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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Roundtable: Positions to Target in Round 1?

With the roster reshaped by the first rush of free agency, contributors Joe Kania, Andrew Norton and Scott Smith debate the best position to target in Round One of the draft.

Photos of the Buccaneers' complete roster.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are slated to choose 19th in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, which will be conducted in Philadelphia on Thursday, April 27. If every team before the Buccaneers uses its full 10-minute allotment to pick, the night would be three hours old before Tampa Bay was on the clock.

The Buccaneers needed less than a third of that time to lock down not one but two key additions to the roster when the NFL's free agency began on Thursday, March 9. By the time the first hour of the open market had passed, the Buccaneers had added an important piece on both sides of the ball, signing wide receiver DeSean Jackson and defensive tackle Chris Baker.

"We're really excited about the group we're putting together," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter two days later. "These two guys are a really nice start to what we're doing this offseason."

That instant jolt to the Bucs' depth chart was later followed by the additions of safety J.J. Wilcox, long-snapper Garrison Sanborn and kicker Nick Folk. The front office also brought some clarity to the team's direction in 2017 by re-signing defensive end Will Gholston, safety Chris Conte, running back Jacquizz Rodgers, cornerback Josh Robinson, defensive tackle Sealver Siliga and center Joe Hawley.

Building an NFL roster is, as alluded to by Koetter's comment, a never-ending process. There may be a few more tweaks between now and April 27. That said, the table is now set for the Buccaneers to focus on the draft, in which they currently own seven selections. Now that we've seen the impact from free agency on the depth chart, do we have a better idea about what the Buccaneers should do with that 19th overall pick on April 27?

That's what we're here to debate. Joe Kania and Andrew Norton are once again going to join me for a quick roundtable discussion regarding the Buccaneers' first-round possibilities. Specifically, we're going to take turns suggesting the positions the team should target with that 19th pick, and why. We'll each identify two positions we'd like to see the team focus on that Thursday night in late April; as always, please keep in mind that these are strictly our own opinions and not meant to reflect the strategy or thinking of Koetter, General Manager Jason Licht or anyone else who will be in the Buccaneers' draft room when the team is on the clock.

I randomly selected an order for our discussion, and Joe you're first. I'll be second and Andrew third. Take it away, Joe…

Joe Kania: Running back

Prior to the Buccaneers' signing of DeSean Jackson, I would have suggested that wide receiver is the position the Bucs were most likely to target. And still, even after the signing, I believe the team could target a receiver in the draft, depending on the players available. Should Tampa Bay have an opportunity to add Corey Davis or John Ross to their receiving corps, I think it might be too good of an opportunity to pass up on. If I had to pick one position, though, I would have to say running back.

Running backs participate in drills during the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. - presented by Florida Hospital.

In 2015, Jameis Winston's rookie season, the Buccaneers finished with a top-five offense for the first time in team history, and that group was carried by the NFL's No. 5 rushing attack and the league's second-leading rusher. That year, the Bucs averaged 4.8 yards per carry, the most in the NFL. In 2016, Doug Martin struggled with injuries and no Buccaneer running back was able to record more than 500 rushing yards. With that, the Bucs finished the year with the NFL's No. 24 rushing attack.

Tampa Bay recently re-signed Jacquizz Rodgers, their leading rusher from a year ago, but Martin will be serving a suspension to start the year, so it's not unreasonable to think that the Bucs could target a running back with the No. 19 pick. A lot of that will depend on who is available, though. If either of LSU's Leonard Fournette or Florida State's Dalvin Cook are still on the board, I think the Bucs will take them, especially if the top three receivers are already taken.

Scott Smith: Cornerback

The Buccaneers' initial run through free agency has me more convinced than ever that the team should stick to its 120 Board and go "best-available-player" as much as possible at #19. I'm fully aware that this usually translates into "best-available-player-at-a-position-of-need," but that one glaring need isn't as obvious to me this year as it has been the in the last few drafts.

As such, the Buccaneers can play to the strength of this draft class, which is considered particularly deep in general and especially at a couple specific positions. Joe already identified one of them – there is a very strong group of running backs available. Well, the cornerbacks are almost as deep, with a good eight to 10 who could come off the board in the first round and a half.

Defensive Backs participate in drills during the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis - presented by Florida Hospital.

To me, then, it comes down to which position is, in general, the more difficult one to fill. Yes, a running back (Ezekiel Elliott) went fourth overall last year and proved to be every bit worth that draft capital, leading the NFL in rushing and helping to transform the Cowboys into instant contenders. But do you know who finished second in the league in rushing yards? Chicago rookie back Jordan Howard, who was selected in the fifth round. If this draft is indeed so deep in running backs, doesn't it make sense to play that depth by searching for talent after the first round?

Now, obviously, you could apply the same logic to a deep draft of cornerbacks, but that makes me a little more nervous. It's such a difficult position to fill that I could see a feeding frenzy developing between the middle of the first round and the middle of the second round. If all the top-rated cornerbacks start coming off the board, the Bucs might be left out in the cold if they wait until Round Two.

The other half of this decision is this: Do the Buccaneers need another cornerback? After all, they drafted on in the first round last year, and Vernon Hargreaves looks like the real deal. Veteran Brent Grimes proved to be a strong pickup in free agency, leading the league in passes defensed, and those two return as the starters in 2017. But the team has released veteran corner Alterraun Verner and it finished last season with the untested Javien Elliott as the primary nickel back. Elliott is promising, and the depth chart also features Jude Adjei-Barimah and Josh Robinson, but adding another premium talent to that group would up the competition level and potentially make for a very strong secondary.

Andrew Norton: Defensive End

I can certainly see either of those as a possibility at #19. The good thing for the Buccaneers would be that you can see nearly any position as a possibility for the first round, which goes to show that the Bucs have a pretty well-rounded roster with no glaring needs. If there were an argument against running back or corner, it would be one that Scott already laid out, that those two positions (particularly cornerback) are widely regarded as very deep in this year's draft class.

I'm going to go with a defensive end, because it is one of those positions (similar to cornerback) where you just can't have enough great players. Dirk Koetter addressed defensive line depth as a strength in the Jackson and Baker introductory press conference, also noting that the Buccaneers defensive line is almost always in rotation. The selection of a top pass-rushing talent in the first round would build on the Buccaneers depth and ensure that talent and fresh legs are on the field even late in the game. Add a first-rounder who can get after the quarterback to a solid group that includes Gerald McCoy, Chris Baker, Clinton McDonald, Robert Ayers, Will Gholston, Noah Spence and Jacquies Smith… that means you are getting pressure consistently on every snap.

Joe Kania: Wide Receiver

I touched on the idea of drafting a wide receiver in the first round briefly above. All things considered, the Buccaneers are in pretty good shape at the position as things stand today. They have two Pro Bowl caliber players in Evans and Jackson and return their No. 3 receiver, Adam Humphries. But just because they have a good lineup now doesn't mean they can't build on it and add more weapons for Winston.

Wide receivers participate in drills during the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis - presented by Florida Hospital.

As mentioned above, the two receivers most commonly linked to the Buccaneers are Davis and Ross, with Ross appearing in many more mock drafts than his counterpart. Ross set the NFL Combine's 40-yard dash record, finishing the drill in 4.22 seconds. If he's still on the board, why not add him to the already formidable combination of Evans and Jackson? Pairing Ross with Jackson would put the NFL's second-fastest player (according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats) and the fastest player in the history of the Combine on the same field together in red and pewter.

If neither player is available, and assuming Clemson's Mike Williams is already gone as many mock drafts predict, then I could see the Bucs steering in another direction and using a later-round pick on a receiver. But if one of the top three wide receivers are still on the board at No. 19, it will only make the Buccaneers' offense more dangerous.

Scott Smith: Safety

I probably would have gone with defensive tackle here before the signing of Chris Baker, but I think the rotation there is pretty solid now. Of course, the Buccaneers also signed a safety in free agency (J.J. Wilcox) but so far have not re-signed Bradley McDougald, leaving the overall numbers the same at that position.

I have only recently become convinced, thanks to some conversations with NFL football minds much sharper than mine, that safeties are growing in importance in the position hierarchy. If you find one who is a difference maker, like the Kansas City Chiefs have done with Eric Berry, you don't let him get away. I do like the three-way battle the Bucs appear to have right now between Wilcox, Keith Tandy and Chris Conte, but it wouldn't hurt to have one more competitor in that group.

Let's think about the future a little bit here, something the Bucs may be in position to do this year with fewer glaring holes on the depth chart. Even if you're pretty confident that a trio of Wilcox, Tandy and Conte will more than adequately handle the safety position in 2017, you can still try to add a potential impact player for a season or two down the road. And this year's first round is littered with possible blue-chip safeties, especially if you're high on Michigan's versatile Jabrill Peppers.

Way back when, the Buccaneers found the best safety in team history in the third round. And, sure, another John Lynch may eventually come along in the later rounds, but the Bucs' best for finding a star safety will be with an early pick. The newest star safety in the league is the Giants' Landon Collins, who was the first pick of the second round two years ago, #33 overall. There were eight safeties who made the most recent Pro Bowl roster (some as injury replacements) and seven of them were selected between picks five and 37. The only exception was Denver's Darian Stewart.

Berry was drafted fifth overall but the other six (Collins, Eric Weddle, Devin McCourty, Reggie Nelson, Harrison Smith and Ha-Ha Clinton Dix) all came off the board in the second half of the first round or very early in the second. That's where the Buccaneers find themselves this year, at #19, in prime position to go after an impact safety.

Andrew Norton: Tight End

Well, this doesn't leave a whole lot for me. I doubt the Buccaneers go for a linebacker here, the offensive line could use some additional depth, but has all of it's returning starters and this draft is not as deep at the position as it has been in past years, and I'd say we're pretty set at quarterback. But that doesn't mean that I don't think tight end could be a pretty fun pick in the first round.

Analysts are calling this the best tight end class that they can remember, with a number of first round talents out there. If the Buccaneers have one high on their board that happens to fall to #19, why not draft him as the best player available and follow the offseason "Weapons for Winston" social media trend.

A tight end in the first round means a skill position starting lineup of:

  • QB Jameis Winston – First player in NFL history to pass for 4,000+ yards in each of his first two seasons.
  • Any player from the RB trio of Doug Martin, Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers
  • WR Mike Evans – One of only six NFL players to begin career with three straight 1,000+-yard seasons
  • WR DeSean Jackson – Leads NFL with 17.7 yards per catch and 112 catches of 25+ yards since 2008, led
  • NFL in 2016 with 17.9 yards and posted his fifth 1,000-yard season.
  • TE Cameron Brate – Tied for most touchdowns by a tight end last season
  • & a first-round talent at the other tight end spot.

Sounds good to me.

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