Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from Buccaneer fans. This week we start off by looking at the Bucs' first-round selection of O.J. Howard, and whether a tight end was the best option at that point. We'll also examine the competition at safety, which is thicker now after the second-round pick of Justin Evans, and we finish with some thoughts on the necessity of the trade that landed LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith.*
Fans can submit questions for upcoming mailbags via Twitter to @ScottSBucs (#BucsMailbag), through a message on the Buccaneers Official Facebook Page or via email at **firstname.lastname@example.org*. The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.
*1. Mr. Smith- Your honest opinion – do you think it made sense for the Buccaneers to take a tight end in the first round this year? I know everyone said how it was a big surprise that Howard lasted all the way to the Bucs pick but maybe that's because most teams thought there were more important things to take than a tight end. I'm sure you're going to say you loved the pick but wouldn't the Bucs have been better off taking Dalvin Cook and just using Cam Brate at tight end. He had eight touchdowns last year! Why not see how much better he can become. I did thing it was a pretty good draft for the most part and maybe Howard will be a star and I'll be wrong. But I still wish we would of taken Cook. Thanks- Tim Newell, Bucs Fan since 1997 (via email to
I loved the pick!
Thought I'd get that out of the way first. Sorry to disappoint you with my predictability, but I can honestly say I thought O.J. Howard was a home run pick for the Buccaneers. I will readily admit that in recent mailbags I shied away a bit from the idea of taking one of the other tight ends at #19, such as Miami's David Njoku, with the widely-shared assumption that Howard would be selected long before the Buccaneers are on the clock.
But Howard managed to fall to 19 for essentially the reason you state, Tim – the teams above the Buccaneers had more important things to take FOR THEM. In particular, the rise of three quarterbacks into the top 12 and the run on wide receivers from picks 5-9 helped this dream scenario come true. The reason I'm thrilled by the Howard pick when I was less enthusiastic about the idea of another tight end at #19 is that Howard appears to be a premier offensive weapon who is ready to step immediately into a big role.
I'll also readily admit that you are not the only Bucs fan who was rooting for a Dalvin Cook selection, and he was still on the board at #19. I saw a lot of that on Twitter (as well as a lot of excitement about O.J. Howard). In the grand tradition of the draft, we'll never know if the Buccaneers would have been inclined to pick the Florida State running back had Howard been off the board. All we can know for sure is that Jason Licht, Dirk Koetter and the Bucs' brain trust thought that Howard was the best option for them from what was available.
You may have heard that this is the first time the Buccaneers have ever taken a tight end in the first round…in 42 drafts! In general, it's not a position that gets a lot of love in the first round. There were three first-round tight ends this year, but none in either 2015 or 2016. In the previous 20 drafts before this most recent one, there were a total of 20 tight ends selected in the first round, and my advanced mathematics skills tells me that's an average of one per year.
However, that doesn't mean that tight ends like Howard aren't highly coveted; it just means that they don't come along that often. While it's true that every single drafted player, from #1 on down, is a risk not to live up to his projections, Howard was widely considered one of the "cleaner" (this year's favorite draft buzzword) and "safer" picks. Everybody could be wrong, of course, but Howard is thought to be that fairly rare all-around "Y" tight end. That means he will be a great in-line blocker, as he was in college, but he can also stretch the seams with his 4.5-speed. That's 4.5 speed on a 6-5, 256-pound man!
The beauty of a true "Y" is that his presence on the field is not a tip-off as to what the play call will be. If you have a tight end who's mostly a blocker, his presence signals a likely run. If you have a tight end who's mostly a pass-catcher, his presence signals a likely pass. If you have one of each on the field in a two-TE set, you can guess which one is most likely to leave the line and run a route.
That's also why you don't have to worry about Brate's progress being stunted by the arrival of Howard. The Buccaneers' coaches think Howard's arrival will actually help Brate. Think of the Bucs' two-TE set now with both of them on the field. With Brate steadily improving his blocking, can you be sure which one of them will stay in and block and which will run a route? And sometimes, they'll both run routes, and that will be a beautiful thing. Tampa Bay's "12" personnel (that's one back, two tight ends) is going to be tricky for opponents this year as they try to stop Howard, Brate, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.
Now, I trust Dirk Koetter to know what was the bigger need in his offense, but it is definitely fair for fans to debate whether that was a tight end or a running back. With Doug Martin's tough 2016 season and his three-game suspension to start the season, I thought the Bucs needed to add a running back in the draft. And they did! Buc fans may not be as familiar with Jeremy McNichols' body of work as they are with Cook's, but he was an extremely productive player at Boise State. With Jacquizz Rodgers re-signed, Charles Sims hopefully healthy again, Doug Martin available after Week Three and promising 2016 rookie Peyton Barber still around, the Bucs have a lot of backfield options now. I think it works.
My point would be, the Buccaneers didn't get Cook, who went 41st overall, but they got a running back at pick #162 who can reasonably be expected to give them a decent percentage of what they would have gotten with a first-round back. Could they have found a tight end in the fifth round who would give them any semblance of what Howard can? I'm betting not. Maybe if the Bucs could have picked two players at #19 they would have taken Howard and Cook. But of course they couldn't do that, so I think they made the right call by prioritizing Howard. You are free to disagree and I know you'll have some company among Bucs fans (particularly among those who are also Seminoles fans!).
2. Safety Competition
Casey Phillips and I spoke about this on Insider Live on Thursday but I thought I could flesh it out a little more here. One of my main points was, essentially: "Hey, why are we forgetting about Keith Tandy?"
Last year, Bradley McDougald and Chris Conte formed the Bucs' starting safety duo for the first 11 games of the season. Those two also hogged almost all of the snaps at safety during that span; Tandy got a total of 81 snaps from Weeks 1-11. Conte made a couple of game-changing plays in midseason wins against Chicago and Kansas City, but then suffered an injury against Seattle. Tandy took his spot and immediately started making big plays of his own.
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Conte missed two games but was cleared to play again in Week 15. At that point, however, the coaches felt it was best to let Tandy continue to start given how well he was playing. Conte very well could have played well in those last three games, but Tandy made the coaches look smart by staying red-hot over the final three weeks of the season.
In those five starts, Tandy racked up 45 tackles, two tackles for loss, four interceptions and seven passes defensed. The only Buccaneer defender who had more tackles in that span was Kwon Alexander, and the only safety in the entire NFL who had more was Jonathan Cyprien. The only player in the league at any position who had more interceptions in that span was Quintin Demps.
Pictures of O.J. Howard's first day at One Buc Place.
Now, you can choose to believe that Tandy was having the hottest hot streak of his football life and those results aren't likely to be duplicated. Or you can believe that Tandy was finally given an extended chance to play and he used to show what he's always been capable of doing. Either way, my question is: What has changed since the end of last season? If Tandy's great play during Conte's absence allowed him to keep his job upon Conte's return, why wouldn't his continued great play after that allow him at least a good shot of keeping it in 2017.
Yes, things have changed. McDougald left for Seattle and J.J. Wilcox was signed in free agency. That left the numbers the same at safety…or, rather, it did until last weekend, when the Buccaneers drafted Texas A&M safety Justin Evans in the second round. Does the team view Evans as a good bet to be a starter at some point? I think that's practically a certainty given how early he was drafted. But he's still going to have to earn it, and he's going to have to do so in a competition with three veterans who have already started in the NFL. If you were choosing which of those four safeties you most wanted for the long haul, there's a good chance you'd pick Evans. But for Week One next September? I would say that, as a rookie, he's the one out of the four that's the most difficult to predict. Maybe he comes in like gangbusters and forces his way into the lineup. Maybe he's one of the many, many rookies who needs a little time to get adjusted to the NFL.
So, yes, I could envision a Wilcox-Evans duo back there, BucBall38, but I could also easily envision a duo of Wilcox-Tandy or Tandy-Evans or Conte-Wilcox…and so on. It's a good problem to have.
3. A Necessary Move?
Why did the Buccaneers trade up to draft the LSU linebacker? He's coming off a knee injury last year – wasn't he going to make it past the third round because of that. I don't know exactly what the Buccaneers gave up to make that trade but if it was a pick that could have been used to get another good player who could maybe help right away. Wouldn't it made more sense to just stay in the fourth round and draft him then, or maybe even later. I'm no GM but I think he would have still been there.
Thanks if you get a chacne to answer. Paul (via email to email@example.com)*Again, like a couple weeks ago, I'm guessing on the name from the email address that this question came from. I like getting questions via email because they can be a little more fleshed out than they are on Twitter, but it helps to have a name to go with them. Just sayin', for future reference, everyone. *
Here's the thing: Except in some rare instances, a team that trades up will never truly know if it was necessary to do so or not. Okay, if you're Atlanta and you're trading up from #27 to #6 to get Julio Jones, then sure, you know you wouldn't have gotten him without that move, but those types of trades are rare.*Every year, the draft is absolutely loaded with more modest trades from Round Two on. Twelve of the 32 picks in Round Two changed hands at least once, including the first five (some trades take place before the draft, but most of these were while the clock was ticking. Nineteen of the 43 picks in Round Three (including comp picks at the end) changed hands. Twenty-one of the 38 picks in Round Four changed hands. And so on. Obviously, the motivation for these deals on the part of the teams moving up is a belief that a player who they want badly and who is still available will *not still be available when they are on the clock. Or, that there is a very good chance that player won't be available. You can roll the dice and hope he makes it to you, and be prepared with a Plan B if he does not, or you can give up some extra draft capital so that you don't have to gamble. Jason Licht did that on Friday night and a bunch of other general managers around the league did the same thing at some point over the weekend. Which is to say, while you don't believe LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith would have been drafted between #107 – where the Buccaneers got him, and #125, where they would have picked in the fourth round without a trade – Licht and his assistants thought there was a good chance he would be. Who's right? We'll never know. It's quite possible that you're right, Paul. But Licht's staff spends a lot of time in the months before the draft gathering intelligence on other teams and simply studying them to try to guess what they will do. When it comes down to crunch time, they have to rely on that gathered information. **
A jump of 18 spots is fairly significant, and I think it was also significant that the Buccaneers specifically traded up to the last pick on Friday night. Give teams a night to think about it, and somebody else might decide that Beckwith is the player they covet the most when the draft resumes on Saturday. You'll notice that I said the first five picks in Round Two changed hands, after Round One concluded on Thursday night. Well, four of the first five picks in Round Four, which started the action on Saturday, were traded, too. In contrast, only one of the first five picks in Round Three and one of the first four in Round Five were traded. I might agree with you, Paul, if the Buccaneers traded from #125 to, say, #122, but a jump this big suggests the Bucs badly wanted Beckwith and didn't think he would make it to them.* *The cost of the trade, by the way, was a sixth-round pick. Sixth-round picks don't make the team with near the frequency that third-rounders or even fourth-rounders do. If the Bucs stayed put at #125 and still got Beckwith, then yes, they could have picked another player in the sixth round. But given that he would be no guarantee to make the team, I think it was a price the Bucs could afford to make sure they got their man in the third.