There's a ton of pressure on the Buccaneers to win this season, and for them to do so, they'll need Jameis Winston to finally play up to his potential. He'll be able to do that if properly protected, and Quenton Nelson is the top offensive lineman in this class by a mile. I believe he'll be the pick if he's available unless Saquon Barkley or Bradley Chubb slip by some miracle.
Nelson is off the board, however, so the Buccaneers can look to address their woeful secondary. Help is needed at both cornerback and safety, and Minkah Fitzpatrick can play both positions. Plus, he's arguably the best player available.
Rd. 2, Pk. 6
Isaiah Wynn, OT/G/C, Georgia
As mentioned in the first round, the Buccaneers really need to make sure Jameis Winston plays better in 2018. If Quenton Nelson isn't available, there's a good chance Isaiah Wynn could be Tampa's pick at this spot.
Pick change; previously Will Hernandez, G
Rd. 3, Pk. 5
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
The Buccaneers took a chance on Doug Martin this season, and it backfired. Martin has been lethargic, and he was finally benched for fumbling. Tampa Bay will be looking for a running back early in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Rd. 4, Pk. 8
Chad Thomas, DE/3-4OLB, Miami
Robert Ayers is entering his contract year, so the Buccaneers should look into finding a long-term replacement for 2019 and beyond.
Rd. 5, Pk. 7
Jamarco Jones, OT, Ohio State
The Buccaneers need someone to challenge Donovan Smith or eventually replace Demar Dotson, who will be a free agent in a couple of years.
After the signing of DeSean Jackson, I think it is unlikely that John Ross is headed for Tampa Bay. I think this pick will then come down to Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, O.J. Howard or Corey Davis. Via sources, I know the Bucs like all of those players. I think Howard and one of the running backs will be gone, which usually leaves Davis and a running back to consider. Running back is a bigger need on the roster given the Doug Martin situation, and there is depth at wide receiver on Day 2 for the Bucs to land an outside No. 2 receiver to platoon with Mike Evans and Jackson. There are lots of rumors of Dalvin Cook sliding. I've reached out to teams and gotten mixed feedback on that possibility. However if he slides, I don't think the Bucs would pass on him after speaking with Tampa Bay sources.
In 2016, Cook averaged 6.0 yards per carry for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also had 33 receptions for 488 yards. Cook (5-10, 210) is well-built and has the speed to slash through a defense; however, he has some strange ball-security issues. Cook also has some power to him, but he seems to use it selectively as he runs out of bounds often and is consistently looking to bounce runs to the outside. In the passing game, Cook is a tremendous receiver out of the backfield and will be a weapon there. He reminds me of Marshall Faulk at times.
Teams do have some off-the-field concerns about Cook. They say he isn't a bad kid, but worry about his associates. He escaped some legal issues last year, and teams say that Cook has an entourage of gang-bangers that could put Cook in the wrong place at the wrong time.
With Jameis Winston in the NFL, Cook carried the Florida State offense in 2015. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry on his way to 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns. The sophomore also had 24 receptions for 244 yards and a score. As a true freshman in 2014, Cook averaged 5.9 yards per carry for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. He caught 22 passes for 203 yards, too.
Rd. 2, Pk. 2
Jordan Willis, DE/3-4OLB/OLB, Kansas State
Tampa Bay could target some more edge rush. Here's a player who can rush from the outside and give the Bucs a young tandem with Noah Spence.
Willis caused a lot of disruption and negative plays for his defense in an impressive senior year. In 2016, he totaled 11.5 sacks, 52 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, three passes batted and three forced fumbles. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder had a respectable week at the Senior Bowl that confirmed his second-day potential for the 2017 NFL Draft.
Willis has good strength to set the edge in rush defense and pass-rushing skills off the edge. He could be a defensive end in a 4-3 or an outside linebacker in a 3-4.
Rd. 3, Pk. 3
Shelton Gibson, WR, West Virginia
The Bucs grab a speed receiver to team with Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.
Gibson notched 43 receptions for 951 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016. Sources say that Gibson has some real speed to him, but isn't the biggest of receivers and needs to improve his route-running. That latter point was an issue for the Bears' 2015 first-round pick, Kevin White, coming out West Virginia because of the Mountaineers' spread offense. Some sources think Gibson (5-11, 191) should've returned for his senior year to improve on that before going pro.
Rd. 4, Pk. 4
Lorenzo Jerome, S, St Francis (PA)
The Bucs could use some more safety talent.
Jerome (5-10, 202) is an intriguing player who has created a buzz in scouting circles. He was a productive player with a tremendous display of ball skills in college. Jerome had interception totals of six, three, three and six over the past four seasons with pass breakup totals of five, seven, 13 and four. He also had 59 tackles as a senior. Jerome impressed at the East-West Shrine and at the Senior Bowl. He could be a find from the mid-rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Rd. 5, Pk. 5
Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh
The Bucs could use more offensive line depth and competition.
Rd. 6, Pk. 6
Joe Williams, RB, Utah
The Bucs grab a backup speed running back.
Rd. 7, Pk. 7
Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech
The Bucs could use a backup quarterback, and Evans has a good skill set to develop. Perhaps they could turn him into a commodity they could trade for draft picks.
The Buccaneers could use more edge rush, and Chubb is a good fit for Tampa Bay. He could be a physically imposing quarterback hunter next to Gerald McCoy. <br> <br>
Chubb totaled 73 tackles with 25 for a loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and two passes batted in 2017. He was awesome against Florida State, making some huge plays to lead N.C. State to a road upset with two sacks, a forced fumble and seven tackles. Chubb dominated the competition in 2017, playing like a top-10 pick. <br> <br>
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Chubb has scheme flexibility and has been a tough defender for the Wolfpack. He has good quickness for a big defensive end and has shown the ability to get off blocks with his strength and hand usage. Chubb has developed some variety in pass-rushing moves and looks like an asset as a future three-down starter in the NFL. In 2016, he totaled 58 tackles with 22 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one pass batted. As a sophomore in 2015, Chubb collected 5.5 sacks.
Because of the serious off-the-field concerns with Arden Key, there isn't a defensive end worthy of this pick. In speaking with sources, Marcus Davenport would be a reach this high. Quenton Nelson would make sense, but he's off the board. The best values could come in the secondary. Safety has been a weakness for years for Tampa Bay, and that could easily change with this pick. Fitzpatrick could form a dynamic tandem with Justin Evans. <br> <br>
Fitzpatrick totaled 60 tackles, one interception, eight passes broken up and a forced fumble in 2017. He played really well, doing everything that could be asked of a safety. Fitzpatrick is a superb center fielder, covering receivers deep downfield. He is also fast in pursuit, tackles well in space at the second level, can come down into the box, and is able to play man coverage against tight ends and slot receivers, plus help out his cornerbacks. The 6-foot-1, 203-pounder has excellent size and some natural cover skills. Sources have said that Fitzpatrick is a prototypical free safety for the NFL. They say he has good size, speed, athletic ability and high football I.Q. in a play-maker. <br> <br>
In 2016, Fitzpatrick recorded 66 tackles with seven passes broken up and six interceptions. He was dominant at times for Alabama, splitting time between corner and safety. Fitzpatrick had a superb 2015 season for the Crimson Tide. The freshman totaled 45 tackles with two sacks, 11 passes broken up and two interceptions - both returned for a touchdowns.
The Buccaneers could use more edge rush, and Key is a good scheme fit for Tampa Bay. He could be a dynamic quarterback hunter next to Gerald McCoy. <br> <br>
Key is a fast edge rusher with a ton of upside to develop. He has the skill set to be a high first-round pick, but he comes with off-the-field concerns. Evaluators tell me Key's interviews, background checks, and visits are going to be a huge factor in determining how high he goes in the 2018 NFL Draft. That being said, sources have told me that the 6-foot-6, 260-pounder loves football and is a hard-worker who strives to improve in the offseason. They said he previously worked with pass-rushing-moves guru Chuck Smith, and that is impressive dedication for a collegiate player. <br> <br>
Key missed the first two games of 2017 and was overweight in the early going. Eventually, he worked himself back into his old form and flashed his sophomore caliber of play before an injury ended his 2017 early. For his year, Key totaled 33 tackles with four sacks and a forced fumble. <br> <br>
In 2016, Key was one of the best players in college football. He recorded 56 tackles with 14.5 for a loss, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles and three passes broken up on the year. Key is a dangerous pass-rusher with excellent speed and the ability to bend around the corner. He flashed a ton of potential as a freshman for LSU, totaling 41 tackles with 6.5 for a loss, five sacks and one pass broken up.
The Buccaneers could use an edge rusher to go across from Noah Spence, so Bradley Chubb or Arden Key would be a great addition, but the Buccaneers could easily win too many games to land either Chubb or Key. Another area that Tampa Bay could address is the secondary, and here the organization grabs a difference-maker at safety. <br> <br>
James has 62 tackles with 10 passes batted and one interception in 2017. While he didn't put together flawless performances against Alabama and N.C. State this season, they were impressive overall. James was healthy and able to display his great instincts and rare combination of great size, speed, physicality and versatility. He has played dime linebacker, nickel corner, free safety and strong safety, basically doing everything a coach could ask of him. The one steady problem James has had this season is some painful missed tackles, and he could have some limitations deep downfield, but he still is a tremendous strong safety with versatility. <br> <br>
James totaled 11 tackles and an interception through two games in 2016 before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. He had been playing well for Florida State. Entering last season, there was a lot of hype that James was an elite player and perhaps the best defensive player in college football. As a freshman in 2015, he had a strong debut with 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, four passes broken up and two forced fumbles, but zero interceptions. <br> <br>
The 6-foot-3, 211-pounder has a great athletic skill set with tremendous speed, instincts, and strength to hit. He shows the ability to do everything an NFL safety is needed to do. James is fast and long with coverage skills in the deep middle of the field. He also is strong enough to be the eighth man in the box and tackle.
Because of the serious off-the-field concerns with Arden Key, there isn't a defensive end worthy of this pick. Thus, Tampa Bay can go to the other side of the ball and add a road grader to re-establish its ground game while also improving the pass protection for Jameis Winston. <br> <br>
Nelson was exceptional throughout 2017, dominating opponents on a weekly basis. He has superb strength to blast open holes and is a true road-grader as a run blocker. As a pass protector, Nelson is very athletic with balance, agility, and quickness to shut down pass-rushers. Some league sources say that Nelson is the highest graded guard they've ever scouted, and that includes the likes of Logan Mankins and David DeCastro. <br> <br>
The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Nelson was dominant in 2016 as well, showing strength at the point of attack to open holes in the ground game and athleticism in pass protection. That year, teams sources told me that Nelson was receiving first-round grades prior to him deciding to return for his senior season. One general manager told me in fall 2017 that they have Nelson as clearly the best guard prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft. They have Nelson as a top-five prospect at any position.