Everyone thought they knew what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were planning for the 2017 NFL Draft, but were wrong — and now Jameis Winston’s set to shine.
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers landed veteran deep-threat wide receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency, it felt like the offense took a giant leap forward. Despite success a year ago, Jameis Winston and the Bucs were limited on offense largely because a lack of quality weapons. Mike Evans was great, but also a specific type of big-bodied receiver. The skill-sets in regards to top talents among his weapons weren’t diversified.
Jackson changed that and, as a result, there was reason to be excited. Winston being able to let loose the deep ball in addition to the complement he provided Evans had to be exciting for the Buccaneers. If only we knew, they weren’t about to stop there.
Article continues below ...
Leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft, the assumption with the Buccaneers would that it would be a defense-heavy draft. With essentially a crater at safety and need to freshen up the defensive front four, that wasn’t unreasonable. It also wasn’t want the Tampa Bay front office had in mind.
In the wild first round that saw crazy talented players fall, the argument could be made that the Buccaneers got the best deal. Despite not picking until No. 19, they saw former Alabama tight end O.J. Howard fall right to them as a projected top-10 talent. In Howard, the playmaking around Winston grew further.
It can’t be overstated what Howard brings to an NFL offense right away. While he may not be the best pure pass-catching tight end in the draft, he’s the most impossible matchup. Let me be clear: he’s not Rob Gronkowski. However, he’s Gronk-like in that there are few defensive players capable of contending with a 6-6, 250-plus-pound man that also runs a 4.51 in the 40-yard dash. For good measure, he’s also probably the most polished blocking tight end of the 2017 class as well.
So, the Bucs then had Howard in addition to Evans and Jackson. The offense was set and on to defense from there, right? In fairness, Tampa did address the massive hole at safety in the second round with the thumping Justin Evans. But then, in Round 3, they shocked everyone a bit by going back to adding weapons for Winston.
With the 84th overall selection in the draft, the Buccaneers picked wide receiver Chris Godwin out of Penn State. And once again, Winston had another dynamic added to his offense to help them take a step forward.
Godwin really started to get buzz after a monstrous outing the the Nittany Lions’ Rose Bowl loss. His tape, however, shows a player who was impressive throughout the entire season. At 6-1, 209 pounds, Godwin ran 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Combine with a 36-inch vertical jump. He’s a terrific athlete, but also a polished route-runner for his age with great hands. He’s more of a blend between Jackson and Evans with speed to get downfield, but size to make plays in the air.
In essence, he’s a perfect No. 2 in this offense if they’re to run Jackson out of the slot.
What’s important to note about both the Howard and Godwin picks is what insane value they came at. Howard was getting talked about pre-draft as a sure-fire top-10 pick. Meanwhile, Godwin was rising up to being a second-round pick by the time the draft rolled around. So to be able to get players of their caliber where they did, it was impossible to pass up — even if the “plan” was actually to stay focused on defense.
The Buccaneers didn’t neglect their defense by any stretch. Evans will slot right in as a plus safety in the box with athleticism to develop further. What’s more, they added linebacker Kendell Beckwith with a third-round compensatory pick they traded with the New York Jets to acquire.
However, the ultimate result of the 2017 NFL Draft for the Buccaneers was that they gave their franchise quarterback every weapon that he needs to succeed. He went from having a viable No. 1 option and then scraps to having a complete offense made up of top-100 type talent (to use draft speak). What’s more, the run will be set up better with Howard in the fold, whether it’s Doug Martin or another draft pick, fifth-rounder Jeremy McNichols, carrying the load.
Before the draft ever got underway, the Bucs were circled by many as a potential breakout candidate. After this draft and the full arsenal of weapons they put around Winston, they might not just be candidates anymore. They might be a sure thing. And considering how close they were to the playoffs a year ago, this is the type of draft haul that gets a young team over the hump.