Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Options at Pick 14 Grow with Junior-Eligible Prospects

The NFL has announced its list of non-seniors granted special eligibility for the 2020 draft, and there's a good chance the Bucs will dip into that pool in the first round for the sixth time in the last seven years


The NFL has released its complete list of players who have been granted special eligibility for the league's 2020 draft, which kicks off with Round One on April 23. Many of the names on the list will be called again that Thursday evening, as junior-eligible prospects tend to dominate the first round. There's even a good chance the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will select a player from this group, just as they did last year with LSU linebacker Devin White.

This year's list of 99 players granted special eligibility is a few less than the 103 that entered the draft early last year. There are another 16 players who have been deemed eligible for the draft because they had already earned their degrees plus five more who inquired about their draft status but did not require special eligibility. The NFL requires that players be three years removed from high school before they can declare for the draft, so the list is largely juniors plus some redshirt sophomores.

Some of these 124 prospects will go undrafted but most will be selected at seven point during the seven rounds that will be conducted from April 23-25. And some will go very, very early in the proceedings. For example, NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah posted his first 2020 mock draft 10 minutes after the NFL released the list of junior eligibles, and 11 of his first 13 picks are all from Tuesday's list.

The Buccaneers are currently slated to pick 14th in the first round. That is likely too low to land the likes of Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young or his Buckeye teammate, cornerback Jeff Okudah, but the depth of junior-eligible talent this year is enough to put several within Tampa Bay's reach. For instance, if the Bucs choose to target an offensive lineman they'll be picking from a group that includes potential first-round juniors Mekhi Becton of Louisville, Tristan Wirfs of Iowa, Jedrick Wills of Alabama and Anthony Thomas of Georgia.

The influx of junior-eligible players will also make the first round more fruitful for teams looking for edge-rush help. Among those on Tuesday's list are Young, Iowa's A.J. Epenesa, Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos and LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson. Top-level receiver options will also be more plentiful with the eligibility granted to Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Colorado's Laviska Shenault, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and LSU's Justin Jefferson.

And, of course, the addition of the juniors makes the all-important quarterback position more interesting. LSU's Joe Burrow, widely expected to be taken with the first-overall pick, is a senior but QB-hungry teams without access to that top spot could turn to such juniors as Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon's Justin Hebert, Georgia's Jake Fromm or Washington's Jacob Eason.

Last spring, 19 of the players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft were from the special-eligibility list. That included 12 of the first 13 picks and 15 of the top 18. The Buccaneers' first three picks were all from that list: White followed by cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean in the second and third rounds. Like White, Murphy-Bunting was a junior-eligible; Dean had already completed his degree requirements. Tampa Bay's fourth-round pick, Iowa outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, was on the same list as Dean.

In fact, five of the Buccaneers' last first-round picks have all been prospects granted special eligibility: White (2019), defensive lineman Vita Vea (2018), cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (2016), quarterback Jameis Winston (2015) and wide receiver Mike Evans (2014). The exception in that span was Alabama senior tight end O.J. Howard in 2017.

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