The last few rounds are always tough to project, but that may not be the case for the Bucs, as they were able to find a lot of upside in their picks on Day 3 of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Color me impressed. Well done, Jason Licht.
I believe that the most important thing to find on Day 3 of the NFL Draft is speed and pure, physical ability that can be harnessed. There’s little point in taking a productive college player who will likely be overmatched physically at the next level. Fortunately, the Bucs found a number of players who should stick as special teams contributors while they hone their skills in their respective positional groups.
Jaelon Darden, WR, North Texas; 4th round (129 overall)
First, I was the lead cheerleader of the Jaelon Darden fan club coming into the draft. I had him to the Bucs in the fifth round of my first-and-final mock draft this past week. The Bucs loved him enough to move up to snare him in the 4th round at pick No. 129. As far as upside and potential reward vs. risk, he has everything you want from a late round pick. He ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at his Pro Day and showed some wiggle with a 6.66 second 3-cone drill and 3.98 second short shuttle. Not to mention his real-time moves on a football field. Just check out this 81-yard punt return TD, if you haven’t seen it by now (you likely have). The guy has absolute moves with the football in his hands. That’s just pure, uncoachable ability.
At 5-foot-8, 174-pounds, he fits the mold of a slot receiver and will provide a spark behind incumbent Chris Godwin. Godwin, as we know, is working on the franchise tag. Obviously both sides want to work out a long-term deal, but – looking long term – having a burner behind him as a fallback option isn’t a bad thing. We’ll see how much opportunity Darden gets on offense as the year moves forward, but for now, pencil him in as a very likely (and potentially impactful) special teams contributor.
The Bucs should be very pleased with the Darden pick, because he easily has the most upside out of all the Day 3 picks.
K.J. Britt, LB Auburn; 5th round (176 overall)
The Bucs plucked K.J. Britt off the board in the 5th round at pick 176 overall. He was another savvy selection for a team looking to build linebacker depth. The Auburn middle linebacker missed some time last year with a thumb injury, but he’s shown an incredible physicality that you want in an inside linebacker. The Bucs liked what they saw at the Senior Bowl, where Britt earned the best linebacker of the game by his peers. In 2019, he racked up 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks while manning the middle of the Auburn defense.
It gives Todd Bowles another capable option next to Kevin Minter on the depth chart. Again, I like rolling the dice on a linebacker who plays like his hair is on fire. One who handles the primary function of his job very well – being aggressive and stopping the run. And yeah, Auburn defenders have done pretty well with the Bucs in recent years (Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean).
Chris Wilcox, CB, BYU; 7th round (251 overall)
With their first pick in the 7th round at pick 251 overall, the Bucs next landed BYU CB Chris Wilcox. After reading up on the guy, I have to ask: how had he not come off the board before then??? Wilcox is a specimen at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds and reportedly ran a blistering 4.31 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. He appears to be a capable tackler and played a lot of zone coverage at BYU, so whether he can be a capable, physical man coverage defender might be a question. This is especially the case given his lesser stats at BYU (8 passes defended and 0 INTs in 41 games).
But heck, it’s a question worth shrugging off for now and taking a risk on top-flight physical attributes like that. Hopefully that speed and physicality will help him stick on special teams while he works to improve his technique and play on defense.
Grant Stuard, LB, Houston; 7th round (259 overall)
With the final pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Bucs selected Houston LB Grant Stuard. Stuard’s chances at contributing more than in special teams are very slim based on his limited ability and range. That said, like Britt, he plays like his hair is on fire. He’s extremely aggressive, almost seeming like he hunts down the ball carrier. Willingness to stick your head in and take contact is a must on kick coverage teams. As such, he should have a chance to stick there.
Overall, the Bucs brought in a number of players who have physical upside, and all of whom have a chance to make an impact on special teams. That’s what you look for on Day 3 of the draft, and so I think Licht did his job very well.
Do you think the Bucs keyed in on the potential upside on Day 3? Let us know via the comment section below!