Can Tampa Bay Buccaneers find Tom Brady's next right-hand man in NFL draft?

Until Tom Brady agreed to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the marriage between the six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback and his new team was hard to fathom.

Much of the disbelief stemmed merely from the thought of Brady leaving the Patriots, with whom he had spent his entire 20-year career, for a franchise with the NFL's second-longest active playoff drought. But beyond that and off-the-field matters, Brady hardly seemed to be a match for the Buccaneers' prevailing philosophy.

Coach Bruce Arians has often ran in opposition to larger league trends, particularly with his aggressive, downfield passing attack. Brady, on the other hand, is famous for utilizing a quick release and favoring short throws, with his average target depth of 7.6 yards ranking 26th in the NFL in 2019.

That setup could leave the coach and his new star passer with some reconciling to do ahead of their first season together. 

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Arians, for his part, has dismissed the notion that there's any disconnect. He contended Brady is "outstanding" at throwing deep and maintained that, while he doesn't want a "checkdown Charlie" at quarterback, the offense won't solely be predicated on long heaves.

For Brady to find his comfort zone, however, the Buccaneers might need to bring on the kind of right-hand man the three-time MVP came to trust in New England. With several options potentially available in this month's NFL draft, here's our look at the players who could best serve that role.

Running backs

Even prior to Brady's arrival, upgrading this group was a focal point for Tampa Bay. Arians said that although he was happy with what starter Ronald Jones accomplished on screens, the offense would greatly benefit from adding someone capable of operating as a receiver out of the backfield. Brady has recently leaned heavily on such a safety blanket in James White, who was targeted 218 times in the last two years, second only among running backs to the Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey during that time.

Though it's a long shot there would be any player at the position worth taking with the team's first-round selection at No. 14 overall, there could be several targets later on.

Top NFL draft options

1. D'Andre Swift, Georgia: In a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports, Swift marveled at the idea of teaming up with Brady. If the quarterback is familiar with the dynamic Georgia back's body of work, he likely would have a similar sentiment about the potential pairing. Swift is more than just a screen or checkdown option, as he comfortably catches the ball outside his frame and can be utilized almost anywhere on the field. His running style is all about pacing and a proper sense of space, as he can dispatch linebackers with a quick change of direction. Swift would contrast well with Jones as a heavy-usage passing game threat, but he might not make it to the Bucs' pick in the middle of the second round.

2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU: A master of maneuvering in tight spaces, Edwards-Helaire in many ways is the picture of a Brady back. At 5-7 and 207 pounds, he accommodates for pedestrian long speed with a rapid stop and start to his cuts, allowing him to easily shake defenders in the open field. Moreover, after catching 55 passes last year, he's accustomed to being split out wide and creating mismatches against linebackers with sudden, crisp routes. And it surely helps Edwards-Helaire's case that he worked under Kevin Faulk, the former LSU standout who became a longtime favorite of Brady for his well-rounded skill set. Edwards-Helaire should hear his name called at some point in the second round, and Tampa Bay makes plenty of sense as a landing spot.

3. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State: Maybe not the most electric threat as either a runner or receiver, Dobbins nevertheless has the experience, instincts and skill set to make significant contributions as a three-down back. At Ohio State, he caught 71 passes in the last three years, though his route running might be stunted by his heavy use on screens and swing passes. Not a bad option in the third round.

4. Antonio Gibson, Memphis: What better way to embody Arians' "no risk it, no biscuit" philosophy than by taking on a player who had 14 touchdowns on 77 career receptions? As he makes the transition from college receiver to NFL running back, Gibson may find the bulk of his production on fly sweeps and manufactured touches in the passing game. But at 6-0 and 228 pounds with breakaway speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash), he's a project capable of providing a massive payoff. After Arians helped the similarly built David Johnson blossom in Arizona, he could bring out the best of Gibson, giving Brady someone who can get into the open field and rip off long gains.

5. Eno Benjamin, Arizona State: The trait that holds Benjamin back as a runner might also make him a promising pass catcher at the next level. Always in pursuit of a big play, the 5-9, 207-pound back regularly looks to change directions and breaks tackles with ease. While the approach can lead to too many plays dying in the backfield, that elasticity could serve him well as a target for Brady, as he can be dangerous on throws that give him one-on-one opportunities. As a middle-round possibility, Benjamin offers intriguing upside.

6. Zack Moss, Utah: Though he more closely resembles a traditional bell-cow back than many of the ball carriers who previously have worked with Brady, Moss still might be attractive to Tampa Bay. He took on a larger role in the passing game last season and has the capacity to continue his growth in this area. With his penchant for eluding defenders or bouncing off them, Moss can help squeeze more yards out of simple dumpoff passes.

7. Lamical Perine, Florida: If Tampa Bay is merely looking for a backup, their search might point them toward Perine. The 5-10, 216-pound jack of all trades is reliable as a receiver, though he doesn't project to be much more than a safety valve after averaging 6.6 yards per catch on 40 receptions last year.

Wide receivers

In Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Brady is equipped with perhaps the league's pre-eminent receiver tandem. Both, however, lean on build-up speed and leaping ability to make plays downfield. Throughout his time in New England, Brady leaned on shifty slot receivers who could get open quickly, such as Julian Edelman, Wes Welker and Troy Brown. 

Given that this class has been lauded for its depth at receiver, the Buccaneers could find themselves in the market for someone who would complement Evans and Godwin.

Top NFL draft options

1. K.J. Hill, Ohio State: College football's premier route runner is the exact model of a player who would thrive catching passes from Brady. As Ohio State's leader in career catches (201), Hill has shown he deserves an advanced degree in the art of freeing himself up on underneath routes. Operating as a slot receiver who works almost exclusively in the short to intermediate area, he might be exactly what Brady desires to ease the transition, making him worthy of a Day 2 investment.

2. James Proche, SMU: Put the ball in the air and let him make a play. That's not a typical instruction for a 5-11, 201-pound receiver with subpar speed and quickness, but Proche's ball skills make him arguably the most trustworthy target in this class. With a knack for hauling in difficult throws and boxing out defenders, he has a veteran-level savviness that Brady should appreciate in short order. As a likely Day 3 pick, he has substantial value for this team.

3. Devin Duvernay, Texas: A high-school track champion, the 5-10, 200-pound Duvernay resembles a running back who can break away from tacklers like a kick returner — so long as he's given the ball in favorable conditions. With reliable hands and a physical demeanor, he can rack up yards after the catch with ease. But it's still to be determined if he can handle a true slot role, as a large number of his catches came on screens. Patience and creativity might be required of Brady and the Buccaneers if Duvernay lands with them, but the receiver is worth considering in the middle rounds.

4. Lynn Bowden Jr., Kentucky: As an all-purpose threat who dabbled at quarterback last year, Bowden no doubt will elicit premature comparisons to Julian Edelman if he lands in Tampa Bay. While such parallels would be unfair to all parties, the multi-talented prospect could vex NFL defenses as a gadget player early in his career. His underdeveloped route running, however, might limit his initial contributions in a more traditional role, making it more difficult to use a Day 2 selection on him.

5. Tyler Johnson, Minnesota: On one hand, Johnson has almost unequaled knowhow as a route runner and a flair for hauling in difficult and contested catches. On the other, he too often drops easy passes, and his lackluster speed and struggles with press coverage portend problems at the next level. Johnson might mesh with Brady under the right circumstances, but he's not the kind of player who will make life easier for the quarterback by getting open consistently.

6. K.J. Hamler, Penn State: Able to fly past cornerbacks, Hamler has a way of creating separation that Brady would surely appreciate. Yet given his persistent drops, haphazard route running and small catch radius, the 5-9, 178-pound target might have a hard time earning the veteran's trust early in his career.

Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.