Last offseason, I compiled a spreadsheet of predictions for the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, specifically which players the mock drafters were giving to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the fifth overall pick. I ended up with 140 drafts in the database, and by the time the real thing arrived they were honing in on what would prove to be reality.
It took time, though. Only 7.5% of the mock drafts I tracked in January and February thought the Buccaneers would select a linebacker at that spot. In March, however, 36.8% of the analysts thought the Bucs would target a linebacker, that almost exclusively being LSU's Devin White. The reason for the shift was clear: Tampa Bay lost linebacker Kwon Alexander to free agency that month. Still, the most common pick for the Bucs in that month was still defensive line.
In April, however, linebacker (and again, specifically White) took the lead with 56.3% of the predictions. In the end, consensus got it right.
View pictures from TE Rob Gronkowski's NFL career thus far.
It's not quite so simple this year.
The difference, of course, is that the Buccaneers are picking 14th this year instead of fifth, which increases the variables exponentially. Oh, there is some consensus on what the analysts believe Tampa Bay wants in the first round, but there's quite a bit of difference in opinion on what the Buccaneers can get in their current draft spot. That wasn't much of an issue last year; with a quarterback expected to go first and a deep crop of edge rushers available, there was every reason to believe the Bucs could take White if they wanted him. Which they did.
This year, the consensus is that the Buccaneers want to draft an offensive tackle in the first round, though it took a few months for that belief to really take hold. This time, I ended up with 220 mock drafts in my database, which I'll break down below. First, I should note that even with that high number of mock drafts assembled, there were definitely a lot more out there. I limited my choices to national sources like ESPN.com and NFL.com, skipping the local media outlets in the 32 NFL cities. I only including efforts that were attributed to a specific analyst rather than a site as a whole. I did include multiple mocks from different analysts on the same site; NFL.com and CBSSports.com, for instance, have had quite a few experts weigh in on the issue. Because it is now common for draft analysts to do multiple versions, sometimes only a week apart, I treated each new version as a separate entry unless the only update to the previous one was changing the date. That is the point, after all – to see how have opinions changed over the months.
Mock Draft Breakdown (position, total number of drafts, top selection):
Tackle: 111 (Andrew Thomas, 50)
Defensive Tackle: 42 (Javon Kinlaw, 36)
EDGE: 26 (K'Lavon Chaisson, 18)
Quarterback: 19 (Jordan Love, 11)
Cornerback: 7 (C.J. Henderson 7)
Safety: 6 (Grant Delpit, 6)
Wide Receiver: 5 (Jerry Jeudy 4)
Running Back: 2 (D'Andre Swift 2)
Linebacker: 1 (Zack Baun 1)
Trade pick for Matthew Stafford: 1
That doesn't tell the full story, however. While there were experts who put the Buccaneers on the offensive tackle scent back in January, such as ESPN's Mel Kiper, it was by no means a majority opinion. The most commonly picked player in that month was South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.
But then, you know, stuff happened. The Buccaneers somehow kept their starting defensive front-seven intact by using the franchise tag on Shaquil Barrett and re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh. That was sandwiched around the blockbuster deal to bring quarterback Tom Brady to town. For obvious reasons, that made those positions seem less like a pressing concern, at which point the hole at right tackle, where Demar Dotson is still an unsigned free agent, began to stand out like a beacon. The Buccaneers did sign former Colts tackle Joe Haeg in free agency as a potential starter, but that hasn't convinced many analysts that Tampa Bay is out of the tackle market on draft weekend.
Here's how the predictions have broken down from month to month:
January (17 total mock drafts)
• 6 defensive tackles (35.3%)
• 5 offensive tackles (29.4%)
• 3 quarterbacks (17.6%)
• 2 EDGE (11.8%)
• 1 cornerback (5.9%)
February (58 total mock drafts)
• 14 EDGE (24.1%)
• 13 defensive tackles (22.4%)
• 13 offensive tackles (22.4%)
• 9 quarterbacks (15.5%)
• 5 safeties (8.6%)
• 1 running back (1.7%)
• 1 wide receiver (1.7%)
• 1 cornerback (1.7%)
• 1 trade for Matthew Stafford (1.7%)
March (74 total mock drafts)
• 37 offensive tackles (50.0%)
• 13 defensive tackles (17.6%)
• 10 EDGE (13.5%)
• 7 quarterbacks (9.5%)
• 3 cornerbacks (4.1%)
• 1 linebacker (1.4%)
• 1 running back (1.4%)
• 1 safety (1.4%)
• 1 wide receiver (1.4%)
April (71 total mock drafts)
• 56 offensive tackles (78.9%)
• 10 defensive tackles (14.1%)
• 3 wide receivers (4.2%)
• 2 cornerbacks (2.8%)
View pictures of QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski through the years.
That final month says it all. The group-think on the Buccaneers' draft plans is that they will try to go after one of the consensus top-four tackles and if they miss out they'll either go into the next tier of tackles or pivot to the defensive line.
But there's a little more to this, as well. There have actually been two noticeable shifts in what the media in general think the Buccaneers will do in the first round this year. Beginning in March and then picking up steam in April, the belief was that the Bucs were in good position to draft either Mekhi Becton, Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills or Tristan Wirfs. By the second week of April, it was nearly unanimous. In 20 mock drafts I recorded from April 13-18, the Buccaneers took an offensive tackle in 18 of them, and 12 of those 18 specifically predicted it to be Thomas.
However, now that we've actually reached draft week, the opinion is shifting again. There is still plenty of belief that the Bucs want a tackle, but far less consensus that they will land Thomas or any of the other three noted above. Of the 19 drafts I logged from April 19-22, 13 still had the Buccaneers getting a tackle but five of those gave them either Houston's Josh Jones or Boise State's Ezra Cleveland. The Bucs still got Thomas four times, but had to trade up to the ninth pick to do so in one of them.
So, what will be the final answer? Will the Bucs land one of those four tackles at pick number 14? Will they have to trade up to get one? Will they stay put and choose a different tackle? Is the assembled media actually completely wrong about their intentions? We'll know soon enough, but the answer is likely to be more complicated, and take longer to unfold, then it did a year ago.