IT’S MOCK DRAFT TIME!
That’s right, Buc Nation. It’s April, which means it’s Spring. The flowers are blooming and that Florida sun is starting to heat up. It also means we’re getting closer to the NFL Draft. In fact tomorrow, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be going “on the clock” with their 27th pick of the first round.
Or will they?
Could they make a trade? I doubt that Jason Licht tries to trade up in the first. If anything he may try to trade back a few spots to the end of the first or even the beginning of the second, while snagging up an extra pick or two in the process. Afterall, they do only have six total picks in this draft, including two in the seventh round. If they do have a couple of players targeted for the first round and those guys are already off the board, don’t be surprised if the Bucs try to find a trade partner. They could use a couple of additional picks and Licht isn’t afraid to roll the dice by trading back. He did it in 2018, trading back from 7th to 12th hoping that Vita Vea would still be there. He could do that again here. He’s even said that the real value of this draft isn’t in the first round, it’s on Day 2. So if he can gain one or two more picks in the mid-rounds, I think he’ll do it.
The Bucs may have one of the most complete rosters in football, but they do have a few “needs” going into this draft. Even after what has been considered a busy and crazy offseason, the Bucs still have depth concerns at a few positions. Here are what Jason Licht would consider “perceived needs” that the Bucs have to address this weekend.
The Bucs have been able to extend Vita Vea’s contract and re-sign Will Gholston and Pat O’Connor for another year. What they have not done is re-signed Ndamukong Suh, even though he has expressed his desire to play another season in Tampa Bay. They still have Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who is a consistent contributor and Elijah Ponder, who is still an unproven player with some potential. However, they probably won’t be re-signing the aging Steve McLendon, so they could stand to add some more solid depth to their interior.
Gronk is still out partying and has not yet committed to returning to football. I think he will but for now, the only tight ends that they have under contract are Cam Brate, who is 31, and Cody McElroy, who is just unproven depth on the practice squad. Whether Gronk comes back or not, this is a position that needs to be address early on in this draft. Especially after losing OJ Howard in free agency.
The Buccaneers have been on a rollercoaster ride with their safeties this offseason. First, they lost Jordan Whitehead to the Jets in free agency. Then, they signed Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal in free agency. Even with those two signings, they could still add to the group in this draft. Ryan will likely play more nickel than safety and Neal has an extensive injury history. Tampa Bay needs to add more depth to safeguard against injuries.
This might be the safest bet for a Bucs pick in this draft. They will take one. It’s just a question of in which round? They lost Ronald Jones to the Chiefs in free agency. And even though they did re-sign Leonard Fournette and Giovanni Bernard, they still need depth and a possible longterm answer at the position because Ke’Shawn Vaughn is not it.
The Bucs got decimated at corner last season and it bit them in the ass. They were able to retain the services of their #1 cover guy in Carlton Davis and the Logan Ryan signing will help out at nickel, but Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean are going into the final year of their contracts and the Bucs should start looking towards the future.
The Bucs already have two studs starting at inside linebacker in Lavonte David and Devin White. However, since they have not and may not be re-signing reserve Kevin Minter, they could look to add some more depth to compete with second year players KJ Britt and Grant Stuard.
The Bucs locked up Chris Godwin for a few more years, re-signed Breshad Perriman and signed Russell Gage in free agency. Even though their WR group is deep with Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Cyril Grayson and Jaelon Darden, they might add another guy into the mix with this draft. Especially after what losing Godwin for the playoffs did to their Super Bowl repeat aspirations.
If the Bucs can grab Boston College guard Zion Johnson with their 27th pick, then they might address this position. If not, then I doubt they do. They traded their fifth round pick to the Patriots for Shaq Mason, who will be the new starter replacing either Ali Marpet or Alex Cappa. And they have some depth behind probable starter Aaron Stinnie in Nick Leverett, Robert Hainsey and recently signed Fred Johnson. So they could add another guy into the mix this weekend, but I don’t think they will if they miss out on Zion Johnson in the first round.
I was going to be boring and just use the six picks the Bucs currently possess, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, I think Jason Licht badly wants to trade back into the second round while picking up some extra draft collateral. Detroit comes calling. They want the 27th pick to use on a new QB, but they don’t want to wait until their 32nd pick. They also don’t want to give it up either. So they offer their 34th pick in the second round AND their 97th pick of the third round to Tampa Bay for that 27th pick. Jason Licht decides to roll the dice and drops back seven spots in hopes that one of their favorite players are still on the board.
2022 NFL DRAFT
Rd.2 Pk.34 (from Lions)-
DT Logan Hall, Houston
Jason Licht is stoked that his gamble paid off and Hall is still on the board here. At 6’6″/285lbs, he has the size and strength to play inside with the speed and explosiveness to play the edge in certain packages. Todd Bowles will love his versatility and will be able to use him as a chess piece across his defensive fronts. He plays with a high motor that never stops and extreme urgency. His high football IQ is evident by his ability to play multiple positions throughout the game. He’s a stout run defender, whether he’s shooting gaps to make plays behind the line of scrimmage or whether he’s fighting to maintain his gap integrity at the point of attack. He can also offer pass rushing ability from the interior with heavy hands that help him in his arsenal of pass rush movements. He’s a body type clone of Will Gholston, but a faster, more athletic version. He should be able to play the five-tech and three-tech positions, as well as offer some bigger edge rushing options for Bowles.
2021: 12 games, 47 tackles, 13 tfl’s, 6 sacks
TE Trey McBride, Colorado State
The Bucs lost OJ Howard to free agency and Rob Gronkowski has still not committed to playing in 2022, although I expect him to do so as soon as he’s done partying this offseason. That leaves just Cameron Brate and Cody McElroy as the only tight ends currently under contract. Even though Bruce Arians offense doesn’t utilize the tight end position much in the passing game, it’s still a vital position when it comes to blocking in the run game and Tom Brady does like to use them as safety valves. McBride is the consensus best and most complete tight end in this draft. At 6’4″/245lbs, he is an above average athlete with very good instincts and consistently good hands. His expansive catch radius and crafty route running make him an easy target for his quarterback and a zone killer. He’s physically tough and competitive as a blocker, which makes him a legitimate dual threat tight end. And he could also add value as a core special teams player with his toughness, speed and agility.
2021: 12 games, 90 catches, 1,121 yards, 12.5 ypc, 1 touchdown
S Nick Cross, Maryland
Even with the addition of Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan, the Bucs would still be smart to add another safety to their roster. The loss of Jordan Whitehead in free agency created a rather large void at strong safety that the injury prone Neal just doesn’t fill. At 6’/215lbs, Cross is bigger than Whitehead, who was 5’10″/198lbs and is a more versatile safety. Maryland even used him as a will linebacker in sub packages at times. His physicality, aggressiveness and willingness as a heavy hitter give him the ability to play strong safety. His athleticism, 4.34 speed and ball skills give him the versatility to play free safety. He would also have added value as a special teams guy. TheDraftNetwork.com says that he’s a “highly intriguing prospect” and I agree. He gives Todd Bowles options, as well as an insurance policy against an injury to Keanu Neal.
2021: 12 games, 66 tackles, 3.5 tfl’s, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 passes defensed
Rd.3 Pk.97 (from Lions)-
RB Rachaad White, Arizona State
This extra pick, courtesy of Detroit, could be used to add to a Bucs backfield that still needs to replace Ronald Jones who they lost to the Chiefs in free agency. At 6’2″/215lbs, White has 4.48 speed to go along with his patience and good vision as a runner. However, his biggest contribution could be as a pass catching threat out of the backfield and in the slot, as he presents a real mismatch when lined up against linebackers and safeties. He finished his two seasons at ASU with 51 catches for 607 yards and 2 touchdowns in 15 games averaging about 14 yards per catch. The Bucs have Fournette locked up for a few years, but Giovanni Bernard only re-signed for one year. White could be their new third down back, with the ability to be an every down back in the very near future.
2021: 11 games, 182 carries, 1,000 yards, 15 touchdowns, 5.5 ypc, 43 catches, 456 yards, 1 touchdown, 10.6 ypc
CB Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State
The Bucs found out last season how important it is to have depth at the cornerback position. They add some here with McCollum. At 6’2″/200lbs, he is the tall, physical corner that the Bucs like. He’s an excellent athlete with impressive ball skills and 4.4 speed. He’s an aggressive, willing tackler against the run, with the football IQ to process plays quickly and react. He’s a natural ballhawk who’s disruptive in the passing game, which is proven by his production. In 56 games, he collected 13 interceptions and 54 pass breakups. He gives the Bucs another lengthy, outside corner to compete for the role opposite Carlton Davis.
2021: 12 games, 50 tackles, 3 interceptions, 8 passes defensed
TE Noah Gindorff, North Dakota State
Yeah that’s right, the Bucs double up at tight end here with Gindorff. At 6’6″/265lbs, he’s a Gronk clone and even wore #87 at North Dakota State. Even though he wasn’t utilized much in the NDSU offense, he’s a natural pass catcher with soft hands who’s good at finding weak spots in zone defenses. His size, athleticism and body control make him a solid redzone target, while his ability as a route runner and his 4.7 speed make him a seam buster down the middle. His physicality, effort and willingness allow him to be a solid blocker, which makes him a dual threat tight end. He may not be a major contributor as a rookie, but this could end up being a redshirt season for him while he learns how to be an NFL tight end from one of the best to ever do it. That is IF Gronk does come back.
2021: 12 games, 17 catches, 193 yards, 2 touchdowns, 16.1 ypc
WR Isaiah Weston, Northern Iowa
I don’t know that the Bucs will take a wide receiver in this draft since that group is fairly deep as it sits right now. However, if they do, the guys over at Pewter Report think they could take Weston if he’s still available and I like the suggestion. At 6’4″/210lbs, he’s just the type of receiver that the Bucs look for. He’s long and athletic with 4.4 speed and a 40″ vertical leap. He was mainly used as a downfield threat to stretch out defenses in college, but does possess the tools to be a solid route runner with some better NFL coaching.
2021: 12 games, 37 catches, 883 yards, 5 touchdowns, 23.9 ypc (led FCS)
Trading back in the draft is always a gamble, especially when you’re trading back seven spots. Jason Licht is hoping that Logan Hall is still on the board at #34, but what if he’s not? I’ve seen Hall projected everywhere from late first round to mid third round, but I do think he’ll go earlier than later. If that’s the case, then the Bucs will have a contingency plan. Missing out on Hall sets off a chain reaction for the next three rounds. So here’s my alternative universe mock for the scenario that Hall is already gone.
Rd.2 Pk.34 (from Lions)-
S Lewis Cine, Georgia
Even though the defensive tackle they wanted wasn’t there, the gamble still pays off since Cine is still on the board. At 6’2″/200lbs, he’s a little bigger than Jordan Whitehead but more scheme versatile and with a bigger upside. According to WalterFootball.com, “his football IQ is very high to go along with his work ethic, character and leadership skills“. He’s the exact type of football player Jason Licht looks for in the draft. He’s a physically violent and aggressive run defender, while his 4.37 speed and athleticism allow him to be solid in coverage. His versatility might be his biggest asset. He’s best suited as a strong safety, but also has the skillset to play some free safety as well. He also lined up at nickel on occasion, as well as at linebacker in sub-packages where he was used to blitz. He gives Bowles another piece to move around as he sees fit.
2021: 15 games, 73 tackles, 2 tfl’s, 1 interception, 8 passes defensed
DT Phidarian Mathis, Alabama
They missed out on Logan Hall with that 34th pick, but Mathis makes for a pretty darn good consolation prize. At 6’4″/315lbs, he is a versatile athlete with the ability to play multiple positions in multiple fronts. According to TheDraftNetwork.com, he’s a “technician against the run” and also has an array of pass rush moves to provide pressure from the inside. He could play the five-tech, zero-tech and three-tech positions in Bowles defense and has the intangibles the Bucs like in their players like great leadership, hard working and a being a good teammate. If the Bucs don’t get Hall, then I think Mathis is another good fit for what they need.
2021: 14 games, 53 tackles, 10.5 tfl’s, 9 sacks, 2 pass knockdowns, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble
TE Jelani Woods, Virginia
Since the Bucs used their second round picks on defensive players, they missed the window to grab Trey McBride. They get their tight end of the future here in Woods. At 6’7″/260lbs, he is a huge target with a massive catch radius that allows him to easily win competitions for 50/50 balls. He’s not a polished player by any means. He went to Oklahoma State as a quarterback and was converted to tight end. He needs some work with his hands and route running, but his intangibles are what’s most intriguing. His height, weight, power and 4.6 speed combination is rare. He’s a mismatch down the seam and a nightmare for defenses in the redzone. He may not be a stud right away, but after a year of sitting behind Gronk (assuming he comes back) and Brate, he should be ready to play a much bigger role in the 2023 season.
2021: 11 games, 44 catches, 598 yards, 8 touchdowns, 13.6 ypc
Rd.3 Pk.97 (from Lions)-
CB Coby Bryant, Cincinnati
The Bucs go cornerback a round earlier in this draft since Bryant is still on the board. At 6’2″/195lbs, he’s a big corner with 4.45 speed, but he uses his high football IQ and good instincts to bait quarterbacks into bad decisions and poor throws. He has man AND zone versatility and even played some free safety in certain packages for the Bearcats. He’s got great ball skills and tracks the ball very well. He’s a four year starter and displays great leadership, both on and off the field. He’s been called a “mid-round sleeper pick” by some scouts, so if the Bucs can get him here at the end of the third round it’s a win.
2021: 14 games, 44 tackles, 1.5 tfl’s, 2 interceptions, 11 passes defensed
RB Dameon Pierce, Florida
Even though the Bucs re-signed Leonard Fournette and Giovanni Bernard, they still lost Ronald Jones to the Chiefs in free agency. Here, the Bucs choose to replace him with a more complete back in Pierce. At 5’10″/215lbs, he is a physical back that runs violent and angry. He has the power to play between the tackles and the speed to get outside and turn the corner. He can also be effective in the passing game, with soft, consistent hands and , according to TheDraftNetwork.com, “has the makings of an excellent pass protector in the NFL“. He had a fantastic week at the Senior Bowl and was easily the best back there. And he was “phenomenal” in one-on-one’s versus blitz pickup in practice that week according to some scouts. He was forced to split carries at Florida, so his numbers aren’t overly impressive, but when he did get the ball he made the most of his opportunities. The good thing about his lack of use in college is that means there’s still plenty of tread left on the tires. He became a household name when he made it on to Good Morning Football’s “Angry Runs” segment for continuing to run even after his helmet had been ripped off. His coaches and teammates like him for his football character and competitiveness, plus he takes care of the football. To sum up, he’s a definite upgrade from Jones and he gives the Bucs their third down back of the future.
2021: 13 games, 100 carries, 574 yards, 13 touchdowns, 5.7 ypc, 19 catches, 216 yards, 3 touchdowns, 11.4 ypc
TE Noah Gindorff, North Dakota State
Same pick as Scenario #1
WR Isaiah Weston, Northern Iowa
Same pick as Scenario #1
Whew, that was rough. I’ve been working on this mock for over a week and I’m still not sure about it. This has been one of the toughest drafts I’ve ever looked at. There’s so many different scenarios that can happen in the first round that it’s been difficult to guess what the Bucs might do since that first pick would set the tone for the rest of the draft. So difficult in fact, that I couldn’t settle with just one scenario. And you just saw what happened when I switched my first pick here. It’s a domino effect. In any case, it’s done and I’m sticking to it. Now all we can do is sit back and wait to see what Jason Licht and the boys decide to do on Thursday night.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!