Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Hope to Find 'Gems' in Super-Sized Rookie Class

The Bucs are taking 27 rookies into their 2023 training camp, including a long list of undrafted players who could have real shots at making the regular-season roster


The 2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced a rather sizeable transition in going from a team with Tom Brady to a team without Tom Brady. Raising the level of difficulty for that dramatic makeover was a tight salary cap situation created by three years of Brady-era "Let's Go!" level of going-for-it. So, in an effort to service both the current team's hopes of capturing a third straight division title and a competitive future, the Buccaneers had to do a little bargain hunting this past offseason.

"The challenge was fun and accepted by our staff," said General Manager Jason Licht on Tuesday. "It makes you go out and have to get real deals – shop at the dollar store, and sometimes you find a real gem. We're hoping that that's the case right now. We're cautiously optimistic that we've found some real gems, not just in the draft but in free agency and after the draft. You said invigorating – there is some of that. The challenge is always fun. The competitors in us are looking forward to it."

The Bucs hope they found some cost-effective help in free agency with the likes of safety Ryan Neal, guard Matt Feiler and defensive lineman Greg Gaines. Time will tell if that's the case, but all three have proven track records and a pretty clear shot to significant roles in 2023. If the team can hit on such later-round draft picks as wide receiver Trey Palmer, defensive back Josh Hayes and edge rusher Jose Ramirez, that would help too.

But perhaps the most intriguing group from which the Bucs hope to dig out some hidden gems is its long list of undrafted rookie signees. There are 19 men in that group for this year's camp; combined with the eight-man draft class that's 27 rookies among 90 total players, or 30% of the entire camp roster. That's a bigger class of rookies than usual and, if Licht is correct, perhaps a more talented one than usual, too.

"We've had a lot of discussions about that with both my staff and then myself and Todd [Bowles] – about how impressed we are with the rookie class, not just the drafted players but the undrafted players," said Licht. "I think there could be quite a few undrafted players that make it as well and that's just a testament of our scouting department doing a fantastic job digging those guys out. We've got some players in the secondary – I know we've talked about [Christian] Izien and [Kaevon] Merriweather and [Keenan] Isaac. Then players along the receiver [group] – we've got [Taye] Barber and [Rakim] Jarrett, [Kade] Warner – I don't think since I've been here that we've had this many undrafted free agents coming out of the spring that we're as excited as we are watching them and going into training camp."

For an undrafted rookie to make the active roster – and in most seasons, at least one or two do so – he has to have a combination of talent and opportunity. The post-Brady Bucs still have a lot of overall talent and were able to retain some of it by re-signing Lavonte David, Jamel Dean and a few others, but there are certainly spots on the depth chart that lack many experienced options. Izien and Merriweather are listed as safeties, and at that spot the only true veterans in the room are Neal and Antoine Winfield. Receivers like Barber, Jarrett and Warner could be competing for up to three spots on the wide receiver depth chart along with such relatively green second-year players like Deven Thompkins and Kaylon Geiger. Rookie RB Sean Tucker will try to crack a running back room that no longer features Leonard Fournette. Tight end Tanner Taula essentially has one rookie and two second-year players in front of him.

Rookies who fail to get drafted do end up with the partial advantage of getting to pick their first NFL destination if they have multiple suitors, which many of them do. Studying the depth chart of a team seeking your services and looking for real opportunities at your position only makes sense. After watching OTA practices and minicamp, the Bucs think those opportunities have attracted some very real talent.

"In the spring, it has been one of the more talented free agent classes that I've been a part of free agent-wise and draft pick-wise," said Bowles. "Look for a lot of guys to have a chance to make this team. I think it's been as competitive as it's been since I've been here, as far as depth from every position, so there are a lot of guys that could have been drafted that [weren't] that came on as free agents that have really impressed in mini-camp."

Latest Headlines