View photos of Chad Reuter's third mock draft. Photos by AP Images.
Everybody and their brother is doing a first-round NFL mock draft these days, including us. However, long-time draft guru Chad Reuter, now sharing his insight on NFL.com, has gotten especially ambitious. On Tuesday, he dropped a monster five-round mock draft. That's a whopping 174 pick predictions, including five for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The notable thing about Reuter's five picks for the Buccaneers is how thoroughly he addresses the team's biggest perceived needs. If you've followed our weekly Mock Draft Roundup, you've surely noticed the widespread belief that Tampa Bay could use help at defensive end, cornerback and running back. Additionally, the Bucs have been paired at times with a guard – especially Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson when falls to the seventh pick – and recent drafts have emphasized the safety position.
View photos of the second mock draft by Buccaneers.com contributors Carmen Vitali and Scott Smith. Photos by AP Images.
Reuter's five picks for the Buccaneers, in order, are a safety, a running back, a defensive end, a guard and a cornerback. Check, check, check, check, check.
Mock drafting, of course, is often an exercise in connecting the dots between perceived needs and available talent, rather than the sharing of any real inside information. Actual draft classes rarely follow a checklist this neatly, as there isn't always a good match of a depth-chart need and actual talent value at any particular draft spot. Tight end wasn't the Buccaneers biggest perceived need last year, for instance, but the team couldn't pass on Alabama's O.J. Howard when he surprisingly fell to the 19th pick. Tampa Bay's 2014 draft started out an expected note with wide receiver Mike Evans but who would have predicted that every single pick that followed would be an offensive player. Surely the 2014 team had some defensive needs, too.
Still, Reuter's efforts are an indication of how thoroughly the Buccaneers could address their needs if the draft falls right. Here are his five picks for Tampa Bay:
- Round One, Pick #7: Florida State safety Derwin James
- Round Two, Pick #38: Georgia running back Nick Chubb
- Round Three, Pick #69: Ohio State defensive end Tyquan Lewis
- Round Four, Pick #108: Auburn guard Braden Smith
- Round Five, Pick #144: Florida cornerback Duke Dawson
Interestingly, Nelson is still on the board in Reuter's draft when he sends James to the Buccaneers. He predicts four quarterbacks among the top six picks, with the Browns landing Penn State running back Saquon Barkley at #4 and the Colts snapping up North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb at #6. Still, Reuter goes with James, noting: "The back end of the Buccaneers' defense needs revamping; grabbing James is a good start."
James nailed his workouts at the Combine and was a productive player and a commanding locker room presence at Florida State. He has drawn comparisons to Kansas City star safety Eric Berry and can make an impact as both a ballhawk and a hitter. It's worth noting that the Buccaneers used a high pick on a safety just a year ago, taking Texas A&M's Justin Evans in the second round, and Evans looks like a long-term starter. The Buccaneers have also elected to bring back veterans Chris Conte and Keith Tandy, either of which could comfortably start next to Evans, though perhaps with a lesser ceiling than James would offer.
Chubb is the second of four running backs that Reuter slots into the second round after putting just one – Barkley – in the first round. For those mock drafters who put in a little extra work and go beyond Round One, a Buccaneers-running back pairing is common (here's one example, and here's another), and it's a strategy we've previously discussed here on Buccaneers.com. Tampa Bay has had a good amount of success with second-round running backs, and this year's draft class looks like it could provide an opportunity for another one.
Chubb, in particular, is a bigger back (5-11, 228) who could be a powerful presence between the tackles but isn't necessarily a pass-catching threat on third downs. He's one of two Georgia backs commonly projected as second-round picks, along with Sony Michel. As for the Buccaneers, they obviously want to improve upon the NFL's 27th-ranked rushing attack and have recently parted ways with Doug Martin, although they are returning their end-of-season starter in Peyton Barber.
With Bradley Chubb off the board before their pick in Round One and the second round being used on offense, the Bucs have to wait until the third round to hit perhaps their biggest need in an edge rusher. Reuter gives them Lewis, who had 23 sacks over his last three seasons at Ohio State. Obviously, pass-rushers don't last until the third round if they are the complete package, and there is some thought that Lewis might eventually be best off adding some weight and playing inside at the three-technique position. The Jaguars found a very good rusher in the third round in Yannick Ngakoue just two years ago, but that's not an easy thing to do. The Bucs haven't tried that approach for a very long time; the last time Tampa Bay drafted a defensive end in the third round was in 1982, with John Cannon.
In contrast, starting-caliber offensive guards can more commonly be found in the mid-rounds, as the Bucs have previously done with the likes of Jeremy Zuttah, Kevin Pamphile, Dan Buenning, Frank Middleton and Ian Beckles, among others. Auburn's Smith has drawn second and third-round grades from some analysts and is compared to Kevin Zeitler by NFL.com. Smith completed 35 bench press reps at the Combine and plays strong on the field as well.
Tampa Bay has already addressed its interior offensive line in free agency, giving a big deal to highly-coveted Baltimore center Ryan Jensen. That addition ostensibly moves Ali Marpet back to one of the guard spots, but the other one is a bit of a question mark. Kevin Pamphile, the starter at left guard for most of the last two seasons, is an unsigned free agent and J.R. Sweezy, who manned the right guard spot in 2017, finished the year on injured reserve. Caleb Benenoch, who finished the season as the starting right tackle, could fight for that guard spot as well, or the team could make an addition in the draft, as Reuter predicts.
The Buccaneers were also able to bring back Brent Grimes a day or two into free agency, which makes the cornerback depth look quite a bit better. Team execs are expecting a big bounce-back season from 2016 first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves and third-year man Ryan Smith got a lot of valuable starting experience last year. Still, cornerback depth is difficult to find and maintain, so it would be well worth a fifth-round investment if the Bucs could land a useful player at that position. Dawson did it all in his four years in Gainesville, playing safety, slot corner and outside corner. His one full season on the outside was 2017, when he led the Gators with four interceptions and earned All-SEC honors.