 passes for 173 yards with two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions to lead the American squad back from a 13-0 deficit to take a 16-13 lead in the third quarter. He had a good week in Mobile, Ala. and likely boosted his stock to the third or fourth round.

Stanford QB Davis Mills
6-3, 217 • Junior

Mills opened some eyes with a reported 4.58 time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day on social media. But most scouts timed him in the 4.8s, which took some of the shine off his performance. The problem with Mills is his lack of experience. He started just 11 games at Stanford and threw for only 3,468 yards with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions in his career.

Mills is an accurate passer, completing 65.5 percent of his throws, and tosses a catchable ball with adequate touch. But his lack of experience often shows up in his decision-making and sometimes he has trouble locating his second and third read.

MILLS’ STANFORD CAREER PASSING STATS
2018: 0-of-2
2019: 158-of-241 (65.6 percent) for 1,960 yards with 11 TDs and 5 INTs
2020: 129-of-195 (66.2 percent) for 1,508 yards with 7 TDs and 3 INTs

Mills has some real upside to his game, but it’s going to take coaching behind the scenes to develop him into an NFL starter. The Bucs like Mills, but I would hate to see them draft him before Day 3 because he’s such a down-the-road project.

Arkansas QB Felipe Franks
6-6, 234 • Senior

Franks had an up-and-down career at Florida in which he helped direct the Gators to a disappointing 4-7 record as a freshman. That was Florida’s second losing season since 1979. But Franks rebounded in a big way in 2018, leading the Gators to a 10-3 record and a bowl win over Michigan. A fractured ankle ended his junior campaign after just three games and he lost the starting job to Trask as a result.

Franks transferred to Arkansas, where he revived any hope of being drafted with greater maturity and better play. The big pocket passer completed 68.5 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions as a result of better decision-making.

Franks prefers to stay in the pocket and make plays with his cannon of an arm. Yet he has the wheels to scramble. Franks has 294 career carries for 642 yards (2.2 avg.) with nine touchdowns. He rushed for 350 yards and seven touchdowns on 110 carries (3.2 avg.) in 2018.

FRANKS’ FLORIDA CAREER PASSING STATS
2017: 125-of-229 (54.6 percent) for 1,438 yards with 9 TDs and 8 INTs
2018: 188-of-322 (58.4 percent) for 2,457 yards with 24 TDs and 6 INTs
2019: 54-of-71 (76.1 percent) for 698 yards with 5 TDs and 3 INTs

FRANKS’ ARKANSAS CAREER PASSING STATS
2020: 163-of-238 (68.5 percent) for 2,107 yards with 17 TDs and 4 INTs

Franks had a decent week at the Senior Bowl, but didn’t raise his draft stock. He’s a late Day 3 consideration as a developmental quarterback. His mix of size, arm strength and ability to chuck the ball downfield make him a good scheme fit in Arians’ offense. But Franks is far from a finished product and may never develop into anything more than a backup at the NFL level.

FAB 2. Ranking Licht’s Best Bucs Draft Picks By Round

While the fact that every point scored by the Bucs in Super Bowl LV came from a free agent who wasn’t in Tampa Bay in 2019 was a well-told narrative, that doesn’t fully tell the story of the Super Bowl Buccaneers.

There were 22 draft picks on Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster for the Super Bowl, including 12 of the 22 starters. Right guard Alex Cappa would have made it 13 starters had he been healthy. Great drafting by general manager Jason Licht and his scouts played just as big of a role as the top free agents and trade acquisitions he’s added over the last couple of years.

As Licht enters his eighth draft with the Bucs, let’s review his drafting prowess round-by-round and identify his best ever draft picks.

Best Round 1 Pick: WR Mike Evans (2014)

Bucs WR Mike Evans

Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Forget finding draft day gems on Day 3. The true measure of a general manager is how often he hits on first-round picks in the draft. First-round picks are supposed to be Pro Bowlers. They are the foundational blocks to help build a playoff team. And they have a 47 percent bust rate, according to the statistical analysis done by The Riot Report.

Yet Licht has drafted extremely well in the first round. His best first-rounder was Evans – his first ever draft pick in 2014. Evans has become the Bucs’ all-time leading receiver and has made three Pro Bowls. He’s also destined for the Hall of Fame after beginning his career with seven straight 1,000-yard seasons.

Inside linebacker Devin White (2019), nose tackle Vita Vea (2018) and right tackle Tristan Wirfs (2020) are Pro Bowl-caliber players. Like Evans, they are big-time first-round hits. Tight end O.J. Howard (2017) has Pro Bowl ability if he can just stay healthy. Licht’s only real bust was cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, a first-round pick in 2016. Quarterback Jameis Winston, the first overall pick in 2015, didn’t pan out in Tampa Bay after five years. But he did manage to set numerous franchise passing records and make one Pro Bowl.

Licht has four big hits – possibly five if Howard has a big year – out of seven first-rounders. That’s a tremendous hit rate and better than beats the 53 percent average. And Evans, who is one of the league’s Top 5 receivers, is still the cream of the crop.

Best Round 2 Pick: LG Ali Marpet (2015)

Due to trades, Licht has had 11 second-round selections in the seven drafts he’s presided over. The league hit percentage for second-rounders is less than 50 percent, Licht has once again fared better than the average. Because he’s had so many second-round hits, coming up with Licht’s best-ever pick in Round 2 is tough.

Marpet gets the nod because Licht traded up into the second round to get this small school gem out of Hobart College. After a great Senior Bowl, Marpet won a starting job as a rookie and has played at a Pro Bowl-caliber level. Marpet edges out left tackle Donovan Smith, who has already signed two contract extensions in Tampa Bay. Good left tackles are hard to find, and Smith is a franchise-caliber left tackle.

Licht has also had a few more obvious second-round hits aside from Marpet and Smith. Cornerback Carlton Davis III (2018), running back Ronald Jones II (2018) and safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. (2020) can be classified as hits. The great postseason Sean Murphy-Bunting (2019) had last year puts him in contention, too. That’s six hits out of 11 second-rounders.

It looked like Justin Evans (2017) had the chance to be a hit until foot injuries derailed his career. That’s not Licht’s fault. Cornerback M.J. Stewart (2018), defensive end Noah Spence (2016), kicker Roberto Aguayo (2016) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (2014) were the misses. It’s clear that Licht has drafted better in the second round in recent years.

Best Round 3 Pick: WR Chris Godwin (2017)

Bucs WR Chris Godwin

Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The league’s hit percentage drops even further for third-round picks. Yet, Licht has thrived in the third round, finding several key contributors and a few starters. The best is Godwin, a Pro Bowl receiver in 2019 and the team’s franchise player after the 2020 season. Godwin is the perfect slot receiver in Bruce Arians’ offense, playing the Larry Fitzgerald-role exceptionally well.

Licht also found a couple of quality starters in right guard Alex Cappa (2018) and cornerback Jamel Dean (2019). Safety Mike Edwards (2019) has future starter potential, and was a turnover machine last year. And inside linebacker Kendell Beckwith (2017) had plenty of potential until a foot injury he suffered in a car accident ended his career. That wasn’t Licht’s fault.

Running back Charles Sims was Licht’s first third-rounder in 2014 and served the role of third-down back for four years, but never played after that. The jury is still out on running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who was last year’s third-rounder. In yet another round, Licht has hit on a higher draft percentage than the league average.

Best Round 4 Pick: MLB Kwon Alexander (2015)

Finding Day 3 gems is rare, but Licht found one in Alexander in 2015. The middle linebacker was a Pro Bowler in 2017 and led the team in tackles in 2016. A knee injury in 2018 derailed his career and he hasn’t been the same since. After signing a huge contract with San Francisco in 2019, Alexander was traded to New Orleans in 2020. He lasted half the season before becoming a salary cap casualty.

It’s not often that fourth-round picks start, but strong safety Jordan Whitehead (2018) emerged as a starter two years ago. Cornerback Ryan Smith (2016) lasted four years in Tampa Bay as a special teams ace. The jury is still out on outside linebacker Anthony Nelson (2019) as to whether he can be anything more than a wave edge rusher. Not having a preseason last year due to COVID-19 stymied his development.

Due to trades, Licht has only had four fourth-round picks since 2014. Yet none can be labeled busts, which is an outstanding achievement.

Best Round 5 Pick: G Kevin Pamphile (2014)

Pamphile started 33 games in Tampa Bay, including 29 at left guard during the 2016-17 seasons. While he wasn’t a very good player, Pamphile was serviceable until an upgrade was found when Marpet moved to left guard. Still, finding a two-year starter in the fifth round is an impressive accomplishment.

Licht has found a few more starters in the fifth-round in kicker Matt Gay (2019) and Caleb Benenoch (2016), who started 22 games, including 16 at right guard in 2018. Gay is kicking well for the Rams, while Benenoch is out of the league. Justin Watson (2018) has been a key special teams player, but hasn