If you hang around at BUCS facilities in Tampa and attend their pre-season practices you get your indoctrination to their slogan, “It’s a Bucs life”. And one of these years it will indeed be a Bucs life. The biggest key to that much anticipated success is based on the development of JAMEIS WINSTON as an NFL Franchise QB. And one of the keys to that continued development is a better talent base on their roster around him. So let’s take a look at what they added to the mix in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Not being in need of a new QB, and with SAQUON BARKLEY already snatched up at Pick 2, the team traded out of their original slot at Pick 7 and moved back to Pick 12. What they did at that new slot was not sexy to most observers, but it could turn out to be the move that transforms their DL into a force for opposing QBs to be respectful of, if not downright frightened of. The team chose VITA VEA/DT/Washington, who just might be the second coming of HALOTI NGATA. VEA, at about a biscuit below 350 lbs. not only will serve as an almost immovable force in the middle of their DL, but also is strong enough and mobile enough to penetrate up the middle and collapse the QB pocket with regularity. In reality the team has never had a player of his ilk, and it’s up to DC MIKE SMITH to utilize him to the max. VEA may make everyone along that DL a better player.
In Round 2, at Pick 38 the team tried to fill another glaring need by drafting RB/RONALD JONES from USC. A few years back ROJO was ranked as the top RB recruit coming out of HS. And most of the time he looked that good as a Trojan. He’s an explosive runner who could be quite a TD-maker. He replaces DOUG MARTIN, who had off-field issues in addition to injuries and is trying to revive his career in Oakland. JONES is a just a tad over 200 lbs. which may require limiting his carries, but he can also have value touching the ball as a receiver, and perhaps a Kick Returner. He ran for 1550 yards last season at 5.9 ypc and scored 19 TD. I would expect that by mid-season he will get the most carries, while sharing the RB load with BARBER and RODGERS.
With their Round 2 Pick at 53, the team took a bit of a reach (IMO) grabbing M.J. STEWART/CB/UNC, who also should compete for return duties. He’s a good athlete and a tough guy. He likely fits best as a slot-Corner, and will upgrade their secondary as a Rookie. I liked his work in Mobile during Senior Bowl week, but thought this was a round too early with his selection. UNC was a really bad team in 2017 and it may have tarnished his ability and accomplishments. The BUCS clearly feel that way about him to take him in Round 2.
With their final 2nd Rounder they took another CB, in CARLTON DAVIS/Auburn. DAVIS is the big physical guy (6’1/203) who started for 3 seasons at Auburn. His forte is in press-cover and he sticks to his man very well. He is also physical in fighting for the ball. But his 1 INT in 3 seasons is a clear indicator that he plays his man not the ball and may be challenged at the pro level where the throws are more accurate and have more velocity than he saw on an SEC Saturday most of the time. If he can get out on the field on one side for the majority of snaps then it’s a big plus for Mike Smith’s D. Wake up call to Mr. Hargreaves perhaps!
One of the more interesting small-school prospects in the 2018 Draft was ALEX CAPPA/OT/Humboldt State, which is in California, FYI. He’s raw, but has a bunch of nasty in his play. He has good size (6’6/305) but likely will need to add some weight, and lower body strength to his frame. Then a move inside to OG, at least initially. His 32 1/2″ long arms speak to his likely move inside. But he is a competitive guy, with a nasty streak and should earn a starting job on the Interior OL in a year or two.
JORDAN WHITEHEAD/S/Pitt was their selection in Round 4, Pick 117. Again I thought this was a bit too early, but he plays a lot more effectively than his size would indicate. He also plays tough and should be a major contributor right away on Special Teams. He’s a bit undersized (5’11/195) overall, but is physical. The kind of guy who gets out on the field initially because of an injury and then makes it awful tough for the coaches to put him back on the bench. CHRIS CONTE and KEITH TANDY are listed as the BUCS starters, but athletically WHITEHEAD and JUSTIN EVANS would both be athletic upgrades.
The BUCS WR corps is very good, but could use more depth. Ivy League star WR/JUSTIN WATSON/Penn, could make a nice depth addition for them. WATSON showed well at the Shrine venue and then went to Mobile and looked good at the Senior Bowl. He’s a good athlete and makes a nice target at 6’3/213. I believe all he needs is some coaching-up and experience competing at the highest level to make a No. 3 NFL wideout, who also plays a key role on Special Teams. His 4.42/40-time at his Pro Day was impressive, and to my eyes he played to that speed at the All-Star venues. Ivy League or not, he caught 81 balls in 2017, including 14 TD catches.
With their final Pick at 202, in Round 6 they selected JACK CICHY/LB/Wisconsin, who basically lost much of the last two seasons (1026/2017) to injury. But he is a surprisingly good athlete, and he showed plenty pre-injury. He has decent size at 6’2/235. Not a speedster, but can hold his own in coverage situations. He got a medical exclusion at the Combine and might end up as a Rookie redshirt in 2017 for them on a Reserve List. Calculated dice roll on a potential starter as an ILB for them.
It’s a good, not great Draft Class and has multiple guys who should be able to help this coming season. The biggest key is VEA on D to throw in alongside trade addition Jason Pierre-Paul, and DAVIS to hopefully be their feature RB. If WINSTON can stay healthy and take another step forward in his QB development than watch out for these guys in the NFC South. They might do this season, what the JAGUARS did last year.