As the dust begins to settle for the NFL season the NFL Draft is quickly approaching. The Buccaneers season has ended, and the finality presented is this team will never be together again. They will definitely not look the same next year, not just because Tom Brady won’t be under center.
The Road To The 2022 Season Starts Now
What the Bucs built was a physical defense that relies on its stars in the front seven to set the tone, and an explosive offense multiple in the ways they can attack. Roster construction allowed for these to be the defining words of a team bitten with the injury bug; well done Jason Licht and the rest of the Buccaneers staff. However, there are some areas of the roster that have been exposed because of these injuries. And the road to week one of the 2022 season starts now.
To set the table truthfully, we have no idea where the Bucs intend to invest their draft picks. The evaluation process of their own roster, which has likely only just begun as the teams’ season slams to a halt. This will determine where the Bucs will begin in their draft process and who they are going to put on their board. This will also factor into who the team prioritizes in free agency.
However, we have watched the evidence over the season and have had a chance to see where the weaknesses of this roster are due to injury. The Bucs also have a lot to work out in the front office with Jason Licht and Mike Greenburg. The two will be tasked with bringing back most of the Bucs 20 some players set to become free agents over the off-season.
First Things First
The process will start here, who the Buccaneers can bring back will greatly impact who they target in April. My guess is after the development of players like Carlton Davis, Jordan Whitehead, Chris Godwin, and Alex Cappa that they will be priorities to bring back in 2022. All are players who were drafted by the Buccaneers, establishing their significance in free agency.
Players you draft are the guys you want to bring back. Especially when they’ve developed into the impact players we’ve seen on the field, it’s how you sustain culture. The Bucs will also need to continue selecting players that fit the culture they have built. The following players are players I feel are solid options for the Bucs on the first couple of days of the draft.
Reading The Room
While the starting three wide receivers at the beginning of the 2021 season could’ve been considered the most talented receiving core in the NFL. The Bucs depth at the position was exposed this year when either Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, or Antonio Brown missed time. Even though we’ve seen guys make some great plays and contribute. The Buccaneers will need a third option that can consistently produce.
Tyler Johnson has shown flashes of promise and has been unable to win against man coverage or in contested situations. Scotty Miller has struggled to find the field this year. Although when healthy, Miller is a nice piece to have just not someone who will be the centerpiece of an offense. Jaelon Darden remains a question mark. Yes, Darden won the return position but when called upon in the receiving game he hasn’t met the task.
Breshad Perriman is a veteran player who can contribute and add to the culture the Bucs have built in the locker room. Cyril Grayson seems to be the wildcard of this group. After week 17 theatrics he proved to be the hero and has consistently answered when his number has been called. The track runner never played football in college but seems to be a riser in the group of receivers for the Bucs.
Will He Stay Or Will He Go?
To add to the importance of adding talent to this group, Godwin will be a free agent in 2022. Not that I believe it is impossible for the team to bring back Godwin. Even if the Bucs do manage to sign him to a long-term deal, he would still likely miss a portion of the regular season.
Drafting someone who can develop into a starter quickly will be very important to keeping the Bucs offense afloat. However, this is a tall task. One that becomes more complicated when you consider the Buccaneers will be drafting towards the end of each round. Don’t worry though, this class has the talent to fill out the first round.
Wide Receiver Propspects To Watch
One name very high on my list of players for the Bucs is Treylon Burks. Currently, Treylon Burks is the 28th prospect in the draft according to PFF and the 6th wide receiver on Mel Kiper’s board. Burks is 6’3” 225 pounds, giving him an edge in physicality. He has a unique combination of size and speed that makes him an absolute stud.
The evidence of his impact could be seen in the Outback Bowl where the Arkansas passing offense was nearly non-existent. Burks was the spark for the Arkansas offense. The Razorbacks routinely relied on him to generate big plays and keep the offense in rhythm and on schedule. His physical traits allow him to keep the offense on schedule by making homerun plays, breaking arm tackles and using his speed to separate from the rest of the field. Burks physicality at 6’3” 225 pounds also allows him to box out defenders and attack the football in 50/50 situations.
Worth A Look
The Arkansas prospect is currently projected on par with where the Buccaneers will be picking. However, the current rankings are fluid and his ranking could improve after the combine.Time will tell, keep your eye on this one.
I believe acquiring a third receiver will priority as long as Bruce Arians is the head coach I can see the Bucs taking a swing at a wide receiver in the first couple rounds, especially with the depth in this draft class.
The next wide receiver I have my eye on is John Metchie out of Alabama. Metchie weighs in at 6 feet 195 pounds. Complicating Metchie’s draft outlook is the ACL injury he sustained in the SEC championship.
Currently slated as PFF’s 65th prospect and a Mel Kiper’s 10 at wide receiver from what Metchie displayed in college he is well worth a second-round pick. Since 2020 Metchie not only put up the most yards in the SEC but secured the most red-zone targets without a drop. Oh, Metchie also led college football in yards after the catch in that same time frame.
Tape Tells All
Numbers talk but the tape tells all. Looking at the tape Metchie is a savvy route runner and runs his routes with the proper leverage. Metchie is a vertical weapon that not only can hit the home run but make teams pay when he gets the ball in space. Add in too that Metchie is a willing blocker and you have a steal of a second-round pick. He could be the vertical presence Antonio Brown was for the Buccaneers. Metchie has great hands, a great feel for the position, and is special with the ball in his hands. Alabama has produced some outstanding receivers recently, Metchie looks like he could be the next in line. Should Metchie return to his level of play after his recovery he would be a slam dunk of a pick.
Watching The Running Backs
A position group I have my eye on for movement is the running backs. Both Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette are set to hit the free-agent market in 2022. Ke’Shawn Vaughn will still be on the roster after a solid performance at the end of the season. However, I do not believe the staff is ready to hand the starting role to Vaughn despite Bruce Arians’ comments saying he believes Vaughn is an RB1 in the league.
Although the salary cap is increasing next year the Bucs have a lot of players to resign. Should the they desire to bring Fournette back they can, but it could come with a nice price tag. I believe there is nearly a zero percent chance Ronald Jones returns to the Buccaneers. Neither side is satisfied currently and that is not a recipe for a return to the roster.
Currently, no running back is ranked inside the top 50 draft prospects. This will be a position the Bucs could sit on potentially. However, it is worth noting that second-round running backs the past couple of years have been home run picks. Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb, Jonathan Taylor, are all names that have been called in the second round since 2016. It could take some eye popping pro day’s for some of this years running back class to reach that territory.
A Narrow Margin For Error
In 2018 the Buccaneers took a stab at Ronald Jones just 3 picks after Nick Chubb. I say that to preface how narrow the margin for error is in these drafts and to not set the bar too high for whatever player the Bucs do select in the draft. In that same round, they also selected Carlton Davis with the 31st pick. A smash hit. There is a wide range of outcomes in the second round, but this is where I feel the Buccaneers have the opportunity to add impactful talent.
Running Back Prospects To Watch
First, I will bring you the pick I’m rooting for, Kyren Williams. Williams is rated the 4th best running back in his class according to Mel Kiper. And the 83rd overall prospect according to PFF. However, I would argue he is the most rounded running back in the class. Throughout my years of watching college football, I have never seen a more willing blocker at the running back position than Williams. You can tell he takes pride in his blocking as well. Williams is also a very intelligent football player. Coached by the same running back coach Christian McCaffrey had at Stanford, Lance Taylor.
Williams is likely being knocked for his measurables prior to the combine. Currently listed at 5’9” 199 pounds, he is the shortest and lightest running back in the draft. His combine and pro-day results will be key to watch. If he has good performances, I believe he could shoot up the board from his current 3rd round projection. Williams was a key part of the Notre Dame offense for two years in all facets of the game. Williams routinely put his big-play ability on display catching and running the ball.
The Notre Dame prospect has the tools to be an all-purpose back although adding weight to his frame will be key. Not many running backs thrive in the league under 210 pounds. If Williams can add weight and still cash in a top performance at the combine and pro day the prospects of Williams being a legitimate NFL running back will skyrocket.
Spiller As A Filler?
Another running back I am very high on is Isaiah Spiller out of Texas A&M. The Aggie product comes in at an imposing 6’1 215. Ranked 96th overall by PFF and the 3rd best running back according to Mel Kiper. Watching the tape Spiller has excellent hands and can make acrobatic catches. He can also hit his top speed quickly combined with the ability to make a man miss.
These traits allowed him to routinely gash defenses for chunk plays. These traits also give me the impression that behind an offensive line like the Buccaneers he could play exceptionally well. Playing behind a line that could wash the front 7 Spiller has the ability to make a man miss at the 3rd level and rip off huge runs. I believe this because Spiller has the size to run at the teeth of the defense with confidence. Once he gets moving north and south Spiller knows it’s time to GO, and arm tackles aren’t stopping him.
He’s an extremely versatile talent with the size to withstand the blows delivered to the running back position in the NFL. Depending on how the Buccaneers evaluate Fournette and other free agent running backs Spiller should be a very real possibility for the Bucs.
Checking On The Trenches
Two of the last three years the Bucs have invested their first-round pick on the defensive line. With aging pieces in Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh who are both set to hit the market in 2022, the Bucs will likely be looking for talent to add to the position.
Another important piece to factor in is William Gholston who is also set to become a free agent. The Veteran player has been with the Buccaneers since they drafted him. During his time Ghlston has been asked to change roles multiple times due to coaching and scheme changes. Since Bowles has joined the Buccaneers, Gholston has become a consistent contributor and someone the Buccaneers should bring back. Even if the Bucs can bring him back, Gholston will be in his 9th season in the NFL. Youth at the position is increasingly important moving forward if the Bucs plan to sustain their level of play.
Interior Defensive Line Propspects To Watch
A player currently projected to enter the draft who I like is Alabama product Phidarian Mathis. Mathis comes in 6’4” 312 pounds and has the athleticism to be moved around the defensive line. At his standard 3 technique Mathis is disruptive at the line of scrimmage and can eat double teams without giving much ground. If the Bucs plan to continue their dominant rush defense these traits are of high importance. He is able to flash his athleticism on stunts. Here he can outflank the offensive linemen and use his hands to win the rep.
Phidarian Mathis is currently the 5th interior defensive linemen on Mel Kiper’s list and is 86th PFF’s current list of draft prospects at the position. More information will likely be available after the National Championship. Being an Alabama product Mathis knows what it takes to make it in the NFL and is, without doubt, a smart football player. He will be someone to keep an eye on as more information comes out on his draft prospects.
Winfrey, Not That One…
A second prospect along the defensive interior that catches my eye is Perrion Winfrey out of Oklahoma. Measuring in at 6’4” 292 pounds Winfrey is the 6th Defensive tackle on Mel Kiper’s list and 110th on PFF’s big board. Winfrey is an extremely athletic player who explodes off the ball. His jump pops off the screen. Playing with a slight size disadvantage Winfrey does an excellent job at attacking half of the blocker and playing with leverage.
Winfrey is a player I want to keep my eye on because of his athleticism. When the defense was healthy to begin the year Todd Bowles had a heyday with the blitzes he could draw up. Buccaneers fans were seeing Vita Vea in a 5 technique and Jason Pierre-Paul at the 0 technique over the center and others among the front 7 as stand-up rushers. My point is the special talent the Bucs had has allowed for some nightmarish looks. Perrion Winfrey could be an addition to this collection of talent that allows for exotic pressure packages.
The Motor of The Offense
There is no denying that the offensive line has been outstanding protecting Tom Brady that last two seasons. This offseason two key pieces of the offensive line are set to hit the market. Ryan Jensen and Alex Cappa are big names hitting the market however Aaron Stinnie and Josh Wells will also be free agents as well.
Stinnie played a key role in the Bucs Super Bowl run and the Buccaneers have a good chance at resigning him. Wells has often become the 6th lineman used in heavy sets by the Bucs. Previously this was Joe Haeg’s role. I would say there is a 50/50 chance he returns as a depth piece. Retaining Jensen and Cappa will be tough as both will command a hefty price tag. Tommy Kreamer was drafted last season and has been seen in multiple positions on the line. It remains to be seen how he will carve out a role on this team. However, I would not put it out of the realm of possibility that he could be a starter on this roster next year should the Bucs lose Jensen, Cappa, or both players.
Eyeing A Buckeye
If the Bucs were to draft a player to pad the talent in the offensive line room, I have my eyes on Thayer Munford. The Buckeye prospect plays Guard and comes in at 6’6” 320 pounds. Over his career at Ohio St. Munford had 1,624 pass-block snaps and surrendered only 6 sacks. Munford transferred from Tackle to Guard his senior season and it shows in his athleticism.
The Ohio St. prospect does a great job pulling and blocking in space. With his size, Munford also becomes a force in the interior to wash out defenders. Add in heavy hands and a good base and there’s a lot to like from this prospect. Currently PFF’s 119th player and Mel Kiper’s 10d guard I think there’s plenty of talent here for the Buccaneers to invest a pick in Munford. If the Bucs feel they do not have a replacement for Cappa, Munford could be someone on the radar.
Securing The Back End
Because the Bucs have developed elite talent in Jordan Whitehead, and Carlton Davis I would be surprised if the Bucs let the players walk in free agency. However, if either of the two decide to search for a new home in the league the Bucs will need to make drafting an impact player in the secondary a priority in April. Something else to consider is that depth contributors Dee Delany and Curtis Riley will be free agents in 2022. The Bucs will need to replace this depth if it is lost in the offseason.
Should the Buccaneers have an issue retaining either player I have my eyes on versatile safety Jalen Pitre. Weighing in at 197 pounds and 6 feet tall Pitre is currently PFF’s 57th ranked prospect and Mel Kiper’s 6th ranked safety. Something notable here is PFF has Pitre listed as a cornerback while Mel Kiper has Pitre listed as a safety. Whoever scouts Pitre will likely have a say in what role he plays on the team. In his senior season, Pitre was a key contributor on defense playing a hybrid safety role that often put him in the box
“An Energetic Tackler”
Jalen Pitre is an energetic tackler rallying to the ball. This energy shows when he plays run support. As far as physicality you cannot ask more from a player of Pitre’s size. In many ways, Pitre’s game reminds me a lot of Jordan Whitehead. Not to say he plays at the level of Whitehead. But his recognition, physicality, and prowess to stop the run are similar traits. Pitre also has sound cover skills making him somewhat of a swiss army knife potentially. This skill set should be something the Bucs are interested in after the injuries experienced this season.
The Bucs attempted to cross-train Ross Cockrell however I don’t believe the team saw the results they wanted. Pitre offers a legitimate tool to the defense that could be used all over the field. The Buccaneers have a loaded secondary at the moment. It will be hard to keep this group together without a doubt. For this reason, Pitre is definitely someone to watch.
There Are Still Many Chips That Need To Fall
Beginning with the start of the new league year and free agency to open. It will become more clear where the Bucs may need to invest their picks after free agency begins. After all, free agents are proven talent. There is always a chance that a player selected in the draft doesn’t pan out. Inversely there is always the chance a free agent doesn’t play to their expected level. However, teams feel more comfortable evaluating players with NFL film. Until the new league year begins no certainty will be delivered on what the Buccaneers roster will look like next year. There’s a long road to the draft in April, and it’s only just begun. So, kick back and enjoy the debates.