Boise State RB Jeremy McNichols - Photo by: Getty Images
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers added six players to their roster in the 2017 NFL Draft. PewterReport.com has already offered its analysis on the Bucs’ most recent draft class. Now it’s time to determine where each of these six new Buccaneers fits on the roster and who their presence threatens in training camp.
ROUND 1 – Alabama TE O.J. Howard
The Buccaneers were stunned to see Howard slide down the draft boards as teams drafted for need and not taking the best player available as the Alabama tight end has top 10 talent with his 6-foot-6, 251-pound frame and 4.51 speed. Despite having a capable tight end in Cameron Brate, whose eight touchdowns was tied for the most in the NFL and the most by a tight end in Bucs history, Tampa Bay really needed another tight end and was determined to draft one in the first three rounds. That’s why PewterReport.com had the Bucs taking Howard at No. 19 in its second Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft of the year and later had the team selecting Miami tight end David Njoku at No. 19 in its fourth version of that mock.
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Getty Images
Where Howard fits in is atop the depth chart by the season opener. Given his draft status, but more importantly his skill set, it’s only a matter of time before Howard becomes the starting tight end because of his ability to play the “Y” tight end position as an in-line blocker at the line of scrimmage and operate all of the route tree as a receiving tight end down the field. This doesn’t mean that the Bucs are down on Brate. It’s just that Howard is a bigger and better blocker than Brate is, having blocked for the likes of T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Kenyon Drake and Bo Scarborough at Alabama.
In fact, Howard’s presence means the Bucs offense will run more two tight end sets this year, and that was the plan last year with Brate and Austin Seferian-Jenkins before ASJ’s DUI arrest prompted the team to release him prior to Week 3. Having Brate and Howard on the field together will force Tampa Bay’s opponents to play more base defense because a two tight end set is viewed as a formation that teams can easily throw or run out of and that creates more uncertainty for defenses and makes the Bucs offense less predictable.
ROUND 2 – Texas A&M S Justin Evans
Evans was one of the safeties the Bucs really coveted and had a late first-round grade on, so when he was available at No. 50 the team was thrilled. Evans didn’t have a complete workout at the NFL Scouting Combine because of a hamstring strain and wasn’t at 100 percent on his pro day when he ran a 4.6 time in the 40-yard dash. The team believes he’s faster because he’s a very good athlete and is one of the better coverage safeties in the draft. Evans had five interceptions as a two-year starter for the Aggies, including four as a senior, and totaled 11 pass breakups with eight coming last season.
Texas A&M S Justin Evans – Photo by: Getty Images
Where Evans fits is as a strong safety in Mike Smith’s 4-3 defensive scheme, replacing Bradley McDougald. Evans is a big hitter that missed too many tackles because he was going for knockout kill shots with his shoulder and forearm rather than wrapping up, but made strides as a tackler last year. Tackling technique can be corrected and secondary coach Brett Maxie will begin working on that at the team’s rookie mini-camp. Evans had 165 tackles in two years for the Aggies, including 87 last year, so it’s not like the guy misses every other tackle attempt.
What can’t be taught is the explosion with which Evans brings the boom when he hits. Tampa Bay’s safeties have to be interchangeable, and Evans has the range to play free safety, too. With veteran J.J. Wilcox signed from Dallas in the offseason it’s likely that Evans could even start at free safety if he can beat out Keith Tandy and Chris Conte. But the Bucs wouldn’t mind him edging out the newly signed Wilcox, either, as rookie Kwon Alexander did early with high-priced free agent signing Bruce Carter in 2015.
ROUND 3 – Penn State WR Chris Godwin
Tampa Bay needed to add another receiver in the 2017 NFL Draft and had coveted Godwin for some time. The team had him in for a pre-draft visit and liked him so much that it had a second-round grade on the Penn State receiver that averaged 16 yards per reception as a sophomore and 16.6 yards per catch as a junior. The Bucs liked the fact that at 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, Godwin has the size to not only go up and get the football as a receiver, but can also be an aggressive downfield blocker in the running game. That’s important as the Bucs are trying to do everything possible to get their running game back to its 2015 level when it was a top 5 unit.
Penn State WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: Getty Images
Where Godwin fits in to Tampa Bay’s depth chart is at the No. 3 or No. 4 slot on the depth chart. But don’t think that he’s a threat to Adam Humphries, who is the Bucs’ starter at the slot receiver position and its current punt returner. Godwin rarely played in the slot at Penn State and he is more likely to stay on the outside in the NFL, although he will learn how to play the X (split end), Z (flanker) or Y (slot receiver) in Tampa Bay as all Bucs receivers do for the sake of being versatile. Godwin will be asked to play some special teams as a rookie to take over the role vacated by Russell Shepard, who left for Carolina in free agency.
With Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson as the starting receivers, and Evans rarely coming off the field, look for Godwin to split time with the 30-year old Jackson, who will need more rest than he was accustomed to getting in his career while playing in the heat and humidity of Florida’s tropical climate. The Bucs want to keep Jackson fast and fresh for the fourth quarter, and bringing in a bigger receiver with 4.42 speed to replace him occasionally on the outside gives opposing defenses a different match-up than the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Jackson brings. Godwin’s presence on the outside can also mean moving Jackson or Evans to the slot in certain three-wide receiver sets to create different mismatches for head coach and playcaller Dirk Koetter.
ROUND 3 – LSU LB Kendell Beckwith
Beckwith is coming off a torn ACL he suffered last year against Florida, but there is a possibility he could be ready some time in training camp – or he may start the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list if his recovery time stagnates. Beckwith became LSU’s middle linebacker as a sophomore and played alongside Tampa Bay’s Kwon Alexander for a season when Alexander was the Tigers’ strongside linebacker. His production increased every year from 77 tackles to 84 stops to 91 tackles through the first 10 games of the 2016 season. Beckwith would also see occasional snaps at defensive end and collected 7.5 career sacks from outside rushes and blitzes from the Mike linebacker position combined.
Bucs LB Kendell Beckwith – Photo by: Getty Images
Where Beckwith fits in is at strongside linebacker where he will compete with Devante Bond for the starting job vacated by the retirement of Daryl Smith. The Bucs wanted to add some size to the linebacker position and need a bigger linebacker to play Sam, especially when the Bucs are in a 4-3 Under front that requires the Sam to set the edge at the line of scrimmage playing over the tight end. At 6-foot-2, 243 pounds, Beckwith is about 12 pounds heavier than both Alexander and weakside linebacker Lavonte David.
Beckwith figures to make the team given the fact that the Bucs traded up to get him in the third round, using their fourth- and sixth-round picks to do so. He also adds value to the Bucs as a backup middle linebacker behind Alexander because that’s the role that Smith also played in Tampa Bay last year. Beckwith’s mix of size, physicality and above average football I.Q. make him an intriguing player to watch when healthy. Bond will get an early jump on the Sam linebacker position because he’s healthy heading into OTAs next month, but it will only be a matter of time before Beckwith gets healthy and gets in the ring.
ROUND 5 – RB Jeremy McNichols
McNichols had offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum after the NFL Scouting Combine, and he’ll miss the OTAs but is on track to return to the field for training camp. He was a two-year starter at Boise State where he replaced Jay Ajaye and rushed for 3,205 yards and 44 touchdowns, including 1,709 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. McNichols may be the fastest running back on the roster with a 4.49 time in the 40-yard dash. McNichols tore through Mountain West defenses last year, but also fared well against Pac-12 competition throughout his Broncos career with key performances in wins against Washington State and Oregon State.
Boise State RB Jeremy McNichols – Photo by: Getty Images
Where he fits into Tampa Bay’s offense initially is as a candidate to challenge and replace Charles Sims as a third down, pass-catching back. McNichols began his football career as a receiver before moving to running back and he is regarded as potentially having the best hands of any back in the draft. McNichols caught 103 passes for 1,089 yards and 11 touchdowns in his three years at Boise State, including 51 receptions for 460 yards and six TDs as a sophomore and 37 catches for 474 yards and four scores last year.
McNichols could conceivably challenge Peyton Barber for a roster spot this year, as the Bucs will keep four running backs. Jacquizz Rodgers will likely be the season-opening starter with Doug Martin set to serve a three-game suspension to begin the year. It seems as if Tampa Bay will keep Martin, and the Bucs will get a roster exemption for him for the first three weeks of the year. It’s not inconceivable that McNichols could enter the season as the team’s backup rusher behind Rodgers and beat out Sims for the third-down back role as he was considered to be the best back in the draft in pass protection.
ROUND 7 – USC DT Stevie Tu’iklolavatu
Tu’iklolavatu began his playing career as a defensive tackle at Utah in 2009 and then headed out for a two-year church mission in the Philippines before returning to the Utes football program. He missed 2013 with a foot injury before playing as a reserve in 2014 and a starter in 2015 where he had 28 tackles, recorded four fumble recoveries and had two sacks. Tu’iklolavatu transferred to USC for his final season where he made 53 tackles as a run-stuffer and earned a trip to the Senior Bowl.
Bucs DT Stevie Tu’iklolavatu – Photo by: Getty Images
Where he fits into Tampa Bay’s depth chart is as a situational two-down run-stuffer, challenging Sealver Siligia for a roster spot. At 6-foot-1, 341 pounds, Tu’iklolavatu is a load and moves well for a big man, running a 5.25 in the 40-yard dash. The Bucs have starters at defensive tackle in Gerald McCoy and Chris Baker and a reserve in Clinton McDonald, who can play both nose tackle and three-technique. Because DaVonte Lambert can play both defensive end and defensive tackle, Tu’iklolavatu will have to beat out Siligia to earn a roster spot.
Tu’iklolavatu is incredibly strong, evidenced by his 33 reps of 225 pounds at his pro day, which was an improvement over his NFL Scouting Combine number of 28. The Bucs wanted to get bigger at the defensive tackle position this offseason and have done that with the 341-pound Tu’iklolavatu and the 320-pound Baker. Siliga has the immediate edge due to his NFL experience and his knowledge of the Bucs defense, but Tu’iklolavatu is considered to be a bit faster and more agile.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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
I think the top 5 make the roster and Stevie T making it to practice squad if he passes waivers. I’m hoping Beckwith can be healthy enough to start training camp and can at least push Bond for the SLB position.
Not sure what to think about Evans, my first impression was that he could be a penalty machine in the NFL if he constantly goes for those high hits. But I do see the range and speed he has to offer and he certainly seems to be a willing tackler even if he misses. So if they can clean up his technique, he could be a fairly solid safety. I’m thinking Wilcox and Tandy start and Evans gets playing time as a rotational safety for much of the season.
The NCAA has also cracked down on such hits, more so than the NFL, with automatic game ejections for “targeting”. To my knowledge, Justin Evans was not ejected once for targeting.
Hard hits do not mean illegal hits.
In the NFL a lot of those hits are going to be called to protect the ball carrier. I was watching a McNichols highlight reel where he was literally clotheslined at the LoS. That is a big no no in the NFL for example.
Have to agree with ADW here, the NFL is really paranoid about any high hits. I saw multiple cases last season where the hit was declared a helmet to helmet hit when the helmet never actually hit. Also the NFL is far more vigilant on ‘helpless’ player role than the colleges are. I’d be much happier if Evans lowered his target zone to the chest and below. Those shoulder hits that he uses concern me.
Agreed nitey…Dom tried that what when he drafted Barron 1st and signed Dashon in FA when the NFL was cracking down on those type of hits because of concussions. I remember lits of Unsportsmanlike penalties, fines, suspensions, and missed tackles!
Great article Scott.
One thing that I have trouble understanding…
Why is Keith Tandy’s job even on the table? That dude was the best player on the field for the last 5 weeks of the season last year. I don’t think I’ve seen Bucs safeties have 5 games that good CUMULATIVELY, since the promising start of Tanard Jackson’s career (maybe).
Yet, for anyone to toy with the idea of Adam Humphries losing playing time is blasphemy. We all love Hump, but let’s be real, he’s never had an impact like Tandy did late last season.
I’m concerned with Evans tackling. I think that has to be one of the hardest things to fix/teach with modern day practice rules. They won’t know if he’s improved anything until he steps on the field. As far as him improving this pasta season, of the 5 game tapes available online, the only one where he tackled pretty well was the South Carolina tape from 2015…all four of the 2016 games were bad. I think he’ll start out as a rotational, passing downs safety, while Tandy and Wilcox start the majority of snaps.
Apparently the Bucs see it differently than you do, or any of the others who hate the Evans pick.
I am much more confident in our actual GM than in all those second guessing him here.
Naples, Tandy was the highest rated safety in the NFL last year the last 5 games. Look it up, it’s fact. Now the Bucs want to get more athletic maybe and that’s why he was brought in. And maybe he’ll be out Wilcox and get our Strong safety spot. We get it,m you believe in our GM, we all do, but it’s ok to disagree as a fan. We don’t care if you liked the pick or not.
We don’t care that you don’t care … most of us care, however, that we have a very competent GM who is making the calls. If you don’t care about that, so what?
They can see it differently all they want. Anybody who watched Tandy play at the end of the season and has properly working eyeballs could see that he was an asset to this defense.
And they could very well be justified in where they took Evans…but nobody can look at his tape and tell me he doesn’t miss too many damn tackles. You don’t have a be a scout or a GM to tell that a guy is running around like a chicken with his head cut off costing his defense to give up big plays. It was blatantly obvious.
I love Licht and Dirk…and I trust them…but if I wasn’t going to have an opinion on who they draft then I wouldn’t be here following this site in the offseason, or following all the draft-related crap they post on Buccaneers.com. It’s not like I’m not gonna root for the kid, just my opinion that it wasn’t a good pick. I’ve been smarter than our GM before, and I’ve been wrong many times too. It ain’t rocket science.
It’ll be interesting to hear more about the Beckwith/Alexander connection down the road. I wonder if Alexander had any input during the scouting process? I’m really glad that they got more depth at LB as well.
I think this was terrible pick. Just look at the film from the 2017 Alabama game. He is bad. Don’t know what Lighte sees in him!
Before his ACL tear he was a projected 2nd rounder so…saying he is bad is clearly wrong.
The problem with Beckwith in a 43 under front is that he has to be able to flip his hips and run with an NFL caliber TE in pass coverage or be able to drop back into zone.
Bucs have gambled in the past by using valuable 3rd round picks on SAM and it ha blown up in their faces for good reason. But a lot of those SAM LB’s were also athletic freaks (eg Marquis Cooper RIP, Quincy Black, etc) that could turn and run with TE’s in pass coverage.
Logically, that third round pick should have been spent on a nickel CB even if the Bucs like their CB group, because that is the direction the NFL is going and that is what the divisional foes have shown will do.
None of those other Bucs draft pickers were Jason Licht.
What makes Licht smarter than other GMs when it comes to drafting SAM backers in the third round?
Drafting a two down player with a third round pick always has been bad value. Even more so with the Bucs.
Just as no player ever equals another player, no GM ever equals another GM.
Jason Licht has his plan for the team, he has his likes and dislikes, the characteristics of players and coaches that he wants, and his own life lessons in the business, much of which was spent as understudies to some of the best the business has ever seen, including the incomparable Bill Belichick, who produced more success than any other GM or head coach in league history.
So yes, so what if other GMs made mistakes. Tell us what Jason Licht is doing or trying to do that is not working and producing bad results.
Licht spent 40+$ million dollars on his vision of:
Austin Sefarian Jenkins
Josh McCown (LOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL)
then there was the whole DE fiasco in 2015 when we wasted a draft pick trading the lions for George Johnson who lost his rotational role then went to IR
…. not to mention drafting roberto aguayo in the 2nd round and keeping him on the roster while he kicks PAT’s like a schoolgirl on national TV..
Lastly, Paul Brown is the most successful GM/coach hybrid in NFL history; Bill Belichick even admits this.
And then … drum roll … Jason Licht produced the first winning season for the Bucs since 2010.
Not a word more needs be said.
As in most NFL drafts, the most likely Week 1 starters are the Day 1 and 2 picks, while the Day three picks are usually (but not always) relegated to backups if they make the roster at all.
A recent exception was Kwon Alexander as a fourth rounder taking the starter job in training camp and pre-season.
Amongst this crew, obviously OJ Howard is a pretty big step above our existing tight ends, including Cam Brate, with his combination of excellent speed as well as size, and his inline blocking ability in addition to his receiver skills. He’ll start immediately.
Justin Evans will definitely challenge for a starting slot, but it remains to be seen how he works out in training camp and pre-season. Certainly Keith Tandy is going to compete for that position too, along with J. J. Wilcox. But don’t shed any tears if Tandy doesn’t win out over Evans …. that would just mean that our safeties got better this year!
Chris Godwin will surely be a high quality backup at WR and potentially challenge at slot, and likely also help out in special teams with his speed.
Jeremy McNichols will likely challenge for the starting RB position during the 3-week Doug Martin suspension, going against Jacquizz Rodgers – it remains to be seen who will win that slot … but after that it seems pretty obvious he’ll crack the minimum top four RB slots thereafter.
Beckwith’s role as starter or backup will obviously depend upon how fast he recovers from his ACL, but if he is fully recovered he has a very good shot at winning the starter’s job, playing beside Kwon and Lavonte.
I would agree with this.
The question I have, will Licht protect Evans if he stinks, like he did for Aguayo just because he was a high draft pick. Don’t you think Koetter would have wanted to get a better PK than what Aquayo showed in preseason.
Why do you say Licht “protected” Aguayo? He stated quite clearly this offseason that Aguayo didn’t perform well and that he was not guaranteed a spot on the roster … then he went out and signed at least one veteran kicker to compete with Aguayo (likely at least one or two other kickers are also going to be tried out during training camp and pre-season).
Licht has shown repeatedly that when someone he signs – either a draft pick like ASJ, or a free agent pickup like Michael Johnston – who doesn’t perform will not be retained. That applies to anybody and everybody.
My real problem with the Evans pick is that I dont think he’s THAT much better than McDougald who should’ve been resigned. That pick could’ve been used on Taylor Moton, who could’ve pushed for a starting job on the OL or Teez Tabor who would’ve excelled in our zone scheme due to his ball skills and brings some length which our secondary needs. That aside it was a very good draft, we addressed some key areas and put quality depth in places where it was needed.
I think Teez or Awuzie would’ve been better for our team but I don’t think Moton would see the field this year barring injuries.
Since most draft boards had Evans as a 3rd rounder and Godwin a 2nd-3rd rounder, just pretend Godwin was taken before Evans.
Can we pretend Aguayo was an UDFA and Peyton Barber was the 2nd round pick?
Can someone who knows how to research this confirm or deny the following.
I have had the notion for long time that John Lynch had a similar problem early in his career as to that reported about Evans. He had to learn how to “wrap up” as a tackler in order to be effective. He already had the “heat seeking missile” hard hitting tendency early on.
Lynch was a 3rd round pick whose career did not truly take off until his fourth year in the league.
Of course no two athletes are necessarily comparable just because they might play the same position.
Can anyone clear this up?
That was a different defense. The Tampa 2 really was a bend don’t break & gang tackling mentality.
I hear Evans is like Karl Joseph. Joseph’s tape looks great but because he hits so hard, he ends up injuring himself.
Don’t count Mr.T, Stevie out. Smith likes big run stuffing nose tackles, and this Samoan mountain fits the bill. The tape I’ve seen on him you just can’t move him backwards. Besides, any man who can live with his wife out of a car, has to be tough as nails! Don’t get why some fans are down on the Evans pick. He’s raw, they all are. Let’s see how he does after some NFL coaching. You can’t teach the want to, and swag, this kid’s got that.
So will McNichols become known as the Muscle Gerbil?
Great news! The Bucs finally signed the long snapper I have been waiting for?
Typical, typical, typical. We here in Bucville always have to anoint someone as the whipping boy. Many didn’t recognize the name or read about him as a Bucs Best Bet so the reaction is he automatically should have been passed over for someone more familiar. This season’s Draft folks have designated Justin Evans for apparently no other reason than he misses a tackle or two due to his ultra aggressive, no fear style. Tackle technique, understanding angles and knowing the safety responsibilities can all be taught. What can’t be taught is the swagger with which he plays. We should keep in mind that Evans was primarily a baseball player who is really just starting to learn the position.
As for Keith Tandy; he has often made plays when he’s had a chance to get on the field. What always puzzled me about this late round pick, was that he was never able to unseat rather unheralded starters. No one can deny that his “splash” plays at the end of the season proved to be game winners. But what about prior years and the first part of the 2016 season?
It was pretty evident that the Bucs were going to draft a safety fairly early in the Draft. One need only look at the rostered players. Street free agents in Conte, Johnson and Wilcox and a former 5th rounder in Tandy while another street free agent, McDougald was allowed to leave. That tells me that position is unsettled and wide open in Training Camp.
Let’s give the kid a chance before some of you start nit picking to try to prove your point of who you think Licht should have drafted.
deezenuts, the one major item you left out of your diatribe abiut Licht, big surprise, was that thosr eere alll players Lovie Smith coveted.
Since the morons exit, the selection of FAs has improvef dramatically.
Do you consider that a coincidence.
Man, can’t nobody spell Stevie Tu’ikolovatu’s name, even Scott Reynolds!
The guy should press for being called just ‘Big Stevie’ or ‘Mr. T’ or ‘Fat Tu’esday’.
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