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S.S. Mailbag: Re-Examining Recent Drafts

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The AFC and NFC squads for the 2019 Pro Bowl will be announced on Tuesday night and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hoping to be represented by a couple of their players despite the team's disappointing 5-9 record. Head Coach Dirk Koetter was prompted to talk about a couple Buccaneer all-star possibilities on Monday during his weekly day-after-the-game press conference.

"I think Lavonte [David] has had another outstanding year," said Koetter. "He's playing a position that it’s going to be tough. Let's face it, it's going to be tough at his position. JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul] has had a nice year. Mike [Evans] set a career high with over 1,300 yards, but there's good competition at that position. I think the wild card is always what happens with the O-line. Sometimes those interior linemen are more who's made it before and popularity contests. That’s where between the coaches' vote and the players' vote, it would be interesting. I'd love to see sometime what those totals were, but of course we never will."

Koetter certainly identified some worthwhile candidates. Pierre-Paul has 11.5 sacks and has revitalized the Bucs' pass rush. Evans is second in the NFL with 1,328 receiving yards. And the interior linemen to which Koetter alludes, left guard Ali Marpet, is indeed having a fine season for an offense that ranks third in the NFL in total yards and first in passing yards.

Koetter also happens to be right about the difficulty that David faces every year in the Pro Bowl voting. He's a 4-3 outside linebacker – clearly one of the best in the league – but his position is lumped in with pass-rushing linebackers like Chicago's Khalil Mack and Washington's Ryan Kerrigan. By nature of their position, the top players in that latter category tend to have a lot of sacks, and that's a statistic that really catches the voters' eyes. It's the reason that David has only been to one Pro Bowl despite his well-deserved reputation as a great player. This was most obviously demonstrated in 2013, when David did not get voted into the all-star game but was a first-team Associated Press All-Pro, which is actually a more exclusive honor.

The voting is already concluded – the NFL collects fan votes for about two months, which accounts for a third of the process, and then players and coaches send in their votes in mid-December – so there's nothing we can do to influence whether or not Lavonte David's name is read on the announcement show Tuesday night. But we can still take a few minutes to sing his praises.

For instance, did you know that last Sunday David became the first player in two seasons to have at least 10 tackles (he had 12) plus two sacks plus a fumble recovery in the same game? That's really filling up a stat line! As we noted in Monday's Data Crunch, David is now the Bucs' all-time leader in opponent fumble recovery, and he has the most of any NFL player since he entered the league in 2012.

David leads the Buccaneers with 105 tackles despite missing two games with a knee injury. He's second on the team with 11 tackles or loss and he also has 3.5 sacks, seven quarterback hits, two passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He's one of only four active players with at least 20 career sacks and at least 10 career interceptions. His 84 solo tackles are fourth in the NFC and second among outside linebackers to Dallas's Leighton Vander Esch.

David now has at least 100 tackles in six of his seven NFL seasons. He's had at least three sacks in four of those campaigns. He's one of the most consistently productive players in the NFL and especially at the outside linebacker position. Lavonte David deserves to be in the Pro Bowl again. We'll find out Tuesday night if he gets that honor. Now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. As you'll see from time to time, I also unilaterally appropriate for myself – as any good pirate captain would – questions I like that are meant for our Insider Live show or are simply responses to one of my previous tweets. I've also taken to stealing emails meant for our Salty Dogs podcast. As always, if you specifically want to get a question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

The truly amazing thing about this question is that Christian asked it – and used all of his available character space – without invoking the words "Derwin James." I have many, many more tweets directed my way (most of them not actually questions) that specifically want to remind me that the Buccaneers did not select Florida State safety Derwin James in the 2018 draft. I am aware of this fact, but thank you.

Christian also uses the word "disconcerting" rather than "disappointing," which I find interesting. I think of disconcerting as many weirdly alarming, and I don't know if I've ever thought of a draft pick in that way. But I get the idea: Should I be disturbed that the Bucs supposedly haven't picked a "top" safety in the last two drafts?

First of all, is that really true? Christian himself points out, Justin Evans appears to be a good player and a long-term answer at one of the safety spots, and the Buccaneers selected him with their second-round pick in 2017. It was the 50th selection overall, and that's the third-highest pick the franchise has ever used on a safety (Mark Barron seventh overall in 2012 and Melvin Johnson 43rd overall in 1995)!

Let's take a closer look at that draft. The Buccaneers picked 18th in the first round so, unless you think it was important enough to give up multiple picks for a safety, they had no shot at Jamal Adams or Malik Hooker, who went sixth and 15th overall. Tampa Bay was surprised and delighted when Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, considered a potential top-10 selection heading into the draft, was available when they got on the clock at pick 18. That was too good to pass up, and Howard looks like a star in the making at his position. He might even be in the Pro Bowl conversation if his season hadn't ended early due to an ankle injury.

Will never know, but the Buccaneers might have chosen a safety at #18 if Howard hadn't slid that far. But remember (and check out this link if you don't believe me), the safety position was considered especially deep with playmakers in 2017. The Bucs could reasonably believe one of the safeties high on their board would last to the 50th pick. The four safeties that came off the board between their picks of Howard and Evans were Jabrill Peppers, Budda Baker, Marcus Maye and Marcus Williams. Those all appear to be fine players, though it's probably too early to say so for sure, and that's true of Evans as well. But the production for all five of those safeties seems pretty even so far, even with Evans missing six of a possible 24 games so far. Evans has 124 tackles, four interceptions and eight passes defensed. Peppers has 125-2-8; Baker has 146-0-8; Maye has 112-3-4; Williams has 124-6-10.

So I would argue that the Buccaneers did at least try to land one of the "top" safeties in 2017. I think it would have been a bit of overkill to use both of their first two picks on the safety position; I hope you agree, Christian. So we move on to this year's draft. Should the Buccaneers have used a high pick on another safety in a second consecutive year? I know there were proponents even then for James at pick #11, and if he continues to play well for the Chargers his name will continue to be brought up by Buccaneer fans.

Fair enough point, but it's not like safety was the only need the Buccaneers had going into this year's draft. There never is just one need. That's why general managers look at the entirety of a draft and see how they can use their picks to hit as many of them as possible. The Bucs did add defensive tackles Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein in the draft, but Vea has the potential to be a different level of talent at the position, a havoc-wreaking force in the middle. Those don't come along too often. You could have also argued for an offensive lineman, a pass rusher or a running back, and it's possible the Bucs would have gone in one of those directions had Quenton Nelson, Bradley Chubb or Saquon Barkley fallen to their original #7 spot.

But like I said, a general manager looks at the entirety of the draft and tries to arrange his opportunities to fill multiple needs. The Bucs hit the running back and cornerback positions in the second round and added a guard in the third round. Early in the fourth round, they selected Pitt safety Jordan Whitehead, who likely was available in that round because he didn't have prototypical safety size despite being known as a very hard hitter. Whitehead was pressed into service early when Chris Conte landed on injured reserve and he may be the team's most productive rookie to this point. Whitehead is second on the team with 69 tackles and, after an early adjustment period, he appears to have settled in as a player who is not overmatched by the NFL. This guy likes the pick:

That said, it's still too early to tell if the Bucs hit on that pick, even with promising results so far. Still, the Bucs have used second and fourth-round picks on the safety position in the last two years and maybe have found a long-time starting duo. Time will tell. Yes, there will always be fans pining for Derwin James – assuming he continues to play well – but you can't have everything in every draft. If Vea does indeed turn into an impact player and Evans and Whitehead give the Bucs a solid safety tandem, I'll feel alright with all those decisions.

Yes, that's true, the Buccaneers are one of five teams who will have one of their home games included in the NFL's International Series in 2019. They will play in either Mexico City or London, and it will be third regular-season Buccaneers game played outside of the United States. The Bucs also played in London in 2009 and 2011.

The reason the Buccaneers are headed abroad (not necessarily "overseas," Maxwell) is that the Super Bowl is coming back to Tampa in 2021. That's now part of the Super Bowl bid process – the team associated with the region trying to land the big game has to agree to have one of their home games in a five-year span be included in the International Series.

This was all announced last week. What was not announced, unfortunately for Max here, were the rest of the game's details: date, time and opponent. That will all come out in April when the league reveals the entire 2019 schedule. What we know now is that the Bucs, Jacksonville, Oakland and the two L.A. teams will be the five that host games in either London or Mexico City. I would suspect that the one Mexico game would go to one of the three California teams on this list, which would put the Bucs in London again.

So I can't really answer your question, Max – and, in fact, the NFL probably hasn't even determined the five matchups yet – but we can make some educated guesses. The Bucs already know seven of their eight home opponents for next year: Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Arizona, San Francisco, Houston and Indianapolis. The eighth one will be either Green Bay or Detroit depending upon how the final standings in the NFC's North and South divisions shake out over these last two weeks.

I'm going to start this educated-guess process by eliminating the Bucs' three NFC South foes, Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans. There have been 27 games in the International Series since it began in 2007 (including the one this year in Mexico City that was actually relocated to Los Angeles due to field-condition issues), and only three of them have pitted two teams from the same division. I'm guessing the league would prefer to leave intra-division games at their usual homes since those are probably popular dates on most team's schedules. Plus, it might seem like a disadvantage in a two-game series to have only one team get to play their half at home.

Arizona and San Francisco already face long trips to come to Tampa next year; would the league want to make them even longer and send them to London. I'm not sure, but it seems like one of those teams would be more likely to match up with the Raiders or Chargers in Mexico City. So if we eliminate those two we're down to the Texans, Colts and Lions/Packers. Looking back at that list of previous International Series games, I see a lot of AFC vs. NFC matchups. Three of the four games this year were of the interconference variety, and two of the four in 2017, as well. So let's take a leap here and guess that it's going to be one of those two AFC teams on the Bucs' home schedule. From there, flip a coin: Colts or Texans. That's as educated a guess as I'm going to try to make, Max.

As for the date, what we do know is that these international games are usually not scheduled for early in the season. The four this year were in Weeks Six, Seven, Eight and 11. In 2017, they were in Weeks Seven, Eight and 11. So figure about midseason, and that's a potential bit of good news for the Bucs. The NFL usually gives teams traveling to London their bye the following week, which means Tampa Bay is likely to get one of the later byes next season, and that's generally considered favorable.

I included this one because it's a nice sentiment about Mr. Glazer and because Phil has contributed many good questions to this mailbag and other Buccaneers.com features. The players who came to know Malcolm Glazer, who passed away in 2014, were indeed quite fond of the team's owner. I'm basing that on my own observations, though I have heard it directly from some players as well.

That said, I don't think there's any connection between that and the Bucs' playoff drought since Jon Gruden's second-to-last season at the helm. It's not something that one could prove either way, of course, but there are other intangibles that I do believe in, like momentum within a game or a season, and winning building confidence in the locker room thereby begetting more winning. I do not think that a player would care less about success or play any less hard based on the absence of a well-liked owner.

For clarification, it should be noted that while Malcolm Glazer was still the owner during the head-coaching tenures of Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano, he was not as present from 2006 on due to health reasons. But that also includes three seasons of the Gruden era, including the 2007 playoff season. In a couple of ways, the timeline here really doesn't work, Phil.

But, again, it's worth recalling how well-liked Mr. Glazer was at One Buccaneer Place, not only among the players but also the coaches and staff.

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