Who Are the Experts Predicting the Bucs Will Take in 1st Round of NFL Draft?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have spent this offseason overhauling a roster in desperate need of numerous upgrades. Though they've filled plenty of holes, there's still work to be done as Tampa Bay's new regime looks forward to the 2014 NFL draft.
When it comes to projecting the Bucs' first-round selection, national draft experts seem to have narrowed their targets down to a few positions, though they don't all agree on the actual name that will be called on May 8.
Here are the latest predictions from some of the top draft analysts as to whom Tampa Bay will choose with the seventh overall pick.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Bleacher Report's own NFL Draft Lead Writer, Matt Miller:
Adding a talented, big matchup nightmare like Mike Evans is the right way to fix the problems on offense. Paired with Vincent Jackson, Evans would give Lovie Smith a duo much like the pairing of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery he had in Chicago.
Also, anyone watching Josh McCown deliver the ball to those two big targets in Chicago least season saw him excel in those situations. Giving McCown a similar supporting cast in Tampa is a great way to stack the deck for this up-and-coming team.
ESPN's Mel Kiper (Insider subscription required):
Evans can be a major weapon, a constant mismatch and a perfect go-get-it target in the passing game. Yes, Vincent Jackson is here, but he is 31 years old and is no guarantee to be around in 2015 based on his deal. The drop-off from Jackson makes this a position of need.
Receiver was a big enough need before Mike Williams was traded, but now it's imperative that the Bucs go after a top prospect at the position. With Sammy Watkins more than likely off the board, Evans becomes the most sensible option.
Resembling a younger, faster version of Jackson, Evans has the size, physicality and ball skills to terrorize smaller corners and be a dominant red-zone threat.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
CBS Sports' National NFL Insider, Pat Kirwan:
Watkins is a Southwest Florida kid who happens to be the best receiver in the draft and a game-breaker.
In this scenario, Kirwan has the Bucs moving up to the fifth overall pick to get Watkins. I agree that a move up will be necessary to land Watkins, but I'm skeptical that the Bucs would be willing to give up enough to make the jump.
Rob Rang (CBSSports.com):
No one attacked free agency like Tampa, which gives head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht plenty of options with this pick. Should the draft's most dynamic receiver fall in their lap, the choice might be an easy one..."
Too many teams picking ahead of the Bucs could use an electrifying playmaker like Watkins, so it's extremely doubtful that he ends up in Tampa Bay unless the Bucs move up for him. If he does indeed slip to them for some reason, it shouldn't take more than five seconds for them to turn in the card with Watkins' name on it.
The Bucs don't have a plethora of picks and have multiple needs to fill in this draft. Combine that with the fact that Watkins isn't likely to last until the seventh overall pick, and it's doubtful that you'll see Watkins in those new red and pewter threads in 2014.
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
ESPN's Todd McShay (Insider subscription required):
While in some respects Mack wouldn't fill a huge need area, as the "Sam" linebacker in Lovie Smith's defense isn't as important as some other positions, what drives up his value is his versatility. He could cover tight ends when they needed him to and he could also be an impact pass-rusher (something the Bucs lacked last season) when they turned him loose off the edge. Mack is one of the four elite players in this class, and teams need guys like him who can create turnovers.
Mack does seem like the type of toy that a defensive-minded coach like Lovie Smith would love to have. Though Smith might have to get creative as to how to fit Mack into his scheme, that shouldn't keep him and new general manager Jason Licht from snagging such a freak athlete.
The Bucs have struggled to get after the quarterback for quite a while, and no matter where he lines up, Mack should make an instant impact as a pass-rusher. Whether or not he's available at the seventh overall pick is a different story.
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Dane Brugler (CBS Sports & NFLDraftScout.com):
The new regime in Tampa has been active in free agency and are in the position to take the best player available here. Barr is still developing and not yet a polished pass rusher, but his potential as an impact SLB and hybrid DE gives Lovie Smith some exciting options.
Much like Khalil Mack, Barr doesn't exactly fit the Lovie Smith's 4-3 scheme as either a true outside linebacker or defensive end. But that doesn't mean that a defensive-minded coach like Smith wouldn't be able to figure out a way to effectively use an athlete of Barr's caliber.
Though he's still a bit raw as a prospect, Barr is versatile enough to run with tight ends in coverage or rush off the edge in passing situations. Especially if Mack, Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans are all off the board and they're not able to trade down, Barr could be the Bucs' fallback option.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah:
Lewan's combination of athleticism and toughness would be a nice addition to the Buccaneers' offense.
NFL.com's Bucky Brooks:
Jason Licht and Lovie Smith have fortified the defense through free agency. Adding a stout offensive tackle on the right side should stabilize an offense that has tremendous potential.
I can't say I agree with this one. The Bucs gave free agent Anthony Collins a pretty lucrative deal to replace Donald Penn at left tackle, so spending a top-10 pick on a blindside protector seems unlikely. Lewan's actions off the field also don't help his case.
Brooks' assertion that Lewan could be plugged in on the right side doesn't make sense either, considering Lewan made 48 starts for the Wolverines, none of them at right tackle. Furthermore, the one returning starter on the Bucs' offensive line in whom the new regime seems to have confidence is the returning starter at right tackle, Demar Dotson.