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Buccaneers.com 2022 Mock Draft 3.0: All Bucs, Only Bucs

Every other week, our Mock Drafts are going to take a different approach, and this time around it's to focus solely on the Bucs' six picks in the 2022 draft and who they could be targeting in each round

Bucs Mock Draft

When we started this year's series of mock drafts on Buccaneers.com, our plan was to duplicate 2021, with former Staff Writer Carmen Vitale and I alternating efforts from week to week. However, Carmen has moved on to greener pastures so we have to call an audible.

From here on forward, every other Buccaneers.com Mock Draft will be something a little different. Every other week, you will still get your normal first-round mock (to, I'm sure, mock mercilessly), but in between I'll take a different approach. And that starts this week with an All-Buccaneers Mock Draft. It was what you were looking for all along; you just didn't know it.

At the moment, the Buccaneers have six overall selections in a seven-round, 229-pick draft. Those numbers will change soon when the NFL adds compensatory selections, but for right now I'll work with what we've got. The idea is to make a realistic pick in each round – that is, given the overall scouting consensus, could the player actually still be on the board at that spot? – and to address current and potential team needs.

It's a fool's errand, as you probably know. Most mock drafts fall apart well before the first round is over. There are just too many variables. But there's no harm in trying, and at the very least shining some light on what could be the team's overall draft strategy in 2022.

As to that last point, keep in mind that this is my own exercise and is not meant to reflect the strategies or evaluations of General Manger Jason Licht, Head Coach Bruce Arians or anyone on their staffs. Also, a bit about the methodology in play here: I am not predicting each pick for each team, just the Bucs' picks. The trick, then, is to try to hit on players who would realistically be available each time Tampa Bay goes on the clock. I tried to achieve that by combining a good number of prospect rankings and mock drafts to get to some kind of general consensus. You will probably find some mock draft(s) that have the players below coming off the board before the Bucs' picks, but I think all of them are at least realistic possibilities.

Also, before embarking on this exercise, I tried to pinpoint the positions that might be of greatest need for the Buccaneers heading into the 2022 draft so I could factor that into my decisions. The upcoming free agency period will likely affect that a great deal, but for the most part I considered the potential departure of a player on the Bucs' free agent list as enough to make that a position of interest. I came up this list, in no particular order: wide receiver, defensive line, edge, interior offensive line, running back, cornerback and tight end. Yes, quarterback is obviously a position the Bucs need to figure out but I firmly believe they will do it in some manner not involving this year's draft.

Disclaimers and methodology delivered, let's get started.

Round One, Pick 27: Ohio State WR Chris Olave

The Buckeyes wideout seems to be slipping a bit on mock draft boards, to the point that it will not be surprising at all to see him go in the mid-20s or later. In fact, I have seen a few recent mocks with him unrepresented in the first round. What gives? Well, Olave may not blow you away with one particular superstar trait. He doesn't have the absolute blazing speed of Jameson Williams or the size and contested catch ability of Drake London. But Olave does pretty much everything well and already carries himself like a veteran.

You know who that sounds like to me? Chris Godwin. After five years of watching a wide receiver with maturity beyond his years and a wide-ranging skill set that allows him to succeed all over the field, horizontally and vertically, I would gladly sign up for another Godwin-like experience. Like Godwin, Olave simply knows how to get open. He's not quite as big as Godwin and might have some issues against press-coverage in the NFL, but you know who faces one of the lowest press-coverage rates in the NFL, according to NFL Next Gen Stats? Chris Godwin. Give Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich a good to great route-runner who is fluid, more than fast enough, has good acceleration and is simply smooth out there, and I think they'll figure out how to use him. And there is, of course, the possibility that Godwin will depart in free agency, as much as I'm hoping that doesn't happen. Olave would give the Bucs a pretty dangerous three-wide package with Godwin and Mike Evans, and/or he could represent the eventual or immediate succession plan for Godwin.

Round Two, Pick 60: Kentucky T/G Darian Kinnard

The availability of Kinnard at number 60 may depend upon how teams view him from a positional standpoint. He played tackle at Kentucky, earning first-team All-SEC honors as a junior in 2020, and also worked on the edge at the Senior Bowl. However, there are some concerns about how well he would handle top-notch speed rushers at the NFL level, and moving him inside would accentuate his strengths.

First off, Kinnard is massive at about 6-5, 325, and he uses that size to absolutely maul defenders in the run game. He would be a good fit for the duo run plays that make up a large part of Tampa Bay's run scheme. His size and strength work better from a pass-protection standpoint on the inside, as he would be able to anchor against bull rushes and he has nimble enough feet to close off gaps against three-tech pass-rusher.

I already had interior offensive line high on the Bucs' list of needs but it became much more of an urgent situation with the surprise retirement of Ali Marpet on Sunday. Godspeed, Ali, and thanks for everything you did for the franchise, but now it's time for the team to figure out how to move forward. With center Ryan Jensen and right guard Alex Cappa both pending free agents, it's possible the Bucs will have to field a whole new threesome between tackles Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs in 2022. Robert Hainsey, a third-round pick last year, was drafted to step in eventually at one of those spots, perhaps center in the early going if Jensen does not return. Hainsey has useful versatility to move around the line, however, depending upon what happens in the draft and free agency. Former undrafted free agent Nick Leverett impressed last year in limited action and could possibly pick up a larger role. And, of course, Aaron Stinnie is a known quantity as a starting-caliber guard, but would also have to be re-signed for that to be an option.

Regardless of those possible avenues of help, there is so much uncertainty regarding the Bucs' interior line that it would seem wise to target a high-upside blocker pretty early in the draft. Picking late in the round doesn't help but just before finishing this up I checked three recent multi-round drafts and it seems at least reasonable that Kinnard will be available at pick #60. Pro Football Focus had him going off the board at number 61, NFL.com at number 52 and Pro Football Network at pick 69.

Round Three, Pick 91: Alabama DL Phidarian Mathis

I considered hitting this position in the second round, but with the stock of Oklahoma's Perrion Winfrey on the rise and him not likely to last to number 60 at this point, I didn't end up liking the value there. That said, Alabama's Mathis would be very nice consolation prize if he makes it to the bottom part of Round Three.

The Bucs almost certainly will have a need at this position. Vita Vea is a newly-minted Pro Bowler with a newly-signed long-term deal, so the anchor for the interior line is in place. But Ndamukong Suh has played on three straight one-year deals, likely signaling that he is choosing on a season-to-season basis whether to extend his stellar career. Will Gholston and Steve McLendon are pending free agents, as well. Even if the Bucs get one or two of those three back, an infusion of youth seems like a good idea.

Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles likes big men in the middle of his defensive front, and it helps if they can move well, also. Mathis fits the bill, measuring in at 6-3 and 313 pounds and possessing good lateral quickness. He may not be a high-end interior pass-rusher but, honestly, those are difficult to find beyond the first round. Mathis has a strong lower body and can win with a bull rush, and he's also technically sound and quick to pick up what the offense is trying to do.

Round Four, Pick 130: Washington TE Cade Otton

I put tight end on my list of needs above, but I actually didn't expect to pick one along the way. Depending upon what happens with Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard, both pending unrestricted free agents, the Bucs could use a tight end with the potential to play on all three downs, and you usually don't find that on the third day of the draft. Three-down tight ends go earlier and the later rounds serve up players who either have potential as a pass-catcher or next-level blocker.

Otton could be the exception. He didn't have a hugely productive final season at Washington, missing some time and finishing with 21 catches, but he could improve his draft stock at the upcoming Combine. As a pass-catcher, he may be more steady than spectacular, but there aren't a lot of Gronkowski's out there, and apart from Gronk, Arians has not often featured the tight end heavily in the passing attack anyway.

First of all, Otton is a willing and capably blocker who has a lot of experience playing as a true Y lined up tight with the offensive line. He has plenty of size at 6-5, 250, is very competitive and has enough athleticism to hold up in one-on-one assignments against NFL edge rushers. As a pass-catcher, Otton runs good routes and has reliable hands but doesn't blow your socks off with speed or athleticism.

Round Five, Pick 161: Western Kentucky EDGE DeAngelo Malone

You're not finding fully-formed NFL edge rushers in the fifth round; you have to look for certain traits you can develop, or college production that you think can translate to the NFL with some development in certain areas. Malone was very productive at Western Kentucky, racking up 32.5 sacks and 59.0 tackles for loss across five seasons. He then went to the Senior Bowl in January and put on a show, even winning MVP honors for his American squad.

The question is, can Malone dominate against NFL blockers the way he did in Conference USA. Also, he currently comes in at about 235, which obviously makes evaluators wonder if he will get bullied in the run game and swallowed up on the edge by bigger tackles. There is, however, a lot to like about him as a pass rusher, including a quick get-off, strong acceleration and good bend. He's also probably a better fit in a 3-4 front like the Bucs' base package, where he can start out as a situation pass-rusher, rush from a two-point stance and perhaps learn how to be an asset dropping into coverage.

Could the Bucs use help in their edge rush rotation? Couldn't just about any team at any time? In the Bucs' case, Shaq Barrett is set but Jason Pierre-Paul is a pending free agent coming off a season marred by a shoulder injury. Anthony Nelson had a strong finish to the season and could step up to a more prominent role, and more will be expected of 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka in Year Two. Still, a potentially productive pass-rusher in the fifth round is hard to pass up.

Round Seven, Pick 224: North Carolina RB Ty Chandler

The Bucs don't have a sixth-round pick, having given it up at midseason in 2020 in the Steve McLendon trade. So they have a lot of time to think about what they want to do near the end of Round Seven. One idea could be to seek a situational piece for an offensive backfield that definitely needs reinforcements.

At the moment, Tampa Bay has just two running backs under contract for 2022, 2020 third-round pick Ke'Shawn Vaughn and veteran Kenjon Barner, primarily a return man. That's it. They could try to bring back Leonard Fournette and/or Ronald Jones, but there's no guarantee either will return. Considering that Arians' teams usually carry four running backs on the 53-man roster, there's work to do.

Picking a running back in the seventh round isn't likely to address a team's need for a lead rusher, and that's not what I'm trying to do here. Chandler could give the Bucs two things, if everything breaks right for him: A third-down back with good open-field production in the passing attack and a player who could contribute right away on special teams. Having special teams value is how some fringe players work their way into the late stages of the draft.

Chandler was a rotational back at Tennessee before transferring to North Carolina and getting his biggest dose of playing time in 2021. He ran 182 times for 1,092 yards and 13 touchdowns and added 15 catches for 216 yards and one more score. That's not a huge number of receptions but his 14.4-yard average on those plays is eye-popping for a running back. On special teams he has extensive experienced as a kick returner and has also worked as a cover man.

**

Final thoughts:

I did not expect to come out of this without a cornerback. With Carlton Davis facing free agency (but possibly getting franchise-tagged) and both Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting coming due next year, it may be time to reload at the position. Maybe the Buccaneers will be able to keep all three of those corners who were strong performers in the 2020 Super Bowl run, but a little insurance would be nice. And, as I have said many times and as we witnessed once again in 2021, you can never have enough quality cornerback depth.

It's possible Olave's draft stock will start to rebound in the coming weeks, particularly if he does something special at the Combine, like running a faster-than-expected 40. Still, there's enough receiver depth in the first round that the Bucs should be able to address that position one way or another, if that's the their top priority. Defensive line and EDGE were the two other spots I considered there.

It's an offense-heavy draft, with four of the six picks on that side of the ball. That wasn't a plan and perhaps it's a mistake given that the Bucs' offense outperformed their defense in 2021. But changes are coming on that side of the ball and the team won't be able to just "run it back" like it did after the 2020 championship season.

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