The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got their man on Thursday night, though it wasn't without some tense moments. After a small trade up, the Buccaneers nabbed Tristan Wirfs, a big and nimble blocker from Iowa who will have a chance to step in immediately at right tackle and help protect Tom Brady. Given the perfect marriage of need and talent that Wirfs represents, the Buccaneers had to view the first night of the 2020 draft as a big success. Many draft analysts agreed with that sentiment.
But there's a long way to go.
If the Bucs did indeed hit a home run with their first-round pick, it just continues a remarkable offseason that includes the acquisitions of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski and the successful retention of defensive front-seven linchpins Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh. It will be hard to top any of those moves but the Buccaneers still have an opportunity to significantly strengthen their roster over the next two days.
"We have a few more days to fill some spots on our roster that can really help us improve, and then we knock on wood, stay healthy, and let's go play," said Head Coach Bruce Arians.
Those efforts begin with the 45th overall pick, 13 spots into the second round on Friday night. Barring a trade, that's the next time Tampa Bay will be on the clock. Even with 32 players off the board, there is still plenty of talent available that could help the Buccaneers. Let's take a look at some potential second-round targets.
It's important to note that we aren't getting a chance to peek at what is left of the Bucs' draft board. As always, 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.
1-2. Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor and Georgia RB D'Andre Swift
It wasn't until the last pick of the first round that a running back heard his name called on Thursday night. The defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs used the 32nd selection on LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who is also a defending champion.
Even if that starts a running back run early on Day Two, that's still good news for the Buccaneers. There are likely to be several intriguing backfield candidates on the board 13 picks into the second round. That includes combine star Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin and Georgia's big-play back, D'Andre Swift. Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians has said on several occasions this offseason that, while he remains very high on Ronald Jones, he would like to add a running back who can contribute heavily in the passing game and contribute on all three downs. Taylor and Swift fit the bill.
Taylor is the latest in a long line of big, ultra-productive Wisconsin backs, but he's more than just a power back. Incredibly, he ran for 6,174 yards and 50 touchdowns in just three seasons with the Badgers, averaging 6.7 yards per tote. That's the most rushing yards any back has ever produced in three seasons. He's not necessarily a flashy runner but he reads blocks well, hits the hole with a burst and can then run past defenders. At the Combine, he led all running backs with a 4.39-second 40-yard dash, even though he was the third-heaviest player in attendance at that position. He is also acutely aware of what NFL teams want to know about him: Can he eliminate a moderate fumbling issue and can he be an asset in the passing game. He caught 26 passes last year and has worked very hard on that aspect of his game. He was fluid and sure-handed in passing drills at the Combine.
Swift also averaged 6.6 yards per carry in his three years at Georgia and he caught 24 passes last year. His value as an actual route-runner out of the backfield is somewhat in doubt, but there is potential for him to be a three-down back. As a runner he is quick but also patient, with excellent vision. He has make-you-miss moves in the open field but doesn't mind trying to run over defenders as well. Swift also hits the NFL with significantly fewer carries than Taylor, as he shared time in Georgia's backfield and had 440 carries over three years, as compared to 926 for the Wisconsin back.
3-4. Penn State EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos and Iowa EDGE A.J. Epenesa
Could the Buccaneers go back to the Hawkeye well for a second straight round, and for the third time in the last two years. That would be wild considering that prior to 2019 the Buccaneers had drafted all of one player from Iowa in 43 years. Still, the team absolutely could use some depth at edge rusher and Big Ten stars A.J. Epenesa of Iowa and Yetur Gross-Matos of Penn State were widely considered potential first-round picks.
Epenesa's draft stock may have slipped when he ran a slow 40-yard dash and was underwhelming overall in drills at the Scouting Combine. Nevertheless, he was a very productive player for the Hawkeyes and is a big, strong and high-effort defender who would surely endear himself to such intense Buccaneer defenders as Suh and Pierre-Paul. Epenesa is also strong against the run, which would only add to what was the NFL's top run defense in 2019. He may not have landed in the first round but it's hard to look past the 26.5 sacks he produced in three years at Iowa, including 22.0 over the last two campaigns.
Like Epenesa, Gross-Matos may have slipped out of the first round because he doesn't blow scouts away with his first-step quickness off the snap. Unlike the bounty of elite edge rushers that helped define the first round last year, this year's class wasn't particularly top-heavy and only two (Ohio State's Chase Young and LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson) went in the first round. That's unusual, but it may mean that a good number of very useful ends and outside linebackers will be available to teams on Day Two. Gross-Matos is long and active with a well-developed set of moves and good hands. He may not be as strong or as solid against the run as Epenesa but he also might have a higher ceiling as a pass-rusher.
View pictures of OT Tristan Wirfs, the 13th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
5-6. Colorado WR Laviska Shenault and Baylor WR Denzel Mims
A couple weeks ago, Licht said that the Bucs could seek to add to their receiving corps in the draft or in post-draft free agency. On Thursday night, Arians said that the Bucs were not seriously targeting a pass-catcher in the first round but felt that there would be plenty of options available on Day Two. Arians likes several of the young players behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but they are still mostly unproven and it wouldn't hurt to have even more talent in that room.
Receiver definitely was a position of great interest on Thursday night, as six of them came off the board in the first round, equaling the most in any opening round since 2004. Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Jalen Reagor, Justin Jefferson and Brandon Aiyuk all got the privilege of being first-round picks, but in another year with less depth at the position that easily could have gone to Shenault and Mims and several others, including Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman, Jr.
Shenault is an interesting prospect. He might not be as polished as a receiver as some of those first-rounders but he's a tremendous athlete and the Buffaloes used him all over the place in their offense. His NFL coaches will get to work on refining his routes but they won't have to teach him what to do when the ball in his hands as he's a serious threat in the open field. The Buccaneers ran nearly 60% of their plays out of three-receiver sets in Arians' first year at the helm, and while that could change some with the arrival of Gronkowski it will surely still be the team's top personnel package. Shenault could be a weapon in the slot but he could also line up outside when Godwin goes into the slot, where he was extremely effective last year.
The Buccaneers don't necessarily need another big target with Evans, Godwin, Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cam Brate already on board, but the 6-3, 207-pound Mims also has speed to burn and could be a good outside deep-threat fit in Arians' aggressive downfield offense. Remember, the Buccaneers brought in Breshad Perriman to be their number-three last year and he is a 6-2, 215-pound target with outstanding speed who plays primarily on the outside. Mims, who has been clocked at under 4.4 in the 40, would be a pretty close one-for-one replacement in that regard. The Buccaneers already have a smaller, shiftier speed option in Scotty Miller.
7-8. Alabama S Xavier McKinney and Southern Illinois S Jeremy Chinn
If there is any spot that is a little bit unsettled on Tampa Bay's defense it's on the back end. The front seven was kept largely intact, as noted, and the Lavonte David/Devin White pair of off-ball linebackers is about as good as it gets in the NFL. The cornerbacks are young but they came together nicely in 2019 and there appears to be a set starting trio in Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean.
At safety, the Buccaneers have third-year man Jordan Whitehead as an incumbent starter and did re-sign Andrew Adams, who had the second-most starts at the position last year. They could also get a boost if Justin Evans returns after missing all of last year and a good portion of 2018 due to foot injuries. Mike Edwards, a third-round pick a year ago, could also ascend to a starting spot. But that's a lot of maybes and Arians has acknowledged that the Bucs could use some additional talent at the position.
McKinney was widely viewed as a first-round talent but he wasn't one of the four Alabama players selected on Thursday night. That may be largely a function of how NFL teams prioritize positions when it comes to first-round picks. In fact, there were no safeties drafted on Thursday, which means some team is going to get the highest-rated player at that position on their board on Friday night. It's possible that player is McKinney for a lot of teams because he has the potential to be a strong all-around safety, excelling in deep coverage but also an impact player in the box. McKinney is smart and instinctive, has good range and is a sure tackler.
While McKinney played on a star-studded defense in Alabama's endless NFL pipeline, Chinn could be the highest-drafted Southern Illinois player in 36 years. Chinn is one of the most interesting smaller-school prospects in this year's draft, with good production at SIU followed by an eye-opening performance at the Combine. His resume at Southern Illinois included 13 career interceptions, 31 passes defensed and six forced fumbles. In Indianapolis, he ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash and leaped out of the building with a 41-inch vertical. That ability to get up, as well his 6-3, 221-pound frame, would be very useful in jump-ball competitions with the NFL's many huge receivers.