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Potential Buccaneer Draft Targets: Quarterback

From possible first-round picks to developmental projects, the Buccaneers have options at the quarterback position if they choose to add to that spot in the 2023 draft

Hooker

The 2023 NFL Draft commences on the evening of Thursday, April 27 with the 31 picks of Round One. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are currently 19th on that list. They also own eight other selections, one each in the second, third and seventh rounds, two in the fifth and three in the sixth. The Buccaneers have an opportunity to address a wide variety of positions with those picks, and they will seeking to strengthen the roster for another run at the playoffs.

"If you walk through the halls, our scouts and our coaches, people are all in up there – we're trying to win," said General Manager Jason Licht at his pre-draft press conference last week. "We're trying to bring in the best players that we can this year and it's no different than we have in the past. Now, just because of the fact that we've lost quite a few players that were contributors to us and helped us win the Super Bowl and helped us have some good seasons here lately, there's probably a few more areas of need across the roster than we did in 2021 when we brought everybody back."

Over the next week, we're going to look at potential draft targets for the Buccaneers at six different positions, which are listed below. Some of these players will probably end up as first-round picks, but we'll also look at some later-round options that could fit what the Bucs need.

  • Monday, April 17: Quarterback
  • Tuesday, April 18: Offensive Line
  • Wednesday, April 19: Running Back
  • Thursday, April 20: Edge Rusher
  • Friday, April 21: Defensive Backs
  • Monday, April 24: Tight Ends

(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.)

Before we examine any prospects, the first question for today's position of choice is, 'Would the Buccaneers even consider taking a quarterback in this year's draft?' Licht didn't discount the possibility, but he also didn't make it sound like the most pressing priority this year. That said, there are only two quarterbacks on the Bucs' current roster – third-year man Kyle Trask and recent signee Baker Mayfield, who are expected to compete for the starting job in 2023 – and that isn't enough.

"It's the toughest position to find," he said. "It's the most important position on the team. You see teams that in consecutive years take them in the top 10. We have an unknown in Kyle. We have Baker, who has had some great years and now we're hoping he shows up this year in that competition and we get the best out of both of them. I would not be afraid to take a quarterback – another quarterback – because you might as well have another shot at it. Maybe not this year, but maybe in the future."

Will Levis, Kentucky

Levis has generally been regarded as one of the four quarterbacks who are almost certain to be drafted in the first round; however, while Alabama's Bryce Young, Ohio State's C.J. Stroud and Florida's Anthony Richardson are almost universally regarded as top-10 picks, there is less consensus on Levis. As such, there is at least the possibility that he will still be available at the Bucs' 19th spot, or close enough that the team would consider trading up.

The 6-4, 230-pound Levis certainly looks the part, with his solid frame, cannon arm and ability to shake off pass-rushers, not to mention a renowned toughness that made him a favorite of his teammates and coaches at Kentucky. He is intensely competitive and clearly loves football, the sort of traits that would appeal to Bucs' coaches and decision-makers.

Levis probably would have been drafted very early after his 2021 season, his first as a starter after transferring from Penn State, but he returned to Kentucky last year and raised some questions with inconsistent play. He will need to work on his accuracy and reading the field but he clearly has the skills to play quarterback in the NFL. If he were drafted by the Buccaneers, he could take a season to adjust to the professional ranks while Mayfield or Trask ran the offense, or potentially force himself into the starting competition.

Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

Mike Evans would likely love playing with Hooker, who threw the deep ball masterfully during his two seasons at Tennessee (after transferring from Virginia Tech). And Hooker's 58-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a volunteer is eye-popping. He would not likely be a candidate to start from Day One, due both to an ACL tear suffered last November and the fact that Tennessee's offense didn't ask him to do a lot of things that NFL quarterbacks have to do.

Hooker is not usually included in the "top four" quarterbacks who are considered almost certain first-round picks, but that hasn't stopped some analysts from predicting that he will, indeed, rise into first-round consideration when it is all said and done. Could the Buccaneers target Hendon if he instead falls into the range of the 40-50th overall selections? Possibly, but they might also have to commit their first-round pick if they are determined to land him as their quarterback of the future.

Due to his transfer and COVID complications, Hooker is an older prospect, entering the NFL at age 25. However, Licht dismissed the idea that the Buccaneers would devalue such older prospects, suggesting that if they believed the player was a good bet to earn a second contract they would still believe him worthy of a high draft pick.

Hooker is athletic and can make plays with his legs, including accurate throws while on the run. His game isn't necessarily refined from an NFL standpoint, but he has good athleticism and instincts and, like Levis, shows the type of leadership and commitment to football that Bucs' scouts covet.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA

It's quite possible, of course, that the Buccaneers have no interest in using a high draft pick on one of this year's quarterbacks, which would take Levis and Hooker off the table. Still, as noted, the team needs at least one more quarterback, and possibly two for training camp, so they could try their hand on a development passer later in the draft. UCLA's Thompson-Robinson is widely considered a potential Day Three pick, and Tampa Bay currently has five picks to throw around in the fifth and sixth rounds.

There's plenty of Thompson-Robinson tape to evaluate, as he started games for five seasons in Westwood and peaked as a "super senior" in Chip Kelly's offense last fall, throwing for 3,169 yards, 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He doesn't quite have prototypical NFL size at 6-1 and 203 pounds, but he has the arm to make it at the next level and has displayed very good accuracy in the short game. That and the value he could add as a runner (4.56 40-yard dash at the Combine and good decision-making as to when to tuck the ball and go) could make him a good fit for the offense that new coordinator Dave Canales will be installing at the AdventHealth Training Center this offseason.

Tim Demorat, Fordham

A few years ago, the Buccaneers took a shot on a smaller-school quarterback as a developmental project, signing San Diego's Reid Sinnett after he went undrafted in 2020. Nothing much came of that swing on the Bucs' end, but Sinnett has spent a lot of time on practice squads in Miami and Philadelphia and was still getting tryouts with NFL teams last December.

As noted above, the Bucs have a simple need for numbers at the quarterback position. While they could bring in the type of veteran like Blaine Gabbert or Ryan Griffin that they have rolled with for years, they could also devote their third spot to another project who could at the very least develop into a long-term reserve.

As a Merritt Island, Florida native, Demorat could consider Tampa a preferred destination if he does go undrafted and has his pick of suitors. At Fordham, he started 46 games and racked up 13,461 yards and 123 touchdowns against 39 interceptions. He's 6-3 and 220 pounds and has the arm strength needed to make the required throws in the NFL. He sees the field well and displays the competitiveness that he would need to fight for a spot in the league.

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