Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Round Six: Toughness and Versatility

The Bucs capped a productive 2016 draft weekend with the sixth-round picks of Oklahoma LB Devante Bond and Northwestern FB Dan Vitale, two players with a good shot to make an impact as rookies.

In Jason Licht's first two drafts, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used their sixth-round selections on small, fast receivers who had a shot to help in the kick return game. This year, armed with two sixth-round selections, Licht's Buccaneers added a pair of hard-nosed players who can help the team in a variety of ways on offense, defense and special teams.

Tampa Bay's previous two drafts were marvelously productive, unearthing at least a half-dozen starters and completely rejuvenating the team's offense. However, those two sixth-round receivers – Wyoming's Robert Herron in 2014 and Utah's Kaelin Clay in 2015 – failed to make the roster. This year, in opting for Oklahoma linebacker Devante Bond at pick #183 and Northwestern fullback Dan Vitale at pick #197, the team believes it has landed a pair of newcomers who will stick, and who will be able to contribute immediately.

"They're all good kids," said Licht, referring also to the other Day-Three selections of North Carolina Central cornerback Ryan Smith and UCLA tackle Caleb Benenoch. "They're all athletic and I think they've all got a really good chance of being Buccaneers for a while. Versatility is always good. We like the versatility here – there's a theme of that."

A look at the newest member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That theme began with the Smith and Benenoch picks on Rounds Four and Five, respectively. Licht and Head Coach Dirk Koetter both noted on Saturday evening that they would be giving Smith a look at safety as well as kick returner, and that Benenoch could eventually find a home at either guard or tackle – or both as a reserve swingman. Bond and Vitale offer the same versatility, increasing their chances of staying past the cut to 53 this September.

"Even though we added Daryl Smith in the offseason, our linebacker depth is thin," noted Koetter. "Devante has played a lot of football at Oklahoma and that's another good guy. Those are the types of guys that also bolster your special teams at the same time. To have those guys on defense is something that we needed to do."

Bond said he was ready to play any linebacker position, though he seems likely to start off on the strong side, behind Smith. He wasn't a core special teams player at OU but he has the size-speed measurables to become one in the NFL, and he knows that's his best way to early playing time.

A look at the newest member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I played special teams," said Bond. "They didn't put a lot of starters on that [at Oklahoma] but I did play a few of them in some games. Any time they needed me I was happy to get out there."

Vitale joins a team that previously had zero fullbacks on the roster, so his path to playing time seems pretty clear. At Northwestern, he was deployed all over the offense, and Koetter described his potential role in Tampa as "part-fullback, part-tight end." The leading pass-catcher on a Wildcat team that made it to the Outback Bowl in Tampa last year, Vitale is ready to take on a similarly diverse role in the NFL.

"I think it's a great fit," he said. "I think I'll be able to do a lot for this team, which I'm excited about. That's what I did in college. I played a little bit of slot, a little bit of tight end, a little bit of fullback. I think an H-back is kind of what I'm looking at and I'm excited to contribute."

In essence, the Buccaneers think they picked up a "fullback-plus" in Vitale because he could be the lead-blocker the depth chart clearly needs but also help in several other ways. That includes special teams, which isn't always the first thing one thinks of when contemplating a fullback's job.

"He can catch the ball, he's played tight end there," said Licht. "He's kind of a hybrid guy and I know he's going to be a really good special teamer and that's hard to find, a fullback that can play special teams."

If the Buccaneers were targeting tough and versatile players for their final picks in the draft, they weren't very sneaky about it. Both Bond and Vitale came into draft weekend believing they had a good shot of landing in Tampa.

"They were one of the teams that I definitely felt I had the most interest from," said Bond. "Starting at the Combine, I had an interview with the GM and with everybody. [Linebackers] Coach [Mark] Duffner, I had a good relationship with him, talking to him a few times, so it was definitely good."

Vitale had to wait a little more than a dozen extra picks after the Bucs drafted Bond but it worked out in the end.

"I kind of knew but honestly I was just waiting for my name the whole day," said the Northwestern standout of the Bucs' interest in him. "To be honest with you, I kind of hoped it would be Tampa Bay and that's who it ended up being. I've kind of built a relationship with certain people on the staff, not only through the workout but Senior Bowl, Combine and even for our bowl game. So I'm happy I ended up there."

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