Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Top Needs, Fits for 2015 NFL Draft to Build for the Future
Rome may not have been built in a day but fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't expect to see their 4-12 potential empire of 2014 regress to a 2-14 version last season.
After overhauling a huge chunk of the roster last offseason, the Bucs don't look much different than they did a year ago. There are still gaping holes on the offensive line, a severe lack of pass-rush talent and a huge question mark at the quarterback position.
The silver lining? The Bucs are in position to get their new franchise quarterback with this year's No. 1 overall draft pick, and a deep class of pass-rushers and offensive linemen should allow them to find starters at key need areas in the following rounds.
Here's a look at the Bucs' top needs heading into the 2015 draft, and the prospects they should be targeting to help take their rebuilding project in the right direction this season.
There's no need to sugarcoat it: the Bucs need a franchise quarterback, and they're in perfect position to get one with the top overall pick in this year's draft. Regardless of potential trade-down scenarios, the Bucs need to stay put at No. 1 and take a swing on a new face for their franchise, even if either option comes with some risk.
Jameis Winston, Florida State
Winston is the most pro-ready of the top quarterback prospects in this year's draft, and his leadership qualities are exactly what NFL teams are looking for in a franchise signal-caller. Tampa Bay's decision-makers don't seem to be bothered by Winston's off-field issues, and it seems more likely every day that he'll be strapping on a pewter helmet in 2015.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
He's quite the dark-horse candidate at this point, but there's still an outside chance the Bucs could take Mariota with the top pick. A squeaky-clean prospect off the field, Mariota's concerns come between the lines, where many are concerned about his ability to transition from the Ducks' spread attack to a pro-style offense.
2. Defensive End
The Bucs were already hunting for pass-rush help before cutting their losses with Michael Johnson, but now they're incredibly thin at the position and simply must address it early in the draft. Tampa Bay fans shouldn't be surprised to see their team come away with two new defensive ends before the draft is over.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA
More than just the most unique name in this year's draft, "Diggy" is a versatile force who has yet to scratch the surface of his potential as a pass-rusher. Multiple hip surgeries are concerning, but if he can stay healthy, the former Bruin could end up being fantastic value if he slides to the second round.
Preston Smith, Mississippi State
Once considered a mid-round projection, Smith's name has entered the late-first round conversation as of late, per Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com. He's got the ideal frame for a 4-3 end at 6'5", 271 pounds, and while he's stout against the run, he also bends the edge far better than he's given credit for.
Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville
Considered by many to be a better fit as a 4-3 outside linebacker, Mauldin has the size and skill set to be an effective end in a 4-3. Mauldin has overcome a ton of adversity—he entered the foster system at just two years old—and is the type of hard-working, high-character player Lovie Smith covets.
Za'Darius Smith, Kentucky
One of my favorite players from this year's Senior Bowl practices, Smith isn't the most explosive edge-bender, but he's got the prototypical size for the position and uses power and length to be effective against both the run and pass. If he slips past Day 2, he'd be worth grabbing.
Lynden Trail, Norfolk State
One of the most intriguing natural athletes in the entire draft, Trail started his career at Florida before transferring to Norfolk State, where he dominated. He turned heads with his versatility during Senior Bowl week, making plays at both defensive end and linebacker, as well as lining up at tight end and beating defensive backs in one-on-one drills.
3. Offensive Tackle
Demar Dotson spent the last three games of 2015 at left tackle, but he is better suited and more experienced on the right side. In any event, the Bucs need to find a new starter in this draft to line up across from him, which means they need to spend an early pick on one. A Day 2 pick is most likely, but this year's class of tackles is rather deep, which could allow them to find one as late as the fourth round.
Jake Fisher, Oregon
One of the most athletic linemen in this year's class, Fisher is arguably the best pure left tackle prospect in the entire draft. The Ducks struggled without Fisher in their only loss of the regular season, and he would be able to start on the left side from Day 1 for the Bucs, allowing Dotson to stay at his more natural right tackle spot.
T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh
A raw prospect, Clemmings is more experienced at right tackle but has the skills to project favorably if moved to the left side. He underwhelmed a bit at the Senior Bowl, flashing his power and athleticism, but struggling with technique. This could allow him to slip out of the first round and into the Bucs' waiting arms.
Donovan Smith, Penn State
Smith is probably worthy of a late-Day 2 selection, but the depth of this year's tackle class could push him down into the early part of the fourth round. The Bucs met with Smith at the combine, so there appears to already be some interest there. An early graduate, Smith looked solid during Senior Bowl week.
Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin
Another player who impressed at the Senior Bowl, Havenstein could end up being one of the better values in this year's draft for anyone who needs a plug-and-play right tackle. A massive blocker with great punch and power, the former Badger could easily start from Day 1 on the right side for the Bucs, if they're comfortable with Dotson staying on the left side.
Logan Mankins will return on the left side, but the Bucs still need an upgrade at the starting right guard spot. The team is high on last year's fifth-round pick, Kadeem Edwards, but injuries kept him from developing as much as he could have last year. Tampa Bay should be able to find a Day 1 starter in the middle rounds.
Laken Tomlinson, Duke
My top-rated guard in this year's class, Tomlinson should come of the board in the first 50 picks but guards have been known to slip in the draft. He's got a great combination of strength, athleticism and balance, and if he somehow slips to the third round, the Bucs should waste no time making him the pick.
Tre' Jackson, Florida State
Another lineman who met with the Bucs at the combine, Jackson is massive and athletic, with good balance. He can hold his own against powerful interior pass-rushers and gets good leverage in the run game. He's more likely to be available in the third round and very well could be the Bucs' pick.
Jamil Douglas, Arizona State
A tackle for the Sun Devils, Douglas was asked to move inside to guard at the Senior Bowl, and he impressed all week long. He's powerful enough to get a strong push in the running game, but also athletic enough to handle pass-rushers up the middle. He should be high on the Bucs' list of targets early on Day 3.
5. Slot Receiver
The Bucs are set on the outside at receiver with Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, but they have very little depth behind them, and no true threat who can consistently make plays from the slot. This year's receiver class has plenty of options, though, some of whom could also make an immediate impact on special teams.
Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
A poor man's Brandin Cooks, Lockett is an explosive playmaker who is tailor-made to dominate from the slot at the next level. His ball skills and leaping ability allow him to play bigger than he's listed, and he puts that to good use in the red zone. A savvy route-runner with great technique, Lockett would be a steal in the third round.
Jamison Crowder, Duke
Crowder's lack of size didn't stop him from impressing at the Senior Bowl, where multiple defensive backs called him the most difficult receiver to cover during that week. He wins in the slot with quickness, technique and soft hands, and he would make an instant impact there and in the return game.
Tre' McBride, William & Mary
Arguably the most underrated receiver in the entire draft, McBride has the size and skill set to be an effective slot target in the short term for the Bucs, while eventually developing into a potential No. 2 target to replace Vincent Jackson. He's fantastic at the catch point with great ball skills and reliable hands, and he would be a huge steal any time on Day 3.
Rashad Greene, Florida State
Chemistry is vital between a quarterback and his receivers, and if Jameis Winston is indeed Tampa Bay's quarterback in 2015, grabbing one of his favorite targets to join him would be a wise move by the Bucs. Greene isn't the biggest or the fastest in this class, which could push him down into the fourth round. If that happens, don't be surprised if Tampa Bay reunites him with Winston, giving their new quarterback a smooth route-runner who knows how to separate and move the chains.
Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner are both solid starters on the outside, but there's not much quality depth behind them. Free-agent addition Sterling Moore should be an upgrade at the nickel spot, but I wouldn't be shocked if the Bucs try to find a younger player in this draft to develop in that role.
Steven Nelson, Oregon State
Arguably the most underrated corner in this year's class, Nelson is a bit undersized, but he has the complete skill set to be successful on the outside or in the slot. Nelson proved he could take on bigger receivers by handling Arizona State's Jaelen Strong last season, and he would be a great value in the third round.
Senquez Golson, Mississippi
If Tampa Bay wants one of the best tailor-made nickel corners in this draft, Golson might be their best bet. Too small for the outside at just 5'9", Golson's instincts and knack for creating turnovers would make him an ideal fit in the slot corner role.
Quandre Diggs, Texas
The Bucs are more likely to address the position on Day 3, and Diggs should be near the top of their list of targets in that range. He's not as fast as some would like, but the nickel role in the Tampa 2 doesn't require blazing speed, but rather instincts and toughness, which Diggs clearly brings to the table.
Bobby McCain, Memphis
A late-round target with great quickness, instincts and ball skills, McCain tallied 19 defended passes and 11 interceptions over his last 22 starts. A skilled return specialist, as well, McCain could make an instant impact on special teams while developing as a slot corner.
7. Return Specialist
Tampa Bay cycled through a handful of different return specialists last year but never found a consistent contributor. It's not a need they'll have to focus on until Day 3, but they'd be wise to spend one of their late-round picks on finding an explosive player who can make an immediate impact.
Mario Alford, West Virginia
If the Bucs are looking for blazing speed, they won't find anyone more capable in that department than Alford, who lit up the stopwatches at the Mountaineers' pro day with a 4.27 40-yard dash. He's unlikely to make an impact as a receiver, which could push him into the late rounds and make him a great value for the Bucs.
Ty Montgomery, Stanford
One of the more disappointing players at the Senior Bowl—from measuring far shorter than he was listed at 5'11", to dropping far too many passes—Montgomery might not have a ton of value as a pure receiver, but he still boasts plenty of talent as a return man. If he's still on the board in the fifth round, the Bucs could spend one of their two picks in that round on him.
Evan Dietrich-Smith was signed as a free agent last offseason to provide an upgrade over the departed Jeremy Zuttah, but the veteran struggled for most of the season, from mental errors to just plain ineffectiveness. He should return as the starter, but the Bucs would be wise to look for a young talent to develop behind him over the next year or two.
They won't need to spend an early pick at this spot, but there are some attractive late-round options the Bucs should target.
Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech
A versatile player who can play either guard or center, Mason impressed during Senior Bowl week with his combination of power and quickness, holding his own against some of the top interior defensive linemen in the country. He'd be a valuable addition in the later rounds who could provide depth at both positions.
Max Garcia, Florida
Another player with experience at both guard and center, Garcia won't wow you with any particular trait, but he's a hard-working team captain who is a great presence in the locker room. His functional strength, versatility and intangibles would make him more than worth a late-round pick if he's still on the board.