The NFL Draft is one of the most exciting offseason events for teams and their fans, partly because it is so unpredictable. Consensus top prospects are graded and analysed to the point where it feels like overkill at times, yet each year there are prospects that fall to the end of the first round or to day two that leave everyone scratching their heads as to why.
The Buccaneers have the last pick in the first round and virtually no holes in their roster, a perfect situation going into any draft. Positions like defensive line, running back, edge rusher, and offensive line have been mocked to the Bucs for depth purposes, though Jason Licht and company should select any player they feel has the most value. The added benefit of not needing a first round pick to start day one opens up possibilities for drafting players who are talented but have previous issues or injury concerns.
Here are some first round prospects that could fall in round one of the draft that the Buccaneers should target.
Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
The consensus for Rashod Bateman appears to be all over the place with national draft analysts. Some have him in the tier 1 wide receiver group with Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith while others expect him to go after some of the smaller slot-type receivers in the draft. His varied draft stock is likely due to his 2020 tape not being as impressive as 2019. Bateman initially opted out of the 2020 season after testing positive for Covid, he then decided to play but was not the same explosive weapon everyone was raving about the year prior.
The Buccaneers should absolutely consider a player like Bateman if he is available at pick 32. He has shown the ability to play inside and outside during his college career and may have the best pure route running of any receiver in the class. Despite a loaded wide receiver room in Tampa Bay, Bateman has the talent and versatility to provide immediate impact in 2021.
Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech -or- Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
I went with two cornerbacks here because the health status of Caleb Farley could determine which of these players might be available in the first round for the Buccaneers. Farley has been falling down draft boards after an offseason back surgery called a microdiscectomy. This is considered a minor outpatient procedure, but this is not Farley’s first back procedure and leaves questions of future durability. It has been reported that Farley’s injury was cleared during pre-draft medical evaluations, which makes his draft position all the more intriguing. Are teams willing to spend their top pick on a player they are not sure can be on the field consistently during the 2021 season and beyond?
If the Buccaneers feel comfortable with Farley’s injury history, he would be an absolute steal at the end of the first round. If you are creating a Todd Bowles cornerback in a lab, it looks a lot like Caleb Farley. He has great length at 6’2”, ridiculous burst, and reportedly ran the 40 yard dash in the 4.2’s at Virginia Tech. There is also the added advantage of not needing to rush Farley onto the field while he heals up.
Greg Newsome II, on the other hand, is perfectly healthy and has seen his stock rise from a day two pick as Farley’s stock has fallen. If Farley ends up as a top three cornerback in the first round of the draft, that could lead to Newsome II being on the board at 32. The 6’1” prospect is definitely an outside corner in the NFL, but has the versatility to play man and zone concepts at a high level. Either of these cornerbacks would be a home run for Tampa Bay in the first round.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
The offensive line class in 2021 is both talented at the top and deep. After the top two consensus offensive tackle prospects, Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater, there are mixed opinions of who analysts think should be taken. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah recently reported that NFL team’s offensive line rankings are all over the map.
Alijah Vera-Tucker brings even more confusion to the second tier of offensive lineman because of his positional ambiguity. Kicking out to tackle for the Trojans in 2020 was a success for Vera-Tucker, but his size and arm length project him to possibly being a guard in the NFL. There are many tackle-needy teams in the first round of the draft, but the interior offensive line depth on day two may have Vera-Tucker falling right into the Buccaneer’s lap. Positional ambiguity would actually be a positive for Vera-Tucker on a Buccaneer team that needs depth across all five positions.
Jaelen Phillips, EDGE, Miami
Jaelen Phillips is the most polished edge rusher in this year’s draft, but there are serious questions about his concussion history that forced him to temporarily retire from football. That retirement also led to questions about his love for the game, though he came back to football for Miami looking like a dominant player who had never left.
The pre-draft interview process is something we do not have insight into in most cases, but the Buccaneers will certainly do their due diligence on Phillips. The injury history could scare off other teams who want an edge rusher in the first round considering the number of other options to select at the position. That scenario would leave the Buccaneers with a top-10 talent at pick 32 and the rotational pass rusher they need behind starters Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul.
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