Like most teams coming off a 4-12 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have plenty of needs to address this offseason. Unfortunately, the task of filling these needs is made more tricky by the lack of a third-round pick thanks to the Darrelle Revis trade, as well as the enigmatic nature of their quarterback situation. Throw in a completely new regime (head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht, pictured), and you have a war room packed full of mystery.
With just five picks (for the moment) in the 2014 NFL draft, it's imperative that the Bucs make the most of each of them.
The offensive line was the most disappointing unit for the Bucs in 2013. MRSA and injury claimed most of Carl Nicks' season, while former Pro Bowler Davin Joseph struggled mightily in his return from last year's season-ending knee injury. Demar Dotson was the lone bright spot in a line that was supposed to be the team's strongest group.
Left tackle Donald Penn will be 31 when the 2014 season begins, and he's scheduled to make $6.75 million. It's time for the Bucs to draft a cornerstone at the position, and they could be in a unique spot with the seventh overall pick to grab my top tackle in this year's class.
Matthews may not have the ceiling that Auburn's Greg Robinson can boast, but he's the more polished and has a higher floor, ready to step in from Day 1 and be an instant upgrade. With the chance for as many as four quarterbacks to go in the top five overall picks, the Bucs could end up with a perennial All-Pro left tackle with the seventh pick.
Target Range: First Round
Converted receiver Tim Wright was a bright spot for the Bucs' offense last season, finishing the year second on the team in catches (54) and a favorite target of rookie QB Mike Glennon. However, he was more of a security blanket than a playmaker, and the Bucs could use a dynamic presence at the tight end position in 2014.
If the Bucs get the opportunity to trade back from the seventh overall pick, it's likely that the top tackles and pass-rushers will be off the board when their pick comes up. In that scenario, targeting the top tight end in this year's class would make plenty of sense.
Ebron has the size, hands and athleticism to be a terror down the seams and in the red zone, giving Tampa Bay a dangerous target to take pressure off Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
Target Range: First Round (trade down)
The Bucs addressed the cornerback position heavily last offseason, trading for Darrelle Revis and signing him to a lucrative contract, as well as spending their second-round pick on Johnthan Banks. Revis made the Pro Bowl yet again in 2013, and while Banks had his share of rookie moments, he appears capable of locking down the other corner spot for the next few years.
But, as everyone knows, it takes more than two to tango at cornerback in the NFL anymore. Especially in the NFC South, where the Bucs face three offenses that excel in the passing game, it's vital that they add a nickel corner who can be an upgrade over Leonard Johnson.
After starting 27 games at safety for the Seminoles, Joyner moved to corner in 2013, where he played plenty of snaps from the slot. Though he's a bit undersized at 5'8", 190 pounds, Joyner is a physical defender who packs a punch both in coverage and in run support. Joyner is also a skilled blitzer off the edge, tallying 5.5 sacks last season. It's hard not to watch Joyner on tape and see the similarities to another No. 20 who used to roam the defensive backfield in Tampa.
Target Range: Second Round
It's no secret that the Bucs have lacked a threatening pass rush for multiple seasons now. After missing on pass-rushers in the draft such as Gaines Adams and Da'Quan Bowers, it wouldn't be a shock if Tampa Bay fans were leery of spending premium picks on defensive ends, preferring the team look to a free-agent class stocked with solid options.
However, if the Bucs' new regime is looking to add a pass-rusher who is a perfect fit in the 4-3, Crichton could very well be their man. With a nonstop motor and a quick first step, Crichton has piled up 36.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
Target Range: Second Round
Just as an upgrade at tight end will do wonders for whoever is calling the signals in Tampa Bay next season, a reliable slot receiver should be high on the list of targets heading into the 2014 draft. Tiquan Underwood showed flashes of greatness last season, but he's inconsistent and not a lock to make the roster next season.
Abbrederis is the prototypical slot receiver, with exceptional short-area quickness and precise route-running ability. At 6'2", 190 pounds, he has the frame to create problems for smaller corners and has the hands to be a reliable target on third downs. And while there are plenty of receivers who can make plays with the ball in space, many struggle at creating that space for themselves, an area in which Abbrederis excels.
Target Range: Fourth Round
Here are a few names who didn't make the cut but would make sense as consolation prizes in the early or later rounds if the top targets aren't available:
- E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri (Day 2): Physical corner with solid technique, sure tackler.
- Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (Day 3): Tampa native who could blossom if fully recovered from torn ACL.
- Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina (Day 2): Another perfect 4-3 end with solid punch, needs to improve consistency.
- Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida (Day 2): Impressive Senior Bowl week for gritty cover man.
- Billy Turner, OL, North Dakota State (Day 3): Versatility to play either guard or tackle makes him perfect for depth.
- Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma (Day 3): Small but electrifying, immediate impact in return game.
- Richard Rodgers, TE, California (Day 3): Athletic TE was recruited by and played for new Bucs OC Jeff Tedford.