Here we are in mid-February, us football fans sitting in off-season limbo, otherwise known as football hell. The Super Bowl is over. The NFL Combine is coming up soon. We’re a month from free agency starting. And more than two months from the NFL Draft in Las Vegas. The NFL news is slow, but the rumors are certainly flying around. Speculation is running rampant. And the “what if” scenarios are flooding social media.
So to help battle the boredom, I’ve been looking at the 2020 draft prospects. The problem is that until free agency gets going, nobody has a clue about what will happen in the draft. That’s especially true in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers case. Their draft hinges on what decisions they make with players like Jameis Winston, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Ndamukong Suh. If they don’t re-sign Winston, then they’ll likely be looking for a QB in the first round. If they don’t re-sign JPP or Suh, then the d-line will be a focus in those first two rounds. I am convinced that they’re bringing Winston back, whether it’s with a franchise tag or a multi-year contract, so forget about a QB. And after what Bruce Arians said recently about keeping this Bucs defense together being a priority in free agency, I think they’ll figure out a way to re-sign both JPP and Suh as well. I’m also conducting this mock draft under the assumption that the Bucs sign free agent safety Tony Jefferson, who was recently released by the Baltimore Ravens. So now, that you understand where the roster sits heading into this draft, let’s get it on shall we.
OT Jedrick Wills, Alabama
The Bucs need an upgrade at right tackle. I love Demar Dotson, and he’s the longest-tenured Buccaneer player on the roster, but he turns 35 just after the 2020 season starts, and his body seems to be breaking down on him even if his heart is still there. The Bucs might keep him around as a reserve tackle for the right price, but his starting days are over.
At 6’5″/320lbs, Wills is big, strong, quick, and athletic. He’s a hole opener in the ground game, but also has the ability to protect the edge, even against speed rushers. He’s more than capable of playing on either side, but he’s a plug n’ play starter at right tackle for sure. There’s a chance he could be gone by this point since it appears there may be a serious run on offensive tackles early on, but the Bucs would be ecstatic if he were still sitting there when they go on the clock here.
DT Raekwon Davis, Alabama
Even though I have them re-signing Suh, they should still consider drafting his eventual replacement. Plus, if they do re-sign both Suh and JPP, they may not have the cap space to bring back Beau Allen, so it wouldn’t hurt to take a DT early on.
At 6’6″/316lbs, Davis has a freaky combination of size, strength, quickness, and athleticism. Teams just can’t move him in the ground game because of his lateral anchor, which is “truly rare and phenomenal”, according to WalterFootball.com. Besides being a tremendous run defender, he shows interior pass rush abilities with a fast first step and violent, active hands. He could stand to learn a ton from Suh over the next season or two and end up being a stud duo next to Vita Vea in the future.
CB Reggie Robinson, Tulsa
I can already hear some of you saying, “A corner in the third round?”. Absolutely. Even though the Bucs young secondary came on strong in the second half of the 2019 season, what do they have behind starters Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, and Sean Murphy-Bunting? If one of them gets injured, do you want Ryan Smith starting? Do you prefer MJ Stewart at nickel? What about having undrafted, second-year players like John Franklin or Mazzi Wilkins take over as a starter? I didn’t think so.
At 6’1″/202lbs, Robinson has great size for a corner to go along with his sub-4.5 speed. He had 4 interceptions and 13 pass breakups as a senior and displayed the versatility to play inside or outside. He’s projected as a mid-round pick, but some scouts say he’s a “sleeper” and could be a steal at this point.
SS Reggie Floyd, Virginia Tech
At 6’/222lbs, Floyd is one of my favorite players in this draft. He’s an instinctive box safety who had 160 tackles over his last two seasons and 9.5 tackles for loss in 2019. With his 4.6 speed, he can get into the backfield in a hurry and would be a fun blitz toy for Todd Bowles. He’s also not afraid to lower his pads and hit someone as a run supporter. He could end up being a candidate for the Bucs starting strong safety position alongside Jordan Whitehead, and he could also play the “money backer” role in Bowles defense as well.
DE Jason Strowbridge, North Carolina
Since the Bucs drafted Ndamukong Suh’s eventual replacement in Round 2, it might not be a bad idea to try to find someone who could eventually take over for Jason Pierre-Paul too. At 6’4″/267lbs with 4.8 speed, Strowbridge could be that guy. He’s shown a solid ability as both a run defender and a pass rusher, which is rare these days for a defensive end. He has the quickness and athleticism to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 and the strength and power to play defensive end in a 4-3 front. He also has the versatility to slide inside as a 5-tech in a 3-4 as well. He’s a guy that could be a solid addition to the Bucs d-line rotation now and develop into a strong starter in the future.
RB Antonio Gibson, Memphis
There’s no question that the Bucs run game needs to improve. Hopefully, the addition of their new right tackle helps, but they still need to add some depth to their backfield. I think Ronald Jones is ready to be a full-time starter and that they should stop the alternating series crap, but I doubt that happens. They’ll have a decision to make whether they should re-sign Peyton Barber or look for another inexpensive option in free agency. Depending on which way they go, they could still have a need for a home run hitter come this draft. That’s where Gibson comes in.
At 6’/223lbs, he’s got great size with sub-4.5 speed. Despite being listed as a running back, he played a lot of wide receiver at Memphis. In fact, he finished his final year with 33 carries for 369 yards and an 11 yards per carry average to go along with his 38 catches for 735 yards and a 19 yards per catch average. Despite the limited touches, he finished with 12 total touchdowns and even returned kicks. This guy could be a very nice option as the Bucs new third-down back and would also give them another option as a receiver.
FS Jaylinn Hawkins, California
Another safety? Yes indeed. Even though I have the Bucs bringing in Tony Jefferson as a free agent and they already drafted Reggie Floyd, there are still a ton of questions surrounding the Bucs safety group. Will Jefferson be able to return to form after his ACL injury? Will Justin Evans ever return to football? Is D’Cota Dixon everything that Bruce Arians thought he was before his injury last season? Is MJ Stewart worth keeping around? Will the real Mike Edwards show up in 2020? Since Todd Bowles likes to play multiple safeties at times, I don’t think it would hurt to add another guy into the mix at this point.
At 6’2″/205lbs with sub-4.6 speed, Hawkins has been considered a dangerous ballhawk for a lot of his college career. In 2018, he had 6 interceptions and 9 pass breakups from his free safety position. I think he would make an interesting addition to this Bucs secondary and would give them some solid depth.
Whether you agree or not, this roster isn’t far off from being a contender.
Shoring up the o-line, giving Arians another weapon in the backfield, and adding depth to the d-line and secondary should put this team right where they need to be. However, we won’t know what this team really needs until they make some decisions about free agency starting March 14.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!