The 2016 NFL season was a roller coaster ride of tremendous ups and downs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After failing to make the final NFC playoff spot by percentage points involving a tie-breaker with the Detroit Lions, the Bucs plan to attack the 2017 NFL Draft with true grit and determination in order to solidify key positions of need. Tampa Bay has the 19th overall pick in this year’s draft. Their roster is already filled with young, talented players such as wide receiver Mike Evans. However, there are a few spots on the depth chart that need addressed more than others. These are their top three needs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017 NFL Draft: Top 3 Needs
Doug Martin has been a staple on the offensive side of the ball for quite a few years in Tampa. Consequently, after signing a lofty contract (average of $7,000,000 through the 2020 NFL season), Martin is now 28 years old. Plus, he was suspended four games for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy before week 17 last season. After admitting himself into a treatment facility and missing the Buccaneers’ final game, Martin is set to continue his suspension for the first three games of 2017. The big catch here, is the fact that the Buccaneers were wise enough to include a clause in Martin’s contract that gives them the right to void his $7,000,000 guarantee for the season following a suspension. In other words, the Bucs don’t have to pay Martin for this year, which has huge ramifications on their overall salary cap strategy.
Other than signing a veteran free agent running back, like Jameis Winston‘s off-season workout buddy Adrian Peterson, the team must look for an immediate replacement through the NFL Draft. The most enticing option would be Winston’s former teammate at Florida State, Dalvin Cook. Subsequently, there is no guarantee that Cook will fall to pick 19 and it’s highly unlikely that Tampa Bay would trade up to get him. Nonetheless, with the Dallas Cowboys selecting Pro Bowler Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in last year’s draft has changed the way teams view the approach of drafting a running back in the first round. It used to be considered a big no-no with how much teams use their running backs and how often the position itself exposes players to injury (more so than other positions). If Cook is still on the board at pick 19 Buccaneers fans would be shocked if the team didn’t select him. It’s a no-brainer.
This off-season Tampa Bay re-signed Chris Conte to a two-year deal worth $5 million. And then they went out and signed former Dallas safety J.J. Wilcox. Neither of these players are necessarily “long term” solutions at the position; but they could provide just enough production to buy the team time to find a key contributor in the defensive backfield.
With the high likelihood that Dalvin Cook is gone by pick 19, there is an alternate route in which the Buccaneers select a safety instead. Jabrill Peppers from Michigan makes sense here. Some would consider it a reach, however. Peppers was a legitimate Heisman candidate (finishing fifth in votes with 208 last season). The only real concern is where to line him up every week. It all depends on how well he can hold his own when he’s asked to fill the box and stop the run. If he can pass that test consistently then he will have a long, successful NFL career. Plus, he can impact the game on special teams as an astute return man.
If the Buccaneers select a different position in round one, Josh Jones is a name to keep in mind for round two (pick 50 overall). The N.C. State standout can do everything well, and at 6’1″ and 230 pounds he fits the mold of a “do it all” safety. Additionally, his 4.41 40-yard dash time at the Combine raised eyebrows. So the Buccaneers would love to see him there on the board at pick 50.
Last year, the Bucs selected Vernon Hargreaves in the first round. And so far, that seems to look like a great pick. But on the other side of the field there is 33-year-old Brent Grimes (he turns 34 in July). So, without a doubt, if the value is correct on the team’s big board, look for them to pick a cornerback to solidify their depth at pick 19.
This is widely considered to be a deep draft for cornerbacks, so the Bucs may feel comfortable picking one later in the draft. But if they go corner in the first round it would most likely be a player like Gareon Conley from Ohio State. If he is already gone they could look into players like Chidobe Awuzie (Colorado) or even Kevin King (Washington). All three of these guys can make plays and cover well down the field. However, given the aforementioned depth in this draft, it would make sense to wait until a player has fallen into the later rounds and pounce on the value on the board at that point.
In conclusion, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could use some help on both sides of the football, and the draft itself usually dictates which direction a team may go on any given pick. Moreover, the Buccaneers seem to be on the cusp of developing a solid young team with potential to go deep into the playoffs for several years to come. They just need to trust their scouts who have seen all these players on film and some up close and personal. The bottom line is, the Tampa Bay front office and coaching staff has more pressure on them now than ever. They simply cannot afford to make a wrong move in this draft and expect the team’s maturity and overall growth to continue on into future seasons.