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One Buc Mailbag: More Draft Options

Posted Apr 20, 2017

Once again, Buc fans are focused completely on the NFL Draft, which is now just a week away, throwing out suggestions at such positions as tight end, safety and offensive line.

Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from  Buccaneer fans. This week we look at which offensive skill position might be the best bet for Tampa Bay in the first round. We also discuss a couple options at safety and even dig into a four-round mock for the Buccaneers.

Fans can submit questions for upcoming mailbags via Twitter to @ScottSBucs (#BucsMailbag), through a message on the Buccaneers Official Facebook Page or via email at tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.  The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.

1. Which Weapon?


Okay, I cheated a little bit with those second and third tweets because they weren't actually questions. However, the one from Josh was a reply to something I tweeted about Mike Evans and the one from Real Deal was in response to a tweet about last week's mailbag, so I think it's fair to include them in this conversation. My point in putting these two together is to point out that there really are a lot of different ways the Buccaneers could go at #19, and most of them are pretty exciting.

I'm going to set aside my obsession with the cornerback position at that part of the draft and dive into the idea – presented neatly by these three tweets – that the Bucs' first-round pick should be used to get another playmaker for Jameis Winston. If we start with that condition, then the question is: wide receiver, running back or tight end?

I'll start with Jim's specific question first: Why would the Buccaneers not draft Florida State wide receiver Dalvin Cook? Well, I can think of 18 reasons right off the top of my head. The Titans, Ravens, Redskins, Colts, Eagles…you get my point. Barring a trade, there will be 18 picks made by 16 different teams before the Buccaneers are on the clock. Okay, maybe we can rule out the first five or six teams (or maybe not) but there is still a very good chance Cook is off the board before pick #19. Winston, who would obviously love to be reunited with his Seminoles teammate, thinks that's the case.

"I’m just excited for Dalvin and following him in his draft process," Winston said on Monday as the Bucs began their offseason program. "Nineteen is our pick – I honestly think he’s more of a top 15 guy so I’m just excited for him."

READ: HARD KNOCKS COMING TO TAMPA BAY

Most mock drafts have LSU running back Leonard Fournette off the board well before #19. Cook's landing spot in the mocks is all over the board, and he is paired up with Tampa Bay fairly often (including in a handful of the most recent mock drafts featured in our weekly roundup). Some analysts also have the Buccaneers nabbing Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey. Of course, we must remember – and this is absolutely not meant as any kind of slight – that these analysts are mostly just guessing or matching up scouting reports with perceived needs – so we should take mock drafts with a grain of salt. My fellow Buccaneers.com contributors and I are going to throw our hats into the Mock Draft ring next week, and I'd say the exact same thing about our efforts.

But the idea of a running back in general at #19 is a good one, and I said so last week. I think it's absolutely fair to consider the Buccaneers' backfield situation a bit uncertain at this point, even with the encouraging return of Doug Martin to One Buccaneer Place on Monday. Both Winston and General Manager Jason Licht said Martin looked very good. No matter what happens, though, we know he will not be able to play in the first three games of the season. The Buccaneers have some very nice pieces in Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims, but they don't have another 1,000-yard rusher on the roster after Martin.

Now, we can make the same specific objections to Josh's plea for Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis. Josh clearly acknowledges the likelihood that Davis will be off the board before pick #19 by calling for a trade up, and that's where he loses me. The Buccaneers do not have any extra picks this year, just their own selection in each round, which makes it harder to trade upward. Maybe "more painful" is a better way to put it. A move up of any significance in the first round – say eight to 10 spots – will almost certainly cost the Bucs' their second-round pick, and I think a first and a second is too much to give up for one player in this wideout-heavy draft. Perhaps if Davis slips and we're only talking about a move of a couple spots – maybe something that costs the Bucs' a fourth-round pick – then I'd be onboard, but I don't anticipate that being the situation. Quite frankly, in the position Tampa Bay is in the draft, I think a trade down is more likely in the first round, and then the Bucs would have some ammunition for further deals on Days Two and Three.

READ: WIDE RECEIVERS TO WATCH IN THE DRAFT

So, back to the general concept. A stud wide receiver at pick #19? Yes, please! Sign me up right now. I completely agree with Josh's reasoning above and would take one of the top receivers over one of the top backs at that point in the draft. I agreed with the idea of adding a running back just a few paragraphs up, but I think you can do that in a later round. If the Bucs could draft one of the Corey Davis/John Ross/Mike Williams trio and then get a useful back later, that would be ideal, in my opinion. However, if all three of those are gone, it's probably best to punt the position to the second round.

Which brings us to the final tweet above. Plenty of mock drafts have all six of Fournette, Cook, McCaffrey, Davis, Ross and Williams gone before #19. In addition, Alabama tight end O.J. Howard looks like a top-10 or 12 pick. But plenty NFL analysts are guessing that Miami tight end David Njoku will still be there at #19. It's an intriguing thought. I do think that the Buccaneers could add another tight end to the mix and still not diminish the role of the promising young Cam Brate because Dirk Koetter employs two-TE sets with great frequency. The theory in Real Deal's tweet makes a lot of sense to me, in that it would be just as valuable to add a playmaking pass-catcher at tight end as at wideout, maybe even more so after the addition of DeSean Jackson. The questions are, would Njoku actually be that playmaker, and how soon? Given a choice between, say, Ross, Cook and Njoku, I'd go for the more established weapons in Ross or Cook first.

(All of that said, I'd still like to see the Bucs take a cornerback at #19. I just can't help myself!)

2. Safety First?

Hey Scott, My name is Tyri(Tyree) Originally from FL, but live in SC with Panther fans. My questions is would it be a good idea to draft Obi Melinfonwu as FS and JaBrill Peppers as SS and utilize him like a Toney Jefferson from the AZ. Cardinals? And Draft a RB in the mid rounds?
- Tyri (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

I suppose I might be seen as wishy-washy if I keep saying "yes" to all these different ideas for pick #19. I think that just underscores how many very useful options the Bucs are going to have with their first pick next week. Koetter has opined about his desire to add a 'game-wrecker' in the first round, and Licht thinks that can happen.

"I’d like to think that we have quite a few players that we think could be game-wreckers," said Licht. "I don’t want to get into the number. Like I said, you never know what can happen. One domino can fall and people move up for a certain position. This is a good draft."

So, to avoid that wishy-washy label, I'll first say that, given a shot at equally-talented prospects, I'd take a cornerback or a receiver before I'd take a safety. That doesn't mean Tyri's idea is a bad one, though. I would agree that safety is a position of need, maybe more so for the long run, even after the addition of J.J. Wilcox in free agency. Numbers-wise, that just kept the Bucs even as it balanced the departure of starter Bradley McDougald. In addition, second-year man Ryan Smith is moving back to cornerback, so that's one possible long-term solution at safety that is no longer there. I like the Bucs trio of Wilcox, Keith Tandy and Chris Conte (who was re-signed early in free agency), but I think the group could use a young and talented player to groom as a long-time starter. A playmaking safety is an underrated asset in the NFL, and when teams get one (such as Kansas City's Eric Berry) they usually make great pains to hold onto him.

READ: 5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT JABRILL PEPPERS

I'm a little confused by the specifics of Tyri's question, mainly because of the word "and" between Melifonwu and Peppers. I don't think there's a scenario in which the Buccaneers could end up with both of them, and even if one did precipitously drop into the second round, I don't like the idea of using the team's first two picks on the safety position. I'm going to guess that Tyri meant to say "or," particularly because the question goes on to say "utilize him like a Tony Jefferson" (my emphasis added).

Also, I'm not completely certain what is meant by utilizing him the way the Cardinals did Jefferson (before he bolted to Baltimore via free agency). I know Arizona had a lot of different extra-DB packages and have a very versatile (when healthy) player in Tyrann Mathieu, but I think Jefferson was pretty much a pure strong safety last year. Jefferson, a former undrafted free agent who gradually developed into his current role, does have some history in the slot in dime packages, so perhaps that's what Tyri means. Jefferson was moved around more in 2015 than he was in 2016. Or perhaps Tyri is referring to the fact that the Cardinals weren't shy about blitzing Jefferson, who has five sacks over the last three years.

If moving around the defensive formation and/or blitzing is what you have in mind, Tyri, then Peppers would seem to be the better fit. He may be the most versatile defender in this draft and he's a very good and aggressive blitzer. Melifonwu's stock climbed (at least among analysts and mock drafters) after a ridiculously athletic performance at the Combine, but I don't think he's considered the same sort of versatile prospect or strong blitzer that Peppers is. Whichever team drafts Peppers – and it certainly could be the Bucs – is almost certain to make good use of his versatility. I know that's something that both Licht and Koetter value in players.

3. Four Rounds Deep

High Scott long time reader, and fan.

So what do you think of this possibility on draft day; Round one pick#19 Forest Lamp. Round 2 Obi Melifonwu. Round 3 Sidney Jones. Round 4 Joe Mixon. Now I know there are some glaring questions but hear me out... Mike Mayock has favorably compared Forest Lamp to Zack Martin, possibly the best guard in the NFL. Obi Melifonwu has a first round grade, but could slide because of the late round rush on corners you suggested in one of your articles. That, plus a trade could get us within reach in round 2. I know Sidney Jones is hurt, but before that he was regarded as the best corner in this draft by several analysts. From what I know he had a muscle tear during a workout. So that doesn't sound long term (I'm not a doctor). I've heard from several outlets, that Joe Mixon may be the second best back, talent wise, in this draft. His off the field stuff will drop him significantly. If he is available in the 4th I think it's worth the risk. Now obviously this is a dream scenario, but I think it's possible. Do you agree, and do you like the picks? I mean you personally, of course. Thanks for what ever answer, and go bucs! 
- George (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

I'm guessing on the questioner's name here based on his email address. (Of course, I'm guessing on the "his" part, too, based on my guess of his name.) I suppose that really only matters to George…if that is indeed your name.

But I digress. First, I think it's quite ambitious to do a four-round mock. I can't even figure out what the Bucs are likely to do with their first-round pick. Like most multi-round mock drafts, this one from "George" probably has very little chance of hitting, but it is certainly well thought out. (NFL.com's Chad Reuter recently posted a SIX-round mock draft, which begs the question of why he didn't just finish it off with round seven.) I'll say this, George: I like some of it, but not all of it.

My favorite part of this is Sidney Jones pick. I do not agree that he was regarded as the best corner in the draft before his injury, but he was probably a late-first or second-round pick. His injury, by the way, was an Achilles tear and there's a very good chance it will cost him most or all of his rookie season. That is actually not a particularly easy injury to return from, so there is some definite risk there. As such, I'd prefer to make a move like this in the fourth round if possible; the third seems a bit too high, and that pick is likely to return a player in this very deep draft who can help the team right away. So give me a shot at a potential long-term answer at cornerback, even with some risk, in the fourth round and I'll take it.

I do like Forrest Lamp as a prospect and I've heard the same Zack Martin comparisons, which is obviously very favorable. Not all scouts agree on that assessment, but he shows up in the first round of most mock drafts (perhaps in part because it's a weak year for offensive linemen). However, I don't think it's a first-round need for the Buccaneers. I've said it repeatedly on our Insider Live show: I think the Buccaneers' decision-makers are higher on their group of linemen than outside analysts. With Ali Marpet, Kevin Pamphile, J.R. Sweezy, Joe Hawley, Evan Smith and Caleb Benenoch around, the team is probably set on the interior line, at least for 2017.

I discussed Melifonwu above. If he slipped all the way to #50, that seems like it would be great value, though you have to make sure he's more than just a Combine star. I trust our scouts to know the difference. I wouldn't trade up and give away a third or fourth-round pick to make sure I got him, though. As for Mixon, I'm going to be honest: I'm not touching that. We all know that his eventual draft landing spot is tied up in his off-the-field issue and not his talent. It's up to Jason Licht's crew to determine if and when they would draft Mixon, and that will be based on what I'm sure is a significant amount of information-gathering. I'm not privy to that information or the Bucs' assessment of it, so I can't say if he's an option for the team.