Big men dominated the first night of the 2019 NFL Draft. In a completely unsurprising development, an early and sustained run on defensive linemen defined Round One, along with a later rush for the top offensive linemen. Nineteen of the 32 selections on Thursday night were players in the trenches. As a result, several positions wound up with lighter representation than usual in the opening round, including cornerback and wide receiver.
Expect a course correction when the second and third rounds are conducted on Friday night. With only one cornerback and two safeties coming off the board on Thursday, there is a bounty of secondary options for teams in that market. Marquise Brown and N'Keal Harry have found their first NFL homes but the rest of the receivers are still waiting for a call. They may not wait long. And even with that late run on offensive linemen, there are some intriguing options still available at the top of Round Two.
Will any of this interest the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? After getting their top target in LSU linebacker Devin White with the fifth overall pick, the Buccaneers are now ready to put the 39th selection in play. That's the seventh pick of the second round, which means the team could arrange a short list of coveted players on Friday afternoon and be comfortable knowing they will get one of them.
Who would be on that list? The Draft Room at the AdventHealth Training Center is still buttoned up tight and there's no value to the Buccaneers' actual decision-makers in tipping the team's hand. That won't stop us from making some guesses; just remember, as always, that what follows is not meant to reflect the actual opinions or strategies of Jason Licht, Bruce Arians or any members of the Bucs' personnel and coaching staffs.
View photos of LB Devin White from his playing days at LSU.
Here are five players the Bucs may be considering with the 39th pick on Friday night:
1-2. Oklahoma OL Cody Ford and Kansas State OL Dalton Risner
We're grouping these two Big 12 blockers together because they could have similar appeal to the Buccaneers, and both were considered possible first-round picks.
With new contracts for Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith in the last seven months and last year's free agency splurge on Ryan Jensen, the Buccaneers have not been shy about investing in their offensive line. However, the results in 2018 were middling, particularly in the ground game, and there is certainly room for another infusion of talent. The Bucs could be thinking of two specific O-Line investment strategies: finding an immediate competitor for right guard and adding a potential long-term solution at right tackle. Either Ford or Risner is a potential answer for both.
Ford (6-4, 329) is a big man. He played right tackle last season in the Sooners' powerful offense but he made seven starts at left guard in the previous two campaigns. He didn't have a particularly good Combine, which may have fueled his slide out of the first round. But this is a blocker with a wide base and the ability to move laterally and pull if needed. He could offer immediate help as a guard, particularly in the running game, but his feet suggest he could also handle right tackle in the NFL in the long run.
Risner played right tackle the past three years at Kansas State, starting all 37 games in that span, but he was widely viewed by the NFL scouting community as one of the top guard prospects in the NFL. He had a good showing at the Senior Bowl, which put him on the map as a possible late first-round pick. Like Ford, Risner is big (6-5, 312) and barrel-chested and can stand his ground against strong pass-rushers. He was highly-regarded by his Wildcat coaches and teammates for his leadership and work ethic, and they made him a captain three years running. The Buccaneers like that. Risner might not be the most physically gifted lineman in the draft but he consistently gets the job done.
3-4. Washington CB Byron Murphy and LSU CB Greedy Williams
Arians is on record as being confident in the Bucs' starting outside cornerback duo of Vernon Hargreaves (who just had his fifth-year contract option picked up) and second-year man Carlton Davis. Still, the team is undecided at slot corner, which is essentially another starter, and even if there was a lot of cornerback talent on hand there is always room for more. This is a difficult position at which to find and develop reliable depth, and that depth is almost always tested during the course of a long season.
All of which is to say, even after spending two second-round picks on the position a year ago (Davis and M.J. Stewart, the latter of whom may now be a safety) and a first-rounder three years ago (Hargreaves) it would make sense to hit the position with another valuable piece of draft capital.
Furthermore, as noted above, the cornerback draft board is almost untouched heading into the draft's second night. Only Georgia's Deandre Baker had his name called Thursday, going 30th to the New York Giants. That leaves such possibilities as Murphy, Williams, Temple's Rock Ya-Sin, Central Michigan's Sean Bunting, Michigan's Justin Layne, Kentucky's Lonnie Johnson and Notre Dame's Julian Love in the mix. Even if there is an early run on corners on Friday night, the Bucs should still be in position to get one of the better remaining players.
Let's focus here on Murphy and Williams, two players who appeared in the majority of the first-round mock drafts leading up to the real thing. Murphy, who picked off seven passes over the past two seasons at Washington, is a playmaker, and that's something the Buccaneers' secondary has been searching for in recent years. He wasn't a Combine standout, but neither is he particularly deficient in any area, including speed. He ran a 4.55 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, and with good change-of-direction agility and route awareness, he could be an immediate option for that open slot corner job. Murphy just seems to have a nose for the football, as evidenced by his 27 pass breakups in 20 games the past two years.
Early mock drafts – say, of the January variety – often paired the Buccaneers up with LSU's Williams at the fifth-overall pick. Eventually, the cornerback position as a whole lost traction in first-round mocks, which proved to be an accurate reflection of how NFL teams were thinking. Still, Williams was the early darling of the position because he's tall (6-2) and fast (4.37 40-yard dash at the Combine) and he made plays, with eight interceptions and 28 passes defensed the past two years. He has been knocked for his tackling skills but that may be less important in the Bucs' new defense as compared to the one they've been running the past few decades. Williams could develop into a strong man-to-man corner, which any team in the league would like to have. He may not be a great fit in the slot, however.
5-6. Georgia LB D'andre Walker and Michigan DE Chase Winovich
A large number of high-value pass-rushers led to a first-round feeding frenzy on Thursday night, as expected. While the top of most team's boards in that category was surely wiped out, some intriguing options still remain and some of them could find new homes early on Friday. These players might not quite offer the full package as those that went in the top 16 in Round One, but can still be very useful players in the NFL, and perhaps more of they continue to develop.
Walker and Winovich are the picks here because they seem to be good fits specifically as outside linebackers/stand-up rushers in the Bucs' new 3-4 defense. Walker only started one year at Georgia but he had 7.5 sacks last fall after contributing 5.5 in a rotational role in 2017. He played the same position in Georgia's defense as Leonard Floyd, the ninth-overall pick in 2016, and while he might not possess the same athletic pedigree as Floyd he could be comparable to Lorenzo Carter, who made the same transition from Georgia to the NFL as a third-round pick of the Giants last year. Carter contributed four sacks for New York last year. Walker has a good first step and plays with non-stop effort, and he also is capable of dropping back in coverage, as he did for the Bulldogs.
Winovich is also a high-effort player and he made a lot of his big plays – 18.0 sacks and 44.5 tackles for loss over the last three years – as the result of chasing down ballcarriers from the back side. He is charismatic and competitive and has been consistently productive. At the Combine, he ran a 4.59 40-yard dash. Winovich is another player who could handle the job of rushing off the edge out of a two-point stance and occasionally dropping into coverage.
7. Washington S Taylor Rapp
That's two Washington defensive backs on our list. Like a lot of the higher-rated safeties in this year's draft class, he's a better thumper than he is a centerfielder, but he's a highly intelligent player who has the versatility to fill a variety of roles. He was moved all over the field by the Huskies, playing both safety spots as well as nickel corner and linebacker. Arians and Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles have made good use of such players in the past.
The Buccaneers started a pair of young and recently-drafted players at safety last year in 2017 second-rounder Justin Evans and 2018 fourth-rounder Jordan Whitehead. They also added Kentrell Brice and Orion Stewart in free agency and are in the process of converting Stewart to the back end of the secondary. That's a lot of options but not necessarily a clear picture. In addition, Bowles has a history of putting more than two safeties on the field at time. Despite the free agency additions, it wouldn't hurt the Bucs to find more talent for that position.
Rapp may be available in the second round because he ran an unimpressive 40-yard dash (4.78) at the Combine, but he's instinctive, takes good angles and understands what's going on. Like several of the other players noted above, he's also a very high-effort defender who doesn't take plays off. He could be a nice long-term option for the Bucs' secondary and an immediate contributor on special teams.