- A look at 13 mock drafts from NFL analysts reveals a growing consensus as to the type of player the Bucs are looking for at #7
- Results from the NFL Combine have caused many experts to shuffle their top 10 picks in the first round
- With more than two months remaining before the real thing, the mocks are sure to continue their steady evolution
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers crew of coaches and scouts watched the on-field workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine from a luxury suite in the southwest corner of Lucas Oil Stadium. In the evening, many of the same group spent hours conducting a series of 15-minute private meetings with the draft prospects on hand. At the conclusion of that merry-go-round of interviews each night, the Buccaneer reps did notget together as one big group to compare notes, as one might have expected.
That will take place in Tampa, on repeat for the next two-and-a-half months. Armed with a new layer of information gleaned from the Lucas Oil turf, the hotel conference room and the medical examination tables, Jason Licht and Lovie Smith will gather the group together in the Draft Room at One Buccaneer Place, which just happens to house the team's master draft board. As those discussions develop, prospect names will be nudged up and down the board, and a strategy for May's draft will take shape.
Did Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack move higher on the Bucs' list with strong workouts in Indianapolis? Did any of the quarterbacks impress Smith and Licht in the interview room? Did any new strong candidates emerge for the seventh overall pick?
Unfortunately, we're not likely to get the answers to any of those questions, at least not until after the draft. One thing we can monitor, however, is how those players and their peers ascended or descended in the court of public opinion during the past week in Indy. The mock drafts will tell us that.
Clowney, for instance, put on a show in his workout and is rapidly gaining converts to the Houston-might-pull-another-Mario-Williams line of thinking. In fact, all four analysts who have posted a mock draft on NFL.com have Clowney, rather than a quarterback, going first in the draft to the Texans. (It's worth noting that these were updated before Clowney's workout in Indy, but that will likely only solidify those opinions.)
The Buccaneers might never have been in position to land Clowney without a trade, but the (theoretical) movement of any players thought to be potential top-10 picks can affect the team indirectly. That can definitely be seen in the mock drafts. We first began tracking a handful of mocks in January, with the notion of following them throughout the spring as their authors release later versions. As we check in again on the final day of the Combine, we begin to see some sharper patterns in the common outsider wisdom regarding the Bucs' desires, as well as some significant shifts in opinion by specific analysts.
UCLA LB Anthony Barr is still widely considered a potential top-10 pick, but there's differing opinions as to whether he will be taken before or after Buffalo's Khalil Mack
In the chart below we've assembled the picks assigned to the Buccaneers by 13 well-known NFL and draft analysts. Some of these experts only recently posted their mocks; others, as can be seen below, were part of our original look at the process in January. Here and throughout the lead-up to May's draft, we'll take a look at how these mock drafts shift and flow from week to week and month to month. We will add additional mocks to the chart as they become available.
Don Banks, SI
Bucky Brooks, NFL
Dane Brugler, CBS
Charles Davis, NFL
Eric Edholm, Yahoo
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL
Peter King, SI
Pat Kirwan, CBS
Mel Kiper, ESPN
Todd McShay, ESPN
Pete Prisco, CBS
Rob Rang, CBS
Matt Smith, NFL
(The players mentioned in the chart are Buffalo LB Khalil Mack, Texas A&M T Jake Matthews, UCLA LB Anthony Barr, North Carolina TE Eric Ebron, Auburn T Greg Robinson and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.)
One interesting change for several of the experts is the change of Tampa Bay's pick from Buffalo's Khalil Mack (or another player) to UCLA's Anthony Barr. Both Mack and Barr are considered 3-4 pass-rushing linebackers who may or may not fit well into a 4-3 scheme. After Clowney, they seem to be the consensus next two choices for teams looking for a pass-rush boost, as the Buccaneers clearly are. The difference here is that Mack's stock is rising on a lot of these lists. Daniel Jeremiah, for instance, can't assign Mack to the Buccaneers anymore, as he did in January, because he now has Atlanta grabbing the Buffalo 'backer at #6. Charles Davis, on the other hand, gives the Buccaneers Barr even with Mack still on the board but specifically mentions that some scouts prefer Mack. The Combine may have swayed the opinion of CBS' Dane Brugler; he had the Bucs going with Barr on February 19 but on Wednesday changed it to Mack and put Barr with Minnesota at #8.
Similarly, NFL.com's Matt Smith had the Buccaneers taking Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins a month ago. However, Watkins is another player who has recently been enjoying quite a bit of positive buzz, and now Smith has Oakland grabbing Watkins at #5 and the Bucs settling on Barr.
Overall, however, there seems to be a growing consensus that the Bucs are honing in on a pass-rusher. Ten of the 13 analysts pair Tampa Bay with either Barr or Mack, with two going the Watkins route and one (Yahoo.com's Eric Edholm) going with Auburn tackle Greg Robinson. Edholm is the only analyst in the chart who has given the Bucs two different offensive players with his two mock draft versions.
The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine ended on Tuesday as the defensive backs ran the final drills of the week. As much as the Buccaneers and their fellow NFL teams are heading back to their home bases to put their newly-gathered evidence to use, so too are those who analyze the NFL adjusting their predictions. The Combine is one of the most important events on the pre-draft landscape, but it's far from the list; throughout March, for instance, NFL scouts will be crisscrossing the nation to attend dozens of college Pro Days. Every workout means a potential change on a team's draft board, and on the assortment of mock drafts, as well. Things changed quite a bit in one month, in fact, and there's plenty more to come before the real thing kicks off on May 8.