Draft Approach 2014: Offense

It has been many years since there was this much excitement surrounding the Buccaneers in the NFL Draft. A combination of a new regime, a roster that’s been picked apart and put back together in Lovie Smith fashion and a need at the most exciting position in sports has Bucs fans all jacked up on pre-draft buzz. We really have no idea what to expect on Draft Day. This is Jason Licht’s first draft as a General Manager, and Lovie Smith’s first as a coach with as much power over the roster that has been bestowed upon him. It is also very hard to predict how the new regime is going to rebuild this offense, a unit that ranked dead last in the NFL in the disastrous 2013 season. New Offensive Coordinator Jeff Tedford has no track record in the NFL, and with him and Lovie taking a year off in 2013, it’s impossible to predict how their philosophies may have changed. Luckily, it appears that we have some smart men who will be making the calls in the Bucs war room on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I’d like to think of myself as at least a little smart, especially when it comes to the draft, so here’s my best jab at how I think this new regime will approach building the offense through the draft, position by position.

Quarterback

We may as well start where everybody else is. One of the first orders of business for the new regime was to bring in a new starting quarterback, and they did that by signing Josh McCown after a very impressive 2013 season while standing in for an injured Jay Cutler. Make no mistake, McCown was brought here to be behind center when the Panthers come to town on September 7th. What happens beyond that is far from guaranteed. The veteran signal caller turns 35 in July and Lovie and Licht need to have a plan in place for what happens when McCown’s career or contract are over or in case he can’t recapture his 2013 form.

It has already been made pretty clear that Mike Glennon does not fit into the future plans. I really believe that they think he can be a good quarterback, just not that good in the system that Tedford wants to run. Of course, we don’t know exactly what the offense will look like, but one thing that I have heard is that Tedford likes his quarterbacks moving around a lot. That’s not to say that he wants a true running quarterback, but just a guy who is mobile enough to execute play action passes and things of that nature. This is Mike Glennon’s biggest shortcoming. He was awful when throwing on the move last season. He’s a statue and that just isn’t going to work for Tedford’s system. Expect Glennon to be shipped out in one fashion or another if and when the Bucs add a future franchise quarterback in the draft.

The Bucs have reportedly met with 8 quarterback prospects leading up to the draft. Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, Connor Shaw, and Garrett Gilbert have all come in for private visits; Blake Bortles and Tajh Boyd were met with at their respective pro days. I think 5 of those guys will be first or second round picks. So that gives us a hint that the new regime is prepared to invest early at the position. It just doesn’t make sense to build that big of a smokescreen. This doesn’t mean that they haven’t snuck any other guys in through the back door, but those are the guys who have been confirmed. Tajh Boyd could be a fallback option in the 3rd, 4th, or 5th round. Shaw and Gilbert would be either late selections or free agent signings if they go undrafted. There’s an underlying theme amongst those names. All of those players are at least a little mobile and athletic. Notice the absence of 3 other high round QB prospects: AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, and Tom Savage. All 3 of those players are not very mobile. To me, that is the writing on the wall for what kind of player Tedford wants at the position AND that Mike Glennon does not fit the criteria.

It’s really hard to get a read on who the Bucs prefer out of these prospects. There has been all sorts of buzz that Lovie Smith loves Johnny Manziel and the Bucs can’t wait to pounce on him on draft day. Charlie Campbell stated a few weeks back that the Bucs “would not” pass on Blake Bortles. Finally, everyone, including PewterReport, has pointed out the Jeff Tedford/Derek Carr connection and used that to prop up rationale of the Bucs going in that direction on draft day.

It’s impossible to know if Lovie and Tedford have evolved in their philosophies or not. We do know that neither coach has ever worked with a true mobile quarterback like Manziel. Lovie Smith knows all too well the type of pounding that NFL quarterbacks take – after all, it’s his specialty to get his players to deliver those poundings. I feel that it’s reasonable to believe that this staff would have questions about Manziel’s durability at the next level. Mobile quarterbacks have historically struggled to stay healthy in the big leagues, with RG3 serving as the most recent reminder. For this reason, the Manziel connection seems like the most plausible smokescreen.

To me, Blake Bortles seems like the most obvious fit. Up until just recently, Bortles was pretty much the unanimous #1 quarterback in this year’s class. Somehow in the past few weeks, Manziel has taken over that role. When it was first stated that “The Bucs would not pass on Bortles,” it seemed more of a pipedream than a reality that they would even have the chance to make that decision at #7. It also looks much less likely that Manziel will be available at that spot. Manziel has been tied to the Jaguars, Browns, Rams, and Texans. The Falcons, who pick 6th, obviously won’t draft a quarterback and the Raiders reportedly will wait until later in the draft to address the position. So that leaves 4 teams in front of the Bucs who are in play and in dire need for a quarterback. There’s also a good possibility that the Vikings (8th) could try to leapfrog the Bucs to get a better pick of the litter.

I am of the opinion that if Bortles is on the board with the 7th pick, the Bucs will not hesitate to make him the face of their franchise. Bortles is the prototypical quarterback with his size (6’5″ 230lbs), his atleticism, and his maturity and leadership traits. The only questions surrounding him are the level of competition he played against at UCF and some nitpicking about deep accuracy and footwork inconsistency. Bortles is the player who fits the Josh McCown mold best. He’s big and has enough mobility to make plays with his feet. It would serve Bortles well to study under a mature leader like McCown for a year or two. I believe that there’s a decent chance that they could be equally as giddy about Manziel, but I’m not completely convinced. Carr could also be a real option here. Personally, I feel he would be a reach because there are big questions about his pocket presence. He will need some work, but because of the Tedford connection, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. Carr also seems to be a nice fit in the quick passing scheme many think Tedford will bring to Tampa. There’s also a really good chance that the Bucs will trade back, probably into the teens. If they do this, then Carr remains an option and Bridgewater’s name is brought into the mix. Bridgewater is being widely touted as a 2nd round pick following his post-pro day free fall, but if the Bucs really like him, they can’t afford to wait until their 2nd round pick because there’s going to be a lot of quarterback needy teams ready to pounce early on day 2.

If they do wait until their 2nd pick to address the position, there’s a good chance that the Bucs will try to trade up either a few spots, or back into the end of the 1st round to snag Bridgewater or Garoppolo. Bridgewater was a massively productive college quarterback and looked like the likely #1 pick until questions of accuracy, leadership, maturity and his small frame came into question as the draft evaluations have poured in. After a questionable performance at his pro day, it became a near certainty that Bridgewater would not be a Top 10 pick. Garoppolo’s stock has gone the other direction. As a small school, record-setting prospect from Eastern Illinois (Tony Romo’s alma mater), Garoppolo’s stock really started climbing around the time of the East-West Shrine Game as well as the Senior Bowl. The Bucs staff met with him at the East-West practices and must have found him intriguing enough to bring in for a private visit at One Buc. He’s been touted for his quick release, advanced footwork and great anticipatory throws.

It would be a bit of a surprise to see the team wait until after the 2nd round to address the quarterback need, but if they miss out on their guys and they do, I would watch Tajh Boyd in round 3 or maybe round 4 if they acquire a pick in this round via trade at some point. Logan Thomas from Virginia Tech is another guy who would seem to fit the mold that they might be looking for. Thomas is a project and shares the accuracy concerns that surround Boyd, but to an even greater extent because he did not have as successful of a college career as Boyd did at Clemson.

For the record, I prefer Bortles and Garoppolo to the rest of the bunch, and I must admit, Manziel would be a lot of fun to watch and could end up being a superstar. I also like a lot about Carr, but his shoddy pocket presence worries me. All the tools are there for Bridgewater, but I just wonder if he has the mental makeup to be a star quarterback in this league. To close out the quarterback position, a lot of people have written and called into radio stations with the opinion that the Bucs shouldn’t draft a quarterback in the 1st round because there is no “Andrew Luck” in this draft. Well, newsflash folks, Luck was the best quarterback prospect in a decade and a half and there have been a lot of really good quarterbacks drafted since. Aaron Rodgers once fell to the 24th pick because he wasn’t a “Peyton Manning-type prospect.” Regardless of what direction the new regime decides to go at the position, their choice will usher in a new and exciting brand of Buccaneer football for the years to come.

 

Wide Receiver

Finally, we can move on to the 2nd position getting all the attention from the mock draft extraordinaires. Many folks in the media have been mocking wide receivers to the Bucs at the 7th pick for months. This is the other position (along with quarterback) where we can just about count on adding a new player in the first 3 rounds of the draft. After Mike Williams got shipped off for a bag of peanuts to the Bills, what was once a position of relative strength looks like a gaping hole. Vincent Jackson is still a stud and will hopefully be a productive #1 for a few more years. However, Vincent is 31 years old now and wasn’t the most fleet of foot to start. He keeps himself in good enough shape that he should remain a productive starter for duration of his contract (another 3 years), but opposite V-Jax, the cupboards are bare.

Louis Murphy and Lavelle Hawkins were brought in to compete for roster spots. Maybe one of them can tie down a spot in the rotation as a slot or #4 guy, but neither one is capable of being a productive starter. After that, the position is comprised of a bunch of guys who will just be happy to make the opening day roster, with Chris Owusu and Eric Page leading the pack.

Bucs fans will be partying like it’s 2002 if stud Clemson product Sammy Watkins were to fall into their laps at #7. I have no doubt that he would be the choice under this scenario. Unfortunately, there’s almost no chance that this happens. Watkins is at least a serious option for every team picking beteen #2 and #6, and this doesn’t include the dozen teams that would be desperate to trade up if Watkins did start to fall. The popular choice after Watkins is obviously Mike Evans, who has been heavily mocked to the Bucs at 7 almost by default. “The Bucs need a receiver, Mike Evans is the best guy on the board, they’ll take him.” I’m not convinced in this logic because a player must fit the system in order to invest so heavily. Lovie mentioned this aspect specifically in the pre-draft press conference. Now, I’m not saying Evans doesn’t fit the system. After all, Lovie drafted a very comparable player in Alshon Jeffrey to play opposite another big, physical receiver, Brandon Marshall, in Chicago. As we all know that has worked out wonderfully, but Jeffrey wasn’t a top 10 pick and Jeff Tedford wasn’t running Lovie’s offense. If history holds true, the reigns will be handed over to Tedford and he will get to pick the players that will be most useful to him.

Tedford has preached “speed in space” as one of his offensive focal points. As it stands, the Bucs seem to have a serious lack of speed on the offensive side of the ball. Chris Owusu is fast but unpolished… and the same can be said about Eric Page and Jeff Demps. It would seem a little strange to me if the Bucs were fixated on Evans, who is one of the slower top prospects at the position this year. Evans is really a Vincent Jackson clone. When you watch his tape he excels at the going up over smaller defensive backs and stealing the ball on deep fades and post corners. He has great ball skills. Drafting Evans to pair with Jackson would give Josh McCown a receiving duo very reminiscent of Marshall and Jeffrey, the weapons he used to torch defenses to the tune of 13 touchdowns and 1 interception in limited playing time in 2013. Evans is a good player, and I don’t think too many people would complain if he was the selection, it just wouldn’t seem to fit the philosophy of “speed in space” in my opinion because Evans isn’t that fast and can’t separate (thus creating space) like some of the other prospects. With all that said, it’s now looking possible that Evans might already be gone at #7. He is being considered the favorite to be drafted by the Raiders at #5 if they can’t trade back.

I believe that the more likely scenario in which the Bucs would make a wide receiver their 1st pick is if they are able and willing to trade down. There are a couple of middle of the 1st round prospects, Odell Beckham and Brandin Cooks, who seem like more natural “speed in space” fits for what Tedford is trying to put together. Beckham (4.43) and Cooks (4.33) are lightning fast and the best of this year’s bunch when it comes to speed receivers. These 2 are the polar opposites of what Evans brings to the table. Evans is 6’4″, 231 lbs and ran a 4.53 (plenty fast for a player of his size, but doesn’t create that much separation). Beckham (5’11”) and Cooks (5’9″) are both smaller in stature but are both built thick enough to hold up to NFL level physicality.

Beyond Round 1, the Bucs could very well decide to spend their 2nd round pick on a receiver if they go a different direction in the 1st. At that point, they could get lucky and see a guy like Marqise Lee or Kelvin Benjamin fall to their pick. Both were very productive college players for USC and FSU, and both were once considered locks for the 1st round, but it’s looking more and more likely that one or both of them could be in for a draft day slide. Neither play has the top end speed we’re likely hoping to find, but both would be great value picks at that juncture. An interesting 2nd round prospect is Davante Adams, who was Derek Carr’s favorite option at Fresno State. Adams ran a surprisingly average 40 yard dash at the combine, but he played with the pure speed to beat defenses deep in college. Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews, and Jarvis Landry are other options in the 2nd row, but all of them lack elite speed and separation skills.

The only 2 receivers that have visited One Buc on private visits are most likely 3rd round prospects but could very well be options in round 2 as well. Martavius Bryant (Clemson) and Donte Moncrief (Ole Miss) have been confirmed as private visits over the last month. Both players are very fast, running in the low 4.4’s at the combine. Both of them are also bigger receivers. Bryant stands 6’3″, 211 lbs and Moncrief measures in at 6’2″, 221 lbs. Neither are Calvin Johnson type physical freaks, but a far cry from sub-six-footers as I mentioned earlier. Both of them kind of remind me of Alshon Jeffrey, deceptively fast long striders. Both of them were a little low on production in 2013, recording under 1000 yards, and both would need work on running routes, but they’re intriguing prospects nonetheless who have apparently caught some eyes at One Buc. Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin), Paul Richardson (Colorado), and Bruce Ellington (South Carolina) are a few more 3rd-4th round options who project as speedy slot receivers at the next level. I’d keep an eye on these guys if we make it through 2 rounds without adding a receiver.

Moncrief has been getting a lot of local publicity since his visit was reported. He has been a fast riser only very recently in the draft process. Moncrief is a long strider who teams think has a very high ceiling in the NFL. Obviously he would need some fine tuning (more so than a first round selection) but Buccaneers fans should be very excited if he ends up in red and pewter. Moncrief is very good at making plays with the ball in his hands, a criteria that we know Tedford wants in his wideouts. The only knock on him is that he maybe did not look as fast on tape as his 40 time suggests. To me, he looks fast, but long striders are more deceptively fast on tape. It seems like he would be a nice 2nd day option that could develop enough to step in for Jackson when his time is up.

Tight End

What once seemed like a glaring need half way through the 2013 season all of a sudden looks like one of the more solid positions on the offense. Tim Wright emerged in the 2nd half last year and did some really nice things. Brandon Myers was added in free agency 2 years removed from a very productive season in Oakland. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the new staff is content with their current crop of tight ends and don’t address it at all in the draft. The only way I can see them spending an early pick on a tight end is if they’re in love with the top prospect at the position, North Carolina’s Eric Ebron. Ebron is a heck of a prospect with good size (6’4″ – 250 lbs) and great receiving skills. His fast 40 time (4.60) at the combine doesn’t really do justice to the speed he flashed in his highlights. He is a rare tight end who is fast enough to take the top off of the defense like Vernon Davis. I wouldn’t count on the new regime going in this direction, but if their prospects don’t fall to them and they can’t trade back, they might just settle on Ebron to add the speed they’re looking for.

The only 2 confirmed visits with tight end prospects are private visits with Iowa product C.J. Fiedorowicz and Bowling Green’s Alex Bayer. Fiedorowicz figures to be a mid to late round selection. He’s a big player at 6’5″, 265 lbs and figures to be mainly a blocking tight end who comes with some developmental receiving skills. He’s pretty athletic for his size. Bayer will probably end up being an undrafted free agent and could be a quick add following the draft.

Offensive Line

The new regime came in and gutted the offensive line that Schiano and Raheem spent their years trying to build into one of the best units in the league. As we all know, the offensive line over the past few years has been heavily invested in, over-hyped, and a big letdown. Anthony Collins has replaced Donald Penn at left tackle. Evan Dietrich-Smith will take over the departed Jeremy Zuttah’s center spot. Demar Dotson was a pleasant surprise at right tackle last year and the new staff figures to be content with keeping him there and continuing his development. The 2 guard positions are where all the questions and concerns come in. Nobody knows if Carl Nicks will be healthy enough to play in 2013, and even if he is, his injured toe is likely to linger for the remainder of his career and could flare up and end his season at any moment. We’re all hoping and praying that Nicks is healthy enough to step in and maul defenders and earn that huge contract, but there are absolutely no guarantees. The other guard spot looks like a blank canvas. Jamon Meredith is an option there along with recent signing Oniel Cousins. Meredith has been okay at times in his limited action. Cousins on the other hand was pretty terrible in Cleveland last year, but new Bucs offensive line coach George Warhop who came over from Cleveland must have seen something he liked to give him the seal of approval to come to Tampa. Hopefully, they’re just counting on Cousins as veteran depth. It’s practically a guarantee that the staff will add a guard and maybe more players to the revamped line via the draft.

There has been plenty of talk floating around of the Bucs possibly drafting an offensive lineman in the 1st round. I am not of this opinion. Top offensive tackle prospect, Greg Robinson was brought in for a private visit, but people believe that he has the versatility to start out at guard. Anthony Collins was just signed to a big contract to play left tackle. He’s making starting left tackle money, left tackle is his best position, and they paraded him into town as Josh McCown’s new blindside protector. It just wouldn’t make sense to move Collins. Meanwhile, Demar Dotson showed major growth last season and it feels like the coaching staff is happy with him on the right side. Dotson is not an option to move to guard because he’s just too tall for the inside. There is a very slim chance that Robinson could be available at #7 and I think a small chance that he would be the pick if that’s the case. The next two highest rated line prospects are Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan. It’s feasible that Matthews could work as a guard in the NFL but Lewan is not an option there.

The most likely case in which the Bucs would use their 1st pick on an offensive lineman is if they trade back. Trading back into the teens or even the 20s would make Notre Dame’s Zack Martin and UCLA’s Xavier Su’a Filo real options. Martin projects as a tackle in the NFL but is capable of playing inside as well. His versatility would be a nice bonus just in case Dotson does not continue to develop as the staff hopes. Su’a Filo has seen his stock rise over the past few months and looks to be the clear cut favorite as the best offensive guard in this draft class.

More likely than spending a 1st round pick on an offensive lineman, I feel it is entirely likely that the new regime could select a lineman on day 2. The Bucs have visited with a few intriguing prospects that fit into this range. Billy Turner is someone they brought in for a private meeting recently. Turner is a rising prospect from small school North Dakota State. Turner’s measurables (6’5″ – 316 lbs) are more suited for life as a tackle, but he’s not so tall that he couldn’t play guard. Trai Turner, a true Guard from LSU seems like another player on the Bucs radar. He left LSU early and some feel that he still needed time to develop, but he flashed athleticism at the combine that has teams intrigued. It’s difficult to tell what type of player Licht and Co. will target at the guard position. Lovie Smith has talked an awful lot about running the football, but Anthony Collins and Dietrich-Smith are better pass protectors. So perhaps it is the guard position where they will target a road grader type. Gabe Jackson from Mississippi State looks like a solid day 2 pick and may be the type of punishing run blocker they want to pave the way for Doug Martin.

The offensive line as a whole lacks depth and this is why the Bucs have shown a lot of interest in late round offensive line prospects. Former Gator Jon Halapio met with the staff at his pro day and could be a round 3-5 target. A very intriguing player for later in the draft is former Clemson Tiger Brandon Thomas. Thomas was projected as a versatile second or third round prospect before tearing his ACL while doing a private workout for a team. Thomas is a promising enough prospect that he could still be selected as early as the 4th or 5th round despite the fact that he will probably need to sit out most or all of his rookie season. He’s a very athletic line prospect who could be a great value pick later on due to his unfortunate injury.

It’s very hard to determine what specific offensive line prospects will be targeted in this draft because there have been mixed messages regarding what we already have and what we want. Collins was paid big money to protect McCown’s blindside, and Dotson is supposedly well liked by the new staff. Jeremy Zuttah and Davin Joseph, despite coming off of disappointing seasons, seemed to fit the strong run blocking criteria that Lovie Smith covets. Yet, they were replaced with players who are more pass-oriented blockers. I think we will come away with a few players to add to this new-look offensive line and a much clearer picture of what exactly Jeff Tedford and the staff want out of the unit.

Running Back

I’m going to be very brief here because running back is quite possibly the deepest position on the entire Buccaneers roster. Doug Martin should be back at 100% after losing much of the 2013 season to a shoulder injury. Mike James ran all over the NFL’s best defense in Seattle before an unfortunate end to his promising rookie season. Bobby Rainey stepped in from obscurity and showed the league that he is capable of contributing to an offense. Add Lovie Smith’s favorite new toy, Jeff “the fastest man in football” Demps, to the mix and it looks like things are very crowded in the Buccaneers backfield, which is a great problem to have.

The only player you may want to keep an eye on at this position is combine star Dri Archer. Archer came in for a private visit at One Buc after blazing a 4.26 40 yard dash at the combine. While he played mostly running back at Kent State, Archer projects as sort of a Dexter McCluster type of player in the NFL. He would probably spend most of his time at slot receiver and occasionally line up in the backfield. He could also be a lethal return man and seems like a great fit for the “speed-in-space” theme of Tedford’s offense. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs snatch the 5 foot 8 inch speedster somewhere in the 3rd to 5th round range.

Brian Dorry

Brian Dorry

Long time Bucs fan. Brewer of delicious beer. Wearer of douchey glasses. Soon to be married way above his paygrade!

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