By Tom Krasniqi
After months of excruciating analysis, rumors and meaningless mock drafts, the NFL Draft is finally upon us.
The first round takes place on Thursday night. The Buccaneers have the 7th overall pick and they can hardly wait to get down to business.
It’s the first draft for Lovie Smith as Bucs head coach. It’s also the first draft for Jason Licht as a general manager.
“I’m fired up man,” Licht said last week.
The Bucs have 6 picks in the draft— one selection in every round except the 4th round pick, which goes to the Jets in the Darrelle Revis trade. The Bucs have the 7th overall selection. They also have picks 38 (round 2) and 69 (round 3).
This is the deepest draft in many years— especially at wide receiver, offensive tackle and cornerback. There’s also plenty of depth at the quarterback position. There a few studs at the top of the draft— DE Jadaveon Clowney, LB Khalil Mack, WR Sammy Watkins and OT Greg Robinson should all go in the top 5. Many draft experts believe there isn’t much of a difference between players that will be taken midway through the first round and those taken in round 3.
“It is deep,” Licht said of the draft class. “98 underclassmen help that this year. I think that’s 25 more than last year. I think we’re looking at our board, we have over 50 guys that we deem as draftable.”
So the million dollar question is— What will the Bucs do with the 7th pick? Go for a WR such as Mike Evans of Texas A&M— or do you hold off given the incredible depth at the position? Or do you opt for a QB instead?
The Bucs appear to be enamored with Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. Lovie has said repeatedly that he wants speed and athleticism at every position, and that includes quarterback.
Licht said Manziel had a “very impressive interview” and called him a “sharp guy.”
Are the Bucs really interested in Manziel? Or is it a smokescreen? It’s an interesting question. This is the time of year when erroneous information is made available for all to see/hear.
“That’s a great question,” said Pat Yasinkas from ESPN.com on the Ron & Ian show on Monday when asked about the Bucs interest in Johnny Football. “At first, I thought it was a smokescreen. But the more I hear, the more I’m convinced that they’re legitimately interested in him. I heard it from numerous places.”
Josh McCown is the starting QB, but he’s 34. And it looks like the new regime is not high on Mike Glennon. In fact, there are whispers that the Bucs could even deal Glennon in order to get an extra pick. It seems likely that a quarterback will be drafted.
What about trading down?
“You know that’s definitely something we would look into,” Licht said last week about trading down. “We’ve already reached out to teams. If our player isn’t there, we’d really be open to conversation about moving back and picking up picks.”
Licht knows that in order to trade down, it takes two to tango — the Bucs must find a willing partner looking to move up. Licht believes there will be some surprise twists on draft night.
“We really don’t know—I don’t think any team knows how this is going to fall until draft day,” Licht opined.
Bank on it. There will be a surprise or two on draft night. The top of the draft is unpredictable. Nobody will show their cards until they’re on the clock.
Analysis: It’s difficult to predict who will be available at 7. There could be trades that will impact the top six picks. It appears the Bucs would love to trade down and get more picks. They’ve already reached out to several teams. Keep an eye on the Bills (9th pick) and the Giants (12th pick). Evans or TE Eric Ebron are playmakers that teams could go up for.
If the Bucs stay at 7, keep an eye on DT Aaron Donald. I’ve been saying for the last couple of weeks that the Bucs do like him. Donald (6-1, 285) is quick and explosive off the snap and was dominant at times last season for Pittsburgh. Donald had a whopping 28.5 tackles for loss last season, which was the best mark in all of college football. He’s a perfect fit for the Tampa 2 and he would likely rotate in at DT with newcomer Clinton McDonald. Last season in Seattle, McDonald played 55% of the snaps—mainly on passing downs.
One thing you know about Lovie is that he craves depth along the defensive line. Right now, it doesn’t sound like he has faith in Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers or Akeem Spence. He wants to be able to send waves of rushers at the quarterback. Especially in a division where you face Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan twice a year.
Draft Needs: WR, G, QB, DL. If the Bucs go Donald in round one, expect them to target a receiver in rounds 2 and/or 3. Names to watch: Penn State WR Allen Robinson, Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews and Clemson WR Martavis Bryant. Bryant did make a pre-draft visit to the Bucs. Guard looks like a shaky position with uncertainty surrounding the health status of Carl Nicks. UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo could be a 2nd round possibility. LSU’s Trai Turner, North Dakota State’s Billy Turner and Florida’s Jon Halapio could also be options in the later rounds. Both Turners and Halapio also visited the Bucs before the draft.
If the Bucs tab a WR (Evans?) in round 1, then look for them to target a DL later in the draft, perhaps even Florida’s Dominique Easley in round 2 or 3. Late round possibility on defense is Florida State DB LaMarcus Joyner, who’s on the small side (5-8, 184) but he has terrific instincts, which makes him an ideal fit for Lovie’s defense.
There is a possibility that the Bucs could go for an offensive lineman at 7— Texas A&M LT Jake Matthews or Michigan LT Taylor Lewan could be available. Licht and the Bucs have done extensive work on all A&M players, including Matthews. What would the Bucs do with free agent signee Anthony Collins? There’s a theory out there that could have Collins slide over to guard, where he’s played before. Honestly, that doesn’t make much sense. The Bucs gave Collins a $30 million contract with $15 million guaranteed— and they would move him to guard to accommodate a rookie left tackle? I don’t see it.
Showtime: Join me and Ronnie Lane for our NFL Draft party show on Thursday night live from Raymond James Stadium from 7p-11pm on 620am WDAE and 95.3FM. Anthony Becht will also join our broadcast. We will also be joined by other guests and we’ll break down each and every pick as it happens— including the Bucs.