The Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter the 2020 NFL Draft with the 14th overall pick. Most of the projections show the Bucs selecting an offensive lineman to protect their new asset, quarterback Tom Brady. Bulking the offensive line may be the safest bet in the first round, but enhancing their group of ball carriers may swiftly impact their run at a title.
This year’s NFL Draft features top running backs D’Andre Swift out of Georgia, Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin, J.K. Dobbins of Ohio State, Clyde Edwards-Helaire of LSU, and Cam Akers of Florida State. Each of these runners had monster careers at their respective schools, but one, in particular, is a first-round talent the Bucs should not miss.
Swift is exactly that, and at 5’8 212lbs, he packs a heavy punch. Swift leaves the Georgia Bulldogs boasting back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons, and a career 6.56 yards per carry average. In 2019, Swift led all Bulldog rushers with 1,218 yards and seven touchdowns on 196 carries. He also accounted for 24 catches, 216 yards, and one touchdown through the air. These stats helped boost Georgia to a 12-2 overall record, and a final AP ranking of fourth in the country.
In his three-year career at Georgia, Swift ran for 2,558 yards and 20 touchdowns. Swift runs the ball better than most, but his receiving skills are a facet of his game that increases his value. The sticky handed backdropped only three passes in his collegiate career. With 73 catches, 666 yards, and five touchdowns as a Bulldog, it’s clear his receiving skills would help the Bucs backfield immediately. In 2019, the Bucs ranked 17th in receptions by running backs.
In his freshman year at Georgia, Swift played behind current NFL All-Pro running back, Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns. Chubb left Georgia second on the all-time leading rushers list, only behind Hall of Fame running back Herschel Walker. Swift is seventh on the list behind Lars Tate, Garrison Hearst, Todd Gurley, Sony Michel, Chubb, and Walker.
Of this list, three are current NFL starters, two of which have been selected as an All-Pro. Georgia’s running backs have a long history of success in the NFL, but more importantly, so do running backs who were selected in the first round of the draft.
First-Round Running Back Selections Past Five Years
In the last five years, nine running backs have been selected in the first round:
2015 – Todd Gurley (10th overall), Melvin Gordon (15th overall)
2016 – Ezekiel Elliot (4th overall)
2017 – Leonard Fournette (4th overall), Christian McCaffrey (8th overall)
2018 – Saquon Barkley (2nd overall), Rashaad Penny (27th overall), Sony Michel (31st overall)
2019 – Josh Jacobs (24th overall)
Of these nine, seven finished as a top-20 rusher in 2019, four finished as a top-10 rusher in 2019, four came out of the SEC, and two came out of Georgia. The last Buccaneer to finish a season as a top 15 rusher was Doug Martin (2012, 2015), and Cadillac Williams (2005), both of which were selected in the first round.
What Swift Can Bring to Tampa
After losing Peyton Barber to the Washington Redskins through free agency, the Bucs running back room currently consists of Ronald Jones II, T.J. Logan, and Dare Ogunbowale. Jones is slotted to lead the Buccaneer backfield, however, he was unable to gain the trust of head coach Bruce Arians last season due to his troubles with pass protection. Not only would Swift give an extra burst to the ground game, but his pass blocking skills bode well for what Arians is looking for in his scheme.
With Brady expected to carry a heavy aerial attack, he’ll need a balanced running game to lean on. The 43-year-old Brady is currently inked to play two years as a quarterback for the Bucs, so it’s clear the Bucs are in “win now” mode. If Tampa Bay expects to be a Super Bowl contender in that timeframe, the backfield will need to be bolstered. A one-two combo of Swift and Jones II fills that need for the Bucs right now. Not to mention, it allows them to do so cost-efficiently on two rookie contracts.
Should the Bucs Wait on a Running Back?
Many people believe the Bucs should wait to find talent at the running back position until the second or third round. But when your six-time Super Bowl champion starting quarterback is only projected to be under center for two seasons, why wouldn’t you snag the top running back in the draft when you could?
The shelf life for NFL running backs is among the shortest in the league. Wouldn’t you want to pair a first-round running back in their prime with an aerial attack led by Tom Brady, Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin? And again, on a rookie contract that allows the team to use its remaining cap room to address other position needs.
The Bucs haven’t drafted an offensive lineman in the first round since 2006 (Davin Joeseph, 23rd overall). In 2019, the Bucs found themselves in the bottom third of the league in rushing and sacks allowed. Between an offensive lineman and D’Andre Swift in the first round, who makes more of an impact on the Buccaneers?