Buccaneers Trading Mike Williams Opens Up Big Possibilities in NFL Draft

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterApril 4, 2014

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams waves during an NFL football training camp Monday, July 29, 2013, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara

Obviously fed up with the off-the-field issues from Mike Williams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded the wide receiver to the Buffalo Bills Friday for a sixth-round draft pick.

ESPN.com reporter James Walker was the first to report the news.

Williams was hospitalized on March 24 after being stabbed in the thigh in his home by his brother, as reported by ESPN. Speaking of that home, Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Williams treated his upscale property in a gated community more like a fraternity house, with parties and late-night noise the norm.

While renting a 5,400-square-foot home in Lutz, Williams' lifestyle resulted in at least five calls to 911 in a four-month stretch last year. He racked up nearly $50,000 in damages to the house.

Neighbors told stories about party-goers showing up in stretch limos at 4 in the morning and cars tearing up yards and demolishing sprinkler heads, not to mention mattresses found on the front lawn, as if the whole thing was a deleted scene from Project X.

"There's a pattern here and it's disturbing," Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith commented at the NFL combine to Greg Auman and Rick Stroud of the Times. “No one is bigger than this football team. He has to understand that.”

According to Stroud, Bucs general manager Jason Licht called every team in the league to inquire about a trade. The Bills were one of just a few that showed interest.

Now that Tampa Bay has finally traded Williams, what does that do for the team’s draft strategy?

The first impression from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller is that Tampa Bay would be forced to take a wide receiver early in the draft to replace Williams. This is a sound argument.

Currently the Bucs have seven wide receivers. Vincent Jackson, the No. 1 option, caught 78 passes last season. After Jackson, Chris Owusu (13 receptions), Louis Murphy (6), Eric Page (4), Skye Dawson (2), Russell Shepard (0) and Tommy Streeter (0) combined for 25 receptions in 2013.

Miller is absolutely correct, Tampa Bay needs help at wide receiver, and the Bucs need help in a hurry.

Let’s look at five scenarios—and rank them from most likely to least—the Bucs can put into play during the 2014 draft in May.


Scenario No. 1

The most likely option for the Bucs on May 8 is for them to stay put and select former Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans, who should be around when Tampa Bay picks at No 7 overall.

Evans is without a doubt the No. 2 receiver in the draft (behind Sammy Watkins, formerly of Clemson) and has been slotted in many mocks to be picked anywhere from pick No. 10 to No. 17. While grabbing him with the seventh pick is a bit of a reach, he’s got the talent worthy of such a high selection.

After Evans caught 69 passes last season for 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns, he was named first-team All-SEC and a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. During his two-year career at Texas A&M (Evans redshirted his freshman year), he caught 151 passes and eclipsed 1,000 yards both years.

At 6’5” and 231 pounds, Evans has terrific size and is more than able to use that size to pick footballs out of the air and shield himself from defenders.

Adding him to the Bucs’ depth chart opposite Jackson would look awfully appealing to Josh McCown, Tampa Bay’s new starting quarterback.


Scenario No. 2

We all know Smith has his eyes on a mysterious “franchise quarterback” with the seventh pick in the draft.

“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," the Tampa Bay Times reported from Smith's press conference at the combine. "Whenever you have a chance to get a franchise quarterback, you have to consider that."

My guess is that mystery guy is former Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr. But whoever Smith covets, he’s likely going to have to pull the trigger on him in the first round. There’s a chance the Bucs could move down a bit and draft Carr, but if Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater is the object of desire, Tampa Bay needs to grab him at No. 7.

There are two reasons why Smith may push the Bucs to still draft a quarterback in the first round. The first reason is that Smith seems enamored with the idea. It could be a complete smokescreen, but if it's not and Smith really likes the idea, then it's the worst kept secret of all time.

Another reason why it may be safe to bypass a receiver at No. 7 is because this draft is loaded with wide receiver talent. The Bucs could get their quarterback of the future at No. 7, and then come back at No. 38 and grab a pass-catcher. He wouldn’t be the level of Evans or Watkins but still a solid option.


Scenario No. 3

Tampa Bay doesn’t necessarily have to take a wide receiver at No. 7, there’s another quality pass-catcher in the draft in former North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron.

Ebron caught 62 passes for the Tar Heels in 2013 and was an enormous part of their offense. He pulled in only three touchdowns but tallied 973 yards through the air.

If the Bucs grabbed Ebron with the seventh pick, they’d be getting an incredibly athletic receiver who will immediately create mismatches in the middle of the field. He grabs almost anything thrown in his direction and does well as a ball-carrier after the reception.

Taking Ebron at No. 7 is another slight reach, just like Evans would be. Mock drafts have him going anywhere from No. 9 to 18th overall. But there’s no arguing his talent either. According to Daniel Kim of NFL.com, many scouts see Ebron as a Jimmy Graham clone, maybe even better.

"He is the best tight-end prospect I have evaluated since Kellen Winslow Jr.," Lande told Kim. "Although many are projecting that teams like the Ravens and Jets will be interested in him, a number of NFL people I've spoken with recently believe he will be selected in the top 12, because he is a rare talent who could be better than Jimmy Graham."


Scenario No. 4

The Buccaneers have already made a huge splash in free agency, maybe even the biggest of any NFL team. Why not continue that trend in the draft?

While not as likely as staying at No. 7 to take Evans, a quarterback or Ebron, Tampa Bay may consider moving up to grab Watkins.

Watkins left Clemson as the Tigers’ all-time leader in receptions (240), receiving yards per game (94.2), tied for first in receiving touchdowns (27) and second in all-purpose yards (5,129), according to Clemson’s athletic department.

He caught 101 passes last season for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns and is considered not only the best receiver in the draft but one of the two best athletes (Jadeveon Clowney can lay claim to being the top athlete). Watkins has incredible speed and agility and can easily grab passes that most other receivers would find troublesome.

Adding Watkins across from Jackson would instantly turn Tampa Bay’s offense into a threatening one, but it’s likely too expensive. Smith is trying to turn the Tampa Bay franchise around. And while getting Watkins would help, the Bucs would likely have to give up next year’s first-round pick, or a slew of lower-round picks.

That’s not good business for a franchise that’s right on the cusp of making noise.


Scenario No. 5

There is a possibility that Tampa Bay will stand pat at No. 7 and pick the best player available. With so many different scenarios possibly unfolding in the first six picks in the draft, there’s no telling what might fall to the Bucs.

It might be an offensive tackle like Jake Matthews or one of the plethora of quarterbacks considered worthy of top-10 consideration. Or stud outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr might be there for the taking.

The Bucs are in need of a pass-rusher, so scenarios that bring Barr or Mack to Tampa Bay would fill a hole. The good thing about taking the best player available is that it opens up many possibilities, even the option of trading down.


Trading Down

While trading down from the seventh pick is fine if the Buccaneers are set with taking the best player available, it’s a bad idea if Licht thinks he can move down to take either Evans or Ebron, who were mentioned above as slight reach picks.

If the Bucs want Evans, there are only two options for a trade-down scenario: Minnesota at No. 8 and Buffalo at No. 9. The Bills could be looking for an offensive tackle at No. 9, which would mean they might not trade up. But the Vikings need a quarterback, they might make the one-spot move—especially if Smith has sold the league on his desire for a quarterback.

But the Bucs can’t trade back past the Detroit Lions at No. 10 because there’s a possibility Detroit would grab Evans.

If Ebron is the Bucs' target, there is only one option for Tampa Bay to move down: the Vikings. The Bills are most frequently linked to an offensive tackle, but there are some, like Bucky Brooks of NFL.com, who have the Bills taking Ebron.

It’s just not safe enough for the Bucs to trade back if they want Evans or Ebron. But if it’s the best player available Licht and Smith want, trading down to pick up extra selections might not be a bad idea.

Trading away Williams hurts the Buccaneers' depth. In fact it really did a number on it. But the move was considered necessary by the franchise, and now Tampa Bay must regroup for the draft.

There are a number of big possibilities for the Bucs in May at the draft. It’s important for the new Smith-Licht regime in Tampa Bay to make the right move or moves.


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.


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