Stars and letters are aligning in Tampa Bay. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have tied the knot, in a union of initials, and Bruce Arians has unofficially declared 2020 and 2021 as his team’s contention window. The Buccaneers have officially entered the championship race, with a tremendous amount of star power on the offensive side of the ball, and a diverse allotment of young talent on defense. The time to compete is now, and with this updated Buccaneers 7-round mock draft, Brady can cement a familiar home-field advantage in January.
In my first Buccaneers mock draft, I overcompensated a bit in terms of draft needs to account for the uncertainty before the free agency period. At the time, the Buccaneers had a lot of moving parts, and it was hard to predict how they would go about settling things. Now, the smoke has cleared, and we have a clearer picture of what the Buccaneers’ team needs are, heading into the 2020 NFL Draft.
Offensive tackle is the team’s top need, with defensive end coming in second. Edge rusher and quarterback are no longer primary needs, as they were listed in the previous mock, but Tampa Bay could add future starting potential at both spots. Secondary needs that still exist include wide receiver, running back, safety, cornerback, and offensive line depth. However, the Buccaneers have enough young talent where they can afford to make some choices as to which positions to omit. With just seven selections, they’ll have to be judicious, but they can still come out of the NFL Draft as winners.
Round 1, Pick 14: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
Offensive tackle is far and away the top need for the Buccaneers after free agency, as mentioned above. If one of the top four offensive tackle prospects is still available at the #14 pick, the Buccaneers’ draft philosophy becomes quite simple: Simply pick the remaining member of the big four. In this draft scenario, that remaining member was Jedrick Wills. In another mock, it could be Andrew Thomas, and in another, it could be Mekhi Becton.
With that being said, it doesn’t quite matter who the pick is because all of them have the traits to succeed at the next level, and all of them have scheme versatility and traits that suit the Buccaneers’ offense. Wills is particularly enticing. His power, functional athleticism, and tireless consistency at right tackle will allow him to start at a high level from Day 1 as both a pass blocker and a run blocker, while also allowing Donovan Smith to stay at left tackle, where he played in 2019.
Other picks considered: WR Henry Ruggs III, DE AJ Epenesa
Round 2, Pick 45: Ross Blacklock, DE, TCU
The Buccaneers re-signed Ndamukong Suh late in March, solidifying one side of their defensive end unit, but there’s no set-in-stone starter across from the three-time All-Pro. William Gholston provides depth and starting experience, but the Buccaneers could stand to add more rotational upside and youth at that position, and several interior linemen fit Tampa Bay’s versatile 3-4 scheme well.
One such lineman is Ross Blacklock, an incredibly explosive lineman who profiles well as a pass rusher in a 3-4 end alignment. Blacklock can generate incredible burst for his 6-foot-3, 290-pound frame, and he’s also very twitchy and aggressive at the point of attack. Blacklock needs to work on adding control to his game and refining his technique, but he has all the athletic traits to be a spark plug on the line right out of the gates. With veteran mentors all around him, his development as an eventual starter could be catalyzed.
Other picks considered: QB Jacob Eason, WR Brandon Aiyuk
Round 3, Pick 76: Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan
It’s almost incomprehensible that a team with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin is picking a receiver within the first three rounds. Still, the Buccaneers’ lack of proven depth, as well as the everlasting value in adding weaponry to an offense, demands it to be a possibility. The Buccaneers have made it clear that they’re investing a great deal in the next two years, so they have to load up on talent wherever they can. If talent is the endgame, then Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones is a great fit for the Buccaneers.
Peoples-Jones has the athleticism, and the vertical receiving ability to both get open and capitalize on in-air opportunities downfield, making him a versatile match for Arians’ offense. Many will question Peoples-Jones’ lack of consistent production at the collegiate level, but Peoples-Jones was hampered by bad play-calling and bad quarterback play with the Wolverines. He’ll have none of that in Tampa. Peoples-Jones is raw, but with Evans, Godwin, and Justin Watson with him in the receiving room, he won’t have to be exposed to action right away. With 4.48 speed and a 44.5-inch vertical, he has the freakish athleticism needed to become a premier threat next to Evans and Godwin with a little development.
Other picks considered: S Jeremy Chinn, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Round 4, Pick 117: Brycen Hopkins, TE, Purdue
The Buccaneers don’t need at tight end; OJ Howard and Cameron Brate are both under contract for at least two more years, and on paper, they form one of the more formidable tight end duos in the NFL. Despite their name recognition and playing in one of the most prolific passing offenses of 2019, Howard and Brateonly combined for 770 yards and five touchdowns, despite Howard playing in 14 games and Brate appearing in all 16.
The Buccaneers shouldn’t be going out of their way to add another tight end to the rotation in the 2020 NFL Draft, but if an opportunity presents itself, they have to pounce on value where they can get it. This pick is a prime example, as Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins dropped to Tampa Bay’s first fourth-round pick. Hopkins is a receiver first at tight end, offering impressive fluidity and natural nuance up the middle of the field. In a pass-heavy offense, he has tremendous upside, and he could make one of the former tight ends trade bait in due time.
Round 4, Pick 139: Cole McDonald, QB, Hawaii
No changes here from the previous Buccaneers mock, except that this selection is now made one round earlier. On the mock draft big board, Cole McDonald would’ve likely been available in Round 5, but I think he goes in this range on draft day. Past the top five or six quarterbacks, things get fairly subjective from an evaluation standpoint. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of teams valued McDonald’s combination of athleticism, arm talent, and fearlessness over the general monotony of the 2020 class. Perhaps I’d be even less surprised if Arians, with his aggressive passing scheme, saw a potential gem in McDonald.
McDonald is a competitor whose teammates rally around, and he has all the physical traits. A year or two learning under Brady and Arians is the best situation possible for McDonald, who could then hone his upside and become a starter in the latter portion of his rookie contract. McDonald, as it’s often been stated, is the wild card of the 2020 NFL Draft quarterback class. Arians has a fairly good track record with wild cards, and for this cheap price, it’s a high-upside deal too good to pass up.
Round 5, Pick 161: Lamical Perine, RB, Florida
Ronald Jones II took a step in the right direction in 2019, but the Buccaneers can still add a more diverse array of talents to their running back room. Specifically, they could add a more physical, resilient back to pair with Jones’ explosiveness and open-field burst.
Florida’s Lamical Perine is a player I very much like for this role; he doesn’t have breakaway speed, but that’s not his game anyway. Perine, at 5-foot-11, 216lbs, wins with contact balance and toughness, but he also has the straight-line explosiveness and vision to make the most out of holes he sees. He also provides above-average receiving skills and would fit well in Arians’ offense as a versatile, reliable playmaker with a road grater’s mentality.
Round 6, Pick 194: Justin Herron, OG, Wake Forest
The Buccaneers may have found their long-term starter at guard opposite from Ali Marpet, as Alex Cappa started 13 games last season and provided some consistency on the interior. That said, the Buccaneers need a contingency plan in case Cappa regresses in 2020, and even if he doesn’t, they could still use more depth at the position. Enter Wake Forest’s Justin Herron, an athletic tackle who projects as a guard at the next level. Herron provides a solid foundation of traits with his functional mobility, and if he can spend his developing years adding power to his game, he could be an increased contributor down the road.