Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Ali Marpet, C, Hobart – Round 2
The Bucs felt so strongly about the Division III product Marpet that they traded back into the second round from the third round in order to make sure they acquired him. After taking Jameis Winston in the first round, it makes sense to grab his long-term center so the duo can grow together in the NFL.

The 6-foot-4, 307-pound Marpet dominated his opponents in college – as one would expect coming from his level of competition. However, what really sent a charge into Marpet’s draft stock was a strong week at the Senior Bowl. He showed that he could hold his own against the all-stars from the FBS with a strong week of practices in Mobile. Marpet followed that up by impressing at the Combine and his pro day. Marpet’s postseason was enough to cause Tampa Bay to fall in love with him.

Marpet may take a little longer to develop into starter considering the jump in competition. There is a big difference in what he faced compared to say Star Lotulelei with the Carolina Panthers. Marpet has the athleticism and strength to be a good center in the NFL, plus he has a strong work ethic. In time, Marpet should be a solid starter for Tampa Bay.

Most Likely To Bust

Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State – Round 2
Last year one of the worst offensive lines in college football was fielded by Penn State. The Nittany Lions had a lot of walk-ones starting for them, and Smith was the one quality lineman on the team. That being said, Smith also was beaten on too many occasions in pass protection and allowed more pressure on Christian Hackenberg than one would like for an offensive tackle selected in the top 35. Smith has a lot of room for improvement in order to be a dependable left tackle to protect Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay.

Smith (6-6, 338) looks like a better fit at right tackle or right guard in the NFL because he is a bull in the ground game. That could be seen in college and also at the Senior Bowl. Smith moves bodies at the point of attack with some serious strength. The ability to handle speed rushers is in question, and he is going to be tested immediately in the NFL.

The Buccaneers are planning on starting Smith at left tackle, and because their offensive line was so weak last year, Smith might be forced to play before he is ready. This could be reminiscent of Kenyatta Walker being forced into the left tackle spot when he wasn’t ready, and he ended up being a bust for Tampa Bay. Of the Bucs’ early-round picks, Smith looks like he has the most bust potential to me.

Potential Boom Pick

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State – Round 1
I was outspoken about Jameis Winston being the real deal as a quarterback prospect going back to the beginning of the 2014 season. In my opinion, Winston is the best quarterback prospect to enter the NFL since Andrew Luck and was a far better prospect than other recent No. 1 picks like Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford or even Cam Newton. I think that Winston is going to be an elite NFL quarterback and has what it takes to be a true franchise signal-caller.

As a player, Winston is extraordinary in the pocket. He is a phenomenal pocket passer who can carve up a defense. Winston has very good field vision and does a superb job of scanning the field and working through his progressions. It is an innate ability that he displayed from the very beginning of his tenure as a starter at Florida State. Winston hangs tough in the face of the pass rush, steps into throws when he’s going to get hit and moves well in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. Winston has a great football I.Q., is a film-room junky and has a great work ethic.

Winston put together great production in his two seasons as a starter while leading his team to a National Championship and winning the Heisman Trophy. Winston was 26-1 as a starter and led a lot of fourth-quarter comebacks. He was money in the clutch for the Seminoles and showed that he has a killer instinct to push his team to wins. Winston has maturity concerns, but I believe that he will put them behind him and become one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL if the Buccaneers are able to provide him with a quality supporting cast.

Future Depth Player

Kwon Alexander, OLB, LSU – Round 4
Alexander is a fast linebacker who can defend the run from sideline to sideline. He is a perfect fit as a Will (weakside) linebacker in the Tampa 2 defense. However, the Bucs have that position resolved for many years to come with the superb Lavonte David. Thus, Alexander looks like a backup and special teams player. Alexander (6-1, 227) doesn’t have the size to play the middle or strongside, and he isn’t going to beat out David. Alexander should be a quality backup and core teams player for the Buccaneers.

Walt’s 2015 NFL Draft Grades:

1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State: C+ Grade
I’m going to lock this pick in. It’s almost certain that the Buccaneers will select Jameis Winston. Of course, this was apparent months ago when Tampa refused to hire Marc Trestman as its offensive coordinator because the former Chicago coach wanted to take Marcus Mariota No. 1 overall.

I’m with Trestman on this one, and we’ve spoken to some teams that agree. Though Winston is the slight favorite amongst the league, I’d rather have Mariota, and the reasoning, as you may guess, has to do with the off-the-field issues. Some of Winston’s problems have been overblown – the fact that he was suspended for shouting in the student union was ridiculous – but the Buccaneers really have to worry about Winston staying clean. I especially wonder what’ll happen to him in Tampa’s crazy (and underrated) party environment. I’ve joked about Mons Venus, one of the nation’s most famous strip clubs, renaming its establishment to “Mons Jameis” for all the money he’s going to spend there, but I sincerely believe that Winston may have trouble staying focused in his new home, much like one of his predecessors, Josh Freeman. And I’m not alone in this; someone I trust called Winston the “demon spawn of JaMarcus Russell and Johnny Manziel.”

I can’t give the Buccaneers a terrible grade because this selection could totally pan out. But if I’m investing the No. 1 overall pick into a player, I wouldn’t want to be worried about what he’s doing Monday through Saturday. Winston has told enough people that he has grown up and matured, and he has aced all of the pre-draft events, but we heard and saw the same exact thing from Manziel last year. Winston is much more talented than Manziel, but if he gets into trouble and can’t stay on the field, what difference does it make?

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

34. Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State: C+ Grade
It had to be one of the tackles, and I would’ve gone with Jake Fisher over Donovan McNabb, erm, Smith. I think it’s a mistake to pass on Fisher. Smith is very athletic, but never developed at Penn State – and I say this as a Nittany Lion alumnus. Smith has motivation issues, so taking him atop Round 2 is awfully risky. He has the potential to be a Pro Bowler, but he could just as easily bust.

61. Ali Marpet, C/G/OT, Hobart: B+ Grade
The Buccaneers moved up for Ali Marpet? Why, you ask? Because the Seahawks were set to select him. Ali Marpet is definitely worth a late second-round pick; he can play every position up front, which is important for a team with multiple holes on its offensive line. Marpet is highly athletic and was coveted by one of the top-drafting teams in the NFL, so this is very promising for the Buccaneers.

124. Kwon Alexander, LB, LSU: A- Grade
The Buccaneers were expected to address the linebacker position at some point, and they got themselves a good one in Kwon Alexander. The LSU product was expected by some to come off the board in the third round; in fact, one team was targeting him there before addressing the position earlier.

162. Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska: A- Grade
Kenny Bell isn’t as big as the monstrous skill players on Tampa’s offense, but he’s still pretty big at 6-1, 197. He’s also very athletic, and he can run routes pretty well. With Vincent Jackson on his way out soon, Bell, who could’ve gone earlier than this, may emerge as a starter in a year or two.

184. Kaelin Clay, WR/KR, Utah: B Grade
Kaelin Clay may never see the field on offense, but that’s OK because he’s a dynamic return specialist. He’ll inject some life into Tampa Bay’s special teams, and this was the right spot to add him.

231. Joey Iosefa, FB, Hawaii: C- Grade
An injury-prone player with off-the-field problems, Joey Isoefa should’ve been a UDFA player. I don’t like this pick, but it’s the seventh round.

2015 NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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