The initial period of Free Agency is over, the draft is in the rear view mirror, the dust has settled and now teams and fans are already dreaming of the forthcoming season. The NFC South has been one of the toughest divisions in recent years and after free agency and the draft, this doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. So, starting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I will take a look at who has joined the team in free agency and which college prospects will be starting their NFL careers in the Florida sunshine.
The Bucs had holes all over the field at the start of the off season. None more so than at running back and defensive end. Throw in defensive and offensive lines which were soft, cornerbacks, who struggled mainly due to the slack of a pass rush, and safety, the Bucs had no shortage of areas to strengthen.
Free Agency Signings (not including resigning)
Jason Pierre Paul (DE), Vinny Curry (DE), Beau Allan (DT), Mitch Unrein (DT) , Ryan Jensen (C), Chandler Catanzaro (K)
New Bucs Defensive Line Coach Brentson Buckner should be a happy man. Tampa’s D-Line was ineffective in 2017. Two run stuffing tackles, and two Super Bowl winning defensive ends later and the Bucs D-Line, with the exception of Gerald McCoy, is completely unrecognisable from last year. Of course, this wasn’t the end of the D-Line additions as we would find out in the draft, but more on the later.
Not to be outdone, with all the improvements in the D-Line, the offensive line was also improved with the addition of Ravens center Ryan Jensen. The O-Line, despite not being the best, was never as bad as made out to be some in the media, but the addition of a new center should see Ali Marpet move back to guard. If JR Sweezy can get back to form and avoid injury then the middle of the O-Line will be much stronger and meaner than last year.
It wouldn’t be a true Bucs off-season without another kcker being brought in. Despite the Nick Folk fiasco, the Bucs yet again went back to the Jets and signed Chandler Catanzaro. Time will tell if the latest ex-Jets kicker is better than the previous one but Chandler would have to go some to be worse than Folk.
With the additions above from free agency, the Bucs were able to focus on the remaining weak areas in the roster, or so we thought. Sitting with the 7th overall pick in the draft, Tampa was always going to be on the cusp of securing one of the top three players in this year’s draft. With Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb and Quentin Nelson all being picked 2nd, 5th and 6th respectively, the Bucs decided to cash in their premium draft pick and trade down seven places with the Bills for an additional two second rounders. Expected to immediately improve the secondary by picking safety Derwin James, Tampa pulled a pleasant surprise by picking the incredible defensive tackle Vita Vea In the first round. You could almost hear the shriek of delight coming from Gerald McCoy’s man cave as the days of the opposition double teaming GMC are over. Make no mistake about it, Vea is an incredible athlete for a man of his size. Weighing in at a mightily impressive 347 lbs, Vea ran a 5.1 seconds in the combine. Good luck trying to stop Vita.
Finally, after years of neglect, and false hope from Doug Martin, the Bucs used a high draft pick to get, what they hope to be, their franchise running back. Ronald Jones Jr, or RoJo, was selected early in the second round and will be expected to hit the ground running (pun intended) in Tampa. The two second round picks received from the Bills were then used to significantly strengthen the secondary with defensive back MJ Stewart and cornerback Carlton Davis. Stewart gives the Bucs flexibility as he can play nickel, inside, outside and also help out at safety if required. Davis, who was selected after the Bucs traded down with the Patriots for an additional pick gives Tampa two prime attributes which were lacking at cornerback; speed and size.
The wheeling and dealing wasn’t over yet. Despite trading down twice already in the draft, the Bucs then traded up from the top of the 4th round into the 3rd round to pick up offensive lineman Alex Cappa. The only thing small about Cappa is the school he came from. At 6-6 with a playing attitude to match, Cappa could prove to be an absolute bargain in the 3rd round. Again, like the pick of MJ Stewart in the previous round, Cappa can play in a variety of positions and adds strength and depth to the front five.
4th – 7th Rounds
All the wheeling and dealing by the Bucs General Manager, Jason Licht, may have deprived Tampa of their 7th round pick but there were still some gems just waiting to get their names called. In order; the Bucs selected safety Jordan Whitehead, wide receiver Justin Watson and, last but by no means least, inside linebacker Jack Cichy. Jordan Whitehead owns the rather dubious title of first draft pick to be called out by a parrot. Here’s hoping that he ends up being known for his defensive skills rather than being on first name terms with Zsa Zsa the 8 year old Macaw. Wide receiver Watson passed the 1000 yard receiving mark in each of his three last seasons in college. Due to the strength of the Bucs wide receiver group, Watson’s role may be limited but don’t be surprised if, when given the chance, he grabs it with both hands. The Bucs final pick could end up being an absolute bargain. Based on potential, Cichy should have been selected way higher than 202. However, a serious knee injury which resulted in him missing the entire 2017 campaign resulted in him still being available in the 6th round.
So will this be enough for Tampa to challenge at the top of the NFC South in 2018? Coming from this Bucs fan, I hope so. but they have to be better than their poor showing in 2017.
Image courtesy Buccaneers.com