6 Late-Round Sleepers Who Would Be Perfect for the Buccaneers
For all the attention the NFL draft attracts, the players taken in Days 2 and 3 are often overlooked. However, teams are as likely to find a diamond in the rough in the later rounds as they are to bust on a first-round stud.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the midst of a regime overhaul. Head coach Lovie Smith and new general manager Jason Licht are sure to revamp and restructure the organization more to their style.
Some of the Bucs' longtime personnel executives are gone, including director of player personnel Dennis Hickey, who was just hired as general manager of the Miami Dolphins, according to Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald.
It remains to be seen what Smith and Licht have in mind for the make-up of the team. Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid added 30 players when he took over there last year. Smith and Licht also may be planning a significant overhaul of the roster.
Key to shaping the new roster will be finding gems in the late rounds of the 2014 draft, like Tampa Bay did last year with running back Mike James. James looked promising in replacing RB Doug Martin, who went down midseason with a shoulder injury.
Despite the setback, James proves just how valuable a late-round pick can be when given the opportunity.
Here are six players entering the 2014 NFL draft to whom the Bucs need to seriously consider giving that opportunity.
OLB Jonathan Brown
Weight: 230 lbs.
Projected Round: 6-7
Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown enjoyed a very productive career at Illinois. Brown amassed over 300 tackles, 45.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. He was voted All-Big Ten three times and was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award in 2012.
Brown accomplished quite a bit despite the fact that he played on a subpar Illinois squad.
The Buccaneers enjoyed some solid linebacker play in 2013, led by All-Pro Lavonte David. However, they could lose three of them to free agency this year.
Linebackers Dekoda Watson, Jonathan Casillas and Adam Hayward may all be on different teams in 2014. Watson and Casillas both started at the strong-side linebacker position, while Hayward was the Bucs' special teams captain.
The Bucs have to look at not only bolstering their linebacking depth but also possibly replacing a starter. Brown was a leader on Illinois' defense and was one of its most productive players throughout his tenure.
Brown plays fast and smooth. He won't annihilate anyone with a bone-crunching hit, but he's instinctive and has some coverage skills.
Lovie Smith brings a legitimate defensive pedigree to Tampa. Brown would have a real chance at realizing his potential should he be drafted by the Bucs.
CB Bennett Jackson
Often players are drafted for their versatility more than any one particular skill. Notre Dame cornerback Bennett Jackson would be one such player.
That's not to say Jackson isn't good in coverage. He pulled in six interceptions as a starter in 2012 and 2013. He definitely has potential as a cover corner.
Jackson's versatility comes from his special teams play. He can both cover and return kickoffs. Jackson also never missed a game while playing for Notre Dame.
He most closely compares to Houston CB Kareem Jackson. There is a question whether Bennett Jackson can adapt his game to the NFL, which the Texans' Jackson has struggled to do.
The Bucs have no reliable depth at cornerback. Leonard Johnson is a liability while Danny Gorrer and Deveron Carr have not proven their reliability.
If drafted by the Bucs, Jackson could cut his teeth on special teams while learning the ropes from Lovie Smith's staff and the Bucs' resident shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis.
G Brian Clarke
Once believed to be a stacked unit, the Bucs' offensive line became the weak point of Tampa's offense in 2013, particularly at the guard position. The Bucs have to address this glaring deficiency by finding young talent to replace injury-prone guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks.
Bloomsburg G Brian Clarke is a D-II product who could fly under the radar heading into the 2014 draft. Though he has not played against the toughest competition, Clarke has the potential to succeed at the next level.
Clarke's Bloomsburg bio lists him at only 6'3" and 290 pounds. However, his size should not disqualify him from draft consideration.
Clarke is quick and agile, ideal for a zone-blocking scheme. He is also surprisingly strong and knows how to open running lanes. He was instrumental in helping Bloomsburg running back Franklyn Quiteh run for 2,195 yards in 2013.
The Bucs currently are not built for a zone-blocking scheme since Joseph and Nicks are best used in a power-running attack. However, neither has proven reliable since signing big-money deals with Tampa.
With the offensive line at a crossroads, an overhaul has to be in the cards. If Lovie Smith and his offensive staff choose to reshape the line, drafting Clarke would be a step in the right direction.
S Ty Zimmerman
The Bucs have two hard-hitting safeties in Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson. What they really need is a safety who excels in coverage.
Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman was a four-year starter for the Wildcats. Over his career, Zimmerman tallied 13 interceptions. He made himself an invaluable piece of the Kansas State defense and was the first four-time All-Big-12 player in school history.
Zimmerman's biggest asset is his intelligence. He's not known for his athleticism, but he is quick to diagnose a play, which helps to compensate for any athletic deficiencies.
The Bucs' safeties are both exceptional athletes, but both have struggled in coverage. A change in coaching may help bring out their full potential.
However, until that happens, the Bucs need to bring in players like Zimmerman who have a knack for picking off passes.
RB Dri Archer
When Jeff Tedford came on as the Bucs' offensive coordinator, he stated he wanted the Bucs to get "speed in space":
Jeff Tedford says the Bucs want to be physical up front, run the football, get speed in space, be diverse and protect the football.— Scott Smith (@ScottSBucs) January 15, 2014
The Buccaneers won't fool anyone into thinking they have a fast offense. Drafting Kent State running back Dri Archer can change all of that.
Archer is by no means a big man. At 5'8" and 175 lbs., Archer would be among the smallest players in the league. He could also be one of the most electric.
There aren't many other players coming out in the 2014 draft with Archer's speed and elusiveness. Though he's listed as a running back, he's a hybrid player who can be as effective splitting out wide as lining up in the backfield.
The Bucs still have speedy RB Jeff Demps, but he's not exactly reliable given his Olympic ambitions and injury history. Archer would provide the "speed in space" either as an insurance policy to Demps or as an outright replacement.
DE Ben Gardner
The Buccaneers' pass-rush woes have been well documented. It's a problem they will surely address in both free agency and at the top of the draft.
They would be wise to also look in the later rounds for possible solutions as well.
Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner might have been a mid-round pick had he not suffered a torn pectoral muscle in October. Gardner was one of Stanford's top defensive players. He picked up 16.5 sacks in three seasons, including his injury-shortened final season. Gardner was also voted first team All-Pac-12 in 2013.
An above-average athlete and a leader on the field, Gardner would be an absolute steal late in the draft.
Expect the Bucs to bring in pass-rushers from every avenue. The Bucs last regime put all their pass-rush hopes in defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers. Their faith was not rewarded.
Gardner is coming off an injury, but late in the draft, a player of his caliber would be worth the gamble.