With another NFL combine come and gone, a clear path to the NFL draft in May lays open to this year's class of prospects. Like the rest of the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are anxious to finalize their draft board and devise their draft day strategy.
It seems every year more and more attention is paid to the combine. Though it's little more than a glorified workout, the combine offers an oasis of NFL activity in a season otherwise bereft of football.
For NFL teams, the combine is a chance to measure the prospects' physical attributes and compare them on a level playing field. While game performance and film review provide the most effective means of evaluating players, the combine affords teams an opportunity to answer the questions that can't be answered on tape.
The Buccaneers find themselves once again in transition this offseason. New head coach Lovie Smith looks to make Tampa's roster reflect what he wants in a football team.
Smith: We’re going to change the culture and we’ll probably change more players than you probably think right now.— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) February 20, 2014
With only five draft picks, the Buccaneers may not be in the best position to make a lot of wholesale changes in this year's draft. However, with the seventh overall pick, Lovie Smith and the Bucs will have an opportunity to bring Smith's vision closer to fruition.
This draft board reflects not only the overall value of each player, but the value they may have for the Buccaneers. While the Bucs' big board may change following free agency, the combine offered insight into the players that will garner the most attention on draft day.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
As expected, Clowney was the talk of the combine.
The South Carolina pass-rusher put up some pretty gaudy numbers in line with his freak athleticism. His 4.53 40 time was impressive. He wasn’t perfect though. He only managed 21 reps in the bench press, though that shouldn’t effect his draft stock.
The biggest question concerning Clowney remains his work ethic. The team that drafts him will be gambling on getting a game-changing pass-rusher or a tremendous bust.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Louisville quarterback participated in only a handful of drills at the combine, but there wasn’t much to be gained in Indianapolis for Teddy Bridgewater.
Despite all the buzz surrounding Johnny Football, Bridgewater remains the top quarterback in this year’s class. Though Bridgewater didn’t throw or run the 40 at the combine, he still has his pro day to exhibit his natural talent.
3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins is a great example of the limitations of the combine as a scouting tool. Though the Clemons wide receiver didn’t post the most eye-popping numbers, he did nothing to hurt his stock. In fact, his 4.43 40 time proved impressive and possibly improved Watkins’ stock.
The Bucs don’t need the best 40 time or vertical jump. They need the best football player. That might be Watkins.
4. Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Unlike his peers Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, Bortles opted to participate in throwing drills at the combine. It may not do much for his stock, as he’s still competing against Bridgewater and Manziel to be the top quarterback taken.
The Houston Texans are reportedly interested in taking Bortles with the first overall pick, but nothing is certain at this point. As impressive as Bortles appears, NFL teams have to question whether his college production can translate to the NFL.
5. Khalil Mack, DE, Buffalo
Small school prospects can benefit the most from the combine, and Buffalo DE/OLB Khalil Mack is no exception. His combine performance was impressive across the board. Mack is the best pass-rusher in this year’s draft behind Jadeveon Clowney. His speed and power rival Clowney’s and he doesn’t have the same effort concerns.
6. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Robinson further molded his man-beast image at the combine by clocking in an eye-popping 4.92 40 time. He literally outran men two-thirds his size.
The Auburn tackle’s freak athleticism could offset any questions about the lack of refinement in his technique.
Robinson has a chance to leapfrog his more NFL-ready peer, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, just as Eric Fisher had with Luke Joeckel last year.
7. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews didn’t have much to prove at the NFL combine. His work at tackle for Texas A&M speaks for itself. His technique is impeccable and could start for an NFL team immediately. The Bucs may ask OT Donald Penn to take a pay cut or just release him outright. In that case, Matthews might be the top player available when the Bucs are on the clock, and he would likely come off the board.
8. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma St.
Quarterbacks and pass-rushers have gotten most of the attention this draft season, but guys like Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert are quietly climbing up draft boards.
Gilbert made a splash at the combine with his 4.37 40 time. His speed and fluidity make him an ideal NFL corner. CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported earlier this week that NFL teams have inquired as to the possibility of a trade for Bucs CB Darrelle Revis. Should the Bucs decide to move Revis, Gilbert could shoot to the top of their draft board.
9. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Didn’t Johnny Football have a great combine?
Sure, but the Texas A&M quarterback is a great example of the limitations of the NFL combine. Manziel proved himself to be the one of the premiere athletes in this year’s quarterback class. There aren’t enough drills in this world to cover for Manziel’s uneven game tape.
ESPN’s Ron Jaworski said this week he didn’t think anyone should take Manziel in the first three rounds. Manziel can extend a play and make defenders miss, there’s no question.
However, the most effective quarterbacks in the NFL are proficient pocket passers. Manziel didn’t show he could be that quarterback during his college career, and any team that drafts him is taking a huge risk.
10. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Barr completes the triumvirate of the pass-rushers expected to be taken at the top of the draft. The combine did little to improve Barr’s draft stock. His measurables generally fell short to Khalil Mack’s numbers.
One of the most explosive players in this year’s draft, Barr looks like he would be most useful as a 3-4 linebacker. While his combine performance didn’t move him up the board, Barr already has the credentials to be taken in the top ten.
11. Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt
Has any player flown up draft boards this year as fast as Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald?
Granted, most pro scouts likely knew this months ago, but perception is always a step behind reality during draft season. Donald is not only an ideal 3-technique defensive tackle, he’s an athletic monster. He ran a 4.65 40 at the combine.
Let that sink in, as a team in need of an explosive interior pass-rusher wrings its hands, hoping Donald falls to them.
12. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Mike Evans won’t blow anyone away with speed, as his 4.53 40 time confirmed, but he remains the second wide receiver on the board. Evans is often compared to Bucs WR Vincent Jackson due to his size and ability to make a catch in traffic. If the comparisons hold true, the team that drafts Evans will have a reliable primary option in the passing game.
13. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Michigan tackle impressed at the combine pretty much across the board. Lewan captured the best broad jump among offensive linemen with 117 inches. His athleticism would help him fit in either a zone or power-man blocking scheme. He plays with a nasty streak, but that can also get him into trouble with penalties and the occasional mental mistake.
14. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan St.
Dennard did not post a blazing 40 time at the combine, with only a 4.51, but it should not hurt his stock much. The Michigan State cornerback plays with deceptive speed and power. His measurables don’t do his actual play much justice. He may need some seasoning, but he is a hard-nosed press corner who’s going to make receivers fight for every inch.
15. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida St.
Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan had a respectable combine, but he was overshadowed by Aaron Donald. Like Donald, Jernigan projects best as a 3-technique lineman. His ability to disrupt an offensive line will make him a target of teams like the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys.
16. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Arguably the best tight end in this year’s draft, Ebron is a special athlete who looks like he will be a special playmaker in the NFL. He looked speedy and powerful at the combine with his 4.6 40 time and 120 inch broad jump. If the Bucs are looking for a game-changing offensive weapon, Ebron would be a solid option if they can trade down.
17. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno St.
The three quarterbacks at the top of the draft have dominated the conversation on potential franchise quarterbacks, but Derek Carr is fighting to be included. Though he is about as raw as Bortles or Manziel, Carr’s combine performance showed he belongs among the best athletes in the quarterback class. After an impressive effort at the Senior Bowl and a solid combine, Carr should not make it out of the first round.
18. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Ealy is fighting to remain in the conversation of best pass-rushers of this year’s draft. He plays faster than his 4.92 40 time. The Missouri defensive end is a fluid athlete who uses both speed and pass rush moves to get to the quarterback. He is definitely a bit raw and will need to work on tightening up his body and his technique, but his upside is undeniable.
19. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley limited his participation in the Combine but his stock doesn't need the help.
According to B/R's Matt Miller, Mosley is the best middle linebacker in this year's draft and is near the top of some NFL teams' draft boards. Mosley's instincts are off the charts and will be a real asset to any defense. However, the Bucs have much greater needs than middle linebacker, so it's unlikely Mosley will get the call.
20. Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Notre Dame OT Zack Martin does not have the same upside as other tackles further up the board, but he’s still a first-round talent. His technique might be the best of any the offensive linemen in this year’s class, which will would be of great use to a team in need of a starting tackle now.
21. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Why isn’t anyone talking more about Marqise Lee? The USC wideout should be in the conversation of best wide receivers in this year’s draft class, but he is overshadowed by several of his contemporaries. His 4.51 40 time is pedestrian and, objectively, he’s not the most impressive athlete. However, he is an outstanding football player who just seems to get “it.”
22. Ha'Sean (Ha Ha) Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
This year's draft is not very top-heavy, but Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the far-and-away leader of the pack. He's quick to diagnose a play and isn't afraid to lay a hit, which can sometimes come back to bite him.
Clinton-Dix had an unremarkable combine, but the Bucs were unlikely to look at him anyways. With Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson firmly entrenched in the secondary, the Bucs won't be looking to add another safety so soon.
23. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida St.
Another big-bodied receiver, Kelvin Benjamin was not expected to blow away anyone at the combine with his speed. He confirmed his less-than-ideal speed with a 4.61 40 time. Benjamin's game is the mismatch with his massive 6'5", 240-pound frame. However, the Bucs need speed on offense, so Benjamin won't be very high on their board.
24. Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Good luck finding a bigger man in this year's draft. Notre Dame's Louis Nix III eats up space and blockers with his 331-pound frame, and that's after he lost 23 pounds per the Chicago Tribune's Dan Wiederer. The combine did nothing for Nix, but his pre-combine preparation proved Nix has the drive to improve his game and that can't be ignored by NFL teams.
25. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Big athletic tight ends are en vogue in the NFL nowadays and Jace Amaro fits the mold perfectly. The Texas Tech tight end dominated at the combine, acing pretty much every drill. There's no question about Amaro's athleticism, but he has some character concerns, including an arrest for credit card abuse in 2012. Lovie Smith made it clear he won't tolerate troublemakers, so Amaro might not be too high on the Bucs' draft board.
26. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
It's hard to feel too bad for Dee Ford. First he proclaimed he was superior to Jadeveon Clowney. Then he was held out of the combine's drills on account of a 2011 surgery to repair a herniated disc, according to NFL.com's Steve Wyche.
The Auburn defensive end was the victim of circumstance and his own big mouth.
He's still one of the top pass-rushers in the draft, but he doesn't have the same athleticism as some of his contemporaries.
27. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
It seems like every draft now has to have a small but speedy receiver shoot to the top of every team's draft boards. This year it is LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. He's the quick and shifty slot receiver that NFL quarterbacks need to work the defensive interior.
Beckham's shuttle and 40 times at the combine ranked among the best in the wide receiver class. He may be too specialized to be taken very high, but he's a surefire first-round pick.
28. David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Guard is another position that is not top-heavy in this year's draft. Stanford's David Yankey sits at the top of the class for his effective, if unspectacular, play. His combine numbers were nothing special, but Yankey just gets the job done.
The Bucs had some real problems with their guards in 2013. Though they have a lot of money invested in Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, the Bucs can't afford for the interior of their line to implode for another year.
32. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Verrett was one of the fastest defensive backs at the combine this year, recording a 4.38 40 time. Despite his size, Verrett is an impressive man-press cornerback. He may need to find a way to add some bulk in order to survive in the NFL. However, his football skills can't be denied and deserves an early look in the draft.
30. Xavier S’ua-Filo, OG, UCLA
S'ua-Filo is an athletic and versatile guard who played out of position at UCLA. His biggest asset is his quick feet, demonstrated by his 4.44 shuttle time. While he looks like an ideal zone-blocking lineman, he has the power and explosion to play in a power-man scheme as well.
31. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Van Noy is a bit of a tweener. He's got the pass rush abilities of a 3-4 outside linebacker, but could play as a linebacker in a 4-3 defense as well. He plays fast and is well built. His combine numbers aren't impressive, but they weren't disappointing either.
The Bucs could be in the market for a strong side linebacker with both Dekoda Watson and Jonathan Casillas entering free agency. Van Noy's versatility and athleticism would fill the void that Watson and Casillas leave behind.
32. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
There are instances where the combine can damage a player's draft stock. Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is one such case.
According to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, "several" NFL teams failed Kouandjio on his physical on account of his arthritic knees. Kouandjio is a raw talent and failing the medical exam can offset that talent. He's still a top talent and should still be taken early.