Breaking down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2018 draft class.
Round 1, No. 12 overall: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
My take: The Bucs went for best available rather than addressing pressing secondary needs and this will catch them some flak, even if Vea is the next coming of Haloti Ngata. They had their shot at Florida State safety Derwin James or could have gone with cornerback Jaire Alexander, but instead, they selected the 6-foot-4, 347-pound Vea to pair next to six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy.
“I know there are plenty of folks out there that thought we were gonna go with a DB with this pick, but we have to get better on defense either way,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “Whether you’re putting pressure on the quarterback and stopping the run or whether you’re covering receivers better, they’re both positives. And we also picked up some picks so we can address some of our other needs.”
Not just a run-stuffer: The Bucs play in a division where they face running backs Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Christian McCaffrey twice a year. They’ll also be facing Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott again this season, and Vea helped a Washington defensive line allow just 100.8 rushing yards per game last season, the fourth fewest in the FBS, and just 2.9 yards per rush, the second fewest in the FBS in 2017.
“He’s not just a run-stuffer, but he has some freakish athleticism for a 347-pound guy, and he holds that 347 very well,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. “When we brought him, and I asked him in very simple terms, ‘What is the most important thing a defensive lineman can do?’ and I believe he said, ‘Kick the crap out of the guy in front of me.’ I like that about him.”
Vea can eat up double teams, freeing up McCoy to get into the backfield, but Vea also can plow his way in there, registering 9.5 sacks in his three years at Washington.
Cashing in: The Bucs traded their seventh overall draft pick and their 255th overall pick to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for the Bills’ 12th, 53rd and 56th picks. So they got great value for Vea and recouped some lost draft capital from the Jason Pierre-Paul trade, for which they used a third-rounder, and can still address needs at cornerback, safety and running back.
Round 2, No. 38 overall: Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
My take: After averaging just 3.5 yards per carry and failing to produce a 100-yard rusher last season, the Bucs addressed a key need at running back in Ronald Jones, who offers three-down back potential despite being a little undersized at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds. Don’t look at his 4.65 combine time -- he was dealing with a hamstring injury (although he did improve on it with a 4.48 at his pro day). Pop in the tape at USC, where his 19 rushing touchdowns last season tied for fourth-most in USC history. His 3,619 career rushing yards were also fifth-most in school history.
“I’m pretty much 100 percent,” Jones said of the injury. “With rookie minicamp starting up, I’ve been rehabbing and getting healthy. I’m ready to go now. ... I’m not expecting any [limitations]. It’s full throttle now.”
How he fits: Peyton Barber has shown he can run between the tackles and is a good first- and second-down back. Jacquizz Rodgers can play all three downs but doesn’t necessarily have the power to push the pile or breakaway speed. Charles Sims has great hands, but is more of an upright runner who naturally functions better in space. Jones hasn’t really gotten a chance to use his hands, and he still has a ways to go in pass protection. The Bucs have needed a home-run threat runner -- their 16 rushing touchdowns since 2016 are second-fewest in the league. Jones produced 74 explosive runs (rushing plays of 12 or more yards) in 40 games.
Round 2, No. 53 overall: M.J. Stewart, DB, North Carolina
My take: Stewart is a tough, physical player who doesn’t have great size at 5-foot-11 and 211 pounds, nor does he have great speed, clocking a 4.54 at the combine, but he’s gotten his hands on some balls, with 41 passes defensed in three years. He has been inconsistent with interceptions the last two years, though, with zero interceptions. In his first two seasons, he had six picks. Stewart said it was more a function of not being targeted. “I feel like teams scouted really good against me. With me moving inside, they used more picks and leverage match-ups to try to beat me. I feel like that’s why I didn’t have as much success as I did my first two years,” Stewart said. “But me knowing me, I still gotta make plays. Having no interceptions in two years, that’s not my M.O., that’s not me. ... It just taught me to always be on my toes and always be ready, never take a play off. Because that one play you take off is the play that they’re coming at you.”
How he fits: Stewart has the capability of lining up inside and outside and at safety, but the Bucs envision him playing at nickelback and possibly moving to the outside, although Carlton Davis, their other third-round defensive back pick, is a true outside corner. At minimum, Stewart will provide a push for Hargreaves, who regressed and struggled with a hamstring injury in 2017.
Round 2, No. 63 overall: Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
My take: Davis is a high-energy guy who will instantly bring a jolt to the secondary. At 6-foot-1, 206 pounds, he has the ideal size to play on the outside. He clocked a 4.53 at the combine, too -- which isn't very fast and not ideal going up against the likes of Julio Jones, but it's decent for a player that size, and he's an aggressive and willing tackler. According to Pro Football Focus, Davis was targeted 190 times in three years but only allowed 103 catches and 472 yards after the catch. In 2017, he allowed a 48.1 percent catch rate.
How he fits: He's easily the Bucs' biggest starting-caliber corner, with both Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves III standing 5-foot-10. That could be a real asset in jump-ball situations, especially with his 32¾-inch arms. He had 28 pass breakups, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in three years. He can also play both on the right and left sides. He can play the slot, too, but doesn't have the natural quick-twitch the Bucs would covet there, which is what will make Davis' development interesting to follow. If he can develop quickly on the outside, he could overtake Hargreaves, who was demoted and battled a hamstring injury in 2017.
"Listen to me -- I came into Auburn as a true freshman. I didn't come in early. I didn't have workouts early. I came in in the summer and I played 13 games," Davis said. "Every game I played in, I started in -- 12 of them, 11 of them. I'm a player that comes in and buys into a system. I'm a player that comes in, that listens, that learns quickly. You can count on that I'll be playing in that first snap. You can count on me to be on that field, somehow, some way, whether it's special teams or whatever they need me to do, I'll be on that field. I'll do anything for it and my history shows it."
Round 3, No. 94: Alex Cappa, OT, Humboldt State
My take: Licht showed once again that he’s not afraid to go after the small-school offensive linemen, despite what many regard as a huge drop-off in level of competition. It paid off in a big way already with Ali Marpet. As an offensive tackle, Cappa excelled at the Division II level, winning the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's offensive lineman of the year award all four seasons.
How he fits: At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, Cappa’s got the size to be an effective run-blocker early on, with room to transition to tackle on the outside. The Bucs believe he can play all five positions along the offensive line, something they had with Kevin Pamphile before Pamphile went to the Tennessee Titans in free agency.
“I love that dude,” Licht said of Cappa. “Every player is different. I guess [Cappa and Marpet] are similar in that we moved up to take them and Marpet was second round, he was third round, they went to small schools. Alex is a bigger, longer guy. [They have] different types of athleticism, different types of traits that we like about both of them. It’s tough to say that somebody is gonna be as good as Marpet because Marpet has been very, very good for us. But if he’s half of what Marpet is, we’re gonna be happy with the pick.”
Round 4, No. 117 overall: Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh
My take: Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was asked Friday how he felt about the safety position -- since the Bucs had yet to address it -- and he said they weren't done yet. But selecting undersized Jordan Whitehead in the fourth round is a far cry from passing up Derwin James, a player many talent evaluators told ESPN is a future Pro Bowler, in Round 1. Whitehead was highly productive in college though, starting 30 games at Pittsburgh, finishing his three-year career with 234 tackles, three interceptions, 12 pass breakups, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
Whitehead learned from another former Pittsburgh cornerback, Darrelle Revis.
“Growing up, I was at his draft party so I got to experience that. His mom was here today and she was excited,” Whitehead said of Revis. “He gave me a lot of advice going through this process, throughout this thing -- stay humble, anything could happen throughout this weekend. So, coming up, he had a lot of camps I used to go to with him. He definitely taught me a lot of different things. .... You can learn from the best right there, he’s right there in front of me. I take everything from him.”
How he fits: At 5-foot-10, 198 pounds, Whitehead has size concerns as far as playing safety at the next level, but his physical style suggests he plays bigger than he really is. He is versatile -- something the Bucs covet -- and can play strong safety, free safety and nickel back. If he can use that physical presence down in the box, then he's a good pairing with last year's second-round draft pick, free safety Justin Evans. The Bucs had issues stopping the run last year, giving up 117.5 yards per game -- 23rd in the league -- so his aggressiveness there will be a plus.
Round 5, No. 144 overall: Justin Watson, WR, Pennsylvania
My take: Watson wowed at his pro day, posting a 4.42 in the 40 and a 40-inch vertical. He produced an Ivy League-record 19 100-yard receiving games and set school records in receptions (286), receiving yards (3,777), receiving touchdowns (33) and all-purpose yards (4,116). Despite not being challenged much by the level of competition in college, he held his own in East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl practices and earned fans on the Bucs coaching staff. "I think the last question mark I needed to answer coming out of the FCS was how would I do against bigger names and bigger school talent," Watson said. "It was something that I had been waiting for four years when I came out as a senior in high school and didn't have any I-A offers. All I wanted to do was prove that I could play against those I-A defensive backs. To go down there and be able to do that, right in Tampa Bay -- I got to work with Coach [Skyler] Fulton, who is the receivers coach, along with a lot of the other offensive staff down in Tampa -- I think being able to work with them for a week, get their coaching and respond to it helped me so much."
How he fits: At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Watson has a similar frame to Pro Bowler Mike Evans and can be groomed into a backup role behind him, just like Chris Godwin did last year with DeSean Jackson. He can line up outside and use his body to win jump-ball matchups. He's also a crisp, consistent route runner. He'll be challenged a lot more by tougher NFL cornerbacks, but he has impressive tools that the Bucs can develop.
Round 6, No. 202 overall: Jack Cichy, LB, Wisconsin
My take: When Cichy is healthy, he’s a tackling machine, logging 121 tackles in 24 games (11 starts). In the 2015 Holiday Bowl against USC, he had three sacks on three consecutive plays, which earned him the nickname “Three-sack Jack,” and he won Defensive MVP honors. But he’s dealt with a lot of injuries, including suffering a torn pectoral muscle in 2016 and missing the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL in his right knee. In total, he missed 20 games in college.
“I feel great,” Cichy said of the knee progress. “I’m real close to 100 percent. By the time I get down there for [rookie] minicamp and we have OTAs, I will be 100 percent. I’m really excited about where I am. I definitely took my time, it was a steady rehab process. I’m right where I want to be right now and I’m optimistic going forward.”
How he fits: Cichy believes his best spot naturally is at middle linebacker but the Bucs will cross-train him at all three positions. With strongside linebacker Kendell Beckwith recovering from ankle surgery and Adarius Taylor (formerly Glanton) recovering from a broken leg, Cichy’s a low-risk, potentially high reward player who can bolster depth at a position the Bucs were particularly strong at last year -- and are still pretty strong at -- without being rushed into action right away.