The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at the halfway point of their season and two games below .500. The NFL draft should be a very distant thought in the back of our minds at this point.
However, with each passing week we can see the needs of the future emerging on this team. Whether it be expiring contracts or ineffective position groups, next season will look very different than the roster we’ve become familiar with now. The draft will play a major role in the retool that this team is undergoing.
With that in mind, it’s never too early to be looking ahead to potential draft prospects. Based on current big boards, I’ve created my first three round mock draft of the season. Things will surely change between now and late April, but this will provide some names to be looking at.
Round One: J.J. McCarthy, Quarterback, Michigan
This is a draft that projects to be rich with quarterback talent. As a result, there will be franchise quarterbacks available later than you might expect. One of those guys is Michigan signal caller J.J. McCarthy.
He might not have the same eye popping statistics as other college quarterbacks, but that is because he is usually pulled from the game in the third quarter because his team is up by so many. In a different situation, McCarthy might put up the same type of numbers as a Michael Penix or Caleb WIlliams.
McCarthy has an above average NFL arm with plenty of velocity to fit the ball in tight windows. To add to his toolbox of physical skills, he also has above average mobility and can hurt opposing defenses on scrambles or even designed runs. In terms of physical gifts, there is a lot to work with here.
To pair with the natural talent, McCarthy is also very accurate to all levels of the field, but particularly the short and intermediate passing game. His deep ball can be hot and cold, but there has been improvement this season. Where he is most accurate may be when he is outside of the pocket and making downfield throws while on the run.
Finally, McCarthy is a highly intelligent quarterback. He doesn’t put the ball in harm’s way, as is reflected by having only thrown an interception in one game this season. He’s too dynamic for me to call him a game manager, but in terms of the way he runs a game some may describe him in that way.
Round Two: Cooper Beebe, Guard, Kansas State
It’s hard to know what type of offensive system the Bucs will be running next year because it depends on how the rest of this season plays out. Regardless of what the scheme is, the Buccaneers need help on their offensive line. So for this, I will give them who I believe is the best option available and we can figure out the details of how he fits in the offseason.
If you like big, physical offensive line play then Cooper Beebe is the man for you. Listed at 6’4 and 335 lbs, Beebe brings the size that many desire in an interior offensive lineman. And let me tell you, he plays to all 335 lbs.
Beebe is a powerful, mauling guard. He can develop into an absolute bully in the running game, which is a skill set that will likely intrigue the Buccaneers front office considering their struggles to run the ball over the last few years. His length and strength are both high end skills and if he can get just a little quicker then he could turn into a very good pro.
However, his skill set goes beyond just being big and strong. In fact, I would say that Beebe is a better pass blocker than he is a run blocker. He uses that same length and strength to his advantage to get into an opponent’s chest with his hands an anchor down. He also consistently shows a high IQ regarding stunts and knowing when to pass of his man or pick up a blitz.
Round Three Jaheim Bell, Tight End, Florida State
The production from the tight end position this year has been underwhelming. Second year pro Cade Otton hasn’t taken the step forward as a blocker or a pass catcher that many had hoped. Adding talent to this group in the offseason is a must.
Jaheim Bell has a lot of talent in terms of what he can develop into as a pass catcher. He is very fast and fluid for a tight end. So much so that he is oftentimes flexed out to the boundary as a wide receiver.
This skill set is where Bell will make his living. Being able to threaten the middle of the defense and the seam as a pass catcher is a very valuable skill that the Buccaneers are currently lacking. Bell has the athletic tools to do that and could turn into a better pro than he was a college player.
In terms of blocking, there is still a lot left to be desired. Bell is undersized at 6’3 and 230 lbs. He will never be a traditional inline blocker than some teams desire. However, he can move well enough as a wing or slot receiver that he could be developed into a good blocker in the right system.