Oh yeah, can you smell it? Can you feel it? Can you taste it?
IT’S THE NFL OFFSEASON!
It’s a bittersweet time of year for me. The Buccaneers football season just came to a disappointing end, but their offseason is just beginning. It’s my favorite time of year to be a “writer”. I get to dive into player contracts, the salary cap numbers, free agency, and last, but certainly not least, the NFL Draft. I love it. The speculation. The guessing game. It’s almost like gambling for me. Kind of like a rush. A shot of adrenaline into my veins that only the NFL offseason can provide. Here we are just a few days after the Bucs Week 17 loss to the Falcons and I just couldn’t help myself. I had to get my first (and way too early) mock draft out of the way. It was burning a hole in my pocket.
Before I reveal who I have the Bucs picking in April, let’s talk about team needs for next season. This can and will change depending on what happens in free agency, but as of right now, I feel like the Bucs could use a little bit of help with these positions.
Even though the offensive line wasn’t horrible, they could’ve been better, particularly on the right side. It’s not that Demar Dotson had a bad season, he’s just old, and he also led the o-line and team in penalties. He’ll be 35-year-old by next season, and while he may still have some gas in the tank, this Bucs offense needs some rocket fuel to get this offense really lit. Nothing against Dot. I hope he re-signs with the team as a reserve tackle. But they have to get younger and nastier on the outside.
Ronald Jones had a much improved year over his disastrous rookie season. In my opinion, he proved that he could be a feature back in Bruce Arians’ offense. “Could be” being the keywords there. I don’t see it happening, though. If Arians wanted him to be a feature back, then he wouldn’t have been alternating series between him and Peyton Barber at the end of this season. Barber is an unrestricted free agent and may not be back. He probably won’t be back. Instead, I see the Bucs taking one in the draft somewhere between Rounds 2 and 4.
I think Jameis Winston will end up getting the franchise tag and sticking around Tampa for at least one more season. However, that shouldn’t stop the Bucs from drafting an insurance policy in the early-to-mid-rounds. Ryan Griffin isn’t the worst backup QB they could have; he’s just unproven. Then again, so is a rookie. Nonetheless, they will probably add another one here instead of re-signing Blaine Gabbert. Besides, there are already rumors swirling that they’re calling around testing the waters to see if anyone in the top ten picks wants to do a trade. That can only mean one thing…a QB.
As good as the Bucs d-line was this season, they may not be able to keep all of those guys around. Suh, JPP, Nassib, Shaq, Beau, and “Nacho” are all unrestricted free agents, so unless some of them give the Bucs a “hometown discount”, they likely won’t be able to re-sign all of them. Drafting a rookie that can play all across that defensive front might be a top priority in the early-to-mid rounds.
The Bucs don’t have a true backup center. Most teams don’t, I suppose. They usually have a guard on the roster that can fill in at center like an Ali Marpet or Alex Cappa. Even though Ryan Jensen is an ironman when it comes to consecutive starts, it wouldn’t hurt to draft a center who could also play guard.
With Andrew Adams and Darian Stewart becoming free agents and Justin Evans‘ future still in question due to his health, the Bucs could be in the market for a safety this offseason. Mike Edwards and Jordan Whitehead played pretty well down the stretch and could be the safety duo of the future in Tampa. And apparently, Bruce Arians was pretty high on undrafted rookie D’Cota Dixon before he got injured in training camp. But it wouldn’t be a bad thing to add another ballhawk to this secondary.
This young Bucs secondary made major strides over the 2019 season. Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting will hopefully be the starting cornerback trio for years to come. But what if one of them goes down? MJ Stewart at nickel? No thanks, been there done that. Ryan Smith is an unrestricted free agent so he may not be back. The starters may be set, but they need to add some depth to this group.
The Bucs punt/kick return game has been terrible. Not just recently, but for the whole history of the franchise. I wouldn’t say it’s a priority this offseason, especially when TJ Logan comes back, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a guy with serious wheels as a return specialist.
The Buccaneers could go into this draft with seven picks even though they don’t have a seventh-rounder after trading it AND DeSean Jackson to the Eagles for their 2019 sixth-round pick. They should be eligible for a third or fourth-round compensatory pick because of the free agents they lost in 2019, so I’m going with a fourth-round pick for this mock.
2020 Mock Draft 1.0
DT Raekwon Davis, Alabama
If the Bucs should lose Suh, Allen, Nunez-Roches, or a combination of the three, they’ll for sure be looking for an impact player for that interior d-line early on in this draft. Davis is 6’6″/316lbs. He’s a tremendous run defender that teams have a hard time moving in the ground game. He, and Vita Vea, playing next to each other on the interior of the Bucs defense would ensure that their #1 run defense would live on. What’s even better about Davis is his versatility. He can play nose tackle OR the 5-tech in a 3-4 or play the 3-tech in a 4-3 front. Todd Bowles likes those guys that he can move around and do different things within his defense. His lateral anchor has been called “rare and truly phenomenal” by some scouts. His upper AND lower body strength gives him a rare ability to handle double teams without giving up ground. “He has a freaky combination of size, quickness, and athleticism,” according to his draft profile on WalterFootball.com. He’s shown flashes of being a good pass rusher with a fast first step, active hands, functional strength, and burst to close. He can also bull rush when needed. He’s projected as a mid-to-late first-round pick, but if the Bucs want a difference-maker on the interior of their d-line, then Davis might be their best option at this point.
OT Mekhi Becton, Louisville
As I stated earlier, offensive tackle is a BIG need this offseason. Hopefully, they can re-sign Demar Dotson to at least be a reserve tackle, but they need to replace him as the starter. Becton is a mammoth at 6’7″/365lbs and moves well for his size. His power, athleticism, and length allow him to sustain blocks and move defenders in the run game, while his solid base, strong anchor, long arms and massive paws make him reliable in pass protection. The only red flag with him is his weight. He’s played as high as 370lbs and as low as 330lbs, so if he can show up to the NFL Combine in shape and tests well, then he could end up being a first-round pick. I’m rolling the dice a bit waiting until the second round for him. This is a fairly deep class for offensive tackles, but the Bucs probably shouldn’t wait any later than this to grab one if they want a starter quality OT to replace Dotson.
RB Najee Harris, Alabama
At 6’2″/230lbs, Harris possesses the size, speed, and power that NFL teams are looking for in a running back. He’s not a bulldozer, but he’s also not afraid to lower his shoulder on a defender. Trevor Sikkema of DraftNetwork.com and Pewter Report.com says that “Harris not only has tackle-breaking power but tackle-breaking balance as well,” meaning he gets yards after contact. He’s also very good as a receiver out of the backfield. His ability to run routes and pass protect along with his natural hands make him a legit three-down back. He finished his senior season at Bama with 209 carries for 1,204 yards and a 5.9 yards per carry average to go along with his 27 catches for 304 yards and 20 total touchdowns. He’s the perfect third-down back to compliment Ronald Jones in the Bucs backfield.
QB Jordan Love, Utah State
Here’s your QB pick! Even though the Bucs will probably put the franchise tag on Jameis Winston keeping him in Tampa for another season, they still need an insurance policy for the future. Love might fall in this draft due to some off the field stuff and because his 2019 season was full of interceptions; 17 of them, which was strange after he threw for 32 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions in 2018. He has a strong arm and throws the deep ball and sideline routes very well. And what does Bruce Arians’ offense consist of mostly? Deep balls and sideline routes. It’s been said that he has “Mahomes-type” traits like the cannon arm, mobility, and improvisation. The 6’4″/225lb QB isn’t quite Lamar Jackson when it comes to being a dual-threat quarterback, but he can definitely do some damage with his legs. He’s an aggressive thrower with good pocket awareness and an ability to throw on the run. He sounds like a fun weapon for Arians to get his hands on.
S Reggie Floyd, Virginia Tech
It’s still up in the air whether safety will be a position of need this off-season. Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards were a pretty solid tandem in the second half of the season, but Justin Evans is still recovering from his feet injuries, and Andrew Adams and Darian Stewart are both unrestricted free agents. D’Cota Dixon should be healthy and ready to compete for a spot in training camp as well. But it couldn’t hurt to add another ballhawk on the back end of this defense. And that’s just what Floyd was at Virginia Tech. At 6’/222lbs, he’s a big, physical safety with an abundance of physical tools and traits. His physicality, range, and explosiveness are unique. His sideline to sideline speed and exceptional ball skills make him good at playing deep zone. His aggressive style of play and linebacker-like stopping power, make him good as a box defender. That versatility makes him a perfect fit for Todd Bowles’s defense in the hybrid safety/linebacker role.
OLB Big Kat Bryant, Auburn
Outside linebacker is another position that could be cause for concern this off-season depending on how free agency turns out. Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Carl Nassib are all unrestricted free agents. I think at least two of the three will be back, possibly even all of them. If they are re-signed, this would be a luxury pick. But if they do need to replace one of them, then Bryant could be a good consolation prize. At 6’5″/255lbs, he has the size and speed to play both outside linebacker AND defensive end in Todd Bowles system. He’s solid in both pass rushing and against the run.
CB Thakarius Keyes, Tulane
The Bucs starting cornerback positions seem to be set with Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean outside and Sean Murphy-Bunting at nickel. After that, the CB group gets pretty shallow. Ryan Smith is an unrestricted free agent, so it’s not certain that he’ll be back. Mazzi Wilkins and John Franklin are still unproven. MJ Stewart is not as reliable as a reserve nickel. They could use some more depth. At 6’1″/200lbs, Keyes has the size and length to play physical at the line as a press-man corner, but he also has the 4.5 speed to play off. He had 38 tackles, 12 pass breakups, and an interception as a junior. He hits like a strong safety when playing the run. He played inside and outside corner at Tulane while also being a special teams ace. His versatility would make him a good fit for what the Bucs need in their cornerback group right now.
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
CB Dajour Nesbeth, Tennessee State
At 6’/190lbs, he has decent size to go along with his 4.5 speed. He totaled 88 tackles, 21 pass breakups, and 5 interceptions during his sophomore and junior seasons. He could make for a nice reserve at the nickel corner position.
CB Patrice Rene, North Carolina
At 6’2″/205lbs, he has great size and length to go along with his 4.55 speed. He’s physical at the line and has excellent ball skills. He could be a nice fit as a press-man corner in Todd Bowles system.
WR Devin Duvernay, Texas
At 5’11″/210lbs, he’s not a great route runner, but his 4.48 straight-line speed is for real. TJ Logan will likely be back as the Bucs return man for 2020, but if they want to give him some competition, then Duvernay could be a good candidate.
WR Darrell Mooney, Tulane
At 5’11″/175lbs, Mooney is undersized to be an NFL receiver, but his sub-4.5 speed and shiftiness would make for an interesting prospect as a returner.
S/ILB Antione Brooks Jr., Maryland
At 5’11″/215lbs, Brooks is on the smaller side for an inside linebacker and will likely play more strong safety in the NFL. With his freakish athleticism, explosiveness, and 4.7 speed, he could fit the hybrid LB/S role in Bowles defense.
C/G/T Sean Rawlings, Ole Miss
At 6’5″/295lbs, he could stand to add some more weight to his tall frame, and that may cause him to fall down this far. However, the athleticism, footwork, and football IQ are there. Plus he adds the versatility of being able to play any position on the o-line. He could make for a quality reserve if he can put on the weight.
The needs of this team will change between now and April 23rd. A lot can happen over the next few months during free agency. Free agents will come and go (I’ll talk about all that in my next article), so I’ll wait for some of that to happen before I put out my second mock. Stay tuned for my rundown of possible free agent targets for the Bucs come March 18th and keep an eye out for my next mock draft.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!