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Changes to Offensive Strategy, Draft Targets? | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about how the Buccaneers' offensive system might be affected by the change at head coach, possible late-round draft targets and more

SS Mailbag

A while back, early in Mock Draft Season, I pointed out that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have never made the 27th-overall pick in an NFL draft. Barring a trade, that will no longer be true by the end of this month, as Tampa Bay is currently slotted at number 27 in the first round of the 2022 draft.

That's nothing more than a bit of whimsy, really, not particularly important. The Buccaneers have never picked 21st, 24th or 26th either. (Or second, which is a little weirder.) But when I was looking at my grid of the Bucs' all-time draft-pick positions to verify this little factoid, something else caught my eye. It's still not particularly important, but it is interesting, at least to me.

While the Buccaneers have never picked 27th before, they've certainly picked in that particular vicinity of the draft, particularly since for the team's first 19 seasons of existence there were only 28 teams in the league. That meant pick number 29 was the start of the second round, and the Bucs had some lean years and early draft picks in that era.

So here's the part I found strange: The Buccaneers have made eight draft picks between the 28th and 31st slots, and all eight have been either running backs or off-ball linebackers. Most of them proved to be at least decent contributors…well, that might be a bit generous, but one of them might be the best player in franchise history, another was one of the team's first Pro Bowl selections and two more are top-seven rushers in team annals.

Here are those eight picks in chronological order:

- RB Jimmy DuBose, 30th, 1976…The second college draft pick ever made by the Bucs after future Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon, DuBose worked as more of a fullback but did carry the ball 184 times for 704 yards and four touchdowns. He played three seasons before injuries drove him out of the game.

- LB David Lewis, 29th, 1977…Part of the John McKay USC-Tampa pipeline, Lewis was the Bucs' second-round pick in their second year and he proved to be an immediate starter and an important part of a defense that, by 1979, developed into the best in the NFL. He made the Pro Bowl after the 1980 season.

- RB Johnny Davis, 30th, 1978…Another fullback type, Davis managed to stick in the league for 10 years, though only the first three were in Tampa. From a rushing standpoint, his first year was his best, as he carried 97 times for 370 yards and three touchdowns in a backfield led by Ricky Bell.

- LB Keith Browner, 30th, 1984…The Bucs didn't have a first-round pick in 1984 due to the Jack Thompson trade, so Browner was the head of this class. He played three seasons in Tampa on three very bad teams and started 28 games but didn't make much of an impact.

- LB Jackie Walker, 28th, 1986…Not much to say here. Walker started nine games over four seasons and was eventually switched to tight end, which is not what you're looking four out of a high second-round pick at linebacker.

- RB Reggie Cobb, 30th, 1990…A good workhorse back and a friend to many in the organization, Cobb played four seasons in Tampa and peaked with a 1,171-yard, nine-touchdown season in 1992. He ranks seventh in team history with 3,061 rushing yards. Cobb sadly passed away in 2019.

- LB Derrick Brooks, 28th, 1995…I don't really have to explain how good Brooks was, right? The Bucs traded up to get back into the bottom half of the first round when the Florida State star slid a little bit, and ended up with their second future Hall of Famer of that round (after Warren Sapp, of course). Brooks went to a team-record 11 Pro Bowls, was the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was the co-winner of the 2000 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.

- RB Doug Martin, 31st, 2012…Another instance of the Bucs trading up for a second bite in the first round. Martin had a very up-and-down six years in Tampa (plus one in Oakland) but he recorded two of the top three rushing campaigns in franchise history as well as the team's two biggest single-game outings ever. He went to two Pro Bowls, was a first-team AP All-Pro once and is the fourth-leading rusher in team history.

So this year the Bucs are picking 27th for the first time ever, but they've been in that general range plenty of time and have mostly found good value at running back or linebacker. Maybe they should look in one of those directions in this year's draft.

And now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

Will there be many changes to the offense now that Bruce Arians is retired?

-codecracker33 (via Instagram)

I think in a general sense there would have been some changes in the offense in 2022 whether or not Bruce Arians remained in the head coach's office or not. It's part of the natural push and pull of the NFL. Just look at the last two years. Tom Brady arrived in 2020 and surprised some by excelling in Arians' aggressive downfield no risk-it, no biscuit offense. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Brady threw deep on 15% of his passes that season, the most in the NFL, and also led the league in attempts and completions on those types of passes while ranking second in yards.

In 2021, most of the Bucs' opponents relied heavily on two-deep defensive formations in order to reduce the number of deep shots Brady could take. Instead, they dared him to win with quick, rhythm passes…and he did just that. He averaged 2.50 seconds from snap to throw last year, the second fastest of any quarterback in the league. And it worked just as well. In 2020, Brady and the Bucs' offense finished second in passing, seventh in overall net yards and third in points scored. Last year, they led the NFL in passing and finished second in both yards and points. The offense might have changed drastically if Brady hadn't chosen to return for 2022, but now we're back to status quo.

But will it change specifically because Arians is stepping away and into a consulting role, with former Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles taking over as head coach? I don't think so, at least not much. Byron Leftwich called the offensive plays over those two great seasons noted above and will continue to do so. Bowles made it clear at his press conference that as the head coach he should no longer be considered a "defensive-minded coach" and would have input into everything. But most great head coaches know what and how to delegate, and I think Leftwich will continue to have a lot of autonomy. And, don't forget, Arians is still in the building and available to pitch in with game-planning during the week if Leftwich and company want him to do so.

The Bucs might try to be a little more balanced between the run and the pass under Bowles. That's a place Arians frequently said he wanted to get to over the last couple years, but it never really happened consistently, other than during the 2020 playoff run. It wasn't really anything to complain about because the offense was producing just fine the way it was being run. But it's possible the team could make a more concerted effort in that regard under Bowles. I wouldn't be too concerned about that, though. When you have Tom Brady and the incredible array of pass-catchers that the Bucs do, you're always going to be slinging it around a lot.

Finally, while I think the various stories about Tom Brady being the puppet master over everything the Bucs do are overblown, it's equally silly to think a quarterback of his experience and pedigree wouldn't have an impact on how the offense shapes up. But that would have been the case under either Arians or Bowles.

Which players/position groups will the Bucs possibly target in some of the later rounds of the draft?

– Idaniel705 (via Instagram)

Oh, there are lots of possibilities, and teams aren't always focusing in on specific positions when their later-round picks draw close. Sometimes they're looking for specific traits that might allow them to develop a player who isn't necessarily a well-rounded prospect into a contributor. If these prospects were good at everything, they wouldn't still be on the board in the later rounds. Think of a receiver who has top-end speed but maybe not ideal size for the NFL (Scotty Miller, a sixth-round pick, is a good example). Or a linebacker who doesn't look quite ready to take on a role on defense but has demonstrated very good work on special teams (think Grant Stuard). They don't always work out, of course, or maybe even the majority of the time. An example: The Buccaneers took USC defensive tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu in the seventh round in 2017 because he had been considered one of the best run-stopping linemen in the college ranks the year before. It was worth a shot, but Tu'ikolovatu never was quite able to crack the roster.

That said, there are some positions I could see the Bucs targeting in the later rounds. Keep in mind that Tampa Bay doesn't currently have a pick in the fifth or sixth rounds, so I'm going to consider the fourth round "late" for this exercise. The Bucs have one pick in the fourth and two in the seventh, so there's only so much they can do unless trades multiply their draft capital at some point.

Anyway, tight end stands out to me, simply because of a lack of numbers on the roster. O.J. Howard is in Buffalo and Rob Gronkowski has not yet re-signed or made it clear that he is going to. I think there was an assumption that Gronkowski would quickly follow Brady back through the door, but the Bucs have to plan for the very real chance that he goes back into retirement. That leaves the team with just two tight ends on the current roster, Cameron Brate and Codey McElroy. Brate has played about 35% of the offensive snaps over the past two seasons and was on the field less often than Howard last year. Gronkowski was the clear-cut starter who played the majority of the snaps. I like McElroy and would like to see him get more of a shot, but he certainly isn't a proven NFL tight end at this point.

To get one that would have a good shot at regular playing time, the Bucs would probably need to use their fourth-round pick rather than either of the late seventh-rounders. Tampa Bay has tried using seventh-rounders on tight ends fairly frequently through the years but have found virtually no success doing so. In the fourth round, they might have a shot at someone like Washington's Cade Otton, who has the chance to become a two-way tight end in the NFL. He's a capable and willing blocker already and has some room to grow as a pass-catcher. It was Otton, in fact, that I mocked to Tampa Bay in the fourth round when I did an all-Bucs' Mock Draft about a month ago.

Even though the Buccaneers used fifth and seventh-round picks on off-ball linebackers last year – K.J. Britt and Stuard – I could see them hitting that spot again. Veteran backup Kevin Minter is an unsigned free agent. The Bucs may be ready to promote Britt to that third spot behind Lavonte David and Devin White, but that still leaves the team a little spare at that position. And like Britt and Stuard, that player could potentially help right away on special teams.

I think running back is always a possibility in the late rounds, too, and even though Leonard Fournette re-signed and Gio Bernard is reportedly going to return as well, the Bucs still need at least one more option on the depth chart. Perhaps they could find a back who doesn't check all the boxes but has proved to be a particularly good pass-catcher out of the backfield or a dynamic kick returner.

I haven't said safety or cornerback because I think it's more likely the Bucs add to the secondary on the first two days of the draft than the third. A lot of pundits also expect the Buccaneers to draft an interior defensive linemen early, and I tend to agree, but if they don't they might need to find some help there, too, in the later rounds.

Even after bringing back Aaron Stinnie and trading for Shaq Mason, do you think the Bucs will look to add another offensive lineman early in the draft?

-aust1n1_ (via Instagram)

Actually I don't, but I'm starting to feel like I'm in the minority with that opinion. I'm still seeing lots of mock drafts with the Buccaneers taking Zion Johnson or Kenyon Green at pick number 27. I think some of that may stem from the fact that some analysts outside of the Bay area don't realize how high the Bucs are on Stinnie. After his nice run in the 2020 playoffs, Stinnie was given a real chance to compete with Alex Cappa for the starting right guard spot last year. Cappa did nothing to lose that job and turned a fine season into a lucrative free agency deal in Cincinnati, but I think the Bucs would have been comfortable rolling with Stinnie last year.

The mock drafters who give the Buccaneers a guard in the first round often reference the trade for Mason but indicate that the team actually needs to replace both starting guards after the surprise retirement of Pro Bowler Ali Marpet. So I guess the extent to which think Tampa Bay is going to search for a guard early in this draft depends upon how you feel about Stinnie. I'm in the pro-Stinnie-starting camp, so I would look to do something else with my early picks. The Bucs are in win-now mode, obviously, and so it would be nice if their first couple picks could add something that the team doesn't have – say an extra man for the edge rush rotation – rather than just representing a possible upgrade at a spot that's already filled.

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