Picking towards the end of the top-10 can be a trade-up/down paradise. Not so this year, as the rush to get in the top 5 means the Buccaneers will be have fewer killer offers to move. Which is just as well really – their roster is inconsistent and could use more top-tier talent. Who might they go for?
Derwin James, S, Florida State
This secondary. Urgh. In a crop of incredible early-round safeties, Tampa snagged one in Justin Evans who struggled as a rookie before going on IR. They’re still – inconceivably – not just paying Chris Conte a salary but expecting him to start!
I’ve seen Derwin James described as more of an athlete than football player, which terrifies me as to his ceiling, because he is a more than good player as it stands. He’s mainly a strong safety, and maintains a level head as a QB or RB spy. His tackling technique is very good already, getting a solid wrap from a balanced base to bring his man down. He plays with heads up, good awareness if not the strongest instincts. But he’s also great in coverage, will have enough physical ability to cover tight ends while also being athletic enough to cover running backs. And you can run delicious safety blitzes with him. I’m a huge fan of James and think he could solidify both run D and short/intermediate pass D instantly.
Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State
Tampa ranked dead last in the NFL last year with 22 sacks, and it’s not hard to see why. Noah Spence hasn’t really worked out yet – he suffered with a shoulder injury last year but still has some development to do. Tampa brought in Vinny Curry, who has been good not great in Philadelphia, but Chubb looks like the sort of great edge talent a weak Tampa defense needs. Chubb is one you have to be optimistic about not going to Denver or Indy, but he could be there.
Chubb is the diamond in a rough edge rushing class by miles. He’s quick and adept at bending round the edge, and with that sneaking past otherwise well-set offensive tackles. He has a variety of pass-rushing moves – something this year’s crop just do not have. He’s actually a determined run defender. He’d be an instant upgrade and take some pressure off a similarly-struggling scecondary and linebacker corps.
(Jeremy Brevard/ USA TODAY Sports)
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Up until a week or so ago, you’d never have convinced me Barkley would be around at 7. But given the clamour for top-tier QBs and the fact most likely Barkley drafters have signed other RBs, who knows? It needs the Giants to draft a QB and the Browns to really like Carlos Hyde, then. Barkley is, of course, a hyper-productive college RB in the run, pass and red-zone. He’s quick, fast, strong, agile…sort of the platonic ideal of a skill position player.
Tampa haven’t had reliable running back production for years – two years of Doug Martin’s otherwise-flaky career are the highlight. Right now the top two running backs on the roster are Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers. With pedigree like that, how do you pass on Barkley?
Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
Nelson is top of a lot big boards around the draft community. Which isn’t to say he should be first drafted (obviously), but it’s awareness that a player at a position of comparatively lower value is incredible. And Nelson is that. He’s tough, athletic, relentless, already has fantastic balance, hand placement, and foot placement. He has the sort of nasty streak that makes offensive line coaches weak at the knees. On that left side of Notre Dame’s offensive line he and Mike McGlinchey dominated defense after defense.
Nelson has multiple All-Pro talent. And there’s a fit for him in Tampa’s offensive line, even though they’re expected to move center Ali Marpet to guard to accommodate free agent Ryan Jensen. But bringing Nelson in over J.R. Sweezy would be a huge upgrade in the pass game and the run game, and suddenly that Tampa defensive interior would look terrifying.
(Zach Bolinger/ Icon Sportswire)
Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama
I have no idea how draft season is going to go for Minkah Fitzpatrick. Will teams see him as a slot cornerback and deprioritise him? Will they ask him to play free safety? Do they look at his measurable and say “this kid can play outside”? If he does play outside, he needs the right scheme and I’m not 100% sure Tampa’s is that.
But Fitzpatrick is a fantastically mobile, instinctive and technically proficient cornerback. In the slot he has the lateral agility to stay with shiftier receivers. He has the speed to play zone and move between receivers of different body types. I wouldn’t expect to see him jamming receivers too well early, but that technique can be taught. I see more value for him playing those roles than free safety. The plan in Tampa would be pretty clear – man the slot in year 1 and move outside when Brent Grimes moves on, or if you decide Vernon Hargreaves should play in the slot.