The 2019 NFL Draft wasn't top-heavy with wide receivers, with the first one coming off the board 25 picks into the first round. Once the seal was broken, however, the wideouts started flying off the board, particularly in the second round. The only thing faster than the rate at which these pass-catchers were selected is…well, most of those receivers themselves.
In the first two rounds of the draft alone, there were seven receivers selected who ran a sub 4.50-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, including four who ran 4.35 or better. And that doesn't even include Oklahoma's Marquise Brown, the aforementioned 25th pick who didn't run at the Combine due to a foot injury but has previously clocked a 4.30.
The Buccaneers didn't dip into that receiver pool until late in the sixth round but still found a speedster in Scotty Miller, who ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at his Bowling Green Pro Day. Otherwise, Tampa Bay didn't prioritize the position because it is already loaded with receiving talent. Rather, it was much more important to team architects to get better at combatting all that offensive speed, because this isn't exactly the first crop of speedy wideouts to hit the NFL.
The Bucs' need for speed was first reflected within the opening hour of the draft, when they used the fifth-overall selection on LSU linebacker Devin White, who blazed his 6-0, 237-pound frame through a 4.42-second 40 at the Combine. Even more to the point, the Buccaneers then used a pair of Day Two picks to land cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, who logged 40 times of 4.42 and 4.30, respectively. Dean was the fastest cornerback at the Combine this year.
"They both have good size, good length, good speed," said Buccaneers Cornerbacks Coach Kevin Ross of the two new additions to his meeting room. "They both can cover very well. They should help us out tremendously. We wanted overall to get more speed on the defensive side of the ball, to help create more turnovers for our team."
Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles was asked on Wednesday if those first three picks plus a third-round selection of safety Mike Edwards (4.53-second 40-yard dash) were prompted by a study of last year's roster that found it lacking in players particularly fleet of foot. It's clear that Bowles would have been prizing speed in the draft no matter what the 2018 game tape revealed
"We wanted more speed but it had nothing to do with the film from last year," said Bowles. "We just needed more speed.
"It's the offensive schemes of the game. The game has gotten a lot faster, especially out on the perimeter and the edge, where you don't see as much power running. There are a lot of things out on the perimeter where you need a lot of fast guys."
The Buccaneers' need for speed also prompted new Head Coach Bruce Arians to make one specific hire for his coaching staff in Tampa. Included in the strength and conditioning staff is former Olympic hurdling gold medalist Roger Kingdom, who carries the title of speed and conditioning coach. Kingdom was previously on Arians' staff with the Arizona Cardinals from 2014-17.
"One of the misconceptions a lot of people have is that speed cannot be trained," said Kingdom. "Speed can be trained. Each and every last one of you right now can get faster than you were just by improving on your mechanics and improving on your strength, which is one of the things that we try to do. That's the element that I bring to the table."
The Bucs believe that Kingdom can not only coax out each player's speed potential but also make them more efficient in their technique so that they can run faster longer.
"The bottom line is performance, getting them to perform at their optimum," he said. "The second thing is, teach them how … to be more efficient and more relaxed out there so that they can actually put more time in, get more work done, without breaking down. We just want these athletes to be more efficient out there so they can put more time in and also be healthier so they can perform better on the field."
Kingdom may be able to make Buccaneer players faster, but the coaches want to start with players who are already a weapon in that category, and that's particularly important on the perimeter. Tampa Bay's defense definitely got faster in last weekend's draft.