Tampa Bay Bucs Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Mike Edwards, S, Kentucky – Round 3
For the past few seasons, the Buccaneers have needed an upgrade at free safety. The pass defense and back end of the Tampa Bay defense has been very vulnerable. Strong safety Justin Evans has played well when healthy, but the Bucs have been in need of an upgrade to go with him. Edwards was a solid player for Kentucky over the past few years and could form a nice tandem with Evans.

In 2018, Edwards totaled 82 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, two interceptions and six passes broken up. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder has good speed and instincts on the back end to cover ground in the deep part of the field. He played well in his previous seasons with Kentucky, including as a junior when he totaled 97 tackles with seven passes broken up and four interceptions. He totaled 100 tackles with eight passes broken up and three interceptions during his sophomore season.

Edwards does not have a lot of competition in the long run. He may not start right away as a rookie, but in a year or two, I think he could beat out the likes of Kentrell Brice and Jordan Whitehead to be Tampa Bay’s starting free safety. With his skill set, instincts, and play at Kentucky, I think Edwards could become a solid starter for the Bucs.

2018: Vita Vea, DT
2017: Chris Godwin, WR
2016: Roberto Aquayo, K
2015: Ali Marpet, G/C
2014: Mike Evans, WR
2013: Akeem Spence, DT

Most Likely To Bust

Sean Bunting, CB, Central Michigan – Round 2
Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht has had some real struggles in the second round of NFL drafts. Licht decided to stick with and reward left tackle Donovan Smith, but Smith is a bad left tackle who struggles with good edge rushers. Other second-round picks from Licht include the bust of kicker Ricky Aguayo, disappointing edge rusher Noah Spence, struggling running back Ronald Jones, and discarded tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Bunting was viewed as a reach by Tampa Bay around the league, and that does not bode well considering Licht’s poor track record.

In speaking to sources at other teams, there was one team that had Bunting in the second round, but others had him as a late-rounder. One team even had him in its undrafted free agent pool. But Licht took Bunting with the 39th-overall pick. Bunting has size and speed, but sources feel he was a size/speed reach rather than being a good player worthy of going that high. Better college cornerbacks were available with LSU’s Greedy Williams, who went to the Browns, and Vanderbilt’s Joejuan Williams, who went to the Patriots. There is no doubt that around the league other teams did not view Bunting as worthy of going as high as Tampa Bay took him.

Bunting will have to make a big jump in competition going from Central Michigan to the NFL. On top of Bunting having much tougher opponents, the Bucs have a log jam at corner, as Licht has drafted five cornerbacks in the first through third round since 2016. Bunting is going to have to beat out Carlton Davis, Vernon Hargreaves, M.J. Stewart, Ryan Smith and Jamel Dean for playing time. It could be tough for Bunting to break through given his technical issues and lead to him being another Licht second-round bust.

2018: Alex Cappa, G
2017: Justin Evans, S
2016: Noah Spence, DE
2015: Donovan Smith, OT
2014: Charles Sims, RB
2013: William Gholston, DE

Potential Boom Pick

Devin White, LB, LSU – Round 1
The Bucs had more pressing needs for an edge rusher and a disruptive interior defensive lineman, but White was too good to pass up for Tampa Bay. Early into his rookie contract, the 6-foot, 237-pounder could emerge as one of the best linebackers in the NFL, and he should continue a tradition of excellent linebacker play in Tampa Bay following in the footsteps of Hardy Nickerson, Derrick Brooks and Lavonte David.

As a linebacker, White is the complete package. He has excellent instincts and is very fast to read his keys to get in position to make plays. For a big and thick linebacker, White has shocking speed to get to the perimeter and eats up space in a hurry. That speed was given numerical proof at the combine when White had a phenomenal 40 time of 4.42 seconds, a tremendous time for a big middle linebacker.

In the ground game, White is a very good tackler who wraps up ball-carriers and puts them into the turf with force. White has the size and mentality to take on blocks, hold his ground, shed the block, and get in on tackles. White is a superb run defender and projects to be a force to shut down and limit the offense’s ground game.

White is a skilled defender for pass coverage. He is very fast as a blitzer and has excellent diagnosis skills. White reads plays quickly and covers a lot of ground in zone. He has the speed to run down the middle seam. On dump-off passes to the flat, White explodes into the ball-carrier and is very good at making tackles in space. His size and athleticism allow him to have the potential to play some man coverage on tight ends and backs out of the backfield.

White was one of the best players in the 2019 NFL Draft and worthy of a top-five pick. He also looks like one of the safest prospects to turn into a good pro. It would not be a surprise if White is a stud linebacker and a boom pick for the Buccaneers.

2018: Ronald Jones, RB
2017: O.J. Howard, TE
2016: Vernon Hargreaves, CB
2015: Jameis Winston, QB
2014: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE
2013: Johnathan Banks, CB

Future Depth Player

Anthony Nelson, DE, Iowa – Round 4
Last year, the best player on the Bucs’ defense was defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and the Bucs enjoyed a nice find with Browns castoff Carl Nassib playing well on the other side. With Pierre-Paul missing time to start the 2019 season, Tampa Bay needed more defensive end depth, and the team landed a good backup in Nelson. Nelson recorded 45 tackles with 13.5 for a loss, 9.5 sacks and one pass batted in 2018. He was a solid edge rusher for the Hawkeyes and contributed to them having a tough defensive line on the other side from the talented A.J. Epenesa. Nelson may not have the speed and athleticism to be a long-term starting edge rusher in the NFL, but he is a tough defender who could be a good rotational backup and contributor at left defensive end.

2018: Justin Watson, WR
2017: Kendell Beckwith, LB
2016: Devante Bond, LB
2015: Kwon Alexander, LB
2014: Robert Herron, S
2013: Mike Glennon, QB

5. Devin White, LB, LSU B+ Grade
We return to sanity, which is nice. The Buccaneers had their choosing of Devin White, Ed Oliver or Josh Allen, and they couldn’t have gone wrong with either of the three. Bruce Arians said he wanted a “once in a generation-type player,” and White could be a perennial Pro Bowler for the next decade. White fills a huge need in the middle of Tampa’s poor defense, and he could finally bring some credibility and leadership to the stop unit. This is the right pick, though it’s one of three “right picks” Tampa could have made.

39. Sean Bunting, CB, Central Michigan B Grade
I had Sean Bunting slotted to the Buccaneers in the third round, but that was more of there being plenty of Round 2 cornerbacks available to find a slot for him. I considered Bunting to be a second-round prospect as well, so I think the range makes sense for them. Bunting is a versatile, talented cornerback, and he should be able to be a much-needed upgrade for a secondary that has struggled for quite some time. This is a solid choice.

94. Jamel Dean, CB, Auburn A Grade
Another cornerback makes sense, given how much trouble the Buccaneers have endured at the position. Jamel Dean is someone I consistently mocked in the second round for a while, but ultimately moved him into the third frame because of his injury history. Jamel Dean was banged up often at Auburn, but played well when completely healthy. Dean tested very well at the combine, so he definitely has great upside.

99. Mike Edwards, S, Kentucky B+ Grade
I mocked Mike Edwards five selections earlier than this, so I like the range for him. Edwards is a good athlete who was productive at Kentucky. He certainly could develop into a capable starter for the Buccaneers, who absolutely needed to find a safety after senselessly passing on Derwin James a year ago.

107. Anthony Nelson, DE/DT, Iowa A Grade
No, I’m not just in a good mood. These picks are awesome! The teams here are taking better prospects than those chosen in Round 3. Anthony Nelson could have snuck into Round 2 without much criticism. He was announced as a linebacker, but he looks to be a 3-4 defensive end in Tampa’s new scheme.

145. Matt Gay, K, Utah D Grade
I’d say not that there’s anything wrong with Matt Gay being the pick here, but there’s definitely something wrong with it. How many selections are the Buccaneers going to waste on kickers? They should add players who actually affect the first three downs of a game.

208. Scott Miller, WR, Bowling Green C Grade
Scott Miller projects as a slot receiver to replace Adam Humphries. He tested very well at his pro day, so I imagine the Buccaneers like his potential. However, I saw Miller as a UDFA target, so I’m not sure if he’ll be able to make the 53-man roster. This isn’t a very good pick as far as value is concerned, but that’s not a big deal at this point.

215. Terry Beckner Jr., DE/DT, Missouri C+ Grade
Terry Beckner makes sense as a seventh-round pick. He was productive at Missouri, but offers very limited athleticism in addition to a lengthy injury history and some off-the-field problems. Still, it wouldn’t be shocking if Beckner developed into a backup.

2019 NFL Draft Team Grade: A- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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