IT’S ALMOST HERE!
The 2023 NFL Draft in Kansas City, Missouri is fast approaching and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a ton of holes to fill on their roster. They addressed some areas of need in free agency, but they still need to add some help in the trenches and their secondary. They could also add to their depth at the skill positions on offense. The problem this year seems to be trying to figure out which need is their biggest. I have been wavering back and forth, with my choice for the Buccaneers first round pick, between offensive tackle and safety, with a brief stop at defensive tackle.
Tampa Bay’s free agent signings have caused me to change my mind a few different times throughout this process. The release of starting left tackle Donovan Smith created a gaping hole on the offensive line. The re-signing of cornerback Jamel Dean took that position off the board with that 19th pick. Re-signing outside linebacker Anthony Nelson pretty much took pass rusher out of the race, even though I do think it will be addressed early on in this draft. The signing of quarterback Baker Mayfield took the Bucs out of the running for a first round QB. Luckily, the Bucs were able to to re-sign linebacker Lavonte David, so inside linebacker won’t be the pick. Signing free agent defensive tackle Greg Gaines pretty much took interior d-line out of the equation, even though I wouldn’t be against taking Pitt’s Calijah Kouncey if he’s still there. Lastly, the signing of safety Ryan Neal has taken Alabama safety Brian Branch off the board as well. Which leads us right back to where it all started at the big, fat vacancy at left tackle. And that’s where I’ve landed with my first round pick. So with the 19th pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select…
(I’ll be using the NFL Trade Value Chart from DraftTek.com for my trades, as well as the player rankings from their Top 300 Big Board as my own draft board)
OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee
Donovan Smith is out. Sad, but necessary. He was a liability. Now, there are two ways the Buccaneers can solve that problem. Either they can draft a left tackle, which is still a possibility IF Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison is still on the board. Or they could draft the best right tackle in the draft and move one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL Tristan Wirfs from the right side to the left. Finding a quality left tackle in the NFL is much harder than finding a quality right tackle. I’m more willing to bet that Wright will be a better right tackle then Harrison will be at left. I already know that Wirfs can play left tackle because he did it in college at Iowa and he’s been one of the most dominant right tackles in football since he was drafted.
Wright may not even be here at #19 since he’s been on the rise since the Combine, but if he is then it’s a no-brainer pick. His size, strength and tenacity make him a force in the run game. His heavy hands, powerful shoulders and solid anchor give him an advantage in pass protection. In fact, he didn’t give up a single sack in his final 19 games at Tennessee. Selecting him to play right tackle and moving Wirfs to left tackle would give the Buccaneers solid bookends on the offensive line for years to come. It also gives whoever the next quarterback is for Tampa Bay the best chance to succeed.
Rd.2 Pk.50 (to Jaguars)
Since Jason Licht couldn’t trade back in the first round, he decides to try for it in this second. The Jacksonville Jaguars answer the call giving up their 56th pick in the second round, their 121st pick of the fourth round AND their 202nd pick of the sixth round in exchange for the Bucs 50th pick of the second round.
Rd.2 Pk.56 (from Jaguars)
OLB Derick Hall, Auburn
Even though they re-signed Anthony Nelson this offseason, Tampa Bay also has some pretty big question marks at outside linebacker as well. With Shaq Barrett coming off of his achilles injury and the final verdict still out on Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, they could use some added insurance at the edge rusher position. If he’s still on the board at this point, Hall should be a perfect fit because he’s the same body type to Barrett with a similar skill set. He has an array of pass rush moves and an explosive first step that make him a productive edge rusher. He has the strength and quickness to set the edge against the run. Drafting him gives the Bucs a pass rush rotation of Barrett, Tryon-Shoyinka, Nelson and Hall, which should keep them all fresh and keep opposing quarterbacks looking over their shoulders.
TE Sam LaPorta, Iowa
The only playable tight ends on the Bucs roster right now are Cade Otton and Ko Kieft, and both are heading into their second seasons. Tampa Bay needs to add some more depth and talent to that room this offseason. Lucky for them, this draft has one of the deepest tight end classes in recent memory. In their new offense, Dave Canales and the Bucs will be running the ball more out of 12-personnel, which means they’ll be utilizing the tight end position more often. They need a dual threat guy that can block in the run game, as well as be a pass-catching threat. My first choice in this draft would’ve been Georgia’s Darnell Washington, but the Bucs had bigger needs to fill and he’ll be long gone at this point. LaPorta was my #2 tight end and, if he’s still available, I’ll be more than happen to take him here. At Iowa, he lined up in-line, in the slot and outside. He’s an excellent athlete with great size and strength, above average hands and a high-end motor. He’ll give the Bucs another pass-catching option from the tight end position and give them another in-line blocker in their run game.
Rd.4 Pk.121 (from Jaguars)
RB Kendre Miller, Texas Christian
The Bucs made the decision to move on without running back Leonard Fournette and roll with second year player Rachaad White as their workhorse back. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t use a little more help. They did sign free agent Chase Edmonds, who will fill in as a third down option, but they still need to add some depth for the upcoming season. Miller offers explosiveness and agility out of the backfield to go along with great balance, vision and instincts. He finished 2022 with 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns, while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He has the patience to allow his blocks to set-up and the long-speed to take it to the house when he hits the open field. He gives great effort in pass protection and has the size, the combative hands and the quick feet to win his blocks. That, combined with his ability to catch out of the backfield, give him the ability to be a three-down back and takes pressure off of second year back Rachaad White to be the overloaded workhorse.
DL Karl Brooks, Bowling Green
The Bucs need to seriously address their pass rush. Their sack leader from 2022 was defensive tackle Vita Vea with 6.5 for the season. That can’t happen again. They already helped out the outside pass rush in the second round with the addition of Derick Hall. Here, they help out that interior pass rush by taking Brooks. He’s a hybrid-type defensive lineman that offers versatility on the d-line. He has an arsenal of bull-rush and finesse pass-rush moves to combine with his high effort and non-stop motor, which allow him to be extremely disruptive behind the line of scrimmage. Todd Bowles should be able to use him in multiple positions and fronts across the d-line and he would help fill the void left when the Bucs didn’t re-sign Will Gholston or Akiem Hicks.
Rd.5 Pk.162 (from Indianapolis)
ILB Ivan Pace Jr, Cincinnati
Tampa Bay not only needs to add depth to their inside linebackers, but they need to start planning for life after Lavonte. Pace is an “undersized” yet over-productive linebacker who’s been called a “heatseeking missile” by evaluators at TheDraftNetwork.com. He has outstanding instincts, explosive quickness and above average sideline-to-sideline range. He’s got a non-stop motor and he’s a violent hitter. His addition not only gives the Bucs the depth they’re looking for and a nasty special teamer, but it also gives them an eventual successor to Lavonte David.
CB Anthony Johnson, Virginia
With the exit of Sean Murphy-Bunting to the Titans, the Bucs could use some depth at the cornerback position. Johnson is just the type of corner that Todd Bowles likes with his size, length and physicality at the line of scrimmage. He uses those traits to consistently win in press coverage. He doesn’t have 4.3 speed, but he makes up for it with above average instincts and exceptional ball skills. Adding him to the group of Carlton Davis III, Jamel Dean and Zyon McCollum gives the Bucs pretty solid depth at corner and gives second year defensive back McCollum some competition, which hopefully lights a fire under his ass.
S Kaevon Merriweather, Iowa
Tampa Bay lost safeties Mike Edwards (Chiefs) and Keanu Neal (Steelers) along with cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (Titans) in free agency. They need to re-load their secondary up with new, young talent. The addition of one of PFF’s top rated safeties from 2022 Ryan Neal was a big help, but it only gives them two real options at safety. Todd Bowles defense likes to utilize three safeties most of the time, so it’s vital that they add another safety or two this offseason. That starts right here with Merriweather, who’s a versatile defensive back that can play in the box as a run defender or in space as a free safety. He is smooth mover with above average athleticism and a high football IQ. He’s got the physicality and competitiveness that should allow him to succeed at the next level and playing alongside Antoine Winfield Jr and Ryan Neal will only help him.
Rd.6 Pk.181 (to Colts)
The Bucs want back into the fifth round, so they offer up two of their three sixth round picks to the Indianapolis Colts, who have three fifth round picks, but no sixth round pick. The trade sends Tampa Bay’s 181st pick AND 196th pick of the sixth round to the Colts for their 162nd pick of the fifth round. It now gives the Bucs eight picks total in rounds 2-5.
Rd.6 Pk.196 (to Colts)
Pick traded to Indianapolis
Rd.6 Pk.202 (from Jaguars)
S Trey Dean III, Florida
Dean is a cornerback turned safety who finished his college career with 250 tackles. That versatility could be intriguing to the Buccaneers, who still need to add depth in their secondary. Not only did he play corner and BOTH safety positions (strong and free), but he also played a hybrid linebacker role as well. He’s a plus-level run defender with serious closing speed who drops bombs on opposing ball carriers. He would add depth to the entire secondary, not just the safety group, and he gives Todd Bowles a very versatile chess piece to move around on his board.
TE Noah Gindorff, North Dakota State
The Bucs already double-dipped at safety, so now they’re going to do the same at tight end. If Gindorff is still on the board at this point, he makes a ton of sense for Tampa Bay. They drafted a pass-catching TE in LaPorta in the third round and, like last year’s draft, are going after a blocking TE late in this draft. He has technically sound hand placement and footwork along with a nasty attitude. He’s almost like having a small offensive tackle at the tight end position. Adding him to their young group gives them great balance with two strong pass catching threats in Cade Otton and LaPorta and two physical blockers in Ko Kieft and Gindorff. That bodes well for new offensive coordinator Dave Canales and his offensive scheme that likes to utilize two-tight end sets quite a bit.