The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the 2017-18 season with a disappointing 5-11 record which awarded them with the seventh pick in the NFL Draft. With numerous holes to fill but only two picks in the top 100, the Bucs needed to make a major move and general manager Jason Licht delivered.
With their top three prospects off the board and a number of quarterbacks off the board, the Buccaneers were looking for a trade partner. Enter the Buffalo Bills. The Bills possessed the 12th overall pick and were in obvious need for a quarterback, and the Bucs at number seven made a lot of sense. By trading back the Buccaneers acquired the Bills 12th, 53rd, and 56th picks. I’ll discuss what the team did with their picks and where these young guys will fit.
Round 1 Pick #12 (via Buffalo): Vita Vea, DT, Washington
Leading up to the draft almost everyone thought the Buccaneers were going to select safety Derwin James from Florida State. That pick would have made sense too. The Bucs needed safety help and James was one of the best in the class.
However, the Bucs stuck with their plan to improve in the trenches by picking defensive tackle Vita Vea out of Washington. Despite some free agency pick ups along the defensive line, Vea will see plenty of playing time along side Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy.
At 6-4, 347 pounds, Vea has the size to anchor down the interior defensive line but also the ability to rush the quarterback. At Washington he picked up 99 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss and nine sacks. General manager Jason Licht has fawned over Vea’s abilities on the field.
“He’s not only a great run stuffer but he’s also got athleticism, freakish athleticism, for a 347-pound guy and he holds that 347 very well. He’s going to help us in a lot of areas.”
Round 2 Pick #38: Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
As I mentioned in my previous article, the Buccaneers needed help at running back. They finished 27th in the league with 1,440 yards on the ground which put extra pressure on quarterback Jameis Winston. Peyton Barber was the leading rusher with 423 yards on 108 carries while long-time starter Doug Martin struggled again. Failing to sustain three yards per carry for the second consecutive year eventually lead to Martin’s released this offseason.
With only Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims on the roster the Bucs jumped at the opportunity to add one of the draft class’ best running backs in USC’s Ronald Jones II. As a Trojan, Jones rushed for 3,619 yards and 39 touchdowns while posting a 6.1 rushing average. Jone’s last season was his best year where he finished top 10 nationally in rushing yards and touchdowns. His success also garnered him first-team All-Pac-12 and third-team AP All-American Honors.
Due to his size, Jones isn’t expected to start right away but his skills will help him see the field early and often. He’s a big-play threat that will pair well with Barber’s power running style.
Round 2 Pick #53: M.J Stewart, CB, UNC
The 53rd overall pick was part of the package sent from Buffalo to Tampa for the seventh overall selection. With over corners like Isaiah Oliver still on the board M.J Stewart was a bit of a surprise, but it should pay out in the end.
Stewart will primarily be competing with Vernon Hargreaves at the nickel corner spot. Hargreaves was taken 11th overall in the 2016 draft and has yet to live up to the billing. He’ll get another year to prove himself but Stewart will be tough to beat out. According to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, Stewart is one of the best corners in this class when it comes to press coverage. That’s exactly what the Bucs need, a physical corner to cover the inside. Stewart should also have the chance to battle to be the Bucs number two corner over the next few seasons.
At North Carolina, Stewart was a two-year starter but played all four seasons. During his career, he tallied 199 total tackles, six interceptions and a UNC record 41 pass deflections.
Round 2 Pick #63: Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
Another pick, another corner and another replacement for the Bucs. Carlton Davis out of Auburn is one of my favorite picks for the Bucs in this year’s draft. Ryan Smith was the number two corner last season but Davis should have no problem taking over that position. At 6-1 and 206 pounds, Davis has the size to be a solid corner and he uses that size to his advantage. He plays a very physical style of football and can line up anywhere on the field.
Over his three year career, Davis totaled 136 tackles, four interceptions and 28 pass deflections. Davis will primarily be used as the Bucs number two corner this season but don’t get used to it. He’ll eventually take over for Brent Grimes as the top corner as soon as next season.
Round 3 Pick #94: Alex Cappa, OG, Humboldt State
Yet again the Buccaneers dip into the small school bucket to find an offensive lineman. Back in 2015 current lineman, Ali Marpet was taken in the second round from Division III Hobart College. This time it’s Alex Cappa out of Division II Humboldt State.
Scouts rave about Cappa’s tenacity while playing. Mike Mayock of NFL.com has even gone as far as saying Cappa has the nastiest tape he’s ever seen. That bodes well for the Bucs who picked up another nasty lineman in Ryan Jensen from the Baltimore Ravens. Cappa isn’t expected to start right away but an interior of Jensen, Marpet and eventually Cappa should make Bucs’ fans happy.
Round 4 Pick #117: Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh
Round 5 Pick #144: Justin Watson, WR, Penn
Round 6 Pick #202: Jack Cichy, LB, Wisconsin
The Bucs last three picks won’t blow anyone away but provide great value for a team full of holes. First off is Jordan Whitehead out of Pitt. It’s no secret that the Bucs lack playmakers at the safety position and the finally created some competition in the fourth round. Whitehead should compete with both Chris Conte and Keith Tandy for the second safety spot next to Justin Evans. If Whitehead can beat out the two of them, then that’s just another great value pick for the Bucs.
Justin Watson could be one of those picks that will pay off more in the long run. With Desean Jackson and Adam Humphries possibly on the way out after the 2018-19 season, the Bucs are banking on this fifth-round pick to shape out. Watson was extremely productive at Penn with over 3,700 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns and should make a good third or fourth receiver in the future.
If there’s one position on defense that the Bucs are strong at it’s linebacker. But it is never a bad idea to have good depth. Cichy had a good career at Wisconsin but an ACL injury might have been the reason for his fall. Even with starter Kendall Beckwith missing the early part of the season with an injury, I don’t expect Cichy to compete for a starting spot but be a quality backup if he makes the roster.
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