Jason Licht, Bruce Arians, and co. have done a fantastic job at making sure all the starters on the team (minus Antonio Brown for now) are not only returning, but are happily and fairly rewarded for their efforts. The first wave of free agency is over, however, do not expect the Bucs to be done.
The second wave of free agency will be as important as ever, as many more veterans are expected to be cut. Last year, the Bucs were happy to get players like Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy to bolster the backfield. This year, the goal will be to find as much as depth as possible.
The second wave might provide depth for this roster, but so will the draft. The Bucs have plenty of selections to find quality depth pieces on the roster that can not only contribute this year, but also take over for some veterans down the line. The Bucs have a laundry-list of veterans that may or may not return as some consist of 2018’s draft class and will be looking to hit it big with their second contract. Minus Vita Vea, of course, who will be receiving his fifth-year option, according to Jason Licht.
Positions of need for the draft, in my eyes, are as follows: No. 3 EDGE, iDL depth, OL depth, CB depth, S depth, ILB depth, RB depth, QB (only if the right one falls), and a WR to compete with Justin Watson for the last receiver spot on the roster.
Before you break out the pitch-forks, this is Version 1.0 of my mock in which all moves will be what I would do. Version 2.0 will be what I think Licht and co. will do. Enjoy!
Round 1, Pick No. 32: EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami Hurricanes
When formulating this pick, I started with the mindset of “Who will need to be replaced after 2021?”. To me it comes down to two players: Suh and/or JPP. Both had fantastic seasons last year, but both are long in the tooth and it is hard to tell which player will fall to Father Time sooner.
Jason Pierre-Paul just turned 32-years-old and has overcome significant injuries while being on the Bucs. First, his terrible car accident where he recovered from a fractured neck. Then he played last season on a gimpy knee and he constantly sat out practice just to play in games. He even had it operated on again this past offseason. I am not even saying replace JPP after next season; if he plays well and comes back for one final year, fantastic. But, counting this season, he has maybe two years left with the Bucs. Why not groom a high-ceiling player to replace him long-term?
Gregory Rousseau is an athletic freak. His only downside is he only has one year of tape. He lost his 2018 season early in the season due to injury and sat out in 2020 for COVID and draft preparation. Rousseau is a luxury pick for the Bucs at No. 32 and they are fortunate he if he is there at No. 32. Worst-case scenario is this season he gets his feet wet and learns how to be a professional from both Shaq and JPP. Then he can take on a full-time role in 2022 or 2023.
Barrett is already tied to the Bucs for the next four years (two of them guaranteed). Finding JPP’s replacement and having a 3-4 man rotation will be valuable for the newly adopted 17-game season so JPP and Barrett can keep their snap counts low in order to be as healthy as possible going into the postseason.
Round 2, Pick No. 64: Bucs Trade Up To Select IDL Levi Onwuzurike, Washington Huskies
The Bucs give up their 2021 second-round pick (64) and fourth-round pick (137) to Jacksonville for second-rounder (45) in order to trade up and grab Levi Onwuzurike.
This is the most ideal scenario the Bucs could walk themselves into, in my opinion. Two of the top-50 defensive lineman that can replace JPP and Suh in 2022? Sign me up. Last year many fans complained about trading a fourth-round pick to move up one spot in order to secure Tristan Wirfs. It was not a mistake then and trading up for Onwuzurike in this scenario wouldn’t be, either.
Onwuzurike profiles as a slightly less physical run-stuffer than Suh, but is more athletic (at least than what Suh is currently), and offers more pass-rush ability. The Bucs are essentially trading off a little more run-stuffing for more pass rush. That’s not a bad idea considering how often they rushed four last during the playoffs last year.
The biggest thing for Bucs fans to know is Onwuzurike has more room to grow physically and in his abilities. He is fine against the run now, but he will only get better. With a year or two to play limited snaps, gain confidence, and experience, Onwuzurike is a high-ceiling prospect who can still contribute to the Bucs championship aspirations in his rookie season and be a starter going forward.
Round 3, Pick No. 95: CB Benjamin St-Juste, Minnesota Golden Gophers
Bucs fans know that Jason Licht has a pipeline with Big Ten schools and Licht hit three homeruns with Tristin Wirfs, Antoine Winfield Jr., and Tyler Johnson in the 2020 class. Now, Licht is ready to strike gold again in 2021 with the addition of Benjamin St-Juste.
St-Juste checks off all the physical tools the Bucs are looking for: long, willing tackler, and excels in man/deep third coverage ability. Where St-Juste really profiles to the Bucs as well is he had a modest 40-yard dash time of 4.51 at his pro-day, but busted out a 3.96 short shuttle which is an elite time, especially for someone his size. St-Juste gives the Bucs flexibility to keep Sean Murphy-Bunting in the slot for the time being and if Carlton Davis III were to leave after this season (I expect Davis to be at least tagged next season at this point), then St-Juste could start next to Davis on the outside with SMB in the slot in 2022. Worst-case scenario is St-Juste can be a key depth piece in the secondary for this season as well as going forward. The Bucs will not be able to afford the trio of Davis, Dean, and SMB but keeping two of them with St-Juste as a running mate is a solid move going forward.
Round 5, Pick No. 176: OL Robert Jones, Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Bruce Arians and Jason Licht have a big saying, that generally I agree with: Do not rely on rookie linemen to contribute early. And while Tristan Wirfs is the exception to the rule, what the Bucs need going forward is that sixth- and seventh-man offensive lineman who can play the tackle and guard positions in a pinch. This upcoming season, the Bucs will be seeing Josh Wells return as well as Aaron Stinnie. Stinnie, if he is smart, will learn how to snap so he can make more money during the 2022 offseason whether that be with the Bucs or somewhere else.
Therein lies the need for Robert Jones. Jones would compete with Wells as the 3rd OT on the depth chart, but with lowered expectations. Jones is very raw, however, comes in around 6-foot-5, 330-pounds. He has the size and athleticism to play inside and out. This is a perfect wait-and-see spot for Jones’ development. The Bucs love small-school linemen and Jones oozes with upside. Jones started his career at the JUCO level, where he excelled before landing at Middle-Tennessee. It’s tough to see Cappa, Wells, and Stinnie in Tampa long-term. Therefore, the Bucs need to shore up their line depth going forward.
Round 6, Pick No. 217: S Lamont Wade, Penn State Nittany Lions
Wade fits the size, speed, and athletic mold of Jordan Whitehead. Unfortunately, I think he walks if another team offers him a competitive contract in 2022. Wade is not as dynamic as Whitehead was coming out of college, but he offers a similar skillset that would be great to have for a special teams and rotational safety role going forward. If Whitehead were to leave, Mike Edwards would be the obvious fill in, however, they need more bodies in the safety room going forward both for depth and development.
Round 7, Pick No. 251: iDL Khyiris Tonga, BYU Cougars
Hey Bucs fans, do you want a big, ginormous body to hold up in the run game? Sure, okay cool! Well, when you think of Tonga, think of Stevie T, Steve McLendon, and co. I would love for McLendon to come back, but Tonga can be an effective space-eater in the effect of a Vita Vea injury and in goal-line situations.
Round 7, Pick No. 259: (Mr. Irrelevant) LB K.J. Britt, Auburn Tigers
The Bucs currently have a special teamer who was a former Mr. Irrelevant… can you guess who that is? Can you? ……………………. It’s Ryan Succop. Now with KJ Britt, you have a LB who can come in, compete with the Jack Cichy’s of the world and carve out a role on special teams. He did a great job on the coverage teams on Auburn, and that’s the role he may be able to squeeze a starting job at in the NFL. If not, oh well, you can find many more LB’s as UDFA’s and FA’s in the NFL.
But wait, no running back? No wide receiver? No quarterback of the future?
No. No. And no.
But we checked off every other need this team has. With running back, the Bucs will strike gold like they did last year with LeSean McCoy and Fournette. The Bucs will find someone, find them cheap, and be okay going forward this season. If they want to draft a running back in the first round, there should be a couple contenders next year. I just don’t see how a RB at No. 32 would be able to get snaps with Lenny, RoJo, and Vaughn all returning.
At receiver, I believe the Bucs will bring back Antonio Brown or bring in an outside vet that will not break the bank. Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson need more snaps no matter who comes in whether that be AB, Fitzgerald, or another outside free agent.
Lastly: quarterback. There are some great guys at the top, and one or two middle-round guys I like, but the quarterback landscape is changing in the NFL. We have NO CLUE what veteran QB will be available 2-3 years from now. Enjoy Brady and get used to a combination of Gabbert, Griffin, and Stanton as his backups. If Brady gets injured, the Bucs would be screwed, anyway. And unless a quarterback drops to No. 32 this year, I just don’t see the Bucs drafting one. Next season? Let’s deal with it when we get there.
So what did you think? Would you like the Bucs to stay at No. 32, move up, or move down? What player(s) do you want to see the Bucs draft? Let us know via the comment section below!
If you missed v1.0, be sure to check it out here.