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Potential Buccaneer Draft Targets: Tight End 

With a talent-filled 2023 draft class at tight end, the Buccaneers have options to solidify the unit

AP TE draft targets, Kincaid_

After the departure of Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard last offseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prioritized the position in the 2022 NFL Draft, selecting Cade Otton (106 overall) in the fourth round and Ko Kieft in the sixth (217). Both made significant contributions in their first season with the Bucs, as Otton primarily served as the hybrid 'Y' tight end and Kieft was utilized as an inline blocker. Tampa Bay released nine-year veteran Cameron Brate in March, once again creating a vacancy that will need to be field. Additionally, Kyle Rudolph remains an unsigned free agent, and the Bucs could look to find replacements via the draft.

Most mock drafts have the Bucs addressing the trenches with either an offensive lineman or an edge rusher in the first round. Although tight end may not be the most visibly obvious need on paper, it is arguably the strongest position group in the 2023 class.

"Yeah, it's probably one of the deepest [classes] it's been in at least 10 years," General Manager Jason Licht said. "Cade could've had 100 catches last year and we'd still be looking at tight ends. We love the role that [tight end] Ko [Kieft] has, and we love the role that Cade has, [but] it's always good to have more weapons."

Six tight ends are projected to come off the board before the end of Day 2 – a rarity at the position: Notre Dame's Michael Mayer (first), Utah's Dalton Kincaid (first), Oregon State's Luke Musgrave (first-second), Georgia's Darnell Washington (first-second), South Dakota State's Tucker Kraft (second) and Iowa's Sam LaPorta (second). The 2023 class boasts a sure-fire first-round prospect in Michael Mayer, but also viable depth in the Day 2-3 range. Historically, tight ends require an extended acclimation period to the NFL, with the intricacies the position encompasses in the NFL. At the collegiate level, players are often either regarded as a finesse big slot receiver or solely as an inline blocker/ extension of the offensive line. There are challenges in the developmental stage but in the modern era of the NFL, mismatch threats are held at a premium. However, it is a very pivotal position. No longer is the tight end position used as a check down option or a blocker who occasionally runs an out route. Now, teams look for a player who is athletic enough to stretch the field to outrun linebackers and safeties, and prospects that are big enough for jump-ball situations and to box out defensive backs.

Two-tight end sets are quickly becoming a staple in every pro-offensive playbook and this year's draft crop will likely serve as evidence. The Bucs have nine picks in the 2023 NFL Draft and a tight end will likely don the list of selections. The permeating question is, where?

Over the next week, we are going to look at potential draft targets for the Buccaneers at six different positions, which are listed below. Some of these players will likely end up as first-round picks, but we will also breakdown several late-round options that could fit a void on the Bucs' roster. Today our focus is on the tight end position.

(NOTE: The following is the analysis of the author alone. It is not meant to reflect or reveal thoughts or strategies regarding the 2023 draft by Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht, Head Coach Todd Bowles or any member of the scouting or coaching staffs.)

Will the Bucs add a versatile playmaker to upgrade 12 personnel? If so, here are some options:

Dalton Kincaid, Utah

Adding a dynamic weapon alongside the Bucs' talent-filled wide receiver corps would take the team to new heights. Utah's Dalton Kincaid, a first-round projection, is one of only three FBS tight ends with 16-plus forced missed tackles in 2022 and he led the FBS in receiving yards (74.2) and receptions per game (5.8). Kincaid's quickness in and out of breaks forces overpursuit and his acceleration makes him a dangerous threat on the move. With fluid movements and outstanding ball skills, Kincaid could be a valuable weapon in the slot. He will need to develop his strength as a blocker (6-foot-5, 246 pounds) but profiles as an above-average pass catcher that defenses will have to account for.

Luke Musgrave, Oregon State

Luke Musgrave could be a late round-one pickup or an early day two snag according to projections. Musgrave was utilized as a 'Y' tight end in Offensive Coordinator Brian Lindgren's run-oriented offense, splitting time as both an inline blocker and working out of the slot. He is a smooth route runner with RAC (run after catch) skills in the open field. He is a physical edge setter when paving the way for rushers on wide zone runs and effectively boxes out defenders, working back to give his quarterback an open target. Musgrave has the body control and understanding of leverage to become a skilled blocker and the fluidity on routes to develop into a productive hybrid at the next level. With the Bucs' likely having a heavier emphasis on the run in 2023 under Dave Canales, Musgrave could help on blitz pickups, chip and release routes, as well as a security blanket out of the slot on the short-to-intermediate area.

Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State

Tucker Kraft, who would likely be a second-round target for Tampa Bay on Day Two, has both the ball skills and functional blocking to grow into an impactful NFL starter. South Dakota State has only had two top-100 draft picks (both tight ends) in Dallas Goedert and Steve Heiden, with Kraft likely being the third. He provides the versatility for two tight end sets and is adept at catching while on the move, without slowing his pace. Kraft can quickly accelerate post-catch in the quick game, generating yards after the catch. He is a willing blocker, putting in the work to fit, sustain and drive his blocks. With adjustment skills, body control and the lateral agility to make defenders miss, Kraft crates intrigue. He would help the Bucs solidify the tight end unit.

Sam LaPorta, Iowa

Sam LaPorta, a second-third round graded prospect, is a prototypical zone-beater. LaPorta became the second Iowa star to be named the Big Ten's Tight End of the Year and he concluded his collegiate career as the program's all-time leader in receptions (153) at the position. With his quickness and competitive tenacity, LaPorta lined up everywhere in the Hawkeyes' offense: inline, out of the backfield, out of the slot and out wide. LaPorta showcases short-are quickness and is a challenge to bring down after he gathers momentum. He became the only FBS tight end with 20-plus forced missed tackles in 2022. He will need to improve his strength as a blocker and consistency in contested catch situations, but LaPorta would add value to the Bucs' depth chart.

Josh Whyle, Cincinnati

Josh Whyle is a late-round developmental project, expected to be drafted in the fifth-round range. He worked mostly on the boundary as part of the rotation in Cincinnati's spread, RPO-based attack. Whyle has the height-weight-speed combination that teams covet, but his inconsistency as a pass catcher has raised concerns. He added bulk as a senior, which translated into Whyle's development/strength on chip and stalk blocks. Whyle is effective on option routes and boasts above-average speed, along with a large catch radius. He has the ability to be a reliable target underneath and is adept at winning in jump-ball situations, adjusting to throws outside of his body. With improved skills at the catch point, he has transferrable traits waiting to be refined at the NFL level.

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