With a new coaching staff in place, no one knew exactly what the Bucs would be looking for in this years draft. With a lot of holes to fill, Jason Licht chose to focus on improving coverage in both the secondary and at LB. It was not the draft many Bucs fans were expecting, as it was a draft noted for it’s excellent class of offensive and defensive lineman and edge rushers, and the Bucs elected to only use two Day 3 picks on those positions despite needs their needs on the roster. With that said, the coaching staffs vision is a little clearer, and there is plenty to discuss in regards to who the Bucs ultimately picked.
5. Devin White, LB, LSU. While many thought the Bucs would prefer the rushing OLB who could cover in Josh Allen, the Bucs opted for the cover MLB who can also rush the passer in Devin White. And while White has the talent to be a sideline to sideline run game eliminator, it was likely this ability against the pass that had the Bucs so excited to draft him. What makes White such a rare player is that he’s a true MLB who also possesses the cover skills of a defensive back, and the pass rushing skills of an edge player. Todd Bowles is known for his love of A gap blitzes and White should be excellent in that regard. As well, in an NFC South that features such pass catching threats of the backfield as Kamara, McCaffery, and Freeman, Whites cover skills were likely a huge aspect of his game that sealed him as the Buccaneers pick.
39. Sean Bunting, CB, Central Michigan. Bunting is probably the biggest gamble of this draft haul. At pick 39, the Bucs had plenty of great options at a variety of needs. But the Bucs opted to go slightly off the board and select a CB they clearly graded very highly. What made it even more surprising is the Bucs passed on a similar player in Greedy Williams- another long, dynamic playmaking athlete at the position, who faced a much higher level of competition. But while Bunting also has great physical traits, what might have sealed him as the choice is his supposed top flight intangibles including a notable love affair with game film during his week to week preparation. Bunting is going to face a major jump up in quality of competition, but in time he has the traits to become a shutdown #1 CB.
94. Jamel Dean, CB, Auburn. Despite trading down, going with back to back CBs to start Day 2 was definitely a surprise to most fans. With Carlton Davis coming off a promising rookie season and former first rounder Vernon Hargreaves returning from injury, the Bucs appeared to already have young talent at the position – especially after adding Bunting just a round earlier. But clearly Dean’s talent was too enticing to pass up, and Bowles loves his corners. Like with Bunting, Dean possesses the size and athleticism of a high end CB. While he might not be the playmaker Bunting is at taking the ball away, Dean comes from a great program that gave Tampa Carlton Davis and his shutdown ability last year. Dean has had several knee surgeries though, but if he is able to continue putting those injuries further behind him, he very well could outplay his draft position and be a great fit in Todd Bowles defence. The question is just, where does he fit in with all of these CBs already on the roster?
99. Mike Edwards, DB, Kentucky. With 3 straight DBs selected on Day 2, the Bucs clearly felt the need to shore up their defensive backfield. Edwards is an experienced and versatile defensive back who makes plays against the run and the pass. While Edwards represents good value at this spot, the confusing part again is where he will play. He likely will compete with 3rd year safety Justin Evans, and perhaps even compete for the starting nickel position. But in all likelihood Edwards likely won’t see much playing time barring injuries for the forseeable future, which is pretty disappointing to say the least considering the holes the Bucs have elsewhere on their roster.
107. Anthony Nelson, DE, Iowa. The Bucs finally decided to address their pass rush and line in this epic defensive line class, and benefited from the drafts depth at the position to find Nelson falling into their laps in round 4. The question now becomes how does Nelson fit in a 3-4? Nelson appeared to be a base 4-3 DE but in Bowles scheme Nelson probably plays some OLB and some 5-tech DE as well. Nelson possesses tremendous length, while also having great technique and a high motor. Nelson also has underrated quickness for such a tall player. He needs to work on getting stronger, as well he could be faster off the line of scrimmage as he seems to always be a step behind the snap in terms of his get off. That all said, these things should be correctable, and his strength should improve as he grows into himself as well. Ultimately Nelson should be a good player for a long time which is great value in the middle of the draft- particularly at a premium position.
145. Matt Gay, Kicker, Utah. Yes, the Bucs drafted a kicker again, and yes there will be plenty of pressure on Gay to make this roster. With great players still on the board, the Bucs elected to draft a kicker who even himself wasn’t sure if he would get drafted. Gay has a big leg, and had some impressive streaks of made field goals in college, but kickers generally don’t find themselves until a few years into their careers which makes the drafting of one all the more questionable. Cairo Santos provided stability for the Bucs down the stretch, but this will be a competition to keep an eye as it is doubtful Jason Licht will want to cut a 5th round kicker before the season even starts. It is worth noting that Gay is a pretty special natural talent who managed to get himself drafted despite never working with a kicking coach in his life- something that will change for him come training camp.
208. Scott Miller, WR, Bowling Green. Miller is a classic off the board pick, who this late in the draft is well worth the risk. With reports the Bucs were targeting Diontae Johnson in the 3rd round, Miller offers a nice consolation prize at WR for far less of a cost. An electric athlete who has rare speed down the field, Miller is still a small player who likely will be used only as a weapon in select situations. Timed as low as the 4.2s during his Pro Day 40 run, Miller could also bring some much needed juice to the return game as well.
215. Terry Beckner, DL, Missouri. Beckner was on track to be a top prospect for this draft until knee injuries wrecked his once great lower body athleticism. Still, Beckner possesses great strength to maul at the line of scrimmage, and has some nice moves to get some penetration. This late in the draft, the Bucs opted to bring in a body for the DL who should push for a roster spot and perhaps provide more snaps than expected if Tampa Bay does in fact move on from Gerald McCoy for cap reasons.
Clearly this was a draft where Jason Licht got his guys. In round 1 he opted for Devin White despite Josh Allen falling into his lap. In round 2, he opted for Sean Bunting despite having Greedy Williams and Dalton Risner falling to pick 39. In round 3, while Licht missed out on his target of Diontae Johnson, he was able to trade back and continued to shore up the secondary. In round 4 the Bucs finally landed a pass rusher, while in the late rounds Licht got his kicker, his insurance policy for Johnson as a playmaking WR, and some depth for the defensive line. With a massive hole apparently still present at right guard, the Bucs could still have faith in last year 3rd rounder Alex Cappa. Still, this was not a draft where the Bucs were able to plug holes, but rather a draft of getting players the new coaching staff feels can be impactful pieces in the new scheme.