Fri, 29 May 2020

Second-Round Draft Options for the Buccaneers

Buccaneers
01 Apr 2020, 18:26 GMT+10

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers own the 14th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and the majority of analysts now believe they will use it on an offensive tackle. Still, there are some experts who disagree; in this week's Mock Draft Roundup, you can find various predictions at defensive line, edge, and running back, for instance.

Fortunately, that 14th pick isn't the only one the Buccaneers possess in the upcoming draft. They currently own sixth other selections, beginning with the 45th overall pick, 13 slots into the second round. No draft pick is a sure thing, but teams can reasonably hope to land a strong contributor midway through the second round. For example, that's the pick at which the Tennessee Titans landed running back Derrick Henry in 2016, after using their first-rounder on tackle Jack Conklin.

What might the Buccaneers do with that very important pick? Here are six possibilities, in no particular order:

Running Back

The Case For: Though the Buccaneers' coaching staff was pleased with the big step forward that Ronald Jones took in 2019 and could expect him to progress even further in his third season, the running game could still use some added juice. Tampa Bay ranked 24th with 95.1 rushing yards per game last season, and 28th with an average of 3.72 yards per carry. Peyton Barber, who started the first half of the season and all of 2018, is an unrestricted free agent who has not been re-signed. The rest of the Buccaneers' depth chart consists of third-down back Dare Ogunbowale, who has 11 career carries, and T.J. Logan, who has primarily been used as a kick returner. Simply by sheer numbers, the Buccaneers need to add to this position.

Head Coach Bruce Arians recently said he would "love" to add a pass-catching running back. While he was pleased with the work that Jones did on screen plays, he's looking for a back who can ably act as a wide receiver when needed. Tampa Bay's new quarterback, Tom Brady, has made very good use of running backs in his offenses through the years.

Speaking of Brady, his momentous decision to leave New England after 20 years and take on a new challenge in Tampa surely had something to do with the offensive personnel he will now have surrounding him. The Buccaneers have the league's best starting receiver duo in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and some potentially prolific tight ends in O.J. Howard and Cam Brate. If the Bucs could spike their rushing numbers and/or add a receiving threat out of the backfield, Brady might be able to take an already good offense to a new level. That thought makes a running back very tempting in the second round, if there is one who fits the bill at number 45.

The Case Against: The biggest argument against drafting a running back in the second round would be if the team has already used its first-round pick on the position. While that seems like a bit of a long shot at number 14, it's not out of the question. General Manager Jason Licht could also trade back and add draft capital before addressing that position. The Bucs could also still use free agency to land a pass-catching back.

In addition, it could be argued that the Buccaneers could head into the draft in search of a running back but still not consider it a priority in the second round. Tampa Bay also owns pick number 76 in the third round, which is almost exactly where the Bills landed running back Devin Singletary last spring. Singletary made an instant impact in Buffalo with 969 yards from scrimmage in just 12 games. Royce Freeman, a third-round pick in 2018, has been a fine complementary player in Denver's backfield the past two years, and of course everyone remembers that the third round in 2017 produced Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt and James Conner.

Potential Options: Let's assume that Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor and Georgia's D'Andre Swift are off the board before the Bucs pick in the second round, either as first-round selections or very early Day Two choices. There still should be plenty of intriguing backs to choose from at pick number 45.

Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins could possibly last until the 45th pick, though he might be a steal at that point. Dobbins was extremely productive for the Buckeyes and can probably be a three-down back in the NFL, with the ability to catch passes out of the backfield and provide explosive plays.

Florida State's Cam Akers helped his draft stock at the NFL Scouting Combine. He gains a lot of yards after contact and has pass-rushing potential and there are many analysts who believe he will be more productive in the pros than he was in a sluggish Seminoles offense. LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire is short but solid and strong, and he caught the ball very well for the Tigers. He can run inside but also get to the edge.

Edge rusher

The Case For: The Buccaneers seemed to make this a second-tier priority when they were able to retain both of their starting outside linebackers, via a franchise tag on Shaquil Barrett and a new multi-year contract for Jason Pierre-Paul. Barrett led the NFL in sacks in 2019 and the two combined for 28 sacks even though Pierre-Paul missed the season's first six games. This is the best one-two punch on the edge the Buccaneers have had in a long time.

That seems like the beginning of "The Case Against" drafting an edge rusher with a high pick, but the issue is the remainder of the depth chart behind Barrett and Pierre-Paul. As incredible as the Buccaneers efforts were in retaining key defenders in and around the start of free agency, they weren't able to bring back Carl Nassib, who got a sizeable deal in Las Vegas. Nassib started before Pierre-Paul returned and was the third man in the edge rotation thereafter. He contributed 12.5 sacks the past two years and was a team leader who played with intensity at all times.

Without Nassib, the Buccaneers' depth behind their starting outside linebackers starts with Anthony Nelson, a fourth-round pick from a year ago who never really got going in his rookie season due to a significant hamstring injury. The Bucs' coaching staff is high on Nelson but he obviously remains unproven. The only other OLBs on the roster are Kahzin Daniels and Quinton Bell, who are also largely unproven.

And, simply put, quality edge rushers are hard to find and usually require the expenditure of valuable draft capital. The Buccaneers hit the jackpot in signing Barrett a year ago but now they will be devoting much more of their cap space to the league's breakout pass-rusher. Pierre-Paul will be paid quite handsomely, as well. If the Buccaneers could find a cost-effective addition to that group in the draft, it would be hard to pass up.

Possible Options: Ohio State's Chase Young and LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson are likely the first two edge rushers off the board and it's likely that Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos won't make it out of the first round, either. After that, it's not a position particularly deep in top-level prospects, so there could be a lull and then a run on the position in the second round.

Iowa's A.J. Epenesa was a common sight in first-round mock drafts until a notably slow 40-yard dash time at the Combine pushed him down the imaginary board. He might now be available in Round Two after a very productive college career. Alabama's Terrell Lewis is another player who seems to be on the cusp between Rounds One and Two; he's fast and athletic and had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl.

Florida's Jon Greenard didn't blow away the Combine but he had a good Senior Bowl week and could come off the board in the second round. Boise State's Curtis Weaver had 13.5 sacks in 2019 and has a high motor but may not possess elite athletic skills. Michigan's Josh Uche is just 6-1 and 245 pounds but may be well-suited to being a stand-up rusher in a 3-4 defense. Wisconsin's Zack Baun has potential as an off-the-ball linebacker, and possibly the right build for that position, but he also had 12.5 sacks last year. Notre Dame's Julian Okwara, Utah's Bradlee Anae and Tulsa's Trevis Gipson could all be second-round considerations.

Wide Receiver

The Case For: This is a matter of need and opportunity really meeting up well. The Buccaneers may have that incredible starting duo noted above of Evans and Godwin but there isn't much proven depth behind those two, especially after Breshad Perriman left for the Jets. Scotty Miller and Justin Watson are certainly going to be eager to compete for the number-three job in 2020, and one or both may succeed in carving out big roles this fall, but there are no other experienced receivers on the roster.

This is a significant question, too. The Buccaneers played 59.8% of their offensive snaps in "11" personnel in Bruce Arians' first season at the helm. That grouping, which features three receivers, one back and one tight end, was by far the most common one the Bucs put on the field. That essentially makes that third receiver a starter, and since Godwin is so effective in the slot, the third wideout does not have to be primarily a slot receiver.

So there is room for a Day Two addition to this group, and General Manager Jason Licht recently said that adding another receiver in free agency was not a priority. That's probably because this particular draft is so incredibly loaded in wide receivers, so GMs around the league can go into it feeling pretty certain they can get one they like at some point in the first three rounds. There are options of all different sizes and types, too, so the Bucs could specifically target a slot receiver if they thought it was the best option for Tom Brady.

The Case Against: Actually, this is sort of the same argument as the one above: The draft is so deep in receivers that you could save your second-round pick for another big need on the depth chart and still feel good about getting a receiver at pick number 76. You might even be able to wait until Day Three.

It's also possible that Arians and his staff are high on Miller, who has elite speed and flashed some big-play ability towards the end of his rookie season. There might even be a diamond in the rough among the lesser-known receivers on the Bucs' roster right now, like former CFL standout Bryant Mitchell or former track star Cyril Grayson. The problem with hoping that one of those players will emerge and be able to handle a big role, however, is that the uncertain offseason landscape caused by the coronavirus emergency will probably limit the amount of time young players have to develop their game in 2020.

Other than the depth of the position in the draft, there's not a particularly strong argument against drafting a wide receiver. Even if Evans, Godwin and Miller are all at the top of their respective games in 2020, that still a razor-thin situation to be in. All three of those players finished the season with hamstring injuries and the Bucs' passing attack would have been in trouble without the since-departed Perriman.

Possible Options: Where do we start? Expect CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Justin Jefferson to all come off the board in the first round, possibly joined by Tee Higgins, Denzel Mims and Jalen Reagor. Don't worry, even if all of those players are gone before Round Two the cupboard will be far from bare.

More likely it will be five or six of those seven receivers in the first round, and someone like Higgins or Reagor will fall into the Buccaneers' range. Higgins is big and a polished receiver with great hands who should be able to contribute right away. Reagor can fly and make big plays on deep balls and short passes where he's given room to create in the open field.

USC's Michael Pittman, son of former Bucs running back of the same name, is very big and physical but he's determined to prove that he can win in more ways than just pushing defenders around. He was incredibly productive for the Trojans. Penn State's K.J. Hamler is smaller but could be a perfect fit as a quick-twitch slot receiver. Colorado's Laviska Shenault is an elite athlete who might be a bit raw but can probably be used all over the offensive formation. Arizona State's Brandon Aiyuk is also a little raw but a player who can do dynamic things when you get the ball into his hands.

And so on. This position is so deep that we could easily put another 10 names here.

Offensive Line

The Case For: Yes, the Buccaneers are looking for a new starter at right tackle and that's why so many mock drafters now believe the team will use the 14th overall pick on that position. But what if the Buccaneers have another need they consider equally urgent, or simply a player they have rated much higher on their board, when their clock starts ticking in the first round? If the Bucs do not take an offensive lineman in the first round that would instantly become a big need in Round Two.

There are some depth concerns, too, even if the Buccaneers do take a tackle in Round One. Their two backup tackles from last season, Josh Wells and Jerald Hawkins, remain unsigned free agents. That's true, too, of the team's primary interior reserve and spot starter from 2019, Earl Watford. There are some young players onboard who could be developed, and Bruce Arians spoke optimistically about that group last week, but more depth behind a solid interior trio wouldn't hurt.

The Case Against: If the Buccaneers do take a tackle with the 14th pick, it might not seem like the best use of their next-highest draft asset to select another linemen, particularly because that player wouldn't likely be a starting candidate in 2020. The Buccaneers appear set at the other four positions and are not necessarily looking for an upgrade anywhere from left tackle to right guard. The opportunity to help the offense with another running back or receiver instead would probably provide more immediate results.

Tampa Bay could also still bring in another lineman to compete with Joe Haeg for the right tackle spot if the price is right. If the Bucs don't use that 14th-overall pick on a tackle it may indicate they are happy with the options in house.

Possible Options: Expect the foursome of Mekhi Becton, Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills and Tristan Wirfs to come off the board in the first half of the opening round. Houston's Josh Johnson is a safe bet for Round One, as well. USC's Austin Jackson might also make it into the first round but is a potential option in Round Two.

Auburn has a pair of possible second-round picks in Jack Driscoll and Prince Tega Wanogho. Driscoll isn't necessarily a road-grader in the run game but he's agile with quick feet. Tega Wanogho may take some development but has a high upside. Speaking of development, as soon as Ben Bartch of DIII St. John's stole the show at the Senior Bowl he was immediately put on Licht's wish list by every draft analyst. That's based on Licht's ability to find such small-school prospects for the line as Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa.

Georgia's Isaiah Wilson might be the second-round version of Louisville's Becton, an absolutely massive player who may need a little more time to develop. Boise State's Ezra Cleveland and TCU's Lucas Niang might come off the board in Round Two, as well, though Washington's Trey Adams probably pushed his stock down a round or two with an unimpressive Combine performance.

Safety

The Case For: While the Buccaneers are likely set with their top three corners in the very young trio of Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, the safety position is a bit less established. In fact, in the same breath that he recently expressed his desire for a pass-catching running back, Arians mentioned that the team might need some more assets at safety.

In fact, one could argue that safety is the least settled position on defense for the Buccaneers, especially after most of the front seven was retained. The inside linebacker spot is also settled with Lavonte David and Devin White, with Kevin Minter back as the top reserve. At safety, Joran Whitehead was the most established starter, opening the first 14 games before landing on injured reserve. Andrew Adams, who was added to the roster in September for the second straight year, ended up next on the list with 11 starts. The Buccaneers did not get a lot of big plays out of the position at all. If any part of the Bucs' defense could add a big-time playmaker, it would be safety.

The Case Against: The Bucs may not have a lot of answers set in stone at safety right now, but they have options. Whitehead will be ready to go as soon as teams can get back on the field, and Adams was recently re-signed to a new one-year deal. The Bucs might also reasonably expect to get more out of Mike Edwards in his second season; Edwards is the one player in that group who was drafted by the current coaching staff and he's presumably considered a good fit for what they want to do. He's also a very versatile player who can handle himself in the slot. It's even possible that 2017 second-round pick Justin Evans will re-emerge from two seasons largely lost to foot injuries to be the type of playmaker he hinted at in a promising rookie season.

The Buccaneers certainly have not neglected this position on draft weekend in recent years. Edwards was a third-round pick last year, Whitehead a fourth-rounder in 2018. Evans was picked right around where Tampa Bay is picking in the second round this year. It could be argued that the team should first sort through that group to see what they have before directing another high draft asset in that direction.

Possible Options: Alabama's Xavier McKinney, LSU's Grant Delpit and Minnesota's Antoine Winfield, Jr. are all common sights in first-round mocks, but often in the second half of that round and sometimes near the end. There's a chance any one of the three could actually make it into the second round, though that seems least likely with McKinney.

If those three are all off the board before the 45th pick, the Bucs might be looking at the likes of Lenoir-Rhyne's Kyle Dugger, Southern Illinois' Jeremy Chinn or Cal's Ashtyn Davis. Dugger is big and fast and he helped himself quite a bit at the Combine, which include a 4.49-second 40-yard dash. Chinn also nailed the Combine (4.45 40) and was well-regarded at the Senior Bowl, putting his stock on the rise. He's a hard-hitter who could possibly play some nickel-linebacker for some teams. Davis is fast and rangy but may have to answer questions about inconsistent tackling. Brandon Jones of Texas and Clemson's K'Von Wallace are also potential second-round selections.

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