May 9, 2021

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The Buccaneers and the 2020 NFL Draft Outlook By Position: Center

3 min read

Image Credits: Monica Herndon | Tampa Bay Times

Draft season is getting into full swing, although behind the scenes, the scouting process has been happening for months. Every year all 32 teams try to strike gold in the annual NFL Draft. It is looked at as an opportunity for every team to upgrade or add depth to every possible position of need on the roster.

In this series, in no particular order, we will look at every position on the Buccaneers roster one by one and analyze draft needs based on depth and status of the roster.

                   Center Ryan Jensen

Image Credits: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jensen was the only active center on the roster last season, with guards Earl Watford and Ali Marpet being viable options as a backup, as both have played the position at some time in their careers. Marpet is still under contract, while Watford will become a free agent.

He was the anchor of the offensive line in 2019. In 2018, the Bucs made him the highest-paid center in the league — at the time  by signing him to a four-year contract totaling $42 million with $22 million guaranteed. Jensen had a decent season in 2018, bringing a much needed “nasty” edge that the offensive line had been mostly lacking. Although displaying that aggressive playstyle, he knew he needed to play better and more consistently. He also had a tendency to draw penalties, which went hand in hand with his aggressive playstyle.

Enter 2019: He locked down the center position. He played 1,139 snaps, while only allowing one sack and boasting a PFF grade of 79.3. He also improved by way of only being flagged three times all year. Ryan Jensen, or “Big Red”, as he is also known by, is a beast among men and never wants to leave the field. Who can forget in week 15, when he sustained an elbow injury and went to the sideline briefly while holding his elbow in pain, only to witness Earl Watford taking practice snaps? Right then and there is when I knew that Big Red would not let himself miss a snap. He appeared to be angry on the sidelines — angry that he would not be out on the field with his brothers and finish the game. At that point in time, I knew that he would not let an injury keep him out of the game.

Although I have no questions about his ability to keep the Center position locked down, he is due $10 million in 2020 if he remains on the roster. If it were up to me, I would not blink an eye, and pay the man. But I am not Jason Licht or Bruce Arians. With so many free agents, and many requiring contract extensions, it leaves the question of, how in the world are the Bucs going to be able to pay all of these guys, even with plenty of cap money for next season? Hard decisions will have to be made, but in my opinion, number 66  has to stay. Offensive line consistency is key to the game. It is definitely key in Bruce Arians’ offense. Where five and seven-step drops by the Quarterback while deep plays develop are the staple for this offense, Center is not a position to gamble on.

I do not feel the need to draft a Center in the first few rounds of this draft, although you can never have too much depth. Of course, all of this is dependent on the decision to retain our big nasty center, who is under contract for two more seasons but is not due any guaranteed money in 2020. I peg this draft need as a low-level priority, assuming Ryan Jensen will return in 2020, and Watford returns in a rotational backup Guard/Center position.

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