The Scouting Combine has brought a plethora of information, for better or worse. Drill performances will pump up some prospects’ stock while some will suffer due to disappointing performances. With just Pro Days left to change impressions, many team scouting departments have likely solidified their rankings for the upcoming NFL Draft, which starts April 28.
Whether the Bucs are one of those teams is impossible to know, but the Tampa Bay writing team at Pro Football Spot has some new thoughts to share on just what the Bucs might do come draft time.
This is the second of three aggregated mock drafts, featuring Buccaneers Team Manager Michael Kiwak and staff writers Gabe Burns and David Harrison.
MK: DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon
The more I watch DeForest Buckner, the more I like.
His impressive frame and athleticism aren’t just his only qualities, as he has clearly improved from year to year in the technical aspects of the game. He shows explosion and good hand use, and he has just scratched the surface of what he can become as a pass rusher.
Quite frankly, give me Buckner in a 4-3 or 3-4, the kid can straight up play. If the Bucs are planning on using multiple looks, as head coach Dirk Koetter has implied, that just strengthens the case for having a scheme-versatile player.
Previous Selection: Jalen Ramsey, CB/S, Florida State
GB: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
This pick is shaping up to be quite the mystery.
Operating on the assumption that Joey Bosa, Laremy Tunsil, Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack are off the board, no one has separated himself from the cluster of potential Bucs options. Ideally the team trades down a few slots and makes its choice. For now, Tampa Bay will have to pick at nine.
Spence is considered a favorite. But it is hard to determine how Tampa Bay feels about his character without inside knowledge of the situation.
There are also concerns about Spence’s ability to be a three-down defensive end. Clemson’s Shaq Lawson is a good player, but a lack of explosion and upside makes him less appealing in the top 10. Hargreaves’ play speaks larger volumes than his physical build.
He will step in Day 1 at boundary or nickel and provide the secondary with a playmaker it desperately needs.
Previous Selection: Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
DH: Joey Bosa, DL, Ohio State
With Noah Spence and Joey Bosa each performing less than expected at the combine, the gap between the two defensive ends actually got a little closer.
Bosa is still the top defensive line talent in the entire draft class, but with the experience the Jaguars’ staff has with Spence, it’s completely possible they draft the Eastern Kentucky prospect over Bosa.
This could leave Bosa still on the board as one of the more surprising drops in the 2016 NFL Draft, and leave him right in the laps of the Buccaneers.
Previous Selection: Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
MK: Kendall Fuller, CB/S, Virginia Tech
Fuller did not impress on first view, as his lack of discipline was, and still is, unnerving.
That being said, more views have showed the good aspects of his game. Fuller has proficient ball skills, smooth mechanics and no shortage of confidence. While he’s definitely not for everyone, systems that utilize zone and off-man coverages would likely take him in with open arms.
Some might see him as a safety rather than corner, but that would work for the Bucs because they could use help at both.
Previous Selection: Vonn Bell, CB/S, Ohio State
GB: Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech
The Bucs double up on Vernons.
Vernon Butler is a behemoth in the trenches. Having spent its first rounder on a cornerback, Tampa Bay needs to address the frontline at some point on Day 2. While the primary need is speed off the edge, the Bucs’ focus should be on adding talent to the line.
Putting Butler next to McCoy will assemble a deadly defensive tackle duo similar to the one that defensive coordinator Mike Smith had in Jacksonville with Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.
Previous Selection: William Jackson, CB, Houston
DH: William Jackson, CB, Houston
The Cougars’ defensive back was looking like a late-second or early third round pick this year, but after an impressive combine performance his stock is flying.
Some are even reporting he may go late in the first round. The only thing standing between Jackson and a first round pick are the numerous defensive prospects ranked ahead of him.
While the circumstances may not benefit him, they certainly benefit the Bucs, who stand to grab one of the top three corners in the class to bolster a secondary that was inconsistent at best.
Previous Selection: Kendall Fuller, CB/S, Virginia Tech
MK: C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame
In the scenario that All-Pro running back Doug Martin does leave the bay, the team is going to need a new running back to pair with third-down and passing-game specialist Charles Sims.
Prosise is an intriguing running back prospect that logged only one year at the position (he was primarily a receiver prior to last year). He’s got good size at 6-feet, 220 pounds, and he exhibits good field vision with the patience to find holes in the defense.
His receiving abilities also potentially give the Bucs another dangerous weapon out of the backfield.
Previous Selection: Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers
GB: Jeremy Cash, S, Duke
In our first group mock, Tampa Bay addressed the safety position with Hargreaves’ teammate, Keanu Neal. Neal’s stock now appears to have him destined for Round 2 or better, which is probably a bit too rich for the Bucs.
Instead, the team takes Jeremy Cash and inserts him at strong safety. Cash is by no means a coverage specialist, but his versatility and ability to make plays in the run game gives him substantial value. Smith’s hybrid defensive scheme will allow Cash to play linebacker situationally as well.
Tampa Bay needs help at both safety spots. Cash is a nice gadget piece for the rebuilding of the defense.
Previous Selection: Keanu Neal, S, Florida
DH: Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame
The Buccaneers’ defensive line needs the most help, and the help needs to come in the form of depth.
Last season, the team found a surprise starter in the fourth round in the form of linebacker Kwon Alexander. This year, it could find one in the third.
Notre Dame’s Sheldon Day looks like a perfect fit to play next to All-Pro Gerald McCoy, and the lessons Day could learn from the veteran, along with fellow defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, would be invaluable.
Adding him to a line featuring Bosa and Jacquies Smith, who will return from injury looking to regain his momentum after a disappointing 2015, could turn the defensive line into one of the best in the NFL down the road.
Previous Selection: Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
MK: Robert Aguayo, K, Florida State
I’m standing by my previous pick.
Unless a team is absolutely desperate for a kicker, Aguayo should last to Day 3 of the draft, which is his appropriate value. The Bucs could really use a reliable one after a shaky 2015 featured a revolving door of Patrick Murray (who’s coming off injury), Kyle Brindza and Connor Barth.
Aguayo proved to be quite reliable at Florida State and he could scratch one worry off Tampa’s longish list.
Previous Selection: Same
GB: Harlan Miller, CB, Southeastern Louisiana
Defensive line is a more pressing need than cornerback, but the idea of Miller in the fourth is too intriguing to pass up.
Miller had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, but his combine was underwhelming. His 4.69 40 time was slower than expected, though his film supports the belief that he is more athletic than he tested. His thin frame and lower competition level are the two central criticisms of Miller that may knock him down to this point.
Despite those knocks, Miller is a feisty, emotional player. He covers ground quickly and will be an asset against the run. His physicality will allow him to fight the league’s bigger receivers. In this case, the team attacks the position twice in the 2016 draft hoping that Hargreaves and Miller will be their duo of the present and future.
Previous Selection: Jaydon Mickens, WR, Washington
DH: Robert Aguayo, K, Florida State
Since Matt Bryant left Tampa, the Falcons have had a consistent kicking game and the Buccaneers have had consistent disappointment.
No season was as bad as 2015, though, and the Buccaneers need to take serious action. In many games last season, the team could have kept games closer and kept itself in contention had it been able to make a field goal or two.
The NFL is not a league where champions rely on blowouts. The ability to grind out close wins is crucial, and the NCAA’s most accurate kicker the past few seasons can help the Buccaneers become one of those teams.
Previous Selection: Same
MK: Rees Odhiambo, OL, Boise State
Tampa Bay’s offensive line, while improved since 2014, is still a project that the Bucs should address at some point in the draft.
Primarily, the team should continue to look for depth players in order to mitigate the impact of potential injuries. Odhiambo is an interesting player who came over from his native Kenya and played well as a starting tackle for the Broncos the past three years.
He’s been injury prone and has developing to do, but he exhibits plus qualities. He’ll remind some Bucs fans of Kevin Pamphile – a swing tackle/guard who is a bit of a project.
Previous Selection: Darius Latham, DT, Indiana
GB: Matt Judon, DE, Grand Valley State
General manager Jason Licht loves small school players, and one that stands out is Matt Judon.
Judon seems limited to being just a pass rusher for now, but he plays that part quite well. His 2015 featured 20 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.
Obviously it was against inferior competition, but it is easy to see that Judon, while raw, was a tier above his peers. His bend and quickness off the snap will create plenty of Day 3 interest league-wide.
In Tampa, he can be worked in as a third-down weapon as new defensive line coach Jay Hayes, who put together a top-notch line in Cincinnati, attempts to unlock his oozing potential.
Previous Selection: James Cowser, DE, Southern Utah
DH: Tyvis Powell, S, Ohio State
The Buckeyes have many top level talents in this year’s draft class, and Powell may be about the only one not to go in the top half of the draft.
However, this doesn’t mean Powell isn’t a capable talent, as the junior free safety has plenty of talent to offer to a team. He is an athletic player who brings a high level of energy to the field.
After grabbing the game-clinching interception against Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, Powell was named the MVP of Ohio State’s National Championship win against Oregon.
His 2015 was another solid season, and there is great potential for a team like the Buccaneers to capitalize on. He may not immediately start over the likes of Bradley McDougald or Chris Conte, but eventually he could turn in to a long-time impact player for Tampa Bay.
Previous Selection: Jayron Kearse, S, Clemson
MK: Byron Marshall, WR/RB/KR, Oregon
The Buccaneers have been searching for a long-term dynamic playmaking presence on special teams for what seems like the franchise’s entirety.
Last year’s attempt, Kaelin Clay, failed miserably, but a team will miss 100 percent of the shots it doesn’t take. That’s why it needs to keep trying, and Marshall might just be worth that shot.
During his time at Oregon, Marshall was a dynamic presence who made plays in a variety of ways. He suffered a serious ankle injury last season that will need to be signed off on by team doctors, but otherwise he’s a plus athlete with a good build despite his short stature.
Drafting him gives Koetter a possible Swiss Army knife to utilize on offense while providing a full-time returner.
Previous Selection: Kyle Friend, G, Temple
GB: Jaydon Mickens, WR, Washington
This pick is a holdover from previous mock drafts, and it still makes just as much sense.
After not going to the combine, Jaydon Mickens will continue to fly under the radar despite an impressive performance in the NFLPA Bowl. Mickens will likely become a Day 3 pick, but that is good for Tampa Bay.
Mickens’ good speed and explosion fit what the franchise is looking for in a receiver. He will compete with Kenny Bell for kick return duties early. The additions of Mickens and Bell could give the Bucs that dynamic punch underneath.
Previous Selection: Alex Lewis, T, Nebraska
DH: Anthony Zettel, DL, Penn State
How important is it the Buccaneers improve their defensive line play? Important enough to spend three picks in one draft on it.
Anthony Zettel played all over the defensive line for Penn State, and he brings a versatility the Buccaneers need to capitalize on. There are question marks at every position but one on their line entering the free-agent period, and unless they answer some of those, a player who can help in multiple spots is incredibly valuable.
Zettel showed a good burst and quick first step throughout his career, and confirmed those traits at the combine. If Zettel makes it to the sixth round, the Buccaneers would be wise to spend their first of two picks on the Nittany Lions’ defensive grinder.
Previous Selection: Same
Sixth Round (From Washington)
MK: Derek Watt, FB, Wisconsin
This is another pick I’m standing by. The team could use an upgrade at fullback if Koetter maintains interest in regularly using one, and Watt is likely the best available this year.
He’s not a devastating lead blocker, but he more than holds his own. He’s also a good receiver, a strong short-yardage runner and a capable special teamer. If he exhibits a similar work ethic and mentality to his brother, J.J., then there’s no doubt he would be a worthwhile draft pick.
Previous Selection: Same
GB: Ka’imi Fairbairn, K, UCLA
The Buccaneers finally end the game of musical chairs at kicker by investing their final pick in Ka’imi Fairbairn.
Arguably the best kicker in the nation, one of Fairbairn’s most impressive qualities was his prowess for touchbacks (72.6 percent). He hit 20 of 24 field goal attempts last season in route to winning the Lou Groza Award and becoming the top scorer in PAC-12 history. Fairbairn hit a career-long 60 yarder against Cal in 2015.
Fairbairn stabilizes the position for the Bucs the moment he is drafted.
That is worth a late-round choice.
Previous Selection: Jake Ganus, LB, Georgia
DH: Derek Watt, FB, Wisconsin
The NFL is a passing league, but the Buccaneers leaned on the run heavily in 2015 and figure to do so again in 2016.
Watt was the lead blocker for running backs Melvin Gordon and James White, who both enjoyed great success. He has also shown some pass receiving skills in his career, and he could become a sleeper in the Buccaneers’ passing game.
With Javorskie Lane aiming for an October return – if at all – the Buccaneers need to bring in a hard-nosed player to fill the void. Watt has an NFL name, but he also has a prime NFL role-model in older brother J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans.
If he mirrors the same work ethic, then the Bucs could build the best backfield duo they’ve seen since Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott; even if they only keep Charles Sims.
Previous Selection: Parker Ehinger, G, Cincinnati