2018 NFL Mock Draft – When You Are Lord of All You Survey…

Let’s be real—we do mock drafts because we want to be NFL GMs. In this mock, I am the GM of every team. So don’t tell me what to do.

  1. Browns – Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma
    • I promise I made this pick before “the Browns started to sour on Sam Darnold.” In a fair world, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson would be the first two players off the board. Instead they will likely be victims of archaic approaches to players and implicit biases. The biggest knocks on Mayfield have nothing to do with what he can do on the field—his height and his cockiness. Sure he needs polish but he has the two things a franchise quarterback must have: a quick mind and an accurate arm.
  2. Bills (from NYG) – Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Louisville
    • The Bills can and will trade up, likely spending all their first and second-round picks as well as a pick next year. It’s really just a question of who bites and who goes with the second pick. While it’s unlikely to be Lamar Jackson, it should be. He’s not the most accurate passer coming out, but he doesn’t have to be because he can make plays everywhere on the field.
  3. Jets (from IND) – Josh Rosen, quarterback, UCLA
    • Josh Rosen should be the top quarterback in the draft but one thing holds him back. No, it’s not his political opinions and anyone who thinks so is just dumb. In fact, it’s his health. He missed a lot of time at UCLA with injuries, including concussions. You can’t be a great quarterback if you can’t stay on the field. Health aside, he should have the best career of all the QBs taken (but only because some team will misuse Lamar Jackson).
  4. Browns (from HOU) – Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State
    • The Browns don’t move from the fourth spot, because hopefully no team is dumb enough to trade up for Josh Allen (there will be). Barkley and Mayfield on the same turf would be near impossible to defend.
  5. Broncos – Sam Darnold, quarterback, USC
    • This could be the perfect scenario for John Elway. He has Case Keenum for two years, long enough to realize Keenum needs a quality offensive coordinator to be good and even then he has a distinct ceiling. Darnold could be very good, but he’s coming out about a year too early, a year needed to refine his sloppy mechanics.
  6. Colts – Bradley Chubb, defensive end, NC State
    • I’m sure the Colts would love to trade down again but in this reality, everyone recognizes that Josh Allen is a mirage. The Colts absolutely should not pass on Bradley Chubb, not that they would if he fell this far.
  7. Buccaneers – Quenton Nelson, guard, Notre Dame
    • There is some controversy whether a guard should be a top ten pick. When that pick nets Quenton Nelson, it’s really not that tough a call. He’s far and away the best offensive lineman in this year’s class. Incredibly, the Bucs manage to turn their offensive line in just one offseason.
  8. Bears – Roquan Smith, linebacker, Georgia
    • Yes, there may have been another Bucs District mock draft that had Tremaine Edmunds going here. However, these are my Legos we’re playing with here so I’ll build what I want. Smith isn’t the physical specimen Edmunds is, but he’s a better football player right now. Some would say take Edmunds because he’s 19 and has a higher ceiling. I say Roquan is the player you want Edmunds to become.
  9. Giants (from SF) – Harold Landry, linebacker, Boston College
    • The Giants trade back up to get the next best edge rusher in the draft. Landry should be able to transition into being a stand-up rush linebacker for New York’s new 3-4 scheme. Most importantly the Giants get Landry before Miami gets a chance.
  10. Raiders – Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive back, Alabama
    • The Raiders need a tone-setter behind Khalil Mack. Fitzpatrick can be that and much more for Oakland.
  11. Dolphins – Derwin James, safety, Florida State
    • If any team really needs Derwin James, it’s the Dolphins. They need an identity on defense. James is a renowned locker room presence and can make plays everywhere on the field. Miami won’t be good this year, but James will put them back on the right track.
  12. 49ers (from NYG via BUF) – Tremaine Edmunds, linebacker, Virginia Tech
    • The Niners trade back and fill an imminent need on defense. Reuben Foster may not be a 49er for much longer, much less a free man. Even if he beats the charges, Edmunds would give the Niners a tremendous 1-2 punch at linebacker.
  13. Packers (from WAS) -Denzel Ward, cornerback, Ohio St.
    • With the most picks of any team in the draft, the Packers move up to get the class’ best outside corner. Green Bay can’t seem to hold onto their best secondary players. Ward should quickly distinguish himself quickly.
  14. Ravens (from WAS via GB) – Calvin Ridley, wide receiver, Alabama
    • Baltimore moves up two spots to grab the draft’s top receiver. He’s a little lanky, but he runs routes better than anyone else available. He may be a bit wasted on Baltimore’s elite passer. That shouldn’t stop Baltimore from giving Flacco more help.
  15. Cardinals – Mike McGlinchey, tackle, Notre Dame
    • With all the good quarterbacks off the board, the Cardinals address another major need: their offensive line. McGlinchey brings technique and consistency, both missing from Arizona’s tackle group last year.
  16. Patriots (from WAS via BAL) – Connor Williams, tackle, Texas
    • Williams and McGlinchey are 1A and 1B as the best tackles in the draft. The Patriots simply don’t have a left tackle. They leapfrog the Chargers to go get one.
  17. Falcons (via LAC) – Vita Vea, defensive tackle, Washington
    • Hoo boy the Falcons go get their guy here. Dontari Poe did nice things for Atlanta last season, and now they’re hooked on the big, powerful defensive lineman drug. Vea drops a bit, mostly because he’s not a twitchy pass rusher. He can still fortify the Falcons’ defensive line.
  18. Seahawks – Josh Jackson, cornerback, Iowa
    • That’s right, the Seahawks pass on multiple top offensive linemen again. While the Seahawks have not drafted well as late, Jackson is a good option to restock their secondary.
  19. Bengals (from DAL) – Billy Price, center, Ohio State
    • The Bengals paid for letting their best offensive linemen walk last year. Price is the… price they pay for their mistake (I’m sorry about that).
  20. Lions – Maurice Hurst, defensive tackle, Michigan
    • The Lions could go with a running back here, but their defensive line is a big question mark and they could use a disruptor in the middle. Hurst had some early health concerns in the draft process, but it should not keep him out of the first round.
  21. Cowboys (from CIN via BUF) – Courtland Sutton, wide receiver, SMU
    • Is this not destined? Sutton stay in Texas and replaces Dez Bryant for a much lower price.
  22. Giants (from BUF via KC) – Derrius Guice, running back, LSU
    • The Giants passed on Saquon Barkely and get the next best thing in Derrius Guice. New York may want to consider a guard or center here, but Eli Manning plays his best with a strong run game.
  23. Redskins (from NE via LAR) – Rashaan Evans, linebacker, Alabama
    • While the Redskins have a lot of good pieces in place on defense, they have no identity. Evans brings the Alabama linebacker pedigree to shape the Washington defense into a more disciplined unit.
  24. Panthers – Isaiah Oliver, cornerback, Colorado
    • Somehow the Carolina defense didn’t lose much of a step when Josh Norman was bounced by Dave Gettleman. Of all the corners in this year’s class, Oliver may have the profile best suited to be come a shutdown corner.
  25. Titans – Isaiah Wynn, guard, Georgia
    • Jon Robinson seems to have an eye for offensive linemen. It’s hard for anyone to see what Wynn could bring to a team. He’s big, mean and powerful.
  26. Chargers (via ATL) – Justin Reid, safety, Stanford
    • The Chargers missed Eric Weddle last year. Reid is similarly physical and smart. If Williams and McGlinchey are gone, LA could take Reid even without trading down.
  27. Saints – Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker, Boise State
    • The Saints have a lot of linebackers without having any that really matter. That makes the Vander Esch pick ideal. He’s a little green, but his ceiling is sky high.
  28. Steelers – Jaire Alexander, cornerback, Louisville
    • The Steelers don’t have many needs, but if you had to pick one it would be corner. Alexander is probably better than the 28th pick, but injury concerns should push him this far down.
  29. Jaguars – DJ Moore, wide receiver, Maryland
    • The Jaguars are pretty stacked so the default position is to help Blake Bortles. Moore is a speedster that can take the top off a defense. With their punishing run game, the Jaguars might actually be able to keep defenses honest with Moore even with Bortles under center.
  30. Vikings –  Will Hernandez, guard, UTEP
    • The Vikings still have issues on the offensive line despite their offensive success last year. They need a tackle more, but Hernandez is the best offensive lineman on the board.
  31. Colts (via NE) – Taven Bryan, defensive tackle, Florida
    • Would it be a draft if the Patriots didn’t trade down from a late first-round pick? The Colts are flush with second round picks and should trade up to get an interior linemen because they don’t really have any.
  32. Browns (via PHI) – Marcus Davenport, defensive end, UTSA
    • The Eagles also trade down to the second-round wealthy Browns. Cleveland gets the best pass rush left on the board, supplementing their stock of quality edge rushers.

2018 NFL Mock Draft – Future Imperfect

There is no such thing as a perfect mock draft. There’s always going to be something wrong. The wrong pick, the wrong trade, whatever. You’re not in the room with any team to know what they’re thinking. The key is to just go for the gusto, stick with your board and make each pick interesting. This time let’s see what happens when no draft day trades happen (which really won’t happen but I’ll be wrong about most of these anyways) while balancing what could happen with what should happen.

  1. Browns – Josh Allen, quarterback, Wyoming
    • Why? Because the Browns. Allen is a mirage, the embodiment of every cliche attached to a white quarterback draft prospect. He’s Blake Bortles without the successful college career.
    • Also possible: QB Sam Darnold
  2. Giants – Bradley Chubb, defensive end, NC State
    • When the Giants traded away Jason Pierre-Paul, they all but guaranteed Chubb would play in blue this year. This could be Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen, but Dave Gettleman loves to build his defensive front seven.
    • Also possible: QB Sam Darnold, QB Josh Rosen, G Quenton Nelson
  3. Jets (from IND) – Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma
    • The Jets take the best quarterback left on the board and the one most likely to succeed. He’s not Johnny Manziel. He’s the quarterback room of the 2004 San Diego Chargers.
    • Also possible: QB Sam Darnold
  4. Browns (from HOU) – Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State
    • While Dorsey would probably rather address the left tackle spot, the best value is taking the biggest athletic freak in the draft. Barkley should help take some of the pressure off Tyrod Taylor and eventually Josh Allen.
    • Also possible: G Quenton Nelson, CB Denzel Ward
  5. Broncos – Sam Darnold, quarterback, USC
    • The Broncos fall in to Sam Darnold. It’s amazing they would be in this position, especially considering how often John Elway missed on quarterback prospects. He’ll be able to sit for a year behind Case Keenum. However, if the Browns do the smart thing and take Darnold with the first pick, Elway might end up reliving his disastrous Paxton Lynch pick.
    • Also possible: G Quenton Nelson, LB Roquan Smith
  6. Colts (from NYJ) – Quenton Nelson, guard, Notre Dame
    • Possibly the best player in this year’s draft, Nelson won’t get past the OL-needy Colts. They sorta have to keep Andrew Luck alive, somehow.
    • Also possible: LB Tremaine Edmunds, anyone with a pulse really
  7. Buccaneers – Denzel Ward, cornerback, Ohio St.
    • Ward should get the love Bucs CB Brent Grimes should have gotten on draft day. Ward and Grimes are similar in size, athleticism and ball skills. The Bucs
    • Also possible: S Derwin James, DT Vita Vea
  8. Bears – Tremaine Edmunds, linebacker, Virginia Tech
    • The Bears defense has lacked an identity since Brian Urlacher retired. Tremaine Edmunds is an athletic freak with speed and strength to spare. He’s not as instinctual as Urlacher, but Edmunds will be a force in the middle of the field all the same.
    • Also possible: LB Roquan Smith, S Derwin James
  9. 49ers – Roquan Smith, linebacker, Georgia
    • While it’s become clear the Niners can’t count on Reuben Foster to be on the field, Roquan Smith would be a good pick for John Lynch regardless. He’s rangy, a solid tackler and aggressive. If Foster can’t lock down the Niners’ defensive center, Smith will.
    • Also possible: RB Derrius Guice, WR Calvin Ridley
  10. Raiders – Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive back, Alabama
    • Fitzpatrick is hard to place. He’s not a pure outside corner. He’s not a exactly a safety. He’s not a linebacker. The Raiders could use all three. Fitzpatrick could be the defensive leader Jon Gruden needs to turn the Raiders’ defense around.
    • Also possible: S Derwin James, CB Josh Jackson
  11. Dolphins – Vita Vea, defensive tackle, Washington
    • The Ndamukong Suh experiment failed in Miami and the Dolphins are in need of a stud defensive lineman to replace him. Vea is a man-beast
    • Also possible: QB Josh Rosen, S Derwin James
  12. Bills (from CIN) – Josh Rosen, quarterback, UCLA
    • The only reason for Rosen to drop this far is if Buffalo (or Arizona) doesn’t trade up to get him. Also, concussions. And his general health. He’s better than Allen (and Darnold for that matter), but he get’s hurt a lot—not an ideal quality for a franchise quarterback. Just ask Andrew Luck.
    • Also possible: QB Lamar Jackson
  13. Redskins – Derwin James, safety, Florida State
    • The Redskins would love to see Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds here, but James will do as their new enforcer in the middle of the field.
    • Also possible: RB Derrius Guice, LB/DE Harold Landry
  14. Packers – Josh Jackson, cornerback, Iowa
    • Jackson had a monstrous 2017 season with 26 pass breakups and 8 interceptions. While he only started one year at Iowa, he’s the perimeter playmaker Green Bay has not had since Casey Hayward’s rookie season.
    • Also possible: LB Harold Landry,
  15. Cardinals – Calvin Ridley, wide receiver, Alabama.
    • The Cardinals are in a poor position to take one of the top QBs without sacrificing several future picks to trade up (or do the smart thing and draft Lamar Alexander). We are still waiting for Larry Fitzgerald to see his portrait but Arizona could use a second starter.
    • Also possible: QB Lamar Jackson
  16. Ravens -Da’Ron Payne, defensive tackle, Alabama
    • The Ravens defense isn’t the force it once was, largely due to attrition on the defensive line. Payne would be a welcome addition and a big improvement to the Ravens’ run defense.
    • Also possible: WR DJ Moore, WR Courtland Sutton
  17. Chargers – Mike McGlinchey, tackle, Notre Dame
    • The offensive line struggles in San Diego are well documented. McGlinchey is the best OT in the draft and should buy Philip Rivers an extra year or two more in the NFL.
    • Also possible: S Justin Reid, DT Maurice Hurst
  18. Seahawks – Harold Landry, linebacker, Boston College.
    • The Seahawks began a rebuild this offseason, jettisoning Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman. They need to bolster their defensive line to stay competitive in the increasingly talented NFC West. Landry is not a direct replacement for Michael Bennett, but he will bolster Seattle’s pass rush.
    • Also possible: CB Isaiah Oliver, RB Derrius Guice
  19. Cowboys – Courtland Sutton, wide receiver, SMU
    • No Dez, no problem. Sutton doesn’t have Dez’s speed, but he does have his size, strength and catching acumen.
    • Also possible: WR DJ Moore, S Justin Reid
  20. Lions – Derrius Guice, running back, LSU
    • The Lions’ run game, or lack thereof, handicapped their entire offense for years. Guice isn’t the transcendent talent Saquon Barkley is, but he doesn’t need to be. He’s a more polished, reliable running back who may not wow his team as often, but he’ll probably disappoint them less.
    • Also possible: DT Maurice Hurst, DE Marcus Davenport
  21. Bengals (from BUF) – James Daniels, center, Iowa
    • The Bengals’ offensive line is not good. Daniels is a versatile lineman who could play any of the interior positions, giving Cincinnati some flexibility on how they want to remake their offensive line.
    • Also possible: OT Connor Williams, G Isaiah Wynn
  22. Bills (from KC) – Justin Reid, safety, Stanford
    • The Bills won’t likely keep this pick, but if they do its a good bet it will be used on a defensive player like Justin Reid.
    • Also possible: OT Connor Williams, G Isaiah Wynn
  23. Patriots (from LAR) – Connor Williams, tackle, Texas
    • Bill Belichick isn’t known to draft for need, but if he has any intention on extending Tom Brady’s career, he needs to find him some protection. Williams isn’t a prototypical tackle, but he gets the job done which is good enough for Belichick.
    • Also possible: DE Marcus Davenport, OT Kolton Miller
  24. Panthers – Marcus Davenport, defensive end, UTSA
    • The Panthers are currently relying on Julius Peppers to continue staving off Father Time. Marty Hurney is back as GM and he historically values the defensive end position. Davenport has the greatest upside of any remaining edge rusher, but unrealized as it is he falls to Carolina.
    • Also possible: G Isaiah Wynn, CB Isaiah Oliver
  25. Titans – Isaiah Wynn, guard, Georgia
    • With top edge rushers off the board, the Titans turn to address their offensive line. Tennessee gathered any guard out on the market they could find this offseason. Wynn would be the one legitimate answer.
    • Also possible: LB Rashaan Evans, DT Maurice Hurst
  26. Falcons – Maurice Hurst, defensive tackle, Michigan
    • Atlanta steals Maurice Hurst this late in the first round. With Dontari Poe gone, the Falcons could use a stud on the defensive line.
    • Also possible: G Will Hernandez, OT Kolton Miller
  27. Saints – Rashaan Evans, linebacker, Alabama
    • The Saints have an army of linebackers, but none of them are as good as Evans can be. He makes a fearsome New Orleans defense even better.
    • Also possible: LB Leighton Vander Esch, TE Dallas Goedert
  28. Steelers – Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker, Boise State
    • The Steelers could definitely use an upgrade in the middle of the defense. Vander Esch is the do-it-all sort of linebacker the Steelers like. He’s a steal here.
    • Also possible: TE Dallas Goedert, CB Jaire Alexander
  29. Jaguars – Dallas Goedert, tight end, South Dakota State
    • Blake Bortles is looking at an all new set of weapons this season. What’s one more? Goedert is the best receiving weapon left on the board. He’ll join a crowded tight end group but should become a safety blanket for Bortles.
    • Also possible: WR DJ Moore, OT Kolton Miller
  30. Vikings – Kolton Miller, tackle, UCLA
    • Mike Remmers is a placeholder right tackle. If the Vikings want to make their megadeal with Kirk Cousins worthwhile, they need Miller.
    • Also possible: OL Billy Price, G Will Hernandez
  31. Patriots – Billy Price, OL, Ohio State
    • A big reason why the Patriots lost the Super Bowl was how badly Philadelphia’s defensive line beat the New England offensive line. While the Patriots are more likely to use their two picks to trade up, they could very well use both their existing picks to upgrade the offensive line and buy Tom Brady more time in the show.
    • Also possible: G Will Hernandez, CB Jaire Alexander
  32. Eagles – Jaire Alexander, cornerback, Louisville
    • Daryl Worley didn’t do the Eagles any favors returning to his hometown. Alexander will be a depth player his first year, but he should make the defense better immediately.
    • Also possible: WR DJ Moore, OL Billy Price

The Filibuster 2017: Week 5

Fire Nick Folk.


Well the Bucs have one less problem to fix. The rest aren’t so simple.

Tampa Bay should have won last Thursday’s game against the Patriots. Chiefly, they soundly won the turnover battle. They committed fewer penalties. Ultimately they had more opportunities to score than the Patriots.

Still, the loss doesn’t rest solely on the leg of Folk. The box score does not reflect just how mediocre Jameis Winston was against the Patriots defense. He pinned the pass game on forcing the ball to Desean Jackson. While Jackson got his first 100-yard game in Tampa, Winston’s proclivities left the rest of the pass offense out to dry.

Before the fourth quarter, Winston went 13-for-25 for 109 yards. It took the return of Doug Martin to get the Bucs down the field and in the endzone (more on this in a second). Winston turned it on in the fourth quarter, going 13-for-21 for 225 yards and a score (as well as a rush touchdown that was called back due to an otherwise meaningless penalty on Evan Smith).

The Bucs can’t afford for Winston to spend most of a game trying to build a rapport with Jackson, nor can they wait until the fourth quarter to get the pass game synchronized.

The solution may lie with the returned and reinvigorated Doug Martin. On the Bucs’ second quarter touchdown drive, Martin carved up the Patriots defense for 48 yards on five carries. Without Martin’s 1-yard scoring run, he averaged a crushing 11.8 yards per carry.

As Martin’s suspension kept him away from practices, Dirk Koetter kept him on a snap count. Still, he took a vast majority of the rushing snaps—13 to Jacquizz Rodgers’ three and Charles Sims’ one. However, Sims took a majority of the overall running back snaps with 26 though he was often split out wide as a receiver.

It is only a matter of time before Martin takes over as the feature back. In case it wasn’t obvious from his performance last Thursday, Martin is by far Tampa Bay’s best ball carrier. He jumped gaps almost instantaneously and broke virtually every initial tackle on his runs.

Credit is also due to the Bucs offensive line, which opened some good holes against the Patriots front. However the line historically struggles with consistency and is as likely to force Bucs running backs to make their own running lanes.

Martin is the key to the entire offense, at least until Winston becomes more consistent. The Bucs offense is built on medium-to-long range passes—higher risk plays. They need a potent running game to keep defenses honest and open things up for their receivers.

Jacquizz Rodgers hasn’t proven capable of carrying the run game. Martin’s 13 carries last week exhibited far more promise.

There’s not much to say about the defense except to commend them for how well they played against the NFL’s top offense. The Bucs were soft against the run, but they bullied and battered Tom Brady into a mediocre outing and were the first team to hold New England under 20 points.

All this was accomplished with several starters missing. No Lavonte David, no Kwon Alexander, no TJ Ward, no Keith Tandy—the next men up did their jobs. Justin Evans is progressing faster than expected, and Kendall Beckwith is yet another linebacker gem found by the Bucs.

Next week the Bucs face the Arizona Cardinals, a team that stomped them in Week 2 last year. However, the teams find themselves on opposite trajectories. The Bucs have a resurgent Doug Martin and opportunistic defense against an aging, decrepit offense and an underperforming defense.

On a personal note, I was in Tampa this week but not for any Bucs related reason. My grandfather passed away last week. He lived in Tampa my entire life, after a career as an Air Force chaplain including a tour in Vietnam. He’s the reason I became a Bucs fan. He was a good man and I’ll miss him.

Return from Recess: Buccaneers Season Preview 2017

Expectations – it’s the theme of the Bucs’ 2017 season. Last year’s winning record and marked improvement of the young roster laid the foundation for belief that not only could the Bucs make it to the playoffs but win the NFC South for the first time in a decade.

This is not a new vantage point for the Bucs. Expectations were high following the Bucs surprising 10-6 campaign in 2010, after Schiano’s first season in 2013 and the beginning of Lovie Smith’s tenure in 2015. Each year bore not only disappointment but also pink slips for staff and players.

The difference in 2017 isn’t any fundamental difference in approach by the franchise but instead comes down to one simple fact: the roster and coaching staff are better than they’ve been in years. General manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter aren’t reinventing the wheel in Tampa. They simply built a solid football team.

If the preseason is an accurate indicator of what’s to come, the Bucs should have their most potent offense ever. Jameis Winston and Mike Evans were a two-man act for the past two seasons, but the addition of Desean Jackson should forge a mighty triumvirate of big pass plays. With former Alabama tight end O.J. Howard joining the sure-handed Harvard man Cameron Brate, opposing defenses won’t have the luxury of singling out any one Bucs receiver this season.

The Bucs struggled to capitalize on its red zone opportunities during the preseason, which should give the team some pause heading into the regular season. The Bucs were mediocre inside the 20 last year, scoring on just 52 percent of red zone visits according to Football Outsiders. The addition of more offensive weapons should help but ultimately red zone efficiency rests on Winston’s ability to get the ball out accurately.

While the offense will no doubt improve with the new additions, weaknesses remain. The offensive line is still highly suspect. Ali Marpet successfully transitioned to center it seems, making it the most stable spot on the line. Consequently, the move rendered both guard positions the line’s weakest. J.R. Sweezy is coming off a significant back injury and was never the most consistent lineman in the first place. Kevin Pamphile is adequate if inconsistent.

Left tackle Donovan Smith is often identified as one of the worst blind-side defenders in football. It’s not a wholly unearned distinction. He simply does not have the foot speed to consistently block the league’s top edge rushers (see: Myles Garrett in the third preseason game). He’s also a penalty liability, getting 13 calls last season—tied for the most among offensive linemen with Giants T Ereck Flowers, not exactly great company to keep on any NFL list.

The right tackle spot is in a state of flux where Demar Dotson, the most tenured Buccaneer, struggles to stay healthy with each passing year while untested Caleb Benenoch waits in the wings. And no, moving Donovan Smith to right tackle is not an answer to anything.

Overall, the offensive line will hinder everything else happening offensively to varying degrees. They don’t run block particularly well and will rely on Doug Martin’s ability to gain yardage after initial (and second and third) contact to get the run game going. The line is more than the sum of its parts in pass protection, but breakdowns will occur with alarming frequency as they have since Lovie Smith and Jason Licht attempted to remake the line in 2014.

These protection breakdowns bring out the heroics of Jameis Winston to wildly varying results. For all the times he scrambles the pants off an entire (Bears) defense, he will also throw the dumbest pass you’ve ever seen (in Jacksonville—and that’s saying something in proximity to Blake Bortles). As much as his coaches and fans wish it weren’t so, Winston’s mind-boggling alter ego will forever be part of his game. The key to keeping Jameis Hyde off the field is keeping him clean in the pocket and on Dirk Koetter’s script.

The defense should only improve in year two under coordinator Mike Smith. His decision to stay in Tampa after receiving interest in head coaching jobs was a bigger boost to the Bucs’ 2017 prospects than any draft pick. By the end of the season, Smith had the defense playing disruptive, opportunistic football.

The defensive line is as good as its been in years, especially on the interior. Gerald McCoy and Chris Baker could prove to be one of the best interior tandems in football this year. Fewer reps for Clinton McDonald means more quality reps from McDonald.

The Bucs have quality defensive ends but are still a little short on quality edge rushers. Will Gholston and Robert Ayers are two of the best run-defending ends in the league. Neither is an accomplished pass rusher. Noah Spence is on the cusp of greatness, but one guy won’t get it done. The key will be the return of Jacquies Smith and whether he can bounce back from tearing his ACL last year.

Mike Smith’s defenses tend to produce outstanding linebackers. The Bucs are no different. Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander are the most underappreciated linebacker duo in the NFL. Rookie Kendell Beckwith and Devante Bond looked fantastic in the preseason and should make them a formidable group overall.

The secondary remains the weakness of the defense, but the cornerbacks are trending upwards. Vernon Hargreaves looks to improve on a rookie season where he was frequently singled out by opposing passers. Brent Grimes should still be Brent Grimes. The nickel job is Robert McClain’s to lose with Jude Adjeh-Barimah on injured reserve. Ryan Smith is a wild card transitioning from safety. Expect some growing pains from the second-year player.

It appears as though the Bucs addressed the safety position this offseason, but addressing a problem isn’t the same as solving it. Keith Tandy is still the best, most instinctive safety on the roster. Conte doesn’t have Tandy’s nose for the football but his outstanding athleticism compensates to some degree. There isn’t anything terribly special about JJ Wilcox other than he can lay a hit, a skill of diminished value in today’s NFL. The less the rookie Justin Evans gets on the field the better. He’s simply not ready to play a significant number of snaps in the NFL.

The biggest difference between this season and previous years of high expectations is roster depth. The Bucs haven’t boasted this much overall talent since their heyday in the early 2000s. Additions like Jackson and defensive tackle Chris Baker will make the starting lineup far more fearsome while depth additions like Robert McClain and WR Chris Godwin should provide greater schematic flexibility and buffer in case of injury.

A few roster battles are still underway, though some are not as close as some pundits would claim. The running back situation is somewhat fluid as Doug Martin’s suspension looms. Some will point to Martin’s drug issues and year-to-year inconsistency as justification for benching or even cutting him upon his return.

The problem is he is still the Bucs’ best running back. Watching him cut and break tackles in the preseason could not make this more apparent. Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber are fine in the interim, but Martin makes the Bucs offense more dangerous. Given his history and salary it’s hard to predict Martin’s future with the Bucs, but he needs to be their primary ground option in the present.

The only other major concern is, naturally, the kicking situation. HBO broadcast Roberto Aguayo’s uncomfortable if inevitable firing to the world, but that was not to be the end of the Bucs’ kicking woes. Nick Folk has not proven to be much more consistent than Aguayo, reaffirming why he is on his third NFL team. Fortunately, the Bucs don’t have a second round pick invested in him so there’s little deterrent in procuring competition for him down the line.

The Bucs schedule is not wholly unforgiving to its January aspirations. Outside the division, the Bucs have the NFC North and the AFC East. Neither division is stacked. The Patriots, Packers and Lions pose real challenges, but the remaining teams range from spotty to downright terrible.

Miami would be a solid match-up if not for the acquisition of Jay Cutler. Minnesota has a great defense, but the offensive line remains suspect and Sam Bradford is still Mr. Down-and-Distance. Chicago will either start the Bucs’ former backup or a rookie at quarterback. Buffalo and New York are already competing for the first overall pick in the 2018 draft.

Given the level of competition within the NFC, the Bucs’ playoff prospects will likely come down to winning the division. As usual, it’s near impossible what to predict from the NFC South. The Falcons surprised the world by making it to the Super Bowl last year, but the biggest blown lead in Super Bowl history and the loss of Kyle Shanahan could bring them crashing back to earth.

The Panthers added some weapons in the run game but didn’t get much better otherwise. Their season rests on Cam Newton’s ability to make through 16 games. The Saints are probably the most consistent year-to-year team in the division—good for tons of points on both sides of the ball and a 7-9 record.

The nice thing about expectations is that the path to the goal doesn’t have to be pretty. The Bucs are sure to lose a game they should win, like Los Angeles or Oakland last year. It won’t matter if they’re still playing in January.

Best-case scenario has the Bucs winning 12 games and taking the division. Worst-case scenario has Jameis Winston suffering a season-ending injury, simultaneously ending the team’s season. In all likelihood, the Bucs will battle for a playoff spot until the last two weeks of the season and get in by the skin of their teeth.

Aside from winning the division, there is no one key to making the playoffs. There is nothing more the Bucs can do to position themselves for a playoff run except execute. At this point, that’s all they can really expect of themselves.

The 2017 Big Mock Board Draft Thing Part 2

Sick of mock drafts yet? Well you came to the right place! There’s no mock draft here, at least in any traditional sense. More than likely, you don’t care that much what other NFL teams are doing with their drafts. This blog is called BUCS District after all.

Mock drafts can be fun but prone to tedium by April (ironic considering the more “plugged-in” mock drafters tend to become more accurate the closer the draft is). Consider this the Survivorman, the Mediterranean diet, or Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” of mock drafts – emphasis on the essentials to keep you alive for the Bucs 2017 draft outlook. (Was he kidding about Katy Perry? Does it matter?)

All in all, the nineteenth overall pick is not a great spot for value. The Bucs will miss the top talent at position where trading up will still cost a Day 2 pick if not more. Trading down would be ideal but if NFL Twitter is any indication, every team should be trading down this year.

Assuming the Bucs stand at 19, they still have options to add talent to either side of the ball. Bear in mind these rankings do not judge the likelihood of Tampa Bay’s decision but rather Bucs District’s proprietary formula for assessing prospects (i.e. because I said so):

  1. S Budda Baker, Washington
  2. RB Dalvin Cook, Florida St.
  3. RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
  4. RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
  5. CB Kevin King, Washington
  6. CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
  7. DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
  8. CB Adoree Jackson, USC
  9. TE David Njoku, Miami
  10. DT Malik McDowell, Michigan St.
  11. DE Taco Charlton, Michigan

Bucs District is Bakersville. If Budda Baker were an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier, folks would call him Earl Thomas 2.0. He is the most instinctual defensive back in the draft behind Jamal Adams. With his speed, Baker has the potential to be a NFL single-high safety, a true center-fielder.

The Bucs could do with any of the three running backs. Their ranks here are the result of WordPress making it too onerous to list “2a,” “2b” and “2c.” They each could fit the Bucs in different ways, but they’re each more talented the guys already on the roster.

Kevin King is the kind of cornerback the Bucs need to complement Vernon Hargreaves: tall, rangy and smart. His size and speed could even make him a candidate to switch to free safety, an actual position of need. King also comes from the Washington pedigree of defensive backs that produced Marcus Peters and Desmond Trufant, the NFL’s best corners in 2016.

Barnett is an infuriating prospect. At times he looks like the best pass rusher in the class, practically teleporting around the edge. At others he looks like a Day 2 prospect, slow and ineffective. It’s entirely possible he’s gone by the 19th pick or available afterwards.

Just got around to Adoree Jackson’s film study today, and the appeal is apparent. His blend of ball skills and aggressiveness could make for an exciting NFL defensive back. His size might be less of a concern for a Bucs team that already starts two sub-6′ corners. What should give Jason Licht pause is Jackson’s lapses in discipline and judgment. There were times he appeared out of position defending wide receivers too deep on comebacks and digs.

The belief that the Bucs should draft a tight end in the first round must come from a “best player available” mindset, but selecting David Njoku may take that approach beyond its next logical step. Cam Brate is a great receiving weapon but not much of an inline player. Some might think Njoku would complement that by playing the ever-popular Y-position to Brate’s F tight end. The film simply does not agree. Njoku is not great blocker and appears more enthusiastic when he can do his best Jimmy Graham impression (Quick note: saw Graham in Miami once. His calves are as ridiculous as his hair.)

The day will soon come when ignorant, spoiled Bucs fans will realize how good they had it with Gerald McCoy, which is why the Bucs should start looking at his inevitable replacement if not someone to help extend his career a bit. Malik McDowell is steak tartare compared to Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, but his explosiveness is Michael Bay-like. Opposing offensive linemen often look stunned by the degree of violence McDowell brings. His technique is nonexistent and balance is a question, but he has time to marinate and slow-roast before the Bucs would throw him on the grill.

Taco Charlton is stereotypically raw, that defensive end prospect that appears every year to trick teams into drafting him too high. The Bucs might fall for it, but Jay Hayes has a good track record of molding big, long defensive ends with questionable pass rush technique into productive starters.

So here’s the rub: there’s no one worth trading up for from the 19th pick. Jason Licht would have to surrender entirely too much to reach those too-rich-for-my-blood guys listed in Part 1. This draft is too deep to spend picks to get one guy.

What’s more plausible if not more likely is the Bucs trading down. Adam Schefter already reported that the Bucs are looking to get more picks by trading down, possibly out of the first round. While the offer better be good to surrender that many spots, the draft’s second round is stacked with potential starters.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best of the rest from the (unranked) top 100 picks:

  • DE Carl Lawson, Auburn
  • RB Kareem Hunt, Toledo
  • DT Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama
  • RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
  • S Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut
  • TE Jake Butt, Michigan
  • TE Evan Ingram, Ole Miss
  • DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, Villanova
  • RB Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
  • RB Marlon Mack, South Florida
  • OT Antonio Garcia, Troy
  • OT Taylor Moton, Western Michigan
  • TE Adam Shaheen, Ashland
  • CB Teez Tabor, Florida
  • CB Tre’Davious White, LSU
  • CB Sidney Jones, Washington
  • CB Quincy Wilson, Florida
  • DE Tarell Basham, Ohio
  • FS Marcus Sanders-Williams, Utah
  • SS Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
  • WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC
  • WR Zay Jones, East Carolina
  • WR Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech

Five running backs!? It’s almost as though the Bucs don’t need to draft a running back in the first round. My favorite for the Bucs is Kareem Hunt, a compact runner with impeccable balance and vision. He’s a tackle-breaking machine and could be had for the low low price of a third round pick.

This draft is certainly not lacking for tight end depth. The key for the Bucs is fit. They need a do-it-all, inline tight end to complement Cam Brate. Evan Ingram is a glorified slot receiver who is wasted as a blocker. Jake Butt is the smart Day 2 pick, but don’t sleep on D-II powerhouse Adam Shaheen. He’s big, athletic and blocks like an OT. His underdeveloped skill set makes him a third round prospect at best, but nonetheless deserving of consideration.

Don’t count out offensive linemen entirely. Troy OT Antonio Garcia is raw but packed with potential. He has nimble feet and a mean streak befitting the right tackle spot once the Bucs move on from Demar Dotson.

Typically the defensive tackle prospects thin out after the first round, and this year is no different. Tomlinson is probably the best of the remaining bunch but he’s a poor fit with the Bucs as a 2-gap space eater. Don’t expect the Bucs to waste a pick on the interior defensive line after the first round.

The Bucs might want to go back to Florida for their cornerback needs. Tabor and Wilson aren’t the fastest or most disciplined backs, but they’re both physical and aggressive, key Mike Smith defense traits.

The second round is primed for a Bucs’ defensive end pick. Carl Lawson is a first round talent getting no respect from mock draft circles. He would give the Bucs even more speed off the edge. Call me a fan of smaller school prospects, but I like Kpassagnon and Basham. Kpassagnon is exactly the kind of end Mike Smith and Jay Hayes seem to prefer. Basham needs seasoning but his explosiveness and agility are more than a little intriguing.

With our key prospects identified, we can start examining scenarios. If the Bucs stay at 19, odds are good they take one of the top remaining running backs. Which one I can’t say for certain but if Cook is available I’d say he’s the favorite.

Scenario 1: Bucs Stay at 19

  • Round 1: RB Dalvin Cook
  • Round 2: TE Jake Butt
  • Round 3: DE Tanoh Kpassagnon

In the second scenario, the Bucs take advantage of this year’s bountiful defensive offerings and somehow land DE Derek Barnett. That’s rounded out by the powerful Marlon Mack and some secondary help in Teez Tabor.

  • Round 1: DE Derek Barnett
  • Round 2: RB Marlon Mack
  • Round 3: CB Teez Tabor

In the increasingly likely trade down scenarios, the Bucs pick up another more top 100 pick. Schefter’s tweet about trading out of the first round is a strong indication the Bucs are talking to the Browns, who own two second round picks. In that situation:

  • Round 2: DE Carl Lawson
  • Round 2: S Obi Melifonwu
  • Round 2: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
  • Round 3: RB Kareem Hunt

Quite a haul. The Bucs address four different positions with players who can provide immediate impacts. This is definitely the volume haul, if not the most ideal. Melifonwu best fits as a box safety, of which the Bucs already have two. They do get a steal in Kareem Hunt though.

In scenario four, the Bucs get an additional 3rd round pick from a 2016 playoff team, possibly the Cowboys or the Texans in their hunt for a quarterback.

  • Round 1: S Budda Baker
  • Round 2: DE Tarell Basham
  • Round 3: RB Kareem Hunt
  • Round 3: WR Carlos Henderson

The pattern should be apparent by now that the trade down scenarios give the Bucs maximum flexibility and range to address their roster. All four guys play with a good bit of fire and tenacity. This is my ideal 2017 draft for the Buccaneers.

The 2017 Big Mock Board Draft Thing Part 1

It’s draft season. That means it’s mock draft season. And big board season. The thing is, if you follow your favorite team (and if you’re reading this you probably are), do you want full analysis of every team’s draft prospects? Maybe, but surely you’re sick of wacky mock drafts by now, no?

Here at Bucs District we’re going to try something a little different. Instead of a big board or mock draft, we’re going to break down the conditions and scenarios that might play out on April 27.

Before predicting what players might fall to the Bucs either with the 19th pick or in a trade situation, we need to identify the players they won’t draft. These prospects fall in two categories: redundant players and the too-rich-for-my-blood guys.

Cataloguing the redundant players is easy. What positions would be a first-round pick be wasted? The list is short, including quarterback and middle linebacker. Jameis Winston and Kwon Alexander have their respective positions locked down, positions where depth isn’t a great premium.

The only other position group to possibly include is offensive line. While the need for more line talent is debatable, it seems clear the Bucs front office is fine standing pat with their starting line. The lack of offensive line talent this year makes an offensive line pick that much less likely.

The first-round prospects in the redundant column include:

Quarterback: Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson

This should be obvious. Jameis is the franchise. He’s easily better than Trubisky and Watson. The Bucs might draft a backup QB on Day 3 – they’re definitely not in the market for anything more.

Inside Linebacker: Reuben Foster

Another no-brainer. Kwon Alexander will be counted among the best middle linebackers in the NFL next season. Foster could be too one day. Tampa Bay simply isn’t big enough for the both of them.

Offensive Line: Cam Robinson, Forrest Lamp, Ryan Ramczyk, Garrett Bolles

Are the Bucs set at offensive line? Jason Licht and Dirk Koetter seem to think so. The line’s play last year indicates otherwise, but apparently J.R. Sweezy is next big thing, even if he is returning from a season-long back injury (which is really not a good sign). A guy like Lamp would be a good addition to the Bucs offensive line. The Bucs just won’t add one this early.

The too-rich-for-my-blood column is comprised of players likely to go in the top five or ten selections. While trades are not impossible, the draft capital needed for the Bucs to move up to this level makes such a move prohibitively expensive, especially considering the depth of this year’s draft.

The players in this column include:

Safety: Jamal Adams, Malik Hooker

The Bucs would take either of these guys in a heartbeat. The secondary remains a position of weakness and lacks big playmakers. Somehow the top of the draft features two at safety. Don’t be surprised to see Adams and Hooker go in the first ten picks to Chicago, Cincinnati or Buffalo.

Defensive End: Myles Garrett, Solomon Thomas

Garrett and Thomas are both likely top-five picks. The Bucs have a decent rotation at defensive end, but there’s no such thing as too many pass-rushers. Garrett is projected to go first overall to Cleveland. Thomas would fit on pretty much any of the first five teams.

Defensive Tackle: Jonathan Allen

This draft isn’t especially deep at defensive tackle so Allen will garner a lot of attention from the first ten teams. His athleticism and versatility won’t keep in on the market for long. He won’t get past Arizona, but he should be a trade-up target.

Wide Receiver: Mike Williams, Corey Davis

Williams is another possible top-five pick, though Davis may be the better prospect. Don’t let Davis’ ankle injury and lack of test scores fool you into thinking he’ll slip very far. His tape doesn’t lie. He’s big, fast and can catch pretty much everything thrown at him. The Titans, Panthers and Niners could all vie for their services.

Cornerback: Marshon Lattimore

As I said in the Primer, this draft is loaded with defensive back talent top to bottom. Lattimore reigns at the top of the heap and shouldn’t make it past the first ten picks. Tennessee should be interested in him, but he’ll be gone if he reaches the tenth pick with Buffalo.

Tight End: OJ Howard

Okay, when I did the review of the Bucs’ tight end situation I said the Bucs shouldn’t be interested in OJ Howard. I was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. The Alabama TE may be the most complete tight ends to come out since Gronk. He is a walking, talking mismatch with legitimate blocking ability. I’m predicting he ends up in Jacksonville.

Sixteen prospects off the board. There is still plenty of talent to consider for the Bucs’ first round pick. Stay tuned for Part 2!

Bucs Draft 2017 Primer

It’s NFL draft season so right now everyone is up to their elbows in mock drafts, hot takes, and foolish analysis that values combine results over tape. Lots of information, not always the context to match.

What’s needed is a baseline of Bucs draft intel – the general draft situation, needs, fits, etc.

The Buccaneers find themselves on the cusp of legitimacy. Some solid free agent moves set the stage for GM Jason Licht to address the long-term future of a few roster positions.

What exactly does the draft look like this year? Buzz surrounding this year’s talent is electric, with some saying it’s “the best defensive draft […] in 20 years” according to ESPN’s Dianne Russini.

The big ticket items this year include defensive backs, edge rushers and running backs. Each position is stacked with high-end talent at the top and solid value through the first three or four rounds.

There are also solid stocks of wide receivers, tight ends and linebackers. Top players aren’t quite as plentiful but the depth is.

For teams looking for a quarterback, interior defensive lineman or any kind of offensive lineman, good luck. Converse to the defensive player boon of this draft, the offensive line crop has been described by one NFL coach as the “worst in 15 years” according to NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah.

Based on some of the roster moves the Bucs made already, Jason Licht has the team well prepared for the draft. Signing DT Chris Baker and restructuring J.R. Sweezy’s contract provided Licht with the flexibility needed to exploit the draft’s strengths and avoiding its weaknesses.

The Bucs’ needs are where the draft is deepest. Safety is the weakest position on the team, and none of the Bucs safeties are signed past 2018. Doug Martin’s drug suspension and poor showing in 2016 made running back a very sudden need. The Bucs could use additional depth at wide receiver, tight end and edge rusher.

The Bucs own the following selections:

Pick #19 (Round 1, 19/32)

Pick #50 (Round 2, 18/32)

Pick #84 (Round 3, 20/43)

Pick #125 (Round 4, 19/38)

Pick #162 (Round 5, 18/41)

Pick #204 (Round 6, 20/35)

Pick #237 (Round 7, 19/35)

They sit right smack in the middle of each round. With just their allotted seven picks, the Bucs won’t have any additional draft capital unless they trade down.

Before the draft, I will break down some of the possible scenarios for the Bucs in the first few rounds, run through a few of my favorite sleeper picks and generally avoid doing yet another mock draft. Stay tuned!