As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get ready for the draft, a common theme keeps populating across all forums: The Bucs don’t have any holes to fill. If that’s the case, then how much can the Bucs’ first-round draft pick actually improve the roster?
Numbers-wise, this is true. All 22 starters are returning, which has created the idea that all the incumbents are safe. Even more so, there are some that believe all 22 starters can’t be upgraded via the draft.
This is far from the truth.
It’s hard to fathom the idea that a Super Bowl-winning roster can’t be upgraded. Players can always be replaced, unfortunately. With an early selection in the draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may find a player that outperforms a returning veteran.
First-round draft picks have an expectation that accompanies their draft number: These players are projected to crack the starting lineup. With all the players returning for the Buccaneers, this will be hard to do, but is not out of the realm of possibility.
Here are a few players and positions the Buccaneers can upgrade from their returning starters.
DL William Gholston
Gholston has been a solid player through his eight years in Tampa. His contributions last season certainly played a role on a good defense. He helped in the defeat of the Packers, Saints, and Chiefs in the playoffs. All prolific offenses on the Buccaneers run to the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, Gholston is the weakest link amongst the starters on a stout defensive line. Starting 11 of 16 games played, he racked up 3.0 sacks, 24 solo tackles, five tackles for loss, and two pass deflections. He added two more tackles during the postseason. These stats are good, but can be improved. A first-round pick may find themselves in a position to start from the onset of the season.
In the first round, the Buccaneers could draft an eventual replacement for Ndamukong Suh by selecting Christian Barmore. If Barmore falls to the Buccaneers at 32 or Jason Licht feels compelled to trade up for him, he will immediately be on the radar to take over for Gholston. With formidable size and strength, Barmore is slightly unpolished. But with good coaching, he will quickly add to his abilities and become a force on the line. This could leave Gholston as the odd man out depending on how quickly Barmore picks things up.
Later round prospects that could push to start over Gholston are Levi Onwuzurike of Washington in the second round and Jay Tufele of USC in the third or fourth round.
The running back group is crowded with good players. Leonard Fournette returns, Ronald Jones II is on the last season of his rookie contract, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn has been bumped farther down the roster by the signing of Giovani Bernard. With this loaded stable of runners it’s unlikely the Bucs select a running back with the first-round draft pick.
Or is it?
With the ability to choose best player available, the Buccaneers could very well select a running back. The option could eventually replace Jones, Fournette, and/or Bernard if neither return in 2022. Fournette could return. He’s still young and talented. But if the Buccaneers may prep for his departure if they think he’ll be too expensive.
Travis Etienne is the most polished running back in the draft. He possess scheme versatility, ability to attack the edges and through the middle, and has grown into a strong pass-catching back. His ceiling is that of an elite running back. If available at 32, the Buccaneers can pounce if they feel persuaded to. His addition to the team would instantaneously create a competition at running back.
LT Donovan Smith
Smith arguably had his best season yet. He’s done better each year and showed his worth in the 2020 season. Per Pro Football Focus, Smith’s grade of 72.8 registered him as the 35th-best tackle out of 79 tackles. This is the best score of his career, according to PFF. A score that has increased each season since being drafted.
Even with these grades, he allowed six sacks (tied for sixth-most) and committed 11 penalties. If a strong candidate at tackle is available at 32 or if Licht moves up and grabs a tackle, then Smith is in danger. Yes, Smith signed a contract extension, but the Bucs can still save close to $8 million if they part ways with the seventh-year tackle after 2021. Although using a first-round draft pick on a tackle is highly unlikely at this point, having an additional one for the purposes of injury protection is.
Third Wide Receiver
Even though the third receiver role isn’t considered a starting position, it remains a key chess piece for the offense. Antonio Brown’s future with the Buccaneers is uncertain and Chris Godwin is on a franchise tag. Therefore, it remains unclear what the team will look like at the position post-2021. If the Bucs take a receiver with their first-round pick, it will ensure the offense remains potent in the future.
The option of drafting a receiver is most definitely on the table.
Scotty Miller is a great option to stretch the field and Tyler Johnson could step up and become a true threat. But adding another potential No. 1 wide receiver is intriguing. Much like with what Brown brings to the offense, a player in the draft could very well be a force multiplier. They also become an insurance policy for injury. If the first round is used to acquire such talent then the two aforementioned wide outs on the roster stand to lose out on snaps….again.
Kadarius Toney from Florida stands out as a player who can immediately line up in the slot and provide an impact, despite outside limitations.
No player should be “safe”. Whom ever is drafted in the first round will make sure the incumbent stays on their game.
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