FAB 2. 5 Risks Arians Is Taking

New Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians told PewterReport.com and other local media outlets at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that the team’s roster won’t be overhauled this season. He likes the team’s talent and aside from a few tweaks in free agency and the 2019 draft class, last year’s football team will be expected to improve with better coaching from Arians’ staff.

After back-to-back 5-11 records, we’ll see if the problem in Tampa Bay was Dirk Koetter and his coaches or if it really is the talent that general manager Jason Licht has assembled. Arian, known for his “no risk it, no biscuit” mantra, is taking on five substantial risks this season.

Let’s take a closer look.

Believing In Winston

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston has already been named the starter for the 2019 season, and Arians said that getting to coach Winston was one of the attractions of coming out of retirement to come to Tampa Bay. Arians has already said that Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started a handful of games last year, won’t be back because he doesn’t want Winston looking over his shoulder during a $20.92 million contract year, nor does he want the potential for a quarterback controversy that could split the locker room.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston and Bruce Arians
Bucs QB Jameis Winston and Bruce Arians – Photo by: Getty Images

Winston has struggled to hit the deep ball during his time in Tampa Bay, most notably with speedy 5-foot-10 receiver DeSean Jackson, who has a much smaller catch radius than Mike Evans or Chris Godwin. Arians, who is known as the “quarterback whisperer,” believes that Winston can become a better deep ball thrower under his tutelage, and with the help of quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

“It’s part fundamentals and it’s part looking safeties off too long,” Arians said. “Your release timing for Mike, and then you try to have the same release timing for DeSean. DeSean is 10 yards further down the field. Now you are heaving, you’re not passing it. It’s just little things – getting it out of his hand faster, more work on the practice field. We’ll do a lot of deep ball drills. Then guys know they aren’t going to run a lot after those drills. We need to work full speed on this thing right here.”

Cutting down Winston’s interceptions will be an emphasis, but so will be hitting the deep ball, as that is a big part of Arians’ offense. Can Winston do it? It remains to be seen.

Trusting Jackson

Speaking of hitting Jackson with the deep ball, Winston’s failure to do that caused Jackson’s attitude to sour in Tampa Bay. Jackson had a much better deep ball connection with Fitzpatrick, and there was a lot of speculation that the Bucs might part ways with Jackson this offseason and save $10 million in salary cap room. Arians and Licht met with Jackson and the mercurial receiver, who wanted out of Tampa Bay last December, has appeared to have a change of heart and now wants to play for the offensive-minded head coach.

I have my reservations about whether Jackson remains in red and pewter up until the start of the season or if all of this sudden love for Jackson is merely posturing to amp up his trade value. If Jackson stays, Arians is taking a big risk trusting that Jackson’s mood will take a turn for the worse if he doesn’t get the ball down the field from Winston. In an interview in Indianapolis, Arians said that the 31-year old Jackson didn’t need to lose his ego.

Bucs WR DeSean Jackson
Bucs WR DeSean Jackson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“I don’t think it’s losing his ego – I love ego,” Arians said. “He’s got a resume that goes with it. He’ll work. Larry Fitzgerald didn’t practice on Wednesdays the last two years I had him. I needed him on Sunday. When you hit an age, you don’t need Wednesday’s practice. The walk through is fine. Guys that are real pros – after a walk through, they got it. Now it’s my job to get them to Sunday at full speed.

“There are certain things we need to do full speed – not all day. Deep balls – maybe on a Thursday. The red zone – I’ve got to have you going full speed in the red zone – short fields. He can be a big threat down there with his speed.”

Can the no-nonsense Arians and Jackson coexist, or will Arians wind up eating his words and regretting keeping Jackson?

Banking On Barber

Arians had a dynamic playmaker in Arizona in David Johnson, who totaled over 2,000 yards in his second NFL season in 2016. Johnson was a do-it-all back with great size and speed. Peyton Barber is not nearly as dynamic a player as Johnson, and reminds some of former Bucs running back Earnest Graham for his physical running style and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Barber ran for 871 yards and five touchdowns last year, and with better blocking up front he’s probably a 1,000-yard back. But can Barber, who was an undrafted free agent, be a 1,200-yard or 1,400-yard Pro Bowl-caliber back? Probably not, but Arians has been talking him up this offseason – so much so that the Bucs won’t sign a starting-caliber running back in free agency, and may not draft a running back early, either.

Bucs RB Peyton Barber - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs RB Peyton Barber – Photo by: Getty Images

“I’ve watched this guy now and I’m like, ‘Woof!’” Arians said of Barber. “He’s so subtle in some of the things he does for a big man. I love him. For a man that size, you know, when you watched the tape, you don’t see him as 230. You think he’s a 205-pound running back because he’s got great feet.

“Not every back’s going to be a home-run hitter. He gets those 10-, 15-yard runs breaking tackles, power runner – punishing runner. When we’re building something, that’s the kind of guy I want to build around.”

Is better blocking upfront the key to longer runs and better production by Barber, or is he truly a back that averages 3.7 yards per carry due to his lack of speed and explosiveness?

Having Faith In The Young Secondary

Without safety Andrew Adams, who has yet to be resigned and led the team with four picks last season, the Buccaneers secondary has a combined eight career interceptions between cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III, Ryan Smith, Carlton Davis, Javien Elliott and safeties Justin Evans, Jordan Whitehead, Isaiah Johnson and M.J. Stewart.

There is a decent crop of cornerbacks and safeties in the 2019 NFL Draft, but instead of getting younger and more inexperienced in the defensive backfield, the Bucs will need to sign a veteran cornerback to replace Brent Grimes and a veteran safety to replace Chris Conte. Can Tampa Bay find playmakers in free agency?

Bucs CB M.J. Stewart and S Jordan Whitehead - Photo by Mary Holt
Bucs CB M.J. Stewart and S Jordan Whitehead – Photo by Mary Holt

Perhaps more importantly, can the coaches develop the young talent in the secondary that is already on the roster? Licht has drafted four cornerbacks in the first four rounds over the last three years, in addition to two safeties in the first four rounds over the last two years.

“We’ve got speed at linebacker, we’ve just got a young secondary that has to grow up,” Arians said.

Can cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross and safeties coach Nick Rapone turn the existing talent into playmakers this offseason with better coaching and more experience, or are the Bucs overconfident in the players that they have on the roster?

Turning Over The Play-calling To Leftwich

Arians has been the offensive play-caller in each of his last three coaching stops in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Arizona. Producing a balanced offense that features deep shots and lights up the scoreboard with a “no risk it, no biscuit” style is part of the appeal of having Arians lead the Buccaneers. But at age 66, Arians has said he’s going to turn the play-calling duties over to offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who called plays for the first time last year over the second half of the season in Arizona after Mike McCoy had been fired.

Leftwich had to call plays that were in McCoy’s playbook, and now he’ll be running Arians’ plays in Tampa Bay. Arians got Leftwich, who was Pittsburgh’s backup quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger, into coaching and wants to develop him as a play-caller.

New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and former Cardinals QB Carson Palmer
New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and former Cardinals QB Carson Palmer – Photo by: Getty Images

“I begged Byron for three years to get off the golf course and start coaching and he finally did because I knew he would be a rising star,” Arians said. “Finding that pool of coaches – that’s our job now. Identifying these guys – a lot of former players want to coach, but if they’re married, does she want him to coach?

“When I had him in Pittsburgh he helped me coach. Charlie Batch did the same thing. I could never talk Charlie into getting into coaching, but [Leftwich] was a natural born coach. He’s a leader. He was a brilliant quarterback. He didn’t have the scrambling ability, so he learned how to play from the pocket and he did a great job with Carson Palmer [in Arizona].”

Arians always reserves the right to overrule Leftwich on game days and retake the play-calling duties, but this is a big gamble to put the unproven Leftwich in such an important role in a critical year in which the team is evaluating Winston’s performance to determine whether he is a franchise quarterback-type worth a long-term contract extension or whether Tampa Bay has to start over at the quarterback position in 2020.

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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]

45 COMMENTS

  1. I just wanted to say thank you for all that read my winning Bucs Offseason Battle Plan. I also wanted to thank Pewter Report staff for voting it the best plan, even if it didn’t get all the 1st place votes.

    https://www.pewterreport.com/forums/topic/reader-submitted-bucs-battle-plan-contest/

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    Rating: +19. From 19 votes.
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    • It’s a good plan. I don’t agree with all of it- like getting Mosley in FA– but it is quite solid.
      Nice job.
      Enjoy Ford’s Garage.You;ve earned it.

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    • Congrats man

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    • That is a pretty solid plan. I like taking Allen, may be a fan of a few other guys in that slot, but he wouldn’t hurt my feelings. Lindstrom in 2 and Amani in 3, if they’re available at those spots it would be ridiculous not to take them. Overall, your plan beats any of the PR writers. Again I say, solid plan, sombrero. Kudos on winning that gift card, enjoy

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  2. I have no doubt that White would be a great fit for Tampa. I’d like to have him on the team. I just don’t think he’s worth the number five pick. So, the Bucs can overpay for White, pass on him and know he won’t survive until the second round, or–
    They can trade down. I’ve seen White hang around until the mid teens in some mocks. I think he could be there if the Bucs trade down to ten to 15. It’d be white knuckle time in the war room, but the Bucs would have some extra picks. Probably at least an extra second or third. Maybe even an extra first for 2020.
    The risk would be worth it.

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  3. Devin White is the best pick for the Bucs at 5th of all the chips fall where we think, especially if we are losing K. Alexander, gotta have a thumper to replace him and I think Devin White will be an upgrade.

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  4. I think white will be a stud, but not at 5. If we can trade down a few, absolutely take him. There could be some studs that fall. Let’s not pretend a few QBs could go ahead of us and drop one of those studs to us. But there is no way you pass on one of those stud defensive lineman for a linebacker. You could get someone like Devin Bush in the jate first early second if need be.
    As for Bucco bruce, I’ve already stated how much I love that mans swag and how he runs shit. If you dont like his style get out. We need that on this team. As for Smith’s deal, it was a smart move at the price we got. What if he had a really good year? That price wouldve sky rocketed and really put us in a bind.
    Again I’m almost frustrating back if it’s there and make someone pay. However I have seen mocks that have both quinnen William’s and Josh Allen falling to us. You never know, noone though oj would fall to us

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  5. I really like Devon White’s physical style of play, his speed on the field, and his character. The Bucs can’t draft him at #5.

    If the Bucs stand pat at #5 and a few offensive players go in the top 4 (Candidates include Kyler Murray, DK Metcalf, Dwayne Haskins), how the heck do the Bucs pass on Bosa or Allen?

    Even if no offensive players go in the top 4, the Bucs will still have a shot at Rashan Gary or Montez Sweat. Pass rushers are at a premium and as free agents they cost a lot more than linebackers.

    Also, there are very good inside linebackers to be found in later rounds: Notre Dame has two, Alabama has one, Clemson has two. It’s been easy to find value in later rounds at linebacker. Need proof? Look no farther than David, Kwon, Kendall, Bond, Taylor. David was drafted highest. #58 overall.

    I definitely agree that the Bucs need an impact player and future pro bowler at #5. The best way to get players to the pro bowl is to win. Winning starts with defense and getting after Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Matt Ryan. JPP was great last year, but is 31. Nassib was great last year, but is entering his last year on his rookie deal. Spence hasn’t proven anything(good) yet. Rush linebackers/Edge/DE should be the priority with a top 5 pick.

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  6. In a draft with elite talent along the DL and our needs along the DL I think it would crazy to use a top 5 pick on a LB. Bucs might not be high on Ed Oliver but they should be, he would be a terror in this 1 gap scheme that lets him consistently get up field with Vita occupying 2 blockers. Hopefully they are throwing a smoke screen with the White talk but drafting a LB at 5 when you need talent in the trenches would be doing this team a disservice. If you want to tell me they think Jonah Williams/Ford/Juwan can play guard or tackle so they want either of them at 5, I don’t love it but it at least makes sense. Last year they ranted and raved about the Jaguars model of building through the trenches and now here we are doing dumb stuff like ignoring those needs for a LB lol. Arians loves the S/LB hybrids in his defense what about a reunion with Mark Barron. Devin White is not going to force the ball out of QBs hands quicker to help our unproven secondary and he wont open up running lanes for Barber or Jones which have to be top priority this summer. Licht has drafted ZERO Pro Bowl players since Lovie left who controlled those decisions, hasn’t drafted/acquired a OL that was worth the contract/draft pick since Lovie left either and has selected 1 DL with some promise in Vea. FIX THE TRENCHES! As for Donovan it’s a good deal regarding the actual contract because the new coach wont be tied to him for long if this doesn’t work out. Bc as much as I think he’s mediocre I certainly don’t think Licht is capable of replacing him with similar or better production.

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  7. Rotational LB or starter in RT Juwaan Taylor. You start by discussing the importance of getting a pro bowler, then go into how he may just be rotational? Want a pro bowler? Get CJ Mosely.

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    • I love cj but that dude is going to ask for a ton of money that the bucs dont have

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  8. Redskins are definitely in the hunt to move up to get a starting QB, so if they offer the right deal, snap it up. Afterall, the Bu s still need a solid kicke!.
    As for music during practice, that should be something you earn. No tickey no washy.

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    • I don’t think the Skins are drafting a QB in the first round after that Case Keenum trade yesterday

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      • Being that they only gave up a 6th in exchange for Keenum and a 7th, doubt that precludes them from grabbing a QB early. They’re only paying him $3.5M as well since Denver is covering half his salary.

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        • Case “Placeholder” Keenum?

          Exactly correct FLBoy84! That guy is a one year fix to prep the rookie they’re bound to draft.

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  9. Like White as well, just not sure at #5. Would prefer to trade down, even to the mid teens to acquire more picks. Some solid FA options at LB available that might be signed to short term deals to fill in for a year or two as well, or grab Bush or Mack later in the 1st/2nd. With the multitude of needs and the limited available cap space over the next few years, having as many quality players on rookie deals as possible is needed.

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  10. I have every reason to believe that LB Devin White/LSU would make a great pick for the Bucs even at #5. I even have him as my 1st pick in a trade down mock draft, but not at #5. But there are those other than some Buc fans who have reservations. This is the time of year when everybody has an opinion, some dubious. I don’t do film study. I watch highlight tapes like most fans.

    I have no idea if this analyst is legit or just another talking head, but thought his film study deserved some scrutiny. But you gotta be careful, this could be a commercial for the Broncos. Below is his video opinion of drafting Devin White at #5. For your evaluation of both the analyst and White as a day one starter.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dV4t663pPQ

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    • Nice link macabee. The guy who made that video also made one about Quinnen Williams which I found informative as well.

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  11. No absolutely not. White is not a good fit for the Bucs at 5. At 5 it better be Sweat, or if any of Josh Allen, Bosa, Quinnen Williams falls. Or trade down a little and take Greedy/Murphy.

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    • Sweat would be such a disappointment at 5. I’d maybe be okay with at 15, but 5 is just hoping his potential turns out great.

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  12. I think White is the pick at 5, unless Josh Allen or Q falls down. I think in the top 5, like Scott said, you have to go for the guy you know is going to be a day 1 starter and future pro bowler. Don’t take the risk of the flashy player like Sweat or Burns who could turn into a Vic Beasley or Shane Ray and not quite reach their ceiling.

    Also, I think the most important thing for this team in the offseason is to do 3 main things:
    1. Get 2 veteran starting DBs. 1 at corner and 1 at safety. (CB examples McCourty, Claiborne, Desir) (S Amos, Gipson, Cyprien, Weddle)
    2. Get a veteran guard to start next to Dotson. (Iupati, Carpenter, Larson, Lang)
    3. Draft 3 or 4 front 7 defensive players to help with the scheme change.
    I agree with BA this team has the talent and now has the coaching. Let’s make the smart football decisions instead of the flashy ones.

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  13. You wouldn’t use the 5th pick on a L.B. if you knew they would turn out to be Lewis, Brooks, or how about Lawrence Taylor? Why is 5th to high for a L.B.? Remember it’s not about just stopping the Q.B.’s in our division. You better be able to get Kamara, and all the great backs in our division on the ground too. That’s where a great L.B. can help turn this defense around.

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  14. Devin White is a 5th overall pick type of talent the problem is that he doesn’t play a position you spend a 5th overall pick on for a number of reasons:

    1. Like the NBA with 3 point shooting, the NFL has evolved into a high efficiency passing league. Drafting a player who has a marginal role in the passing game is like drafting a back to the basket post-up center in the 3 pt-loving NBA. Sure, the post up player can help your offense, but the teams that are winning championships aren’t doing it because they have that type of player on their team.
    2. Linebacker doesn’t have the same urgency to draft in Rd 1 like DE, LT or QB does. The Bucs have their own experience with Lavonte David (2nd Rd) and Kwon Alexander (4th Rd) performing as well as a 1st round linebacker would. It’s the same argument as why GM’s rarely spend draft capital on kickers. If I can hit on a linebacker in Rd 4 why am I considering spending my top 5 pick on one?
    3. There is a decent statistical evaluation done by a Colts fan that shows that while 1st round players at any position are going to get more playing time (and tackles) that there is reason to hold off on taking one early vs a premium position like DE which has a steeper fall (www.stampedeblue.com/2018/2/15/17010930/nfl-draft-is-there-a-best-round-to-draft-a-linebacker-value-over-replacement-defeats)
    4. Even articles proclaiming the value of LBers to cover RB’s use Deion Jones (2nd Rd) and Telvin Smith (4th Rd) as examples of players who have great value in these roles. So why is a team that has several needs in the secondary, protecting the passer and rushing the passer considering a player who does none of those things at 5? (www.theringer.com/2018/4/12/17227830/draft-linebackers-roquan-smith-deion-jones-alvin-kamara)

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  15. At this point, I’ll be happy with selecting either Williams, Allen, Sweat, Bosa, or White..all those guys could be a game changer that we need.

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    • No sweat! He’s overrated. Workout warrior. Not even close to Bosa or Allen.

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  16. While I understand that people are hesitant for the bucs to draft a lb at 5, I don’t think you could go wrong with selecting White there. If Bosa, Williams, Allen, or Sweat is there..you take one of those guys..if we stay put at 5 and decide not to trade down or just cant find someone to trade down with, I have no problem with selecting white there..I can only imagine that with his speed that he would be all over the field making plays for us.

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  17. What a wasted pick Beckwith was. Having to blow a top 5 pick to replace him…. ugh.

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    • Wasted? He was injured..kind of messed up to say that about something he had no control over.

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      • Actually he did have some control. He let a guy with a suspended license drive his car recklessly and slam it into a gate. So yes he had control over it and he got himself injured. So, yes having to blow a top 5 pick because Beckwith can’t make better decisions stinks.

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        • ahh so you’re one of those perfect human beings, amazing, nice to meet you perfect guy who never makes mistakes.

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          • I would say there’s a difference between making a mistake (something we all do) and making a reckless decision that ends your professional sports career and costs you millions in lost earnings.

            But in the end Beckwith was just living his life. It was 27-53 Jason Licht that wagered a 3rd round pick Beckwith would become a long term starter at MLB. Like most of the Lichtanic’s time here that wager came up snakeyes.

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      • BucRy, I have to believe his statement was made simply to envoke an argument. No way he is that damn ignorant

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  18. Devin White looks like one helluva player, but this team definitely needs massive trench upgrades on both sides. Is anyone having problems with the love being shown to peyton barber? Cause I mean we all watch the dude, we all know he’s not gonna break off those Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson type runs. But he does make the first dude miss quite frequently and he straight up thumps most would be tacklers. Still think we need a compliment change of pace back but think that the chatter of him getting a long term extension with the team is warranted.

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  19. Anyone remember a RB we had briefly, Thomas Jones? Peyton Barber reminds me alot of Thomas Jones…

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  20. Right now I have it Bosa, Allen, White, Oliver, Sweat and Williams in that order.

    If we were to trade down and get White at 7th pick or 10th pick or whatever that would be fantastic! We could still get decent DL and/or OL talent with other picks. Yes, we could address DB and RB too with remaining pick(s) if we had additional picks because of a trade.
    ______________
    Go Bucs!!!!!!!!!

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  21. Take white at 5 and never look back! Don’t pass on great player for meadoker ones ! He’s going to be epic!

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  22. I believe that in the top five you have to go with a trench player. I do like White but in a trade down scenario.

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  23. I remember Jones well, Charlie.
    We got him for nothing from the Cardinals and then we rarely used him but when we did he was always effective.
    We let him get away to the Jets where he put up a few 1.000 yard seasons.
    Another fantastic move by Gruden and Allen.

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    • We acquired Thomas Jones via TRADE from the Cardinals for Marquise Walker. Jones rushed for 627 yards 137 carries, scored 3 TD’s and lost 1 fumble. He was in a crowded backfield with Pittman and Alstott and he left via FA in 2004 to the Bears not the Jets. Allen didnt join the team until Jones was gone……..just saying.

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  24. If the Bucs did draft White, would there be anything in his contract about his horse riding? I know that’s his passion, but anyone can get thrown from a horse.

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    • That’s true, horses were even Superman’s kryptonite

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  25. I don’t understand why people don’t like White as a player. White has size and the ability to run sideline to sideline with blazing speed. He hustles to the ball and is always going for the strip. His ability to stack and shed is superior than most PRO NFL LBs in the league. Yeah White has weaknesses but his strengths are off the charts good.

    Am I missing something?

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  26. I like white a lot. But the best player on my board is Q. Williams. He is unblockable at times. If Q is off the board then I’m good with White.

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  27. Sweat is definitely not too 5 and not in my top 10. Be careful getting fooled by his ridiculous 40 time. Watch his tape. He’s good, but not great.

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  28. I like White as the first pick after a trade down. That would also allow us to get a top RG too like Lindstrom. Another great article Scott.

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