There's a ton of pressure on the Buccaneers to win this season, and for them to do so, they'll need Jameis Winston to finally play up to his potential. He'll be able to do that if properly protected, and Quenton Nelson is the top offensive lineman in this class by a mile. I believe he'll be the pick if he's available unless Saquon Barkley or Bradley Chubb slip by some miracle.
As mentioned in the first round, the Buccaneers really need to make sure Jameis Winston plays better in 2018. Part of that will require finding a better running back to replace Doug Martin, who was recently cut. I could see Tampa trading up into the 27-32 range for Derrius Guice.
Rd. 4, Pk. 2
Toby Weathersby, OT, LSU
As mentioned earlier, the Buccaneers really need to shore up their offensive line to give Jameis Winston the best chance possible to succeed.
Rd. 5, Pk. 7
Avonte Maddox, CB, Pittsburgh
Brent Grimes has just one or two more years remaining with the Buccaneers, so here's a potential future starter.
Rd. 6, Pk. 6
Matthew Thomas, ILB, Florida State
Kwon Alexander is set to hit free agency next spring, so here's an insurance policy in case he leaves.
Rd. 6, Pk. 28
James Looney, DT, California
The Buccaneers added some veterans to their defensive line this offseason, but they could still be interested in acquiring some youth there.
Rd. 7, Pk. 37
Jordan Thomas, CB, Oklahoma
The Buccaneers should select a couple of cornerbacks to help with their problems at the position.
After the signing of DeSean Jackson, I think it is unlikely that John Ross is headed for Tampa Bay. I think this pick will then come down to Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, O.J. Howard or Corey Davis. Via sources, I know the Bucs like all of those players. I think Howard and one of the running backs will be gone, which usually leaves Davis and a running back to consider. Running back is a bigger need on the roster given the Doug Martin situation, and there is depth at wide receiver on Day 2 for the Bucs to land an outside No. 2 receiver to platoon with Mike Evans and Jackson. There are lots of rumors of Dalvin Cook sliding. I've reached out to teams and gotten mixed feedback on that possibility. However if he slides, I don't think the Bucs would pass on him after speaking with Tampa Bay sources.
In 2016, Cook averaged 6.0 yards per carry for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also had 33 receptions for 488 yards. Cook (5-10, 210) is well-built and has the speed to slash through a defense; however, he has some strange ball-security issues. Cook also has some power to him, but he seems to use it selectively as he runs out of bounds often and is consistently looking to bounce runs to the outside. In the passing game, Cook is a tremendous receiver out of the backfield and will be a weapon there. He reminds me of Marshall Faulk at times.
Teams do have some off-the-field concerns about Cook. They say he isn't a bad kid, but worry about his associates. He escaped some legal issues last year, and teams say that Cook has an entourage of gang-bangers that could put Cook in the wrong place at the wrong time.
With Jameis Winston in the NFL, Cook carried the Florida State offense in 2015. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry on his way to 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns. The sophomore also had 24 receptions for 244 yards and a score. As a true freshman in 2014, Cook averaged 5.9 yards per carry for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. He caught 22 passes for 203 yards, too.
Rd. 2, Pk. 2
Jordan Willis, DE/3-4OLB/OLB, Kansas State
Tampa Bay could target some more edge rush. Here's a player who can rush from the outside and give the Bucs a young tandem with Noah Spence.
Willis caused a lot of disruption and negative plays for his defense in an impressive senior year. In 2016, he totaled 11.5 sacks, 52 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, three passes batted and three forced fumbles. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder had a respectable week at the Senior Bowl that confirmed his second-day potential for the 2017 NFL Draft.
Willis has good strength to set the edge in rush defense and pass-rushing skills off the edge. He could be a defensive end in a 4-3 or an outside linebacker in a 3-4.
Rd. 3, Pk. 3
Shelton Gibson, WR, West Virginia
The Bucs grab a speed receiver to team with Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.
Gibson notched 43 receptions for 951 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016. Sources say that Gibson has some real speed to him, but isn't the biggest of receivers and needs to improve his route-running. That latter point was an issue for the Bears' 2015 first-round pick, Kevin White, coming out West Virginia because of the Mountaineers' spread offense. Some sources think Gibson (5-11, 191) should've returned for his senior year to improve on that before going pro.
Rd. 4, Pk. 4
Lorenzo Jerome, S, St Francis (PA)
The Bucs could use some more safety talent.
Jerome (5-10, 202) is an intriguing player who has created a buzz in scouting circles. He was a productive player with a tremendous display of ball skills in college. Jerome had interception totals of six, three, three and six over the past four seasons with pass breakup totals of five, seven, 13 and four. He also had 59 tackles as a senior. Jerome impressed at the East-West Shrine and at the Senior Bowl. He could be a find from the mid-rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Rd. 5, Pk. 5
Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh
The Bucs could use more offensive line depth and competition.
Rd. 6, Pk. 6
Joe Williams, RB, Utah
The Bucs grab a backup speed running back.
Rd. 7, Pk. 7
Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech
The Bucs could use a backup quarterback, and Evans has a good skill set to develop. Perhaps they could turn him into a commodity they could trade for draft picks.
Tampa Bay needs four quarterbacks to go in the top six. If that happens, the Bucs should have Bradley Chubb or Quenton Nelson fall to them. If either gets to pick No. 7, I believe that would be the direction the Buccaneers would go. I know the Bucs love Nelson, and they would be ecstatic if he got to their pick. I think Nelson is their preferred realistic pick because Saquon Barkley is not falling past the Browns at No. 4 or the Broncos at No. 5. If Nelson and Chubb are off the board, I think Tampa Bay would turn to the defensive backfield. Safety has been a weakness for years for Tampa Bay, and that could easily change with this pick. James could form a talented tandem with Justin Evans. I think the Bucs like James more than Minkah Fitzpatrick. <br> <br>
James totaled 72 tackles with 11 passes batted and two interceptions in 2017. While he didn't put together flawless performances against Alabama and N.C. State during the season, they were impressive overall. James was healthy and able to display his great instincts and rare combination of great size, speed, physicality and versatility. He played dime linebacker, nickel corner, free safety and strong safety, basically doing everything a coach could ask of him. The one steady problem James displayed in 2017 was he could have some limitations in man coverage and being a free safety deep downfield, but he still is a tremendous strong safety with versatility. <br> <br>
James totaled 11 tackles and an interception through two games in 2016 before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. He had been playing well for Florida State. Entering that season, there was a lot of hype that James was an elite player and perhaps the best defensive player in college football. As a freshman in 2015, he had a strong debut with 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, four passes broken up and two forced fumbles, but zero interceptions. <br> <br>
The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder has a great athletic skill set with tremendous speed, instincts, and strength to hit. He shows the ability to do everything an NFL safety is needed to do. James is fast and long with coverage skills in the deep middle of the field. He also is strong enough to be the eighth man in the box and tackle.
Because of the serious off-the-field concerns with Arden Key, there isn't a defensive end worthy of this pick. In speaking with team sources, Marcus Davenport would be a reach this high, but that could change in the leadup to the 2018 NFL Draft. Quenton Nelson would make sense, but he's off the board. The best values could come in the secondary. Safety has been a weakness for years for Tampa Bay, and that could easily change with this pick. Fitzpatrick could form a dynamic tandem with Justin Evans. <br> <br>
Fitzpatrick totaled 60 tackles, one interception, eight passes broken up and a forced fumble in 2017. He played really well, doing everything that could be asked of a safety. Fitzpatrick is an instinctive center fielder, covering receivers deep downfield. He is also fast in pursuit, tackles well in space at the second level, can come down into the box, and is able to play man coverage against tight ends and slot receivers, plus help out his cornerbacks. The 6-foot, 204-pounder has enough size and some natural cover skills. Sources have said that Fitzpatrick is a good fit as a free safety for the NFL. While some evaluators don't feel that Fitzpatrick is a dynamic athlete, they say he is very good player with a high football I.Q. <br> <br>
In 2016, Fitzpatrick recorded 66 tackles with seven passes broken up and six interceptions. He was dominant at times for Alabama, splitting time between corner and safety. Fitzpatrick had a superb 2015 season for the Crimson Tide. The freshman totaled 45 tackles with two sacks, 11 passes broken up and two interceptions - both returned for a touchdowns.
The Buccaneers could use more edge rush, and Chubb is a good fit for Tampa Bay. He could be a physically imposing quarterback hunter next to Gerald McCoy. <br> <br>
Chubb totaled 73 tackles with 25 for a loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and two passes batted in 2017. He was awesome against Florida State, making some huge plays to lead N.C. State to a road upset with two sacks, a forced fumble and seven tackles. Chubb dominated the competition in 2017, playing like a top-10 pick. <br> <br>
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Chubb has scheme flexibility and has been a tough defender for the Wolfpack. He has good quickness for a big defensive end and has shown the ability to get off blocks with his strength and hand usage. Chubb has developed some variety in pass-rushing moves and looks like an asset as a future three-down starter in the NFL. In 2016, he totaled 58 tackles with 22 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one pass batted. As a sophomore in 2015, Chubb collected 5.5 sacks.
Tampa Bay needs four quarterbacks to go in the top six. If that happens, the Bucs should have Bradley Chubb or Quenton Nelson fall to them. If either gets to pick No. 7, I believe that would be the direction the Buccaneers would go. I know the Bucs love Nelson, and they would be ecstatic if he got to their pick. I think Nelson is their preferred realistic pick because Saquon Barkley is not falling past the Browns at No. 4 or the Broncos at No. 5. If Nelson and Chubb are off the board, I think Tampa Bay would turn to the defensive backfield and take Derwin James. I could also see them trading down with Arizona, Buffalo or Miami. <br> <br>
I think Nelson could get to Tampa Bay, which needs a guard upgrade. The regime is on the hot seat, and nothing can help a team go from worst to playoff contention like a newfound rushing attack. Nelson is a plug-and-play starter who will immediately upgrade the run blocking and pass protection for Jameis Winston. Nelson sliding to the Bucs reminds me of them having O.J. Howard fall to them last year. I don't think the Buccaneers will pass on Nelson if he gets to their pick. <br> <br>
Nelson was exceptional throughout 2017, dominating opponents on a weekly basis. He has superb strength to blast open holes and is a true road-grader as a run blocker. As a pass protector, Nelson is very athletic with balance, agility, and quickness to shut down pass-rushers. Some league sources say that Nelson is the highest graded guard they've ever scouted, and that includes the likes of Logan Mankins and David DeCastro. <br> <br>
The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Nelson was dominant in 2016 as well, showing strength at the point of attack to open holes in the ground game and athleticism in pass protection. That year, teams sources told me that Nelson was receiving first-round grades prior to him deciding to return for his senior season. One general manager told me in fall 2017 that they had Nelson as clearly the best guard prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft. They had Nelson as a top-five prospect at any position.
I keep reading commentary on how the Buc's secondary was so bad?... but I don't really think it was. The Buc's had no pass rush last year,.. at all. None. Opposing QB's were ordering out for Pizza & having if delivered behind their offensive lines! The Buc's fixed those issues with the trade for JPP and signing Curry in FA.
They are now only missing 1 piece on their defense. I've read so many mock's with the Buc's taking James, but that really just doensn't fit. They have good, young safeties at both positions. Their only need is at CB. They have Grimes,.. who is now 35, and even he admits he's lost part of a step. He is still an exceptionally talented CB, but you really want him playing the 2 CB, not the 1 CB at his age. They have VH3,.. who apparently according to an interview this spring, has been told that he will be used next year as the slot corner for the Buc's. (Which he really liked.) That plays right into his strengths as he is a quick, agile CB capable of covering on slots, RB's, & even playing some safety. But that leaves the Buc's without a true 1 CB.
The Buc's take Denzel Ward,.. a speed corner, similar in style and size to Grimes. He can learn from Grimes, moving up the learning curve more quickly,.. and would likely extend Grimes career by a year or two because he no longer has to play 'race & chase' down the field with speed receivers.
Yet again, a selection that fills a positional need,. but actually make the whole defense better as a unit.
Show/Hide Other Mocks with Denzel Ward Going to Buccaneers
Rd. 1, Pk. 12
Vita Vea, DT/3-4DE/NT
I don't hate this pick because Vita Vea is a talented player. Also, the Buccaneers traded down to get him, which was nice. However, I just don't know about taking a two-down player like Vea when a player like Derwin James is available. James, arguably a better prospect, fits a much bigger need, especially after Tampa signed Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein in free agency. Again, I don't hate this selection, but the Buccaneers could've done better.
Rd. 2, Pk. 6
Ronald Jones II, RB
We heard the Buccaneers preferred Derrius Guice, but Ronald Jones is definitely a strong option as well. The Buccaneers needed to upgrade their backfield after Doug Martin struggled so much last year. Jones is a dynamic threat who can go the distance whenever he touches the ball, so Jameis Winston will love playing with him. My one concern is how having Jones will work in Tampa's crazy party atmosphere, where many young careers have been derailed.
Rd. 2, Pk. 21
M.J. Stewart, CB
This is a bit of a reach, as M.J. Stewart seemed like a third- or fourth-round prospect. The Buccaneers have the 102nd selection, and I don't think it's out of the question that Stewart could've been available then. Still, this isn't a terrible pick, as Stewart seems like a good fit, and he fills a need.
Rd. 2, Pk. 31
Carlton Davis, CB
It should not be a surprise to anyone that the Buccaneers spent two second-round picks on cornerbacks. This is a position they absolutely had to attack, given their weakness in the secondary. Davis was either a second- or third-round prospect, depending on which team was polled, so he definitely makes sense in this range.
Rd. 3, Pk. 30
Alex Cappa, OT
Alex Cappa was one of the least-athletic offensive linemen in this class, but that's not a big deal. Cappa is a strong blocker who should be able to open up some big holes for Ronald Jones. I thought Cappa would go in this range after a terrific Senior Bowl, so this seems like a solid selection.
Rd. 4, Pk. 17
Jordan Whitehead, S
Jordan Whitehead makes sense as a fourth-round prospect. He's small, but could eventually become a starter if he remains clean off the field. The problem is that Whitehead has some off-field issues, and I'm not sure the crazy Tampa party environment is the right fit for him.
Rd. 5, Pk. 7
Justin Watson, WR
Justin Watson was considered a fifth-round prospect, so he makes sense at this juncture. Watson is a highly athletic receiver, but will need to prove that he can be productive out of the Ivy League. The Buccaneers will need to replace DeSean Jackson soon, so maybe Watson can start in 2019 and beyond.
Rd. 6, Pk. 28
Jack Cichy, OLB/ILB
Jack Cichy would have gone in the second round if it weren't for some medical concerns. He's coming off a torn ACL, but should be ready to go at some point in 2018. This could end up being a great value choice, and he's worth the risk in the sixth frame.