Tampa Bay Sports Day

2017 NFL Draft Reset: Tampa Bay Bucs Seek Help for Winston

PHOTO BY NANCY BEECHER/Tampa Sports Day

By Frank Cooney, NFLDraftScout.com – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have done a good job of building a solid core of young defenders around defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. And, of course, their leader is quarterback Jameis Winston, who threw for more than 8,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in his first two seasons.
But turnovers remain a big concern for Winston, with 33 interceptions and nine lost fumbles.

To help accentuate Winston’s positives and take pressure off him, the Bucs signed former Washington Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson to a three-year, $33.5 million contract.
Jackson, 30, was clocked as the second-fastest player in the NFL during one play last season. His ability to stretch the field will provide some cover for Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans.
Defensively, the Bucs added Redskins defensive tackle Chris Baker, which gives them a penetrator to play alongside McCoy.
Perhaps the biggest development of the offseason was that defensive coordinator Mike Smith will return with a new contract. The Bucs defense made big strides in the second half of the season and continuity should be a real asset.

Here is a closer look at where the Bucs are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft, at No. 19 overall.

THE BREAKDOWN
2016 finish: 2nd NFC South (9-7)

STATISTICS
TOTAL OFFENSE: 346.4 (18th)
RUSHING: 101.0 (24th)
PASSING: 245.4 (16th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 367.9 (23rd)
RUSHING: 117.2 (22nd)
PASSING: 250.8 (22nd)

TEAM NEEDS
–1. Defensive back: The Bucs used their first-round pick last season on Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. Could they double up? Sure. Veteran Brent Grimes will be 34 in July, and even though the Bucs think he has a lot in the tank after tying for the team lead with four interceptions last season, his eventual replacement isn’t on the roster. The Bucs also have a need at safety despite signing Cowboys free agent J.J. Wilcox and bringing back Chris Conte.
–2. Running back: Doug Martin will miss the first three games serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. He is 28 and has been injured three of his five seasons. The Bucs re-signed Jacquizz Rodgers and both Charles Sims and Peyton Barber return. But the Bucs won’t commit to Martin for 2017 and his contract is no longer guaranteed. With a deep draft at running back, it would not be surprising if the Bucs used an early-round pick on one.
–3. Receiver: This might not seem as big of a need with the signing of DeSean Jackson. But the Bucs lost one of their wideouts when Russell Shepard signed with Carolina. Adam Humphries is strictly a slot receiver. At some point, they have to develop somebody to play opposite Evans.

KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 5)
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
–S Chris Conte: UFA; $5M/2 yrs, $2.5M guaranteed.
–DE William Gholston: Potential UFA; $27.5M/5 yrs,$13.5M guaranteed.
–C Joe Hawley: UFA; $5.5M/2 yrs, $1M guaranteed RB.
–CB Josh Robinson: UFA; $5M/2 yrs, $$2M guaranteed.
–RB Jacquizz Rodgers: UFA; $3.3M/1 yr, $600K guaranteed.
–DT Sealver Siliga: UFA; $1.1M/1 yr, $200K SB.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED
–DE Chris Baker: UFA Redskins; $15.75M/3 yrs, $9M guaranteed, $3M injury only at time of signing.
–K Nick Folk: FA Jets; $1.75M/1 yr, $750K guaranteed.
–WR DeSean Jackson: UFA Redskins; $33.5M/3 yrs, $20M guaranteed.
–LS Garrison Sanborn: FA Bills; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–S J.J. Wilcox: UFA Cowboys; $6.25M/2 yrs, $3.125M guaranteed.
PLAYERS LOST
–T Gosder Cherilus: UFA (retired).
–QB Mike Glennon: UFA Bears; $45M/3 yrs, $3M SB/$18.5M guaranteed.
–S Bradley McDougald: UFA Seahawks; $1.8M/1 yr, $750K SB.
–WR Russell Shepard: UFA Panthers; $10M/3 yrs, $2.1M SB.
–DT Akeem Spence: UFA Lions; $9M/3 yrs, $2.25M SB/$3.5M guaranteed.
–CB Alterraun Verner (released).

*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 19 overall).

Rob Rang (April 3 mock draft):
–David Njoku, TE, Miami. Cameron Brate has developed into a very solid young security blanket for Jameis Winston, but he does not possess Njoku’s big-play potential. The 20-year-old Njoku is still very much a work in progress, but scouts are enamored with the 6-foot-4, 246 pounder’s ability to create mismatches in the passing game.

Dane Brugler (April 3 mock draft):
–Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut. Tampa Bay has shown plenty of interest in Melifonwu, a player who can wear several hats in the secondary. His tape wasn’t nearly as impressive as his testing numbers, but teams can’t teach his athletic skill-set.

Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team’s current status, there are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate check out NFLDraftScout.com’s full mocks and ratings.

Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX team insiders contributed to this article