Buccaneers Combine Preview: Top Targets, Sleepers and Prospects to Watch
The NFL Scouting Combine is the great equalizer of the offseason. While the bulk of scouting of NFL prospects comes during the season and in actual play, the combine provides standardized testing of NFL players.
While many of the top prospects are only trying to further impress NFL teams with their combine preparation and performances, many of the lesser known players will be trying to make impressions or disprove negative outlooks on their abilities.
Some of the small-school prospects will need to prove that their physical abilities can compare to their big-conference counterparts.
Like every other team, the Bucs will be scrutinizing certain players at the combine. The Bucs will have scouted the players' actual game performances already and will use the combine as a method of comparison for certain skills and abilities.
Here are the targets, sleepers and prospects to watch that the Bucs need to monitor at this year's combine.
Target: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Wide receiver depth was a major factor in limiting the Buccaneers offense in 2013. The Bucs roster lacks a viable inside threat that can play tough over the middle.
LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. is a likely second-rounder who brings good hands and versatility to an offense. He projects as a slot receiver with the potential to double as a punt returner.
The biggest question surrounding Beckham is his speed and his ability to separate from NFL defensive backs. Beckham's combine performance will be vital to gauging his speed.
Look not only for his overall 40-yard dash time but also the splits. A slot receiver must be able to explode off the line and get separation early. Initial quickness can be more important than straight-line speed in the slot.
Beckham's 40 time will also inform on his viability as a kick returner. While Beckham has returning experience, he wasn't very consistent with his punt returns.
The Bucs offense needs a player like Beckham to move the ball over the middle and make plays in space. He could even supplant WR Eric Page as the Bucs' primary kick returner if he can show he has the speed for it.
Target: Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA
With the health of Carl Nicks in question and the play of Davin Joseph under scrutiny, the Bucs need to plan for losing one or even both of their current guards in the near future.
UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo projects as one of the top guards in the draft and could be available at the Bucs' second-round pick. Though he played out of position at left tackle in 2013, he was forced into duty due to numerous injuries along UCLA's offensive line.
His quickness and movement make him a top prospect, but his strength is in question. S'ua-Filo was on a Mormon mission in 2010 and 2011. Missing two years of football training may have put him behind in developing an NFL-ready body.
The biggest test to watch S'ua-Filo for is the bench press. Over the past three combines, the best performers hit between 32 and 41 reps of 225 pounds.
If S'ua-Filo can't hit at least 30 reps, that should give the Bucs some pause as to the level of his strength development and whether he can hold up against NFL defensive linemen.
Sleeper: IK Enemkpali, DE, Louisiana Tech
The NFL combine is a vital event for prospects coming out of smaller schools where competition doesn't quite measure up to the bigger conferences. By pitting these small-school prospects against their big-school counterparts in standard tests, NFL teams can better gauge them on a level playing field.
It's no secret that the Bucs desperately need an upgrade at defensive end. While they are sure to either sign a top free agent or draft a defensive end near the top of the draft, the Bucs need to cast a wide net to potentially overhaul the entire position.
Louisiana Tech's IK Enemkpali was the team's best pass-rusher in 2013. Notching 5.5 sacks over the past season, Enemkpali runs with a high motor and plays to the whistle.
One of the biggest knocks against Enemkpali is his height. At 6'1", he's definitely on the shorter side for a defensive end. He also isn't the most fluid or flexible athlete, using more speed and violence to get to the quarterback.
Enemkpali's biggest tests will be the three-cone drill and shuttle run. Explosion and lateral quickness are vital elements of a defensive end's game, and the cone drills are the main tests of these attributes.
Enemkpali will have to show that he can match up with the more established defensive ends in the draft. He projects as a late-round pick or even an undrafted free agent. The combine could swing him one way or the other.
Prospect to Watch: Joe Don Duncan, TE, Dixie State
Tight end is another position of need for the Buccaneers. Specifically, they need a big body that can both block and catch. Bucs TE Tim Wright broke out in 2013 as a pass-catcher but brought nothing as a blocker.
Dixie State is a Division II school so small that we can't even provide photographs of TE Joe Don Duncan. A beast of a man at 6'2" and 264 pounds, Duncan projects as a mid-round pick due to his monstrous production.
In 2013, Duncan caught 71 passes for 1,045 yards and 13 touchdowns. He's a natural pass-catcher and can run with power.
Duncan has two main issues working against him: his speed and the level of his competition. While it's not uncommon for a man of Duncan's size to be a bit on the slower side, he won't outrun any NFL defensive backs and will be considerably easier to cover.
The 40-yard dash will be vital for Duncan's draft stock. If he puts up a time of 4.7-4.8 seconds, his stock should improve dramatically. A sub-5.0 time will only confirm doubts about his speed.
The main reason to keep an eye on Duncan is the Bucs' recent signing of TE Steve Maneri as reported by The Tampa Tribune's Ira Kaufman. Maneri is also a hulk at 6'7" and 280 pounds. The Bucs are already picking up the kind of big-bodied tight ends that Duncan is. They may pick him up to compete with the likes of Maneri.
Prospect to Watch: Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
Cornerbacks have become a premium position in today's pass-happy NFL. The Bucs have one of the top corners in the game in Darrelle Revis but are unsettled beyond him and second-year cornerback Johnthan Banks.
The Bucs haven't had a solid option at nickel corner since Ronde Barber retired. Duke CB Ross Cockrell has the potential to fill that void.
Cockrell is a smart, ball-hawking defensive back, but he may not have the size to compete in the NFL. At 5'11" and 189 pounds, he would be eaten alive by the tight ends and a growing number of wide receivers.
He may not be able to add too much bulk to his frame, but if he can demonstrate some high-end speed, teams might overlook his small stature. Cockrell's 40 time and vertical jump will be vital to his draft stock.
With Lovie Smith taking over the Bucs, the Tampa 2 defense will surely return as a staple formation on defense. Zone coverage as used in the Tampa 2 requires instinctive cornerbacks and nurtures ball hawks.
Cockrell will need to demonstrate that his physical assets are capable of matching his apparent football instincts if he hopes to make it with an NFL team.