Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One Buc Mailbag: Draft Options Aplenty

An explosive receiver? A running back? A cornerback? With the draft just two weeks away, Buc fans want to discuss the team's options at pick #19.

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*Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from  Buccaneer fans. This week, again, it's all about the upcoming NFL Draft. We start by discussing the idea that Tampa Bay must target an offensive playmaker in the first round. We go on to look at the team's running back depth as it applies to the draft, then finish with a modest proposal about a position the team could address with pick #19.

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 tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.  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. Playmaker Needed? I think it would be a complete mistake to not draft a playmaker with our 1st pick (19) overall depending on if it's RB's Cook, McCaffrey, or WR Ross. I'd hate to see us draft S Peppers who is an athlete but obviously not a good cover saftey. Ya I believe we can get a good RB in Hunt or Mack in the 3rd. But we're a playmaker away from being 9-7 or 10+wins and the playoffs. John Benenati (via email totbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)I don't completely disagree with your premise, John, but I have to start by saying I'm not much of a believer in this "one player away" idea. That is to say, I don't think there is a team in the league for which making or not making the playoffs this year hinges on the one player it picks in the first round of the draft.

Some of the top shots of Florida State's Dalvin Cook.

(The one-player-away exception, where it actually might be true, is the established star quarterback to an otherwise strong team, such as Peyton Manning going to Denver, which is why the Tony Romo saga was such a big thing this offseason.)

I don't mean to sound like I'm picking on you, John. I have to admit I fall into the same line of thinking all the time. For instance, I see a lot of mock drafts suggesting the Buccaneers will take Miami tight end David Njoku at #19, and then I read scouting reports on Njoku that suggest he has the tools to become a major threat in an NFL passing attack. That immediately gets me to thinking, "Well, if this player needs time to develop, is he really going to be able to step right in and take our offense to another level? If not, let's pick someone who will make a more immediate impact."

I should be clear: I do not know if Buccaneer scouts think Njoku is a great player, or if they think he needs time to develop. (Obviously, almost all rookies do, to some extent.) This is just a hypothetical conversation I have with myself…and one I'm trying not to have as often. If the Buccaneers select Njoku at #19, it will be because they think he is the best addition for this team now and for the years ahead.

I believe the point of your last sentence is that we were 9-7 last year and the difference between duplicating that record and taking the next step to 10+ wins and the playoffs will be adding one more playmaker. But if the Bucs were really that close to making the next step, wouldn't the addition of DeSean Jackson already be that one more playmaker the team needed?

Here's where I think we get this wrong when we fixate on being "one player away:" Last year's Buccaneers may indeed have been missing one thing that kept them out of the postseason, given that they were only kept out by a third-level tiebreaker and had several very close finishes along the way. But, whether it's DeSean Jackson or somebody in the upcoming draft, you're not adding a player to last year's team. Like it or not, the 53-man squad that starts the season next September is not going to be the same as the one that finished last year so close to the postseason. Rosters change, players change, circumstances change, injury fortunes change, opponents change. We can't really know if a DeSean Jackson or a John Ross would have made the difference last year, and we won't know if either one is that one player who will change it all this year until we get there. All we can do is try to build the best possible roster for this year.

Now, like I said, I'm not really disagreeing with the idea that adding another playmaker on offense should be a priority. I do think Winston will get some new weapons in this year's draft. However, the first round isn't necessarily going to fall in a way that makes the pick at #19 a good place to add one (more on this in the third question below). You mentioned Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey and John Ross – there's a very good chance all three will be gone by that point. If the draft dictates that adding help at, say, cornerback or defensive end in the first round is the best way for the Bucs to go, I don't think it will be a "complete mistake" to pass on the backs and wideouts that are still available at that point. You specifically mention Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers as a counter to the better idea of taking a playmaker. I won't even argue with that. But it's not just Peppers vs. Johnny Playmaker. It's a very big pool of highly-regarded defensive backs vs. Johnny Playmaker.

I think there are some playmakers in this draft that the Bucs would jump at the chance to get at #19 if they are available. However, if they're not, I just can't agree that it would be a mistake to go in another direction.

2. Running Back Depth? Hi, my name is Carlos Sarmiento and currently living in Rhode Island, but a Huge Bucs fan. I even had to subscribe to Direct TV just so I didn't miss a game. My question is this with the running back attention right now on Doug Martin, do you feel we have enough depth to start and finish and make the playoffs?  Not adding a running back? Thanks for reading my question.

Carlos (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

After seeing what happened last year, Carlos, no I don't.

Photos from Jacquizz Rodgers' 2016 campaign.

I like the way you put that – do we have enough depth to start AND finish AND make the playoffs? (My emphasis added.) The backfield seemed fine at the beginning of last year…until Doug Martin got hurt and Charles Sims got hurt and then even their surprisingly-capable replacement Jacquizz Rodgers got hurt. Heck, midseason depth replacement Antone Smith made a couple of nice plays, and then promptly got hurt. I know the Bucs see a lot of promise in Peyton Barber, an undrafted rookie, but I don't think they anticipated going into a key midseason Thursday night game against a division rival with a backfield of Barber, Smith and Mike James. And that's exactly what happened.

Throughout all the backfield turmoil last year, the Bucs always made sure they had another runner ready to step in, because that's what you have to do. And Rodgers was something of a revelation in his first real chance to be an every-down back, which is why it was good news when the team re-signed him in March. Nevertheless, it's a fact that Tampa Bay's rushing attack, good enough to rank fifth in the league in 2015, dropped to 24th in the rankings last year.

Where does the team stand now? It's fair to say that Doug Martin's situation is uncertain. Sims has missed significant time due to injury in two of his three NFL seasons. Rodgers, we now know, can function as a number-one back, but it's also true that he's never done so for an entire season. Barber, again, has promise but is just a year removed from being an undrafted free agent. That's just too much uncertainty for me to think the Buccaneers will completely stand pat.

(I am not discounting the possibility that the other backs on the roster – Russell Hansbrough, Blake Sims and Quayvon Hicks – could make the team and flesh out the backfield, but it also wouldn't be prudent to expect that to happen.)

I also like the fact that this year's class of running back prospects is considered quite deep. It has become something of a truism in the NFL that you can find a running back in the later rounds, like Chicago did last year with Jordan Howard in the fifth. There are plenty of other examples, but the thing is, every team can't count on that happening in the given year that they need a back. The good news is that this year, with that deep group of backs, there's a better chance of that happening, and a very strong chance if you choose to use a second or third-round pick on that position.

After last year's playoff near-miss, you can bet that the Bucs think they are on the verge of a return to the postseason. I don't think you have to draft a running back in the first round to get over the hump – I made a case against the one-player-away idea above – but I do think you have to have confidence in that position as a whole heading into the season. The Bucs need to get their running game back to the productive form it showed in 2015 in order for the offense to ascend to another level. Another back in the mix would make me feel a lot more confident that will happen.

3. A First-Round Cornerback? Hey Scott, Long time reader, second time e-mailer.  Jason Licht has done an outstanding, and I do mean outstanding, job of building the roster the past three years. So much so, that the Bucs are truly in a position to draft the best player available at the 19th pick in this years NFL draft.  The Bucs perceived needs are RB, WR, TE, and S. Followed by DE and CB. I'd like to argue, that though this analysis is logical, CB should be much higher on the "need" list. The Bucs play in the NFC South, arguably the best top to bottom QB play in the entire league. All three division rival teams have MVP winning quarterbacks. Let face it. The nickel defense is the new base defense and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. I believe the Bucs were in nickel around 65% of the time last year.  Given this, the age of Brent Grimes, whose contract is up after this season and the open competition I expect for the slot corner during training camp is it crazy to want the Bucs to draft a corner back with their 1st pick?  In today's NFL you need 3 starting corners. Do the Bucs really have 3 top flight CB on their roster? Looking forward to your wise words (only if they are validating). -Douglas

My, that's a well-composed question, almost as if it was sent by somebody who writes about the Bucs on his own Bucs-centric blog. I mean, I'm just guessing. Possibly.

I also know that this question was prompted by my suggestion that the Buccaneers use the 19th overall pick on a cornerback, which I made during Wednesday's Insider Live. (It's right at the very end.) Apparently, Douglas agrees, and I agree with his reasons for agreeing…so, yeah, you're in for a lot of agreeable back-patting. Isn't it great to be so smart like we are, Doug? (How's that for validating?)

Some of the top shots of Michigan's Jabrill Peppers.

No, but really, I love the idea, and for some of the reasons listed in the question above. I don't care that Tampa Bay's two starting cornerback jobs are spoken for, because you really have to have three. Your nickel corner roughly splits a season's worth of snaps with your SAM linebacker, and I would argue that the slot corner is going to make more impact plays during the course of the season than the SAM 'backer in base defenses. In addition, you can be the biggest Brent Grimes fan in the world (he made a lot of fans in Buc-land with a very strong 2016 season) and still acknowledge that the Buccaneers will need a replacement at some point in the not-too-distant future. That's one of the reasons I love the idea: A first-round cornerback will hopefully be a difference-maker right now, in 2017, with the Bucs close to the playoffs, but he will also be an excellent investment for the future.

Furthermore – and as my Insider partner, Casey Phillips has heard me say probably too many times – You Can Never Have Enough Cornerback Depth™. I'm going to get that tattooed on my calf (or I would if I wasn't deathly afraid of needles). Grimes and then-rookie Vernon Hargreaves were remarkably durable as a starting duo last year, playing 94% and 98% of the Bucs' defensive snaps respectively, but that's the exception to the norm. The team has high hopes for second-year man Ryan Smith, Jude Adjei-Barimah has logged a ton of valuable experience in his two years, Javien Elliott is an intriguing young player who held up in the slot late last year and Josh Robinson is a former starter who provides veteran depth. I know all of that, and I still think the Buccaneers need more talent at that position.

Most of what I've said so far is just parroting Doug's thoughts (plus admitting to a crippling phobia). But there's also this: There is a very good chance that the draft is going to fall right for the Bucs to hit the jackpot at the cornerback position. Browse through these five compiled mock drafts on NFL.com; if you believe the analysts, the bottom third of the first round is going to be loaded with highly-regarded cornerbacks, and there seems to be little consensus as to what order they will go in. That's because there are reasons to feel very strongly about each of them. Gareon Conley, Adoree' Jackson, Marlon Humphrey, Quincy Wilson, Kevin King, Tre'Davious White…maybe Marshon Lattimore is already off the board along with one or two of these, but it's almost certain there will be cornerback talent available at #19.

Will that same depth make it all the way to #50? I'm nervous about that. I think you may see a serious run on cornerbacks starting in the second half of the first round and extending into the top half of the second round. Now, there is additional depth beyond what I've mentioned there, so the second or third round could be used to address the position, but I'd like to see the Bucs go for an elite option at #19.

Listen, I like the idea of another big-play receiver as much as everyone else. If John Ross is there at #19, I'm onboard. But if the top tier of available receivers is already gone, it might be best to turn to another position (um, maybe cornerback? just sayin') and wait to dip into the receiver depth in the second or third round. Same story at running back, but even more so.

As for drafting at the same position in the first round two years in a row I say, why not? No really, why not? I'm asking. I'll wait. A need is a need. The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted linebackers Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree in the first rounds of the 2013, 2014 and 2015 drafts, and they are all important parts of that LB-heavy defense. Hitting on interior lineman Travis Frederick in 2013 didn't stop the Cowboys from going back to the well with Zack Martin in 2014. That's worked out well. The great San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s and 1990s knew what they were doing in just about every regard, and specifically when they drafted defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Bryant Young in back-to-back first rounds (1993 and 1994). Oh, and then there were Detroit Lions of 2003-05 who spent three straight top-10 picks on wide rec…wait, bad example.

Anyway, there's a chance that none of you really had a problem with back-to-back cornerbacks, in which case I just spent a whole paragraph knee-capping a strawman. Whatever. The overall point is that this particular draft looks like it might fall perfectly to give the Bucs a second straight cornerback and, hopefully, a long-term answer at one of the hardest positions to adequately fill. I wouldn't mind at all if they took advantage of it.

So thanks for the email, Doug. Glad we're in agreement and write back anytime.

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