We are officially in NFL draft week! At this point in the process prospects have been evaluated and most teams have a good idea of who they want to target. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are no exception to this.
General Manager Jason Licht is a prepared as anyone in the NFL. He has done his homework, brought in players for interviews and has a short list of guys that will fit with this team. Now the only question is, who’s on that list.
Based on the trends of Licht, the needs that they have and the player fit, I took my best guess at some of the players they will target at each position. Here is who I believe will be on their defensive short list in the NFL draft.
Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern
The Bucs are looking for an interior pass rusher and Adetowore fits that bill. He is incredibly athletic for his position and as a guy who played more defensive end in college he also projects as a versatile chess piece. Adetowore checks a lot of the boxes that the Bucs are looking for.
However, at 285 lbs he is undersized for a defensive tackle. It’s possible this will make him a bit of a liability as a run defender in the NFL. He might not be a perfect fit in the early rounds, but if he’s available on day two then he’s worth serious consideration.
Karl Brooks, Bowling Green State
Brooks is another guy who played on the edge more in college as opposed to a traditional defensive tackle. Much like Adetowore, this makes him more versatile and that’s something that a brilliant defensive mind like Todd Bowles will appreciate. However, he also comes with similar flaws.
There is a lot of projection here for a player that is changing positions and coming from a smaller school in Bowling Green State University. At the same time, this will make Brooks a lower risk investment as a guy who could fall to the third day of the draft. This could be the risk worth taking for the Bucs.
Moro Ojomo, Texas
As a traditional defensive tackle in college Ojomo seems like a better fit than some others on this list. However, he is also a little undersized, weighing in at 292 lbs at the combine. This probably makes him just a rotational player early in his career.
This shouldn’t be a problem for the Bucs. If Ojomo can be a rotational pass rusher then he will fill the need they are looking to address. If he is available on day three of the draft then I expect he will be a priority target.
JT’s Pick: Zacch Pickens, South Carolina
A former five star recruit, Pickens has always had the talent to be on an NFL track. However, he had a slow start to his college career and never quite lived up to the hype. This might just mean that his best football is still ahead of him.
Pickens has the explosiveness and length to turn into a good NFL pass rusher. He’s also a good run defender, where he made more of his impact in college. This is a high upside bet who fits what the Bucs need and I believe they will try to draft him in the middle rounds.
Nolan Smith, Georgia
Smith has the top end athletic tools that the Bucs prioritize in a first round pick. He’s a good run defender and incredibly fast, having ran a 4.39 in the 40 yard dash. Smith has a very high ceiling as an outside linebacker in the NFL.
The only thing that gives me pause with this match is the Bucs need for a starting left tackle which will be a priority in round one. However, if they can’t get appropriate value at that position then I think Smith will be at the top of their board.
Will McDonald, Iowa State
McDonald is one of my favorite players in the draft. He has bend around the edge and a hot motor that always makes life difficult for opposing offenses. On top of that, he’s gritty as a guy who played primarily as a hand in the dirt defensive end at Iowa State.
In the NFL McDonald will play his more natural position of outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He has a chance to go in the first round, but if he’s available for the Bucs in the second then he could be the steal of the draft. This would be a dream fit.
Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State
The second round looks like the sweet spot for pass rushers in this draft and Anudike-Uzomah is a big part of that conversation. He plays with physicality and flexibility which makes him a guy who can win in different ways. He also plays with urgency and often makes the hustle plays that won’t show up in the box score.
Anufike-Uzomah will likely play more standing up in a two point stance in the NFL than he did in college. This could allow him to focus more on his pass rush that he did at Kansas State. He would be a great addition with the 50th overall pick.
BJ Ojulari, LSU
Ojulari hasn’t had the best pre draft process with an underwhelming combine, but he showed some impressive flashes in college. It’s also worth noting that he was given the number 18 at LSU, which means he has excellent intangibles and leadership skills. It’s hard not to believe in a guy like that.
If the Bucs can draft him in the second round and use him as part of the pass rush rotation then it would allow him to develop more as a rookie and be brought along slowly. Some coaching and consistency could make him a high impact NFL player. I believe the Bucs will be very interested.
JT’s Pick: Derick Hall, Auburn
More of a power player, Hall uses physicality and power to make his mark as a pass rusher. This is in part because he lacks the flexibility to win around the corner consistently. Despite that, Hall has proven to be impactful at the highest levels of college football.
Hall comes off as an impressive person and leader. He could be the type of guy that is never a star, but can be the heart and soul of his team. He’s also the most likely to be available when the Bucs look to target a pass rusher. Don’t be surprised to see him in Tampa Bay next season.
Owen Pappoe, Auburn
Pappoe has a specific skill that the Buccaneers are looking for. That skill is pure, unfiltered speed. His 4.39 40 yard dash time makes him a much better athlete than anyone they have on the linebacker depth chart behind their two starters.
With athletic ability comes potential. As a rookie, Pappoe would probably be more of a special teams player. However, the team is looking to develop someone long term to replace Lavonte David, or even potentially Devin White down the road. With his athletic profile Pappoe could be that guy.
SirVocea Dennis, Pittsburgh
Another undersized linebacker with speed, Dennis has a lot of the same selling points as Pappoe. However, everything is just a little bit less with Dennis. He doesn’t look quite as fast, but as a result will likely be drafted later.
Dennis has special teams experience and could be a good depth player as a rookie. I believe he has the athletic profile to be a starter someday, although he didn’t test at the combine.
JT’s Pick: Charlie Thomas, Georgia Tech
We haven’t heard the term “Money Backer” since the early days of Todd Bowles when the Bucs brought in Deone Bucannon. Thomas would be in that same role as a linebacker/strong safety hybrid. This is a niche the Bucs need right now.
Thomas played safety for part of his college career and that is evident in his coverage ability. He also was one of the most productive tacklers in college football last year as a linebacker. He is everything the Bucs are lacking in their linebacker depth chart and he is one of my favorite sleepers in the draft.
JT’s Pick: Clark Phillips, Utah
After trading up for Zyon McCullom last year and signing Jamel Dean to a multi year extension this offseason, it doesn’t look like corner will be a high priority in this draft for the Bucs. However, the team is still looking for a nickel defender moving forward. As it just so happens, there is a really good one in this draft.
Phillips might never be a great outside corner and that hurts his draft stock. Based on the Bucs’ needs, it’s unlikely that will deter their interest. Phillips can be an impactful nickel defender for the next ten years and that would be a great addition to this defense.
Brian Branch, Alabama
Branch is one of the best prospects in this draft regardless of position. He is an excellent tackler and a versatile coverage man who can play over the top and in the nickel. Regardless of roster needs, he should be a strong consideration if he’s on the board at pick 19.
We know that Todd Bowles specializes in defensive back play. A talent like Branch will no doubt be intriguing to him. In terms of the best player available and a need the Bucs have, I believe he could be in play and a potential All Pro NFL player down the line.
JL Skinner, Boise State
A big physical safety with coverage skills is something that will always get the attention of the NFL. Skinner fits that mold and actually has a similar mold to new Bucs safety Ryan Neal. Considering that Neal is only on a one year contract, Skinner could be a long term answer behind him this year.
Although he is a good box defender, Skinner is not the old school thumper at strong safety. He is fluid and has the ability to erase tight ends in the passing game. I expect him to be a day two pick who can be a good starter at the next level.
JT’s Pick: Sydney Brown, Illinois
If the Bucs had a type, Brown would be it. He’s very fast and very physical. On top of that he has great ball skills to help create the turnovers that the Bucs defense was drastically lacking last season.
Brown is definitely more of a strong safety than a guy who will play deep consistently. However, as a guy who ran in the 4.4s in the 40 yard dash, he has the deep speed to play down the field. After being brought in for a top 30 visit he looks to be someone that is absolutely on the Buccaneers radar.