If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to be competitive next season, they’re going to need significant contributions from their NFL draft class of 2023.
Thanks to a long list of key free agents on both sides of the ball, and a less than ideal salary cap situation that will prevent them from re-signing most of them, there are a number of shortages in key positions and the Bucs will need this year’s crop of rookies to step up and make an immediate impact if they want to compete for a third straight NFC South title.
Life After Brady
There’s also the small matter of how Tampa navigates the season without Tom Brady in the picture. The legendary quarterback pulled the strings of the Bucs’ offense for three seasons and winning without him will be a challenge. How well his replacement steps in to fill his shoes at QB could ultimately determine their chances of making it another championship winning season in 2023. What positions will be their top priority and who will the marquee pick this year? Here’s a look at what to expect from the Bucs in this year’s NFL Draft.
The Bucs look to be heading into a rebuilding year, highlighted by their +2800 odds of winning the Super Bowl this year, according to regulated US betting sites. That rebuild starts at QB. With Brady finally deciding to call it a day after the Bucs’ loss to the Dallas Cowboys in last season’s wildcard game, Tampa find themselves in desperate need of a QB that can hold up the team’s offense.
They already have two on their books in Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask but it’s unlikely the franchise will look to either of them to take the reins from Brady. Mayfield was the no.1 overall pick in the 2018 draft and enjoyed some early success in his NFL career but his form has fallen off a cliff since. Meanwhile Trask, the second round pick of the 2021 draft, has a lot of promise but lacks experience having been buried behind Brady in the pecking order, leaving the door wide open for Tampa to bring in another QB.
Plenty of Options At QB
There are no shortage of options for the franchise to go with here but if they are going to land a top tier option in that position they will likely need to trade to get them higher up the food chain. Presuming they follow through on that, the most likely candidate for selection is Florida Gators superstar Anthony Richardson. The 20-year-old had an outstanding showing last season throwing for 2,549 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing 53.8% of his passes in his 12 appearances for the Gators. The playmaker quarterback also added just over 100 carries for 654 yards and nine touchdowns running the ball. The Florida native clearly has something about him and while there are other great options out there with the likes of C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young, Richardson is already establishing a relationship and affiliation with the franchise from his home state. The youngster credited a Bucs QB for his attention to detail and helping him with his approach to the game, and it wasn’t Brady, but in fact his backup QB Trask. What better way to adapt to life in the NFL than to get up close to the man responsible for so much of his own development.
On top of that, he reportedly met with general manager Jason Licht and head coach Todd Bowles for an interview while at the NFL Combine adding fuel to the speculation that he’s on his way to Tampa. He’s a high-risk, high-reward option, but he has the potential to be special and appears to have one foot through the door already.
Elsewhere there are needs in the secondary for the Bucs to fill. After losing cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and safety Mike Edwards in free agency, they find themselves short-staffed in that department. They managed to retain the services of Jamel Dean for four more years but veterans Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal saw out their one-year contracts and Mike Edwards goes into 2023 on the final year of his rookie deal. With Bunting heading for the exit door, this opens up room for an NFL starter to slot in beside Dean right away in the shape of Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr. The 22-year-old Californian would fit perfectly into a Todd Bowles defence with the necessary size and physicality that would partner well with opposite starting CB Carlton Davis. He achieved second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team all-conference status in 2022, also winning the team’s Most Valuable Defensive Player Award with 27 tackles, 11 pass breakups in just ten starts despite missing two late-season games. There will be few better options for the Bucs this year given the current cap situation.
The “Wright” Pick?
In 2022 Defensive tackle was one of the Bucs strongest positions. Vita Vea enjoyed his best season to date while Akiem Hicks was highly effective in opening up space for Vea to get at the QB. However, the Bucs are preparing for a hit in free agency with longtime OT Donovan Smith, Hicks and Rakeem Nunez-Roches all set to leave this offseason. Logan Hall will likely step up in their absence but Bowles needs to improve depth in that area after two of his best options head for the exit. Darnell Wright of the Tennessee Volunteers is the name most heavily linked with filling that spot so far and that is something Bucs fans should get excited about. The 21-year-old is brimming with confidence, himself claiming to be a top-3 tackle in this year’s NFL Draft class and the stats back it up. Wright played 507 pass blocking snaps for the Volunteers last season and he didn’t allow a single sack all year. He has the ability to walk straight into a starting position with form like that.
The West Virginia native is in high-demand though as the Chicago Bears could look to swoop in and steal the standout OT from under the Bucs’ noses. He is a safe bet and would provide the best possible chance for the new man at QB to get off to the best possible start.