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.

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!

State of the Union 2017 – Defensive Backs

There was no Bucs unit that experienced more of a contrast from 2015 to 2016 than their defensive backs. A few key additions and a scheme change worked wonders on a unit that was perpetually torched under Lovie Smith.

The highest profile defensive back addition also happened to be the most impactful. Cornerback Brent Grimes led the league with 28 pass breakups and continued his four-season streak with at least four interceptions. According to NFL.com’s Matt Harmon, Grimes allowed just 47.9 percent of his targets to be completed and a 62.6 opposing passer rating.

Grimes was the perfect addition to the Bucs defense. In addition to being the secondary’s best and most consistent player, he was a leader for the young, untested group, especially for rookie CB Vernon Hargreaves III. The Bucs tested the former first-round pick in fire, starting him immediately and not always to the best results.

Hargreaves was statistically unimpressive, recording just nine pass breakups and one interception. ESPN’s Mike Clay paints an unflattering picture of his first NFL season: he was targeted, (127) allowed more receptions (86) and surrendered more yardage (1271) than any other cornerback in 2016.

Contextually, these numbers aren’t that bad or that surprising. Rookie corners typically struggle to adjust to NFL passers early. Teams were bound to target Hargreaves with Grimes making life miserable for receivers on the other side of the field. He only became more confident down the stretch and should be better to start the 2017 season.

Depth at cornerback is questionable. Second-year CB Jude Adjei-Barimah saw significant action before his four-game PED suspension and trip to injured reserve. Given how he ended last season, there’s no guaranteed roster spot for Adjei-Barimah.

The Bucs already released CB Alterraun Verner, a high-priced free agent signing from 2014.While he was a victim of Lovie Smith’s archaic defensive schemes, Verner was not the playmaker he signed to be and certainly not worth the $6.5 million he would be paid this year.

The only other corner left on the roster is Javien Elliott. The rookie from Florida State played the last six games of the season in mostly a reserve role. He will have a leg up come training camp but little more.

The Bucs re-signed special teams standout Josh Robinson to a two-year deal, but he’s not likely to be a cornerback moving forward. He transitioned to safety in the final month of the 2016 season and is unlikely to switch back.

The state of the Bucs’ cornerback depth chart indicates GM Jason Licht isn’t done adding cornerbacks. Fortunately the draft is well stocked with defensive backs.

Hargreaves’ former Florida teammate Teez Tabor is a quick cover corner who could benefit from a reunion with the Bucs’ 2016 first-rounder. His deep speed, or lack thereof, is a concern but he tracks well and isn’t afraid to make a play on the ball.

Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie is another smooth athlete with superior coverage skills. He is raw as a tackler but he doesn’t shy away from contact. While the Bucs would have some work to do to make Awuzie a major contributor on defense, his upside is huge for a potential second-round pick.

There is an opportunity for the Bucs to kill two birds with one stone, drafting a player who could play not just corner, but also safety. Washington defensive back Budda Baker spent the last three years in a hybrid role, playing nickel corner and single high safety. His 4.45 speed and impeccable ball instincts would give the Bucs flexibility with scheming and masking – a hallmark of Mike Smith defenses.

The Bucs already primed their safety group for change with their offseason moves. They re-signed Chris Conte and signed former Dallas S JJ Wilcox to two-year deals, with all guaranteed cash coming in 2017. Breakout star Keith Tandy enters a contract year as the Bucs’ best safety in pass coverage.

Of the three veterans, Tandy is the most likely to thrive as a playmaker. The question remains whether he can handle a season’s worth of full-time work. Conte is among Tampa’s most athletic players but he’s also one of the least consistent. JJ Wilcox will fill the big-hitter vacancy left by Bradley McDougald. He’s a viable starter if not much of a game-changer.

It’s entirely possible none of the Bucs’ current safeties will be on the roster in 2018, but that’s the point. All the veterans are on “prove it” deals with a draft loaded with quality safeties around the corner. Motivation for everyone to perform is there.

Of the top safeties in the draft, Baker is the best one to likely still be available when the Bucs are up at the 19th pick. While, he doesn’t have the physical profile of some of his contemporaries, few match his experience and ball skills. Baker would be the safe pick at 19.

Further up the risk-reward scale at safety is Michigan S Jabrill Peppers and Connecticut S Obi Melifonwu. Both are near-unparalleled athletes. What they aren’t are sure-fire safeties.

Peppers made his bones as an electrifying kick-returner and gadget player on offense. However, his one career interception doesn’t paint the picture of an playmaking safety. Peppers is fast but not powerful so he won’t bring the big hits. At this point, he’s a project with a ridiculous ceiling – a luxury the Bucs can’t really afford.

Similarly, the 6″4′, 224-pound Melifonwu is a physical specimen (4.40 40 time, 44″ vertical, 141″ broad jump) and has good tackling technique. In a way, he’s not unlike Chris Conte – exceptional athlete, limited football player.

Melifonwu doesn’t exhibit much instinct on tape. With his speed, he should be quicker getting to the ball in run and pass support. While Melifonwu’s speed and fluidity will make him great in pursuit, his slow play diagnosis will leave him a step behind on every play.

Though he has the athleticism and technique to start in the NFL, Melifonwu is not a game-changer worth spending a first-round pick. If he happens to be there at the Bucs’ second-round pick however, he brings decent value.

State of the Union 2017 – Linebackers

What seemed promising at the end of the 2015 season came to fruition in 2016 – the Bucs linebacking corps is a force to behold. MLB Kwon Alexander and OLB Lavonte David lead one of the best linebacking units in the league. They should only improve the longer they work together.

You would be hard pressed to find a more productive linebacker duo than Alexander and David. They combined for 175 tackles, eight sacks, two interceptions, five fumbles, 10 pass defenses and 15 stuffs according to Sporting Charts.

Alexander continued his progression from an athletic rookie standout to a more consistent field general for the defense. In Mike Smith’s defense, the second-year standout bears significantly more responsibility than he did under Lovie Smith. The shift to more gap-oriented responsibilities from a Tampa-2 deep zone system seems to agree with Alexander.

That same shift took some of Lavonte David’s responsibility to be everywhere all at once. He had the fewest tackles of his career in 2016, but that’s by no means indicative of a downslide in effectiveness.

In fact, Mike Smith rectified one of Lovie’s missteps in scheming David: blitzes. Though he’s a smaller linebacker, David’s speed makes him a dangerous pass-rusher. His five sacks in 2016 is the most he’s had since 2013 when he collect seven sacks under Greg Schiano.

Following a league-wide trend, the Bucs utilized their third linebacker less than half the time. Veteran Daryl Smith only played 44.9 percent of the Bucs’ defensive snaps in 2016. While this is an increase from Danny Lansanah’s 34.1 percent of snaps in 2015, the Bucs frequently utilize a nickel formation that leaves Alexander and David the only linebackers on the field.

Smith isn’t under contract at the moment, but he could be re-signed at any point likely for another one-year deal. The Bucs also have 2015 sixth-round pick Devante Bond returning from injured reserve. He will no doubt compete for the starting strongside linebacker position this summer.

It’s become a yearly ritual for the Bucs to completely shuffle their linebacker depth. It’s anyone’s guess what the linebacker roster will look like by the end of training camp. What’s important is the list is topped by Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, as it should be for the foreseeable future.

The Filibuster: Week 7

Slow Starts

Say it once, say it a thousand times: the Bucs live and die with Jameis Winston. For yet another game, he started on the wrong foot. His first pass attempt should have been a completion to a wide-open Mike Evans, but for whatever reason, he was too spooked to pull the trigger and held the ball long enough for Ahmad Brooks and Arik Armstead to get the sack.

The second sack came when Winston leaves the pocket prematurely when DeForest Buckner stunted himself right into the ground with Donovan Smith on top of him. His protection was otherwise solid, but Winston scrambled into a open lane for Aaron Lynch.

The interception was an unholy concoction of a protection breakdown by Demar Dotson and a poor decision by Jameis Winston, who misses a wide open Cecil Shorts along the sideline.

By the second quarter, Winston was firing on all cylinders, but the Bucs can’t afford to wait that long. Winston’s emotional volatility cost the Bucs a possible touchdown and might be part of the reason he can’t settle in until several drives into the game.

The other factor is Dirk Koetter’s coaching. Some of his play-calling this year has been… puzzling. The all run call first drive? Persistent seven-step drops? Even Koetter doesn’t seem to find a groove until well into the game.

Defensive Evolution

The Bucs’ first defensive series hearkened back to a vintage Lovie Smith defense: no pass rush, miscues in the secondary and a very fast score by the Niners. Fortunately, by the end of the quarter, the defensive line settled in and began harassing Kaepernick relentlessly.

There’s definitely progress in the secondary – tighter coverage and fewer blown assignments. It helps that there’s more consistent pass rush. Jay Hayes is working his magic on Will Gholston, Gerald McCoy and apparently Noah Spence.

If you ever want to see a textbook corner turn, watch Noah Spence work Joe Staley on third down in the fourth quarter to force the Niners to kick the field goal. He’s on the verge of being unstoppable.

The one lingering concern is the missed tackles, especially by Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David. Kwon is ridiculously fast, almost to a fault. He overran sacks on Kaepernick several times, allowing him an open field to run.

Law and Order

Quite simply, the refs were terrible. The first quarter holding call on Donovan Smith was questionable at best. They missed a hold on Akeem Spence on Kaepernick’s touchdown pass and some obvious pass interference on Russell Shepard in the endzone. On the flipside, the refs missed a hold by Brandon Myers on the first play of the third quarter.

The NFL product is suffering in large part due to the uneven regulation of both on-field product. Bad calls are such a common occurrence in the NFL that it wouldn’t be out of the question for the league to consider making referees full-time employees to help improve game-day calls.

Jumbo Slice

One of the secrets to the Bucs’ success in the run game is their jumbo package and sixth offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus. The Bucs utilized the package ten times against the Niners. Excepting holding penalties on Donovan Smith and Kevin Pamphile, the package netted 96 rush yards (12 yard average) including Peyton Barber’s 44-yard touchdown run.

Yes, San Francisco’s defense can’t stop the run, but the jumbo package is a key driver to the success of the Bucs run game. While the base line (with Luke Stocker) is good on its own, this package should remain an integral piece of the offensive gameplan.