The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the right track, but who should they be targeting in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft?
Since drafting Jameis Winston first-overall two years ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been on the upswing. The team showed promise in the 2015 season, then showed even more in 2016. Though they fell just shy of making the playoffs, finding reasons for optimism isn’t hard with the former Florida State quarterback running the show. However, a strong 2017 NFL Draft could put them over the hump.
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After missing the postseason, the Buccaneers own the No. 19 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. With such a deep draft class, though, they can easily find a Day 1 starter and an impact player in that position. However, the question still remains, in its simplest form: Who should the Tamp Bay Buccaneers take with their first-round picks.
Obviously who the Bucs take at No. 19 is dependent on what happens in the 18 picks before them. What’s more, there’s also the potential for them to either move up or back via trade if they deem that the proper course of action. Assuming that they stick with their selection, though, these five players could be in play for Tampa Bay with the 19th-overall pick.
Sep 30, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver John Ross (1) warms-up before the start of a game against the Stanford Cardinal at Husky Stadium. Washington won 44-6. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
5. John Ross, WR – Washington
Speed can’t be taught and, when it’s shown in ridiculous levels, it also can’t truly be defended. That’s the type of speed that Washington wide receiver John Ross brings to the NFL. With the Combine approaching, it would be hard to imagine anyone among the 330 invitees being able to match the time that Ross is going to put on the board in the 40-yard dash as it could be around 4.25 seconds. Even better, though, is that Ross has also proven himself as more of a polished receiver in addition to being a speed threat.
Though his stature sets him apart from the likes of Corey Davis and Mike Williams, the 5-11, 190-pound Ross has done everything necessary to prove that he’s capable of being a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. While that’s not what the Buccaneers need, Ross has that type of route-running ability (and of course speed) in addition to nice upside to where he could be considered among the NFL’s most dangerous weapons in a short amount of time.
For the Buccaneers, they’re set to watch Vincent Jackson and Russell Sheperd hit free agency this offseason. Considering that their receiving corps felt like Mike Evans and “other dudes” for most of the season, the outlook now looks even bleaker. They need to address the position and Ross could be the perfect complement. His speed opposite of Evans’ size and playmaking could make them a lethal receiving duo for Winston to fire the pigskin to.
Nov 19, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Budda Baker (32) sacks Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) during the first quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
4. Budda Baker, FS – Washington
Admittedly, taking Budda Baker with the No. 19 pick might be somewhat of a reach for the Buccaneers. Moving back to the end of the first round or potentially the beginning of the second round if they think he’ll still be available might be the best option if they plan on taking the Washington free safety. Even still, he should certainly be a player that Tampa has an eye for.
Baker was one of the anchors of a strong Washington defense last season, holding down the back end with ease. He’s fantastic in terms of his coverage ability, able to recognize plays and cover ground quickly to then make a play on the ball down the field. Though many scouts point to his size (5-10, 192 pounds) as a negative regarding his NFL future, he’s shown the ability to put on muscle since arriving in Seattle. What’s more, he proved to be a solid tackler with great form and willingness despite those perceived limitations.
The Buccaneers will watch their starting free safety from 2016, Bradley McDougald, is slated to hit free agency. With his ability in coverage and upside to boot, slotting in Baker at the position in 2017 would have to be called an upgrade in the back of the secondary. What’s more, he could complement the likes of 2016 first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III in the defensive backfield and continue to strengthen the Tampa Bay defense.
Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) on the field against the Michigan State Spartans during the second half at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
3. Jabrill Peppers, SS/OLB – Michigan
Jabrill Peppers simultaneously represents one of the most divisive and intriguing prospects in the entire 2017 NFL Draft class. While at Michigan, he played all over the field and on both sides of the ball. Listed as a strong safety initially, the uber-talented athlete lined up the majority of the time at outside linebacker in his final season with the Wolverines. He was a playmaker whenever on the field, though, and he could very well be in play for the Bucs.
Why there is so much debate about Peppers is simply that no one knows what position he’s going to play. He’s attending the NFL Combine as a linebacker, but the potential remains for him to play safety in-tact. While some pundits choose to view that as a negative, I believe that’s overblown. When you have a football player with supreme athleticism like Peppers possesses who simply didn’t have the opportunity to stick to one role in college, why is the first assumption to knock him? Would it not make sense to say that having him coached and training in the NFL at one position would help him polish his game into being a playmaker still?
That’s what I see when you look at Peppers and, luckily, he could fill either the strong safety or linebacker roles for the Buccaneers. With Chris Conte set for free agency, the Michigan stud could potentially slot in there alongside whoever the Bucs bring in as a free safety. What’s more, having Peppers join a linebacking corps of Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David is also enticing. Who knows what grade the Bucs have on Peppers, but he should be in play at No. 19 if he’s on the board.
Jan 2, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Corey Davis (84) catches a pass in front of Wisconsin Badgers safety Leo Musso (19) during the first half in the 2017 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
2. Corey Davis, WR – Western Michigan
As stated when talking about potentially taking Ross in the first round, the Buccaneers have a need opposite of Mike Evans in their wide receiver corps. They were lacking in that regard in 2016 and it’s only going to become more of a problem given the likely parting free agents in the group. Subsequently, they should have their eyes set on the potential steal of the 2017 NFL Draft, which would be landing Western Michigan star wideout Corey Davis at No. 19.
For my money, there’s almost no way that Davis should be left on the board when the 19th overall pick rolls around. He’s the best receiver in the entire draft class in my book. However, not all scouts, draft experts, and teams view him in the same light. As such, there’s at least a possibility that Davis could still be on the board when the Buccaneers are making their first-round selection. If he is, he would be too tasty of an option for Tampa to pass up.
Davis has workable size and tremendous playmaking ability at 6-3, 213 pounds, which makes him a viable threat to begin with. What would make him enticing to the Bucs, though, is how he could complement Evans’ big-bodied playmaking with his speed. Davis is lightning quick with or without the ball in his hands and can foreseeably take the top off of NFL secondaries. Adding him opposite of Evans would give Famous Jameis two fantastic options to work with and would likely open up the offense in a monstrous way.
Sep 26, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) breaks though the Central Michigan offensive line during the 2nd half of a game at Spartan Stadium. MSU won 30-10. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
1. Malik McDowell, DT – Michigan State
Gerald McCoy has long been a force on the interior of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers front-four. Outside of the injury-prone Robert Ayers, though, the line in Tampa has been suspect as a whole. After taking Noah Spence after Western Kentucky one year ago with hopes that he can step into a starting role in 2017, they now need to complete the line by filling a hole next to McCoy. Malik McDowell out of Michigan State is the proper player to do that.
The highest-rated defensive tackle not-named Jonathan Allen on most big boards for this draft class, McDowell has every physical tool you’d want from the position. He has the size and length to simply dominate matchups with his physicality, but also has quickness and closing speed that make him a weapon in any situation. He’s proven the ability to stuff the run in addition to him being able to penetrate up the middle and get after opposing quarterbacks.
Why McDowell would be available at No. 19 involves a number of small factors, but none of them are more pressing than attitude and motor concerns. There are times on tape where he disappears from play and, given his physical prowess, it’s clear that it’s all about the effort being put forth. However, Dirk Koetter has proven with players like Jameis Winston that he can farm the positives out of players through negative baggage—on and off the field. Thus, the hope would be the same for McDowell. If that’s the way things play out, the Spartan product would complete a line and make the Buccaneers defense overall far more formidable.