With the Bucs having spent all of their six draft picks to improve their league-worst offense from last season, this year’s crop of rookies should have a sizable impact. At least two of the newest Buccaneers should start from Day 1 and be counted on in big ways.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most compelling rookie storylines for the Bucs during OTA season.
The Bucs receiving corps will look much different in 2014, and this year’s draft class will have plenty to do with that. Tampa spent its first two picks on playmakers with impressive size and athleticism, hoping to give quarterback Josh McCown enough weapons to be successful.
Mike Evans has already shown off his hands and leaping ability at rookie minicamp, proving that he can play even bigger than his 6’5” frame suggests:
Lined up across from Vincent Jackson, who is also 6’5”, Evans will give the Bucs a pair of targets that closely resemble what McCown had to work with in Chicago last year in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Evans not only is a huge upgrade as a No. 2 receiver over what the Bucs currently had on the roster, but also will likely have a bigger impact than Mike Williams would have, had he not been traded.
Another 6’5” target, Austin Seferian-Jenkins will give the Bucs a presence at tight end that just wasn’t previously present on the roster. Brandon Myers was signed in free agency, and Tim Wright was a pleasant surprise as a rookie last season, but neither will create the mismatches for opposing defenses that Seferian-Jenkins will.
These concepts make sense on paper, but OTAs will be an opportunity to see how they translate to the practice field. The Bucs’ strength is still expected to be on defense, which should make a good first test for the team’s revamped passing attack.
The Sims Effect
Plenty of Bucs fans were left scratching their heads when the team spent its third-round pick on a running back. Tampa Bay already had a fairly deep lineup in the backfield, while other needs seemed more pressing.
But now that Charles Sims is a Buccaneer, fans may quickly see why the team was willing to take him rather than filling a bigger need. Though Sims is indeed an impressive runner with excellent vision and quickness, it’s his receiving ability that has the Bucs coaching staff the most excited:
Doug Martin is still entrenched as the starter, and both Mike James and Bobby Rainey had impressive stretches in relief of Martin while he was injured last season. However, James is recovering from a season-ending broken ankle, and Rainey was a waiver-wire pickup whose ceiling might be limited.
Sims reminds head coach Lovie Smith of Matt Forte, so don’t be shocked to see the rookie get first crack as Martin’s change-of-pace substitute. He’s also likely to get plenty of action as a receiver, both out of the backfield and from the slot.
One of the biggest needs the Bucs had on paper heading into the 2014 NFL draft was at guard, as well as overall depth along the entire offensive line.
This being the case, it was quite a surprise to most observers that the Bucs waited until the fifth round to address the position, though the team did spend back-to-back picks on linemen. Tennessee State guard Kadeem Edwards was drafted with the fifth-rounder the Bucs already owned, and just six picks later, the team traded up for Purdue tackle Kevin Pamphile.
With Carl Nicks still targeting a return closer to training camp, the Bucs will be fairly thin at guard during OTAs. Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins will likely man the starting spots for the time being, but the confident Edwards is gunning for a starting role.
Similarly, the Bucs don’t have much depth at the tackle spot, either. Behind starters Demar Dotson and Anthony Collins, the swing tackle spot could be up for grabs. Pamphile took snaps as the second-team left tackle during the team’s first set of OTAs, and even a rookie free agent such as local product Matt Patchan could see plenty of action as well.
Sixth Round to Slot Starter?
It’s rare that a sixth-round pick is able to make much of an immediate impact in the NFL, but wide receiver Robert Herron might just be the exception to the rule for the Bucs in 2014.
Mike Evans will obviously start opposite Vincent Jackson at receiver, but the starting slot receiver role looks to be up for grabs. Veteran free agents Louis Murphy and Lavelle Hawkins will vie for the spot, but Herron could end up being the best fit for the position.
What the Wyoming product lacks in size he makes up for in speed, quickness and the ability to create separation. Herron impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl, and it was a surprise to many that he was still available in the sixth round.
He’ll likely be able to make an early impact in the return game as well, but don’t be surprised to see Herron emerge as the leading candidate to be the Bucs’ top slot target.
The Bottom Line
With a team that has been overhauled as much as the Bucs have this offseason, OTAs will be vital for building chemistry among both new faces and familiar ones. Though free agency has brought in plenty of fresh talent, there’s no doubt that this year’s draft class will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact in Tampa Bay.