Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins has the game-changing skills to be drafted in the first seven picks of the 2014 NFL draft. But because of team needs, it’s not a given that anyone will pull the trigger on the man who caught 101 passes and scored 12 touchdowns last season, and that should include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
What is known about the first six picks of the upcoming NFL draft on May 8—and by known think wild, somewhat substantiated guesses made by people not employed by any team—is that quarterbacks will go quickly and early, mixed in with some pass-rush specialists and possibly an offensive tackle.
When the Buccaneers are on the clock with the seventh pick in the draft, Watkins will likely be available. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports has Tampa Bay taking Watkins in the first round.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: Watkins would give the offense a big-play threat to go with Vincent Jackson.
The allure is understandable.
Tampa Bay never really found a third receiving threat last year to play beside Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. When Williams went down with a hamstring injury and was put on injured reserve, the need for another capable receiver was accentuated.
Watkins fits that bill. He could come in and learn from the duo already in place in Tampa, and then eventually take over as the No. 1 threat for the Buccaneers. Watkins is that good.
But there are so many other greater needs for this team.
Williams will likely be back with the Bucs in 2014. He’s found himself in legal trouble, but according to The Tampa Tribune, Williams’ attorney believes the matter will be resolved before it ever goes to trial. And while injury and legal troubles might make the new coaching and front-office regime consider cutting Williams—especially since he’s in line for nearly $2.8 million in various bonuses this season—parting ways with him would be too costly for Tampa Bay.
According to Pat Yasinskas at ESPN.com, cutting Williams would cost the Buccaneers $6.4 million against the team’s salary cap. That’s too tough a pill to swallow.
That said, if both Jackson and Williams are back with the Bucs in 2014, using the team’s first-round draft pick on Watkins seems more luxury that anything. Sure the offense would get a huge boost, but the rest of the roster would suffer, and there’s great need elsewhere.
It’s quickly becoming obvious that a rabid pass rush is necessary in the NFL.
Look no farther than Tampa Bay’s own division to see that the teams last year that could get after opposing quarterbacks, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, were playoff teams. Tampa Bay and the Atlanta Falcons, teams with little success rushing the passer, didn’t fare well and are picking in the first seven picks in the draft.
Using Prisco’s mock draft, one of the three top pass-rush specialists in the draft, UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, would be available when the Bucs picked at No. 7. There are other mock drafts out there—ones by NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks, for example, as well as Pat Kirwan at CBS Sports—where two of the top pass-rushers are available, Barr and Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack.
Tampa Bay finished tied for 23rd in the NFL with only 35 sacks last season, and the Bucs were a middle-of-the-pack 17th in passing yards allowed. A boost in pass-rush ability would truly benefit this team.
This year’s draft is very good for offensive tackles, which is great for Tampa Bay because the Bucs desperately need help along the offensive line.
Right now the Bucs have about $113.9 million spent toward the 2014 salary cap. If the new league salary cap lands around the $130 million mark, that would give Tampa Bay just over $16.1 million to spend in free agency. Add in a few roster cuts, and the Bucs could go shopping on the free-agent market and bring in one, possibly two additions on the offensive line to help. If that happens, don’t look for this team to use its No. 7 pick on another offensive lineman.
If, however, Tampa Bay goes elsewhere in free agency, it’s possible that Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews would be available when the Bucs picked. Matthews would be a great find and fill a huge need.
The Quarterback Scenario
New head coach Lovie Smith raised eyebrows at the NFL combine when he said that the Bucs may consider a quarterback with their first pick in the draft. It seemed to be a matter of one of the top-notch passers falling to No. 7. If that happened, Tampa Bay may jump, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.
I know enough about that draft to know, yeah, there’s someone that would be worthy of the seventh pick because everything is on the board right now. Whenever you have a chance to get a franchise quarterback, you have to consider that.
The Bucs have only Mike Glennon and Mike Kafka under contract, and need to add two quarterbacks before training camp. If Smith truly isn’t enamored with Glennon as Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback, grabbing a franchise quarterback in the first round might make sense.
It’s widely assumed Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel will all be taken prior to Tampa Bay’s pick at No. 7. Would one of those three passers need to fall for Smith and the Bucs to draft a quarterback here? Or is Derek Carr the man Smith believes is that “franchise quarterback”?
While Watkins might be the most dynamic player of anyone mentioned above, the Bucs just can’t afford to use their first-round pick on a wide receiver. For immediate help, a pass-rusher or an offensive lineman makes more sense and fills a bigger need.
Even the quarterback position may be a bigger area of need than receiver—it’s definitely more of a concern right now as no one knows if Smith really believes Glennon is the right option under center.
What this all means is that if Watkins is still on the board when Tampa Bay picks, the Bucs should pass and let the Minnesota Vikings decide if they want him.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.