3 draft needs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay entered this offseason with a solid foundation to build upon on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. With Jameis Winston leading the charge, the Bucs are right on the cusp of playoff contention; a successful draft might be enough to push them over the edge and into the postseason tournament. Here are the areas where they should focus.
Need: Offensive tackle
Winston was under pressure last season on 38.3 percent of his dropbacks in 2016 – a rate that was the 12th-highest among 37 qualified quarterbacks – and a big reason for that was the struggles of his left tackle, former second-round pick, Donovan Smith. Smith was the 34th overall selection in the 2015 draft but he’s struggled mightily in pass protection in each of his first two seasons; he finished 2016 ranked 57th out of 74 qualified tackles with a pass-block efficiency rating of 93.2 after finishing 2015 ranked 59th out of 75 qualified tackles with a PBE of 93.0.
Early-round option: Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin
Our highest-ranked offensive line prospect, Ramczyk could step in and immediately compete with Smith for the starting left tackle position. Ramczyk’s 84.6 run-blocking grade led all FBS offensive tackles last season and his first-step quickness especially makes him a good fit for what Tampa Bay likes to do on the ground. Ramczyk also proved to be sound in pass protection as he tied for fifth among draft-eligible Power 5 tackles with a PBE of 97.5, Ramczyk allowed just 12 total pressures on 364 pass-blocking snaps in 2016.
Mid- to late-round option: Antonio Garcia, Troy
While Garcia still has plenty to work on with regard to his run blocking – he had a 48.8 run-blocking grade last season – going to Tampa Bay would at least put him into a scheme that would allow him to play on the edge in a spot where he can rely on the flow of the play to assist him in generating some movement. Where Garcia shines is in pass protection, where he has the footwork and length to thrive. Garcia finished 2016 ranked second among 99 draft-eligible tackles with a PBE of 98.9, he allowed just seven total pressures (including zero sacks and just one hit) on 477 pass-blocking snaps.
Brent Grimes has emerged as one of the top cornerbacks currently in the NFL and Tampa Bay spent a first-round pick last draft season on Vernon Hargreaves III; Hargreaves struggled quite a bit though during his rookie season, finishing the season ranked 89th among 111 qualified CBs with an overall grade of just 52.6 and after him the depth chart really takes a dive though. Tampa Bay could also use an upgrade at the slot cornerback position: they had three corners play at least 100 snaps in slot coverage last season, Jude Adjei-Barimah, Javien Elliott and Hargreaves, those three combined to allow a 126.4 QB Rating to opposing QBs when covering the slot.
Early-round option: Jourdan Lewis, Michigan
Lewis possesses the skills to play outside and he’s also thrived when asked to cover the slot (opposing quarterbacks had just a 27.7 QB Rating over the past three seasons when targeting Lewis out of the slot), which would allow the Buccaneers some versatility as they try to solidify their secondary. Lewis has elite ball skills – arguably the best in the class – and his production numbers are tough to argue with, he’s surrendered just 905 receiving yards since the start of the 2014 season and over that stretch the highest single-season QB Rating against him was 47.1 in 2016.
Mid- to late-round option: Corn Elder, Miami (FL)
Elder won’t come with the same level of versatility that Lewis possesses, but he should be able to step into camp and immediately compete for the starting slot corner job; and his athleticism, ability to read and react quickly out of zone coverages, along with his production in college suggest that it’s at least worth looking at him on the outside. One added benefit of having Elder close to the box is his ability against the run, his 3.7 stop percentage ranked 11th among 145 draft-eligible cornerbacks in 2016 and his 20.0 tackle efficiency rating (total number of attempted tackles made per each missed tackle) ranked seventh among the group.
Need: Running back
Tampa Bay made a smart move this offseason by re-signing Jacquizz Rodgers, who filled in admirably last season when Doug Martin and Charles Sims were both forced out of action. With uncertainty still surrounding both Martin and Sims, as the former faces a three-game suspension to start the season (while being inconsistent when on the field) while the latter attempts to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2016, the Bucs should certainly consider using some draft capital on the position.
Early-round option: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
Outside of Myles Garrett, there may not be a safer player in this year’s draft than McCaffrey, as it’s hard to imagine he won’t immediately improve whatever team he lands on. It really doesn’t matter how you get it to him, McCaffrey is a big-play threat every time he touches the ball and his versatility would allow Tampa Bay to move in all sorts of directions with their halfback depth chart. McCaffrey has the skillset to be a three-down back in any scheme — he’s absolutely lethal as a receiver both out of the backfield and in the slot and he’s extraordinarily dangerous as both a kick and punt returner. McCaffrey can flat-out take a game over, if he’s available at 19 his combination of talent and versatility would be tough to pass up.
Mid- to late-round option: Wayne Gallman, Clemson
Gallman’s greatest strength as a runner is his ability to plant and get vertical quickly. That, along with his experience running behind Clemson’s spread offense, makes him a nice fit for Tampa’s zone-blocking scheme. Gallman’s not overly elusive and NFL linebackers aren’t going to struggle much at bringing him down once contact is established, but his combination of size and speed does make him a difficult tackle in the open field for defensive backs, especially if they’re just trying to arm tackle him. Gallman’s struggles in pass protection – his 95.5 PBE ranked 31st among 65 qualified draft-eligible halfbacks – will likely cap him as a two-down back initially, but for a team that’s got some uncertainty at the position, adding Gallman late to add some depth certainly wouldn’t hurt.