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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2024 Draft Wrap: Big Expectations

The Bucs addressed multiple needs and targeted culture fits in the 2024 NFL Draft, which included several picks designed to help the run game and possible impact players at edge rusher and in the secondary


Two weeks before the beginning of the 2024 NFL Draft, Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht shared an interesting assessment of his team's roster. That roster, Licht said, still had plenty of needs to address, and that was actually a good thing. Licht's point: The collection of players that took the Buccaneers to the brink of the 2023 NFC Championship Game was almost completely intact following an impressive run of re-signings in free agency, and it had a chance to get significantly better.

Obviously, the best opportunity for that roster to improve was in the draft, and at its conclusion on Saturday evening, the Buccaneers believe they did exactly that.

"I think we got a lot better," said Assistant General Manager John Spytek, who addressed the media after the team's final pick on Saturday. "We got a lot of our kind of guy at the positions we needed. They're good football players. We feel good about the way it shook out for us this year. Of course, everybody is saying it right now so those guys have to go out there and prove it. But we are super excited with the way it fell and who we added. It gives us big expectations in this building."

The Bucs' draft began on Thursday night with the first-round selection of Duke's Graham Barton, who is likely earmarked to play center but could figure into any of the team's three interior offensive line spots. The Bucs have an opening at left guard, and with Barton, 2023 second-round pick Cody Mauch and 2024 sixth-rounder Elijah Klein, have a myriad of options to fill out the middle between tackles Tristan Wirfs and Luke Goedeke.

"I think the whole interior is kind of up for grabs," said Spytek. "Obviously, Graham and Cody are going to factor into that somewhere. We moved Cody from left tackle at North Dakota State to right [guard]; could we move him back to left [guard]? We could. Depends on who feels comfortable where. Graham played center and left tackle but he could play guard if it shakes out a certain way. Obviously with [Ben] Bredeson and Sua [Opeta] and Klein now, and we still like Robert Hainsey a lot – he's played a lot of good football around here – Brandon Walton…I look at it from a standpoint that we've got great competition in that room, which I think always elevates the level of play of the players that matter the most. Who's going to rise to the occasion?"

The Bucs made six more picks over the next two days of the draft, adding depth and potential starters to such positions as outside linebacker, safety and wide receiver. Here is Tampa Bay's full 2024 draft class:

Table inside Article
Round (Overall) Pos. Player College Notes
1 (26) C Graham Barton Duke First-team All-ACC in 2023
2 (57) OLB Chris Braswell Alabama 8.0 sacks, 3 FF in 2023
3 (89) S Tykee Smith Georgia Tm.-high 70 tackles, 4 INT in '23
3 (92) WR Jalen McMillan Washington Team-best 1,098 rec yds in '22
4 (125) RB Bucky Irving Oregon 1,593 yds from scrimmage in '23
6 (220) G Elijah Klein UTEP 55 collegiate starts, 53 at RG
7 (246) TE Devin Culp Washington 4.47 40-yard dash at Combine

Notably, those were the exact seven picks the Bucs held when the draft began. The extra third-round pick came from a trade in March of cornerback Carlton Davis to the Lions, which also subtracted the Bucs' sixth-round pick. The Bucs did pick at the end of the sixth round due to being awarded a compensatory selection for net free agency losses in 2023. The missing fifth-round pick was the product of a trade last year to get an extra sixth-rounder to take wide receiver Trey Palmer.

This marks the first time in 11 years helming the Bucs' draft that Licht did not make a single trade after the picks kicked off on Thursday night.

"He's upset about that, I think, too," said Spytek with a grin. "I think when there were guys that we refused to pass up on, we had trade offers. And then when there were situations where we would think we could move back a couple picks and still get our guy, the phone didn't ring. So, what are you going to do? You can't pass. We picked our guys and we were excited to do it. That's just the way it goes sometimes. All great streaks are meant to be broken and we'll have to start a new streak next year."

After lasting through some nervous minutes to see Barton make it to their 26th spot in the first round, the Buccaneers came back on Friday night and addressed three obvious areas of need. The first was Alabama outside linebacker Chris Braswell, who gives the Bucs another talented option in their edge rush rotation after the salary cap-motivated release of Shaquil Barrett in March.Braswell bided his time at Alabama amid a very talented edge-rushing group, then shined in 2023 with 8.0 sacks. His 2023 teammate, Dallas Turner, was the 17th pick in the draft and the third defensive player off the board.

"I would think I would start with the person, like we've talked about in the past," said Spytek of Braswell. "Here's a kid that went to Alabama to compete; he wanted to play with the best. He ends up behind Will Anderson and Dallas Turner, two really high-end players, and when we came in to visit with us here [we asked], 'Did you ever think about leaving?' [He responded,] 'No, why would I leave? I picked Alabama, I love Alabama, I'm not afraid of competition. I believe in myself. This is where I want to be.' He got to learn from two really good guys that he considered to be really good teammates. Then you put the tape on – he finally gets a chance to play this year and he produces with eight sacks."

The Bucs had two more picks late in the third round on Friday night and they went back to some of the most powerful college programs, tabbing Georgia safety Tykee Smith at number 89 and Washington wide receiver Jalen McMillan at number 92. Smith originally played safety at West Virginia, and had four picks in two seasons, before transferring to Alabama and settling into slot role. With Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Whitehead expected to start at safety in 2024, Smith's best path to early playing time would be to compete for the nickel job.

"We would expect him to come in here and compete right away," said Spytek, citing Georgia's high-level defensive preparation. "Tykee is way ahead of a lot of kids that would enter the NFL, and in a defense where we ask a lot of our secondary – they have to know a lot of things, they have to be versatile, they have to think really fast, think on the fly – to me that's always the biggest hurdle. These guys that you pick on Day One and Day Two, they're usually really good athletes. It's really the mental stuff that will slow them down."

If anything, McMillan was in an even more crowded situation at his position at Washington. After topping 1,000 yards for the Huskies in 2022 he dealt with an injury last season and fell behind in the pecking order to two highly-drafted Washington receivers this weekend – Rome Odunze (#9) and Ja'Lynn Polk (#37).

"On a team with two really good receivers – obviously one that went in the top 10 and another one that went really early in [Round] Two – it was still really easy to see him," said Spytek. "A lot of times that guy can be forgotten about. His athleticism, the way he runs routes – he plays like the game makes sense to him. There's a smoothness and an easiness to his game that you really appreciate. He makes some of the things that are more challenging for the receiver position look fairly simple.

"Had it not been for the injury this year, I think there would have been no chance to be where we picked him. He missed some games this year with an injury, tried to fight through it. He had a thousand yards last year, which is pretty impressive. When you talk to the people in that building, they had a high level of respect for Jalen and thought that he was really similar and close to the level of player that Rome and the other Ja'Lynn were."

To begin Day Three of the draft, the Buccaneers selected Oregon running back Bucky Irving late in the fourth round. Irving gives Tampa Bay's rushing attack some much needed depth after Rachaad White led all NFL runners in offensive snaps in 2023. He's a smaller back than White but he is surprisingly difficult to get to the ground, averaging 6.2 yards per carry in his college career.

"When we had him for a visit, he told us the first guy doesn't tackle him," said Spytek. "I think that's what you're looking for as a running back, especially when they're not the biggest running back. It's no secret that Bucky isn't Christian Okoye. He's not going to run through people's faces all the time. But you look at his production, whether it was at Minnesota or Oregon, he's six yards a carry. He's hard to get on the ground, and for a man that's less than 200 pounds, when you do hit him – which is hard to do – he's hard to knock off his feet. He has a lot of qualities that we look for in a running back."

The Bucs had a long wait after the Irving pick to get back on the clock thanks to the trades that sent away their fifth and sixth-round picks. When they did get back into the spotlight with the very last pick of the sixth round, their compensatory selection, they finally went away from the powerhouse programs and nabbed UTEP guard Elijah Klein. The Bucs liked his approach to blocking defenders.

"He's going to sell out, kind of like Graham," said Spytek. "He's going to give you everything he's got. He's a big man. When he walks in you see his shoulders, you see the girth to him. And he's another guy, like Graham talked about the other day, he's hell-bent to block his guy and he's out there to finish his guy. It's not personal, it's just, my job is to protect the quarterback and win the line of scrimmage, and he just does that over and over and over again."

The two picks spent on interior lineman as well as the backfield depth addition of Irving potentially gives the Bucs more juice in the running game. That's a priority after the team finished 32nd in rushing yards in each of the last two season.

"I think we did [improve]," said Spytek. "I absolutely think we did. I think when you get a player the caliber of Graham and then you add a road-grade mentality with Elijah, and what Bucky can do. I think we can be a lot better. I think we need to be a lot better. We've got to be more balanced. We've got to have people respect our run game. I think that should be the goal of every offense."

The final pick, near the end of the seventh round, was another Washington pass-catcher, tight end Devin Culp. Culp could bring a new dimension to the team's young tight end room with his top-level speed. Spytek joked that the Bucs' brass "couldn't help themselves" from taking another Washington player to add to a roster that already includes Otton, McMillan, Vita Vea, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Greg Gaines. More to the point, though, the Buccaneers' draft gurus believe they successfully targeted seven players who can help immediately and address some significant roster needs. Time will be the ultimate arbiter of how well they did that, but the 2024 draft weekend ended with a good dose of optimism.

"We're excited about a lot of these guys," said "Spytek. "You can't fix everything in the draft, but we have a belief and a confidence in the guys that are in that locker room right now that they can play at a level we need them to play at to be successful."

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