..The 2022 NFL Draft less than a week away. And Bucs fans are abuzz with hot takes on who the team should select. The roster is filled out for the most part as Jason Licht and company were able to return or replace most of the key components of their division-winning squad from last year. However, there are several opportunities to elevate the talent on the roster. Recently, Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard laid out some of the bigger positions of need that may need addressing. Working off that list I wanted to suggest a few players I believe should be avoided, and alternatives that may provide better value.
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Player with some buzz: Kerby Joseph
Illinois S Kerby Joseph – Photo by: USA Today
Joseph is currently ranked as the No. 8 safety in Dane Brugler’s “The Beast” with a third-fourth round grade. There has been a lot of interest in Joseph. This in part due to the production he put up in his final season at Illinois, racking up five interceptions and seven passes defended over 12 games and 10 starts. Joseph’s tape does show his ballhawk nature, as he tries to keep his eyes on the QB and shows good closing speed to drive towards the receiver and meet the ball at the catch point.
Despite these positive qualities in Kerby’s game there are two major reasons the Bucs should stay away. First, he is allergic to contact. Joseph will provide next to no help in the run game as he is slow to diagnose runs which leads to poor angles allowing backs to turn the corner on him. He also just doesn’t show a willingness to be effective in that area of the game, often opting to not help if he thinks a teammate will reach the carrier first.
Secondly, due to his profile as a zone-hawking player who doesn’t offer much in run defense, he profiles best as a free safety. Antoine Winfield, Jr. is already in place as the Bucs free safety, and a top tier one at that. Mike Edwards is also already on the roster. His skill set slots more in as a free safety as well. Tampa Bay lost a very good strong safety in Jordan Whitehead last year. With the signing of Keanu Neal, the team has helped plug that void temporarily. Assuming the Bucs want to lock up Winfield long-term they should be looking to find him a long-term backfield partner that can play the box role well.
Player to target: Dane Belton
Now let me introduce you to Iowa’s Dane Belton. Belton matched Kerby with explosive backfield plays last year with five interceptions of his own and 12 passes defensed. Why do I think the Bucs should be more interested in Belton? There are few reasons that make me like him more.
First, Belton isn’t afraid to mix it up in the run game. He is a willing tackler with sound technique. This was an area of his game that showed improvement throughout his final year. With added bulk, which his frame suggests he can take on, he can add some thump to those tackles and develop into a hard-hitting player. In addition, Belton shows more versatility in usage than Joseph does. He easily matched against tight-ends in coverage and was a solid slot defender as well. While his 4.43 speed didn’t always show it suggests he can hold his own in high-zone play, especially when matched with his zone awareness.
Belton’s versatility, as compared to Joseph’s limited skill-set would allow Todd Bowles to unlock Winfield’s abilities. With the two of them paired together the defense can rotate both high, in the box, or into the slot, presenting the team with matchup advantages they would not have with Joseph. To top it all off Belton is projected to be a much later selection, going somewhere on Day 3.
Player with some buzz: Boye Mafe
Minnesota DE Boye Mafe – Photo by: USA Today
This one was a bit of a tougher call for me. I’m afraid by including Mafe here most will get the idea I don’t like him as a prospect. That isn’t the case at all. I am actually really high on him, having him ranked as my EDGE5 with a late first- or early second-round grade. He shows many of the qualities you want to see in a difference-making pass rusher. Mafe features an explosive first step that allows him to get off the line quickly. He maintains that speed throughout his rush through the top of the arc. Adding to the speed element of his game he can bend and uses his hands well. This is a fantastic base skill set to develop.
The reason I am including him is due to where he would need to be taken and the relative depth at his position in this draft class. Mafe is routinely mocked right where my draft grade has him: in the late first round or early second round. For Tampa Bay to get him it would undoubtedly have to use pick No. 27. That to me is a small waste of resources. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Shaq Barrett look to occupy the starting OLB roles for the foreseeable future.
Player to target: Drake Jackson
USC DE Drake Jackson – Photo by: USA Today
Okay, so if not Mafe in the first, who could the Bucs target later in the draft that would help bolster their outside linebacker room? USC’s Drake Jackson combines production with projection to make a really interesting potential fit. Jackson profiles as a good athlete, scoring similar in the broad and vertical jumps as Mafe. He also looks to have more lateral agility. That showed on his tape as well. Jackson would use that lateral mobility along with a good pass rush plan to get tackles to overset. Then he would cross their face to the inside. He also uses his long arms to prevent blockers from tying him up. Lastly, Jackson proved in college he can drop into coverage, which Todd Bowles likes to do with his edge defenders.
Jackson lacks in a couple of areas that Mafe excels in. Namely hand usage and his get off the line. Both of those areas are coachable. Additionally, Jackson’s athletic testing shows he could potentially have an explosive first step if he cleans up some technique issues. Ultimately, Jackson provides similar upside to Mafe with a few attributes that fit well into the Bucs system. And as someone projected to go in the late second, rather than the late first he offers better value to the Bucs draft plans.
With the draft being such a fluid process teams have to be able to flex based on new information constantly. Both Joseph and Mafe are largely seen as better players than Belton and Jackson. However, the latter two present unique opportunities to the Bucs to provide similar or better production in Tampa Bay’s scheme at later draft positions. This would allow the team the opportunity to address additional needs with better players, while still filling these two opportunities.