by Ryan Lasal and Anthony Grassi
Winston or Mariota? That was the question coming into the 2015 draft for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who held the Number 1 pick at the time. As the 2015 season ended, it didn’t appear there was a wrong answer to that question, but the Bucs seem to have gotten the better side of the debate. From a hopeless 2-14 to a hopeful 6-10, the Bucs seem poised to become legitimate contenders in a declining NFC South.
Head Coach: Dirk Koetter
Career Record: 0-0
Offensive Coordinator: Todd Monken
Head Coach at Southern Miss 2013-2015
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Smith
Atlanta Falcons Head Coach 2008-2014
Tampa has a solid team on paper with playmakers on both sides of the football and has underperformed the last two seasons under Lovie Smith. The one thing that has been missing is the QB position, which seems to have been addressed by the drafting of Jameis Winston. Winston stepped in and immediately made an impact, posting 4042 yards, 22 TDs, 15 INTs, and a 58% completion percentage. He also added 210 yards and 6 TDs on the ground. Winston’s emergence is the only reason Dirk Koetter is the Head Coach going into 2016. If Mike Smith can turn the 26th ranked defense around and finish in the top half of the league, Tampa has the chance to contend for a Wildcard spot in 2016.
Doug Martin headlines the Free Agent list for the Bucs. The question is, is Martin the 1400 yard, 6 TD guy we saw last season, or the 450 yard, 2 TD guy we’ve seen the last two seasons? 2012 was a similar season to this, so it’s truly 50-50. At his ceiling, Martin is worth the big payday he wants. At his floor, he might not even be worth a roster spot. Still, with the other Free Agent RBs this season, Martin is the best of the bunch and the Bucs should look to keep their offense as consistent as possible.
Next to Martin, there are not many must sign guys leaving the team, and with a large amount of cash available this off-season, the Bucs may choose not to resign many guys. Look for Henry Melton to be the other name that the Bucs look to resign, but the price will have to be right in that instance. Outside of those two, it’s difficult to see the Bucs addressing holds via resigning their own. Most of their work will be done in the Draft and Free Agency.
At $53M under the cap restructuring contracts is not a necessity, and they have enough to re-sign Doug Martin. This team can spend and to collect talent they should. General Manager Jason Licht suggested earlier this offseason that they will be prudent with their expenditures, however, they won't ignore premiere free agents that hit the market. If Eric Berry doesn't have a team on the evening of March 9, they're going to call him. His agent. Someone. Please call someone.
The entire secondary needs help, as does the pass rush.
As far as the defensive backfield is concerned, ideally the Bucs will pursue players like Janoris Jenkins and Eric Berry while avoiding the overrated Josh Norman and Sean Smith. Smith is up and down, and while Norman is very good he's going to command an Asomugha contract. Eric Berry is one of the best safeties in the league and unfortunately staying in KC while Janoris Jenkins is a good starting corner who makes plays. As a consolation the lesser Eric (Weddle) will warrant strong consideration when Berry is wearing a contemptible shade of red next season. I shouldn't have said that, Tampa's uniforms are hideous. Moving on.
The hunt for a defensive end will captivate in March. Jason Pierre-Paul, Robert Ayers, Willie Hayes, and Tamba Hali all would be welcomed additions that could produce. The most obvious option is Olivier Vernon. He has a great chance of becoming a force as he's yet to enter his prime at 25 years old.
I understand that I'm in the minority, yet for captivating we have to look to phenomenal players with volatile propensities. Greg Hardy and Aldon Smith. Hardy is fantastic and Smith is arguably the most dangerous sack artist in the league- certainly when you look at games played. Smith isn't available for reinstatement until mid-November and his 1 year contract with the Raiders will have expired by then. Either way, each player is a legitimate option for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers even with their personal demons.
Bear in mind Jason Licht drafted Tyrann Mathieu and Jameis Winston. He's more than willing to flick the dice on high-risk guys and it would be electrifying to bring in someone who can terrorize quarterbacks. A large contract without guarantees, e.g. Darrelle Revis, could empower this defense.
To a lesser extent they need depth on the interior offensive line and can accomplish that by way of value free agents. A Mike Harris or Brandon Brooks, players on the right side of 30, are likely candidates. Obviously I'm more of a Richie Incognito fan.
The ninth overall pick comes with an array of options- especially when you're not looking for a quarterback. From 2014-2015 Tampa had 13 draft picks and spent one of them on a defensive player, Kwon Alexander. Unsurprisingly, their defense has far more gaping holes than the offense, specifically at DE, CB, and S. Where they go come April could be heavily impacted by purchased talent in March, but we'll forge ahead with the assumption that there were no roster changes.
Of the two ideal candidates, Joey Bosa and Jalen Ramsey, Ramsey has an infinitesimal chance of dropping within reach. For the sake of my sanity we'll keep one foot firmly rooted in reality and look at the athletes likely to be available without a trade in ascending order relative to talent. (Ascending order means that player quality increases as you travel down the list. Readers.)
Clemson DE Shaq Lawson is rated very highly after the top two defensive ends in this draft. The problem with that is there is a significant drop off from 2 to 3 this year. Shaq is not dissimilar to DeForest Buckner as they are more valuable against the run, and won't necessarily fit the Buccaneers' need for a sack artist. While Lawson demonstrated he can capably rush the passer he is unconvincing as an athlete. He lacks the speed, agility, and flexibility to consistently blow by an offensive tackle and run down the quarterback. Although he is not an innate pass rusher his production in college gives legitimate hope that he can improve his technique/ability in that capacity.
Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves has very few flaws in his game. While lacking world-class speed he has exceptional quickness and hands. Vernon has the makings of a great corner as he can play in any type of coverage, specifically man. It's not a stretch to call him the best corner in the draft with his physical tools accompanied by great instincts. The biggest knock from my viewpoint is his aggressiveness. Not exactly a high risk, high reward player, but he can jump routes prematurely. Some have expressed concerns on his size and willingness (for the love of God) in run support, however at 5'11'' and 192 lbs those worries are overblown. Average cornerback height as of 2014 in the NFL was 5'11" and 193 lbs- he'll be fine.
Finally, the pride of Eastern Kentucky is DE Noah Spence: who is both a gentlemen and a scholar. Spence plays like an animal. His grit, tenacity, and reckless abandon are exuded in his performance on a snap by snap basis. Noah is small for a 4-3 end at 6'2'', 255 lbs, however he played with a hand down and excelled in undergrad. I do not think it is premature to extrapolate his talent to the likes of Whitney Mercilus and Von Miller, who can each play on the line. The reason Spence could still be on the board is his well-documented eviction from the Big 10 and drug rehabilitation. Returning to school and getting his degree is convincing enough to take him.
Without question I'm most excited about Noah Spence, although any of these three will inspire the Buc fanbase.
A Quick Guide to the Rookie Wage Scale (First Round Breakdown)
On the Clock: 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers