BY LUKE EASTERLING
The Pewter Pirates are win-less no more, but that won’t get the paper bags off fans’ heads at Raymond James Stadium quite yet. There’s still plenty of distrust for the current regime, from GM Mark Dominik to head coach Greg Schiano and his staff, and key injuries definitely haven’t helped a team that couldn’t even win with their best 22 on the field during the first half of the season.
The silver lining for a 1-8 team is that they’re likely to be picking very high in next year’s Draft, so let’s take a mid-season look at what the most pressing needs are for the Bucs on both sides of the ball.
Tight End/Slot Receiver
These are two separate areas of need, but the reasoning is similar: no matter who is standing in the pocket in Tampa Bay next year (or running for his life as it collapses), there is a huge need for an athletic tight end to create mismatches, as well as a reliable third receiver who can be a consistent chain-mover and play-maker after the catch from the slot. The highest pick the Bucs have spent on a tight end in the past few years was on Luke Stocker in the 4th round in 2011, and he’s been an injury-riddled disappointment. The Bucs would be wise to consider one of this year’s top targets at the position at the top of the 2nd round, such as Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro, both of whom have the size and athleticism to create serious problems for opposing defenses. In the slot, the Bucs have had a revolving door this year that has included Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood, Eric Page and Skye Dawson, none of whom have proven to be what the Bucs need. Names like Odell Beckham, Jr. (LSU), Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin), Cody Hoffman (BYU) and Kevin Norwood (Alabama) would be solid fits.
What was supposed to be a strength heading into this season has turned out to be possibly the most disappointing unit on the entire Bucs team. Though their overall play has improved over the past two games (especially in the run game), the Bucs’ big uglies have been riddled by injuries and inconsistency. They’ve yet to see a completely healthy Carl Nicks, and former Pro Bowlers Davin Joseph and Donald Penn haven’t played anywhere near they’re usual standards. Throw in an average-at-best center in Jeremy Zuttah and a decently-progressing project at right tackle in Demar Dotson, and the Bucs have a recipe for needing to add some young talent to a vital unit. Look for them to address this in the middle rounds (as best they can, considering they’ll likely be without their 3rd and 5th round picks), with options such as Alabama’s Anthony Steen (G), Notre Dame’s Zack Martin (G/T), LSU’s La’el Collins (G/T), and Tennessee’s JuWaun James (T).
Here’s the thing: I like Mike Glennon. I really do. I think he will continue to develop into a pretty solid quarterback in the NFL. But will he ever be that field general who strikes fear into the hearts of opponents? Will he ever be that guy that you wouldn’t DARE leave with more than a minute on the clock to make a comeback win? I just don’t think so. So, even if he keeps playing the way he has so far (mostly mistake-free), if the Bucs want to use this opportunity of picking in the top three in the Draft to take a swing on a dynamic signal-caller, you could hardly blame them. If they end up behind the Jags at #2, I wouldn’t be surprised if Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is their guy. In that scenario, it might provide the Bucs an opportunity to deal Glennon on Draft Day to recoup some of the picks they’re missing this year, which could end up being a huge win-win for them.
Welcome to Tampa Bay’s broken-record need: a dynamic pass-rushing presence who can bend the edge, collapse the pocket and force opposing quarterbacks into bad decisions. The Bucs have missed so often at spending high picks on the position that one has to wonder if the Draft is really the best avenue for them to try to fill that need this year (Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers, Gaines Adams…need I go on?). However, similar to the quarterback position, if ever there was a year for the Bucs to swing for the fences on a pass-rusher, it would be to take a freakish talent like South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney. However, should they wait until Round 2, there might still be some players available who have the skills to make such an impact, such as Stanford’s Trent Murphy or USF’s Aaron Lynch.
Darrelle Revis definitely looks like he’s returning to form, and though the Bucs just spent a 2nd-rounder on Johnthan Banks, you can never have too many good corners in a division that features Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton. This year’s corner class is very similar to last year’s, in that I’m not thrilled with the top tier, but there is a deep second tier that could produce some solid NFL talents. My favorite Day-2 options are Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, and Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner (who could play in the slot and also slide back to safety in certain packages).
With the increasing amount of three-wide sets that defenses are facing on a regular basis these days, many 4-3 teams are running with just two linebackers on a greater amount of snaps than in years past. This has made the Sam LB position become a little less of a priority, and the Bucs have been using a committee approach this season with Dekoda Watson and Jonathan Casillas. Both of these players have been solid, but it wouldn’t hurt to add another young guy to the mix. Late-round options could include Illinois’ Anthony Brown, Stanford’s A.J. Tarpley and Iowa’s Anthony Hitchens.