NFL1000: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017 NFL Draft Preview

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2017

NFL1000: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017 NFL Draft Preview

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    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    When the Buccaneers replaced head coach Lovie Smith with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter before the 2016 season, the hope was that Koetter, in conjunction with new defensive coordinator Mike Smith, would take the franchise to playoff contention. That wasn't an unreasonable hope, though the Bucs hadn't had a winning record since 2010 and haven't made the playoffs since 2007—Jon Gruden's penultimate year with the team. 

    Tampa Bay finished with a 9-7 record—short of the playoffs—but there's reason to believe things are looking up. Adding to the physical threat of Mike Evans at wide receiver and the red-zone excellence of tight end Cameron Brate, the Bucs signed former Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson to a three-year, $35 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. The pact gives the team a serious speed threat and a fully evolved passing game for quarterback Jameis Winston. Given Winston's acumen with the deep ball, this could be a scary group.

    The defense improved under Smith, though there are still needs at safety, inside linebacker and pass-rusher, and the cornerback situation is in flux. Second-round rookie defensive end Noah Spence showed the ability to get after the quarterback, but he needs a young book end. If 2016 first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves can maintain the strong second half of his rookie season, he has No. 1 cornerback potential.

    The Falcons are still the top pick in the NFC South, but if Tampa Bay can maintain what it has and accentuate it with a strong draft, the franchise may get back to the postseason for the first time since Gruden was just another football coach.


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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The NFL1000 team of scouts graded a series of important attributes for every player in their positional review. Using a scale starting at zero and going up to anywhere from five to 50 based on the position and the attribute, our scouts graded each player based on their own expertise and countless hours of tape review. Our evaluators had specific positional assignments based on their proven fields of expertise.

    Each corresponding position slide was written by the assigned scout.


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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Scheme: Air Coryell/Power


    Starter: Jameis Winston

    NFL1000 Score: 67.9/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 22/38

    Jameis Winston put up his second straight 4,000-yard season, and the arrow is pointing up. In his third year, he'll be able to throw to DeSean Jackson, the Bucs' big free-agent addition, which is a huge need for a power-based vertical offense with a big-armed quarterback.

    What Winston needs to do to meet the talent around him is to continue to improve his mechanics. There are times when he seems to believe he can make any throw that comes to his mind, and like most young, physically gifted quarterbacks, he'll need to learn when it's a good time to live for the next play. If that happens, and the Winston/Jackson combination works as well as anticipated, the quarterback could easily catapult himself into top-10 status.


    Backup: Ryan Griffin

    NFL1000 Scores: Did not have enough snaps to qualify

    Claimed on waivers from the Saints in September 2015, Ryan Griffin was given a $1.8 million tender by the Bucs in March, and all signs point to Griffin as Winston's backup in place of Mike Glennon. An undrafted quarterback out of Tulane, Griffin doesn't have a cannon for an arm, but the Bucs clearly think he's worth developing.


    Backup: Sean Renfree

    NFL1000 Scores: Did not have enough snaps to qualify

    A seventh-round pick of the Falcons in 2013, Sean Renfree had a bit of garbage-time production in 2015 but has been relegated to backup roles throughout his NFL career. He's a decent pocket passer with velocity issues when trying to push the ball downfield.

    Team Need: 6/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Brad Kaaya, Miami; Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech; Chad Kelly, Mississippi

Running Back

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Scheme: Power/West Coast


    Starter: Doug Martin

    NFL1000 Scores: 72.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 21/82

    Doug Martin had an up-and-down campaign in 2016 after signing a big contract the previous offseason. Martin battled a hamstring injury and started the year by earning a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs the first three games of 2017. When healthy, and not suspended, Martin is a solid starting running back.

    Martin was never the same after the hamstring injury, and that showed in his 2.9-yards-per-carry average last season. He has has good feet, vision and patience to be a good inside runner. He looks to get upfield and lower his shoulders on contact. He can make defenders miss and always fights for extra yards.

    Martin doesn't have elite speed, but because of his patience, he is a good outside runner. He is good at letting his blockers set up the hole. Martin is functional in the passing game but excels as a pass blocker. He's also stout on contact and can handle blitzers.

    The runner has some major question marks right now, but when healthy, he still has franchise-back potential in this offense.


    Backup: Charles Sims

    NFL1000 Scores: 70/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 44/82

    After a career year in 2015, Charles Sims' season was derailed by injuries in 2016. Sims spent the majority of the campaign on injured reserve with a knee setback, returned, and then had a pectoral injury in Week 16 to end his season. Durability is a major question mark. When Sims is healthy, he is one of the better pass-catchers at running back in the league.

    Sims is a solid one-cut runner who looks to get vertical immediately. While he is a straight-line back, he has excellent feet, which help him cause defenders to miss in space. In the passing game he is a difference-maker. Sims can get open, possesses great hands and looks to get vertical. Tampa Bay needs him healthy to push the offense forward. Overall, he's a very good change-of-pace runner who should help balance Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers.


    Backup: Jacquizz Rodgers

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 50/82

    Rodgers was a good pickup for Tampa Bay in 2016, and it rewarded him for his efforts with a two-year extension this offseason. Rodgers is a smaller back at 5'6", but he's strong and well-built. He is a good inside runner with good feet and vision.

    He runs hard downhill and does not look to dance around. Rodgers lacks top-end speed to run away from secondary defenders, but he does have adequate play speed to get himself to the second level. He struggles outside the tackles because of that lack of explosive speed.

    Rodgers is solid in the pass game and operates well as a checkdown option. He's shown the ability to get open against bigger linebackers and is solid in pass protection. Rodgers is a solid third running back who can spot-start when injuries, or in Tampa Bay's case suspensions, pop up.


    Team Need: 5/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Alvin Kamara, Tennessee; Jamaal Williams, BYU; Joe Mixon, Oklahoma


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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    Scheme: Power/West Coast


    Starter: Austin Johnson

    NFL1000 Scores: Did not have enough snaps to register a grade

    Austin Johnson has bounced around in the NFL in his short career. In 2016 he spent time on the Saints and Buccaneers' practice squads. He has not played in an NFL game since 2015, and by no means is he a lock to make this roster. Even if he plays well in training camp, the Buccaneers could choose to not use a fullback, like they did in 2016.


    Team Need: 2/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None. Tampa doesn't use a fullback much in its offense.   

Wide Receiver

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Scheme: Air Coryell

    Starter: Mike Evans

    NFL1000 Scores: 71.9/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 7/155

    For the third season in a row, Mike Evans went over the 1,000-yard barrier, increasing his yardage total in each campaign. In 2016, he caught 96 passes for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns. But what was more impressive is how he went about accumulating those stats. He's no longer racking up numbers in garbage time, but he's beating the best corners in the league each week.

    His most impressive game of the season came against Richard Sherman and the Seattle Seahawks. Evans beat Sherman for a touchdown twice, catching eight passes for 104 yards. Against one of the biggest, most dominant cornerbacks in the league, Evans showed that there is no corner who can handle him in one-on-one coverage.

    At just 23, Evans may have the highest ceiling of any receiver in the NFL. At 6'5", he has the size and speed to make it down the field with ease. His only weakness consists of concentration drops that seem to come and go. With DeSean Jackson on the opposite side in 2017, it should open up Evans underneath and make him a solid bet to catch 100-plus passes this year. Evans is one of the top 10 receivers in football, and it won't be shocking if he climbs into the top three next season.


    Starter: DeSean Jackson

    NFL1000 Scores: 68.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 32/155

    One of the top free agents on the market, Jackson jumped from Washington to Tampa Bay to fill the vacant No. 2 receiver position. A perfect complement to Evans, Jackson can occupy the safety to help free up Evans underneath.

    Jackson's greatest strength has always been his speed. But one underrated area of his game is his ability to track the ball while it's in the air. If the ball is thrown somewhat on target to Jackson, rarely is it not hauled in. When you combine his speed and ability to track the ball, there's seldom a ball he can't get to. He doesn't win in the air, but he knows how to use his body to position himself so a defender can't get in his way. He's mastered the ability to get deep for a smaller receiver, and no one in the league can fill the deep-threat role as well as him.

    He's also expanded his game over the past few years. He's no longer just a one-trick pony who runs deep. Jackson has become a reliable receiver on slants, digs, corner and out patterns, where he can use his ability to get in and out of his breaks to separate from defenders with ease.

    There's no apparent loss of any of his twitchiness, and his speed is just as good as it was when he was a rookie. His stats might suffer, as he won't be a target hog in Tampa Bay, but he's a perfect fit in the young, explosive Bucs offense.


    Backup: Adam Humphries

    NFL1000 Scores: 65.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 71/155

    Adam Humphries worked out of the slot in 2016, racking up 622 yards on 55 catches. But despite the high catch totals, he's just not a dynamic player and isn't much more than a low-end starter in the slot who provides a low ceiling. He's best suited as a team's fourth or fifth receiver, but he's competent enough to handle a modest workload.

    He will likely compete with a rookie or a veteran free agent for a job and time in the slot. He turns 24 in June, but there's just not much upside in the former Clemson receiver.


    Backup: Freddie Martino

    NFL1000 Scores: 59.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 138/155

    Freddie Martino played a limited role in 2016, catching eight passes for 142 yards in 13 games. Martino will enter his fourth year in the NFL, and it's unlikely he makes the 53-man roster as the Buccaneers will probably bring in someone in the draft to replace him.


    Backup: Josh Huff

    NFL1000 Scores: 61.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 119/155

    Josh Huff was signed to the Buccaneers' practice squad in November after washing out in Philadelphia. In 10 games, Huff caught 16 passes for 113 yards in Tampa Bay and Philly combined last year. He's a special teams player who can provide some speed to the offense from the slot. Huff is serviceable as a fourth or fifth receiver.


    Team Need: 4/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Ryan Switzer, UNC; Carlos Henderson, LA Tech; Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma

Tight End

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Scheme: Air Coryell


    Starter: Cameron Brate

    NFL1000 Scores: 67.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 15/96

    Cameron Brate is a former undrafted free agent who signed with the Buccaneers in 2014 as a role player behind Austin Seferian-Jenkins. After outperforming Seferian-Jenkins in camp and early during the year, Brate became a nice piece for the Buccaneers offense, especially in the red zone.

    Brate's ability to win in contested areas and his toughness make him an ideal player when facing Cover 2 defenses. He's not afraid to use his body to absorb contact and still make a play on the ball. Most teams are forced to bracket or double Mike Evans, allowing Brate to pick apart single coverage.

    With DeSean Jackson likely occupying more attention on the outside, Brate may see even more favorable coverage in 2017. Look for Brate's numbers to rise as Jackson and Evans attract attention from secondaries.


    Backup: Luke Stocker

    NFL1000 Scores: 58.8/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 81/96

    Luke Stocker will enter his seventh year with Tampa Bay, and his role is well-defined; he's a blocking tight end who isn't a target in the passing game. He has 125 receiving yards in his last 41 games. However, his roster spot is safe as the No. 2 tight end.


    Backup: Kivon Cartwright

    NFL1000 Scores: Did not have enough snaps to qualify

    The Buccaneers signed Kivon Cartwright after the draft as an athletic weapon who needs time to develop. He didn't appear in any games in 2016. He will likely spend 2017 on the team's practice squad.


    Team Need: 4/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Gerald Everett, South Alabama; George Kittle, Iowa; Jonnu Smith, Florida International

Left Tackle

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Scheme: Zone-flex

    Starter: Donovan Smith

    NFL1000 Scores: 71.1

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 31/40

    Tampa Bay selected Donovan Smith 34th overall in the second round of the 2015 draft based upon his physical traits and upside. Smith flashed moments of dominance at Penn State but played with little consistency.

    After two complete NFL seasons, Smith still flashes those moments of dominance, but he just doesn't put it together for an entire series, or an entire quarter, let alone an entire game. One of the biggest issues is his lack consistent effort to sustain and finish blocks.

    If Smith can improve his consistency, he can be good for a long time.


    Team Need: 6/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Antonio Garcia, Troy; Dion Dawkins, Temple; Justin Senior, Mississippi State; David Sharpe, Florida

Right Tackle

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Scheme: Zone-flex

    Starter: Demar Dotson

    NFL1000 Scores: 74.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 9/38

    Demar Dotson provides Tampa Bay with solid protection and run blocking from the right tackle spot when healthy. In 2016, Dotson started 13 games, missing Weeks 14, 15 and 16 while in concussion protocol. In Dotson's absence, Tampa Bay struggled to protect the right edge or run the ball.

    Despite only appearing in six games, making three starts in 2015, Dotson received a three-year extension last August, which showed Tampa values what he provides.


    Team Need: 6/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Antonio Garcia, Troy; Dion Dawkins, Temple; Justin Senior, Mississippi State; David Sharpe, Florida

Offensive Guard

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Scheme: Zone-flex


    Starter: Kevin Pamphile

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.2/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 43/78 

    Kevin Pamphile has low peaks and shallow valleys. He has good awareness of what he can do and what he can't, and does a good job leaning on the former as much as possible. The problem is, there isn't much to lean on.

    Pamphile is strong at the point of attack, but most of that comes from his upper body, and he lacks the power to be an elite drive blocker. He has heavy feet but is efficient enough with them that he isn't consistently exposed in pass protection. Left guard is a position Tampa could stand to upgrade, but it doesn't seem to be prioritizing it.


    Starter: Ali Marpet

    NFL1000 Scores: 72.0/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 16/78

    Quickly developing into a force on the right side for Tampa, Ali Marpet is already easily the Buccaneers' best offensive lineman. As such, the team doesn't need to upgrade here. When you talk about having explosive power out of your stance to move defenders, Marpet is the example you go to. His footwork is still unrefined, but he's smooth enough to improve that, and when everything clicks he's hard to beat due to his strong physical traits.


    Backup: JR Sweezy

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    JR Sweezy will likely earn the starting left guard spot if he can stay healthy, but the fact he is listed here showcases what the odds are of that happening. Sweezy is somewhat similar to Marpet in style, although his hands aren't as active or consistently well-placed as Marpet's. If Sweezy can get back on the field, this should be an athletic, physically imposing front. If not, swing tackle Caleb Benenoch will likely be the first off the bench for the Buccaneers.


    Team Need: 4/10

    Potential Draft Fits: J.J. Dielman, Utah; Corey Levin, Chattanooga 


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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Scheme: Zone-flex

    Starter: Joe Hawley

    NFL1000 Score: 66.7/100

    NFL1000 Rank: 32/38

    Bringing back Joe Hawley is an uninspiring move. Investing in a top center early could have been a nice way to improve this young front, and Hawley is not much better than players that were already there. His tape has been mediocre for a few teams now, and at this point in his career, what you see is what you get with the 28-year-old Nevada alum. 

    Starter: Evan Smith

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Evan Smith filled in a couple of games last year for Hawley, but with Hawley back, it looks like the job is his again. Smith’s performance last year was eerily similar to Hawley’s, so given Smith’s price point, it is odd not to give him a shot to start rather than sink more assets into a similar player in Hawley.

    Backup: Ben Gottschalk

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    We haven't seen a ton of Ben Gottschalk in live action, but if the SMU alum is going to make it in the league, this is a good depth chart to be on, especially considering Smith's health the last few seasons.


    Team Need: 5/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Ethan Pocic, LSU; Kyle Fuller, Baylor

Defensive End

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Scheme: 4-3

    Starter: William Gholston

    NFL1000 Scores: 63.9/100

    NFL1000 Rank: 52/68

    William Gholston did not grade high in our rankings last year, but that didn't stop the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from giving the 25-year-old who had just three sacks a five-year, $27.5 million contract.

    Gholston's three-sack season of 2016 was his highest total of his four-year rookie contract, in which he's started 36 games for the Buccaneers. That's horrible value for a pass-rusher. The team must think he has room to grow, but it's hard to imagine him turning around his career to that extent. Playing to his averages, if he lasts the entire contract, Tampa will pay him nearly $2 million per sack. That money needed to go somewhere, I guess. 


    Starter: Robert Ayers

    NFL1000 Scores: 66.1/100

    NFL1000 Rank: 29/68

    Robert Ayers was considered a first-round bust with the Denver Broncos. In five years with the team, he recorded just 12 sacks. He then played two years with the New York Giants, where he recorded 14.5 sacks, with 8.5 of those coming in the second half of 2015. That's when he got hot as a replacement starter, as the Giants were going through their Jason Pierre-Paul episode.

    Last year, Ayers had 6.5 sacks with the Buccaneers, which was his second-best single-season sack total in his eight-year NFL career. He'll turn 32 in September. That's not a good sign. His $6 million salary is already fully guaranteed, though, so assuming that he's a starter in 2017 is a safe bet. The team has until the fifth day of the season in 2018 to decide if it wants to fully guarantee his third season of his three-year deal.


    Backup: Noah Spence

    NFL1000 Scores: 67.0/100

    NFL 1000 Rank: 19/68

    Noah Spence was an Ohio State transfer who landed with the Eastern Kentucky Colonels after some off-field issues. After poor showings at the combine and his pro day, Spence went from a Senior Bowl standout and projected first-round pick to someone who fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second round.

    Last year, the team used the 6'2", 251-pounder as a pass-rush specialist, as the Buccaneers tend to like size at the point of attack. Spence is a tweener, but he flashed enough potential as a pass-rusher to show promise of being a future starter. That will have to wait until 2018, though, as the team thought enough of returning starters Gholston and Ayers to hand them plenty of promised money immediately.

    If you're judging by the team's actions, rather than film, Spence is a projected backup this year.


    Backup: Jacquies Smith

    NFL1000 Scores: Did not have enough snaps to qualify

    Jacquies Smith was tendered this offseason, but people don't understand how talented Smith was as a speed-rusher in 2015. In his first three seasons out of Missouri, the former undrafted free agent spent time with five teams, including the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. He also missed most of 2016 after a knee issue in Week 1 led to his landing on the injured reserve list.

    Still, he recorded 13.5 sacks in 2014 and 2015, with 18 starts in those years. He's a finesse rusher, but there's room for that off the bench in Tampa, when its starting ends are of the base-end mold.


    Backup: Ryan Russell

    NFL1000 Scores: 66.9/100

    NFL 1000 Rank: 22/68

    Ryan Russell is a 25-year-old who is making $615,000 this year and is slated to be a restricted free agent in 2018. He's not much of a pass-rusher, but he's a body, and for your fourth or fifth end, that's all you can ask for.


    Backup: Davonte Lambert

    NFL1000 Scores: 63.0/100

    NFL 1000 Rank: 59/68

    Davonte Lambert was a bit of a liability for the Buccaneers last year. For whatever reason, they used one of the deepest end rotations in the league. There's a lot of bodies involved. Still, for a 22-year-old undrafted free agent, there's not much more you can expect from him. He's a roster-bubble player, which shouldn't surprise anyone.


    Team Need: 1/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Carl Lawson, Auburn; Ejuan Price, Pittsburgh; Dawuane Smoot, Illinois

Defensive Tackle

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    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    Scheme: 4-3


    Starter: Gerald McCoy

    NFL1000 Scores: 73.9/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 6/99

    Gerald McCoy has been a centerpiece for the Buccaneers defensive line, and he doesn't look to be slowing down anytime soon. McCoy is still an absolute menace as a pass-rusher and is a key cog in Tampa Bay's run defense. He is under contract for five more seasons, and there's no reason to think he won't continue to be a dominant difference-maker.


    Backup: Chris Baker

    NFL1000 Scores: 66.5/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 11/53 (Graded at 3-4 DE)

    Chris Baker was signed from Washington in what may have been the best bargain in free agency at three years, $15.75 million. Baker isn't a household name yet, but he's one of the most consistent defensive linemen in the league.

    He's technically sound with his hands and plays with phenomenal gap control and discipline. Somehow Tampa Bay was able to sign him to a $5 million per-year deal. He signed for less overall money than Washington gave to Terrell McClain (four years, $21 million) and Stacy McGee (five years, $25 million), two players who aren't as talented as Baker. He and McCoy should immediately be one of the more feared defensive tackle duos in the league.


    Backup: Clinton McDonald

    NFL1000 Scores: 63.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 51/99

    Clinton McDonald is an ideal third defensive tackle. When he spelled McCoy last season, he was more than capable against the run. McDonald will never be an impactful pass-rusher, but having a plus run defender for a few snaps per game is always needed.


    Team Need: 2/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Caleb Brantley, Florida; Tanzel Smart, Tulane; Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte; D.J. Jones, Ole Miss

Outside Linebacker

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Scheme: 4-3


    Starter: Lavonte David

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.9/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 7/46

    Few linebackers in the league are as good at shooting gaps as Lavonte David. He predicates his game on blending recognition skills with explosive athletic ability to beat offensive linemen to their spots. If there is a sliver of an opening near the line of scrimmage, chances are David will find his way through it to the ball-carrier. He does struggle to win the physical battle on many occasions, but he's so often able to win plays before it comes to that, even as a blitzer.

    The 27-year-old is a young, versatile linebacker who should continue to be a cornerstone for the Buccaneers.


    Backup: Cameron Lynch

    NFL1000 Scores: Did not have enough snaps to qualify

    Cameron Lynch is a career backup and special teams contributor. Lynch began his career in 2015 as an undrafted player for the Rams, but the Buccaneers signed him last season. Motor and adequate athleticism are there for Lynch, but he lacks many of the skills required to play linebacker.

    His read-and-react speed is lacking, and he does not attack the line of scrimmage in a way that is productive. Lynch is fine as an emergency option. With the likely loss of veteran free agent Daryl Smith, the Buccaneers should look to add outside linebackers to complement David.


    Backup: Adarius Glanton

    NFL1000 Scores: Did not have enough snaps to qualify

    Adarius Glanton is primarily a special teams ace. His aggression and athletic ability make him a good candidate for headhunting on kickoffs and punts. That being said, Glanton doesn't have the quick-twitch recognition to thrive as a full-time linebacker.

    His value at linebacker is, more or less, that he has the athletic ability to chase and not allow plays to spiral out of hand. However, Tampa can move on from him, unless it values his special teams play more than we realize.


    Team Need: 6/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Anthony Walker Jr., Northwestern; Tanner Vallejo, Boise State; Alex Anzalone, Florida

Inside Linebacker

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Scheme: 4-3


    Starter: Kwon Alexander

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 34/65

    Kwon Alexander is only 22 years old and, entering his third season in Tampa Bay, is the guaranteed starter in the middle of its defense. He's young, athletic and offers versatility. counted 145 total tackles for Alexander in 2016, a number that put him in the top five for all linebackers.

    What's both impressive and maddening is that, for as many tackles as he made, he left plenty on the field with whiffs. Alexander demonstrates inconsistent form, sometimes looking like a superior athlete to everyone on the field and other times looking limited and weak. His play isn't indicative of someone who should be benched; on the contrary, he's quite good. But the Bucs would like to see his form become more consistent at all levels.

    Provided he stays healthy, Alexander will play the next two years as a starter in Tampa Bay and should receive an opportunity to continue his career with the Bucs after his first contract expires. He offers a defensive building block at a young age and already has valuable experience. The Buccaneers are playing in one of the most explosive divisions in football offensively, and Alexander's speed and ferocity will likely continue to be important as the they look to compete for a division title.


    Backup: Jeff Knox

    NFL1000 Scores: Did not have enough snaps to qualify

    Jeff Knox is a linebacker out of the California University of Pennsylvania with no true NFL experience. He's undersized at 6'2" and just 225 pounds and shouldn't be relied on to be an immediate backup to Alexander.

    Adarius Glanton, listed as an outside linebacker, filled in as the primary backup last year and may do the same in 2017. Either way, Tampa Bay will need to consider bringing in at least one late Day 3 selection who can develop into a high-quality backup. Knox is not that guy.


    Team Need: 4/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Hardy Nickerson, Illinois; Ben Boulware, Clemson


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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Scheme: Tampa 2

    Starter: Brent Grimes

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.7/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 16/133

    At 33 years old, Brent Grimes continued to be a reliable starter, this time in Tampa Bay. Grimes will turn 34 this offseason, so finding a long-term replacement should be in Tampa's plans, then the team can take advantage of Grimes' presence to groom a rookie.

    In the meantime, he should be all set for another quality season in Tampa Bay's corner-friendly system, which features consistent safety help over the top. This is a great pairing as far as fit and talent.


    Backup: Vernon Hargreaves

    NFL1000 Scores: 62.7/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 68/133

    The Buccaneers' first-round pick in 2016, Vernon Hargreaves, had a decent rookie campaign, showing the tenacity in the run game and short-area quickness that made some laud him as the most pro-ready prospect in last year's class.

    That proclamation proved to be wrong, as Hargreaves struggled to force turnovers and be a consistent coverage player on intermediate and deeper passes. Nevertheless, there's not much reason to worry about him long term, and improvement is fair to expect from a young cornerback who is also in a great situation for him to succeed.  


    Backup: Javien Elliott

    NFL1000 Scores: Did not have enough snaps to qualify

    After releasing veteran Alterraun Verner this offseason, the Buccaneers showed they're relatively committed to the slot duo of Javien Elliott and Josh Robinson. Verner played better than either, but his bloated salary and the fact he signed with a previous regime surely played a part in his moving on. Elliott and Robinson are unproven at this point, and looking for an upgrade should be a medium priority for the team in this deep class.


    Team Need: 5/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Jourdan Lewis, Michigan; Corn Elder, Miami; Desmond King, Iowa; Damontae Kazee, San Diego State; Jalen Myrick, Minnesota  

Free Safety

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Scheme: Tampa 2


    Starter: J.J. Wilcox

    NFL1000 Scores: 71.0/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 24/50

    J.J. Wilcox is set to become a full-time starter, having previously been the third safety for the Cowboys behind Byron Jones and Barry Church. He's a good fit with the Buccaneers as part of a two-deep safety tandem.

    The Bucs are a Tampa 2 team, where the safety spots are somewhat interchangeable, without much difference between the strong and free safety roles. He did play some single-high safety on occasion with Dallas, and he spent some time in the box. But he performed best as a deep-half defender, keeping routes in front of him. While he isn't a top-10 safety, he should provide a good upgrade over the starters from last year, Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald.

    Team Need: 5/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Justin Evans, Texas A&M; Eddie Jackson, Alabama; UDFA for competition

Strong Safety

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    Michael Zito/Associated Press

    Scheme: Tampa 2


    Starter: Keith Tandy

    NFL1000 Scores: 74.8/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 7/53

    Keith Tandy didn't become a starter until Week 13 last season. But as soon as he got his opportunity, he grabbed it with both hands. Tandy stood out down the stretch every week, with strong performances against the Saints in particular.

    He anticipated routes about as well as any other safety in the league and closed on them incredibly quickly. He broke up a number of passes and created a couple of interceptions for himself and his teammates, including one against the Saints in Week 14 that sealed the win for the Buccaneers.

    It's a small sample size, but it was an incredibly impressive sample. If he can pick up where he left off, Tandy should be the starting strong safety this season.


    Backup: Chris Conte

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.5/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 40/53

    Chris Conte is the perfect backup option for a Tampa 2 scheme. He isn't a great starter, but he knows where he has to be within the system. He'll likely be the backup for both safety spots, given they are interchangeable, and gives the Buccaneers a reliable option should J.J. Wilcox or Tandy miss time.  


    Team Need: 3/10

    Potential Draft Fits:  UDFA for competition, but no immediate need.


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    Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Starter: Roberto Aguayo

    NFL1000 Scores: 64.2/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 31/34

    Roberto Aguayo's rookie struggles were well-documented, as the highly touted rookie out of Florida State posted the worst field-goal accuracy (71 percent) in the NFL in 2016. Aguayo suffered from repeated lapses in his mechanics, in particular during the first part of the season, before appearing to figure things out for several weeks prior to collapsing again as the campaign concluded.

    Aguayo's inconsistent posture during kicks and slightly unorthodox motion proved to be a challenge for him to maintain, and the mental strain of the struggles was likely new to him.

    Aguayo has loads of talent—as much as any kicker who has come into the NFL in the past decade. But he needs to refine his technique and rebuild his confidence. While Tampa Bay used a second-round pick on him in the 2016 NFL draft, do not be surprised if the Buccaneers bring in competition in the form of an undrafted free agent or veteran to challenge Aguayo and potentially step in if he struggles again.

    Backup: Nick Folk

    NFL1000 Scores: 66.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 23/34

    The Buccaneers also brought in Nick Folk in mid-March. However, Folk is not the typical free agent who you would see a team sign to push a kicker in competition during a summer.

    Folk enjoyed one of the best years of his career in 2016 for the New York Jets, making 87.1 percent of his field goals during the season. His career mark of 81.3 percent is just over 2 percent below the NFL average over that time, so Folk is not a long-term solution at kicker.

    But with Tampa Bay's handing him $1.75 million for the upcoming season, with $750,000 of that guaranteed, Folk is a legitimate replacement option if Aguayo does not figure things out during training camp and the preseason.

    While Aguayo possesses the kind of raw leg talent that teams covet, the Buccaneers cannot afford to have him struggle the same way he did in 2016. If it becomes apparent Aguayo cannot compete at the NFL level this year, they will have zero hesitation handing the job to Folk.

    This, along with the Jets' competition between Chandler Catanzaro and Ross Martin, promises to be one of the hottest kicking competitions of the summer.

    Team Need: 4/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None


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    Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Punter: Bryan Anger

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.6/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 7/34

    Bryan Anger has the strongest leg in the NFL. This year, Anger showcased that, as well as more refinement in terms of ball placement than he has shown previously. Anger routinely generates hang times close to or above five seconds, and his ability to allow his coverage unit to get downfield is unparalleled in today's game.

    Although improved, his directional ability still graded out as average last year, but with additional development, Anger may find that he consistently finds himself in the upper echelon of NFL punters. A 2017 season similar to the one he just posted would go a long way toward proving he belongs in that conversation, and it will be exciting to see what he can do in 2017 with the added confidence of 2016 in his back pocket.


    Team Need: 1/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None