2021 NFL Draft: What do the Tampa Bay Bucs actually need?
We’re just days away from the 2021 NFL draft, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the pick every team wants, as they’re currently slotted at No. 32 overall after winning the Super Bowl.
The Bucs are returning their entire starting lineup from last year’s championship team, so they don’t have any glaring needs on either side of the ball.
What do you get the team that has everything?
Believe it or not, the Buccaneers do have needs -- everything from depth help at linebacker and defensive line, even to planning ahead for when Tom Brady finally isn't their quarterback, whenever that actually happens.
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Here’s what the Bucs should be targeting in this year’s draft:
The Bucs finally gave Shaq Barrett the long-term extension he deserved, so their top pass rusher is locked up for the next four seasons. But Jason Pierre-Paul is 32 years old, coming off knee surgery, and is heading into the final year of his current contract.
There’s not much in terms of proven depth or lofty potential behind those two, so the Bucs should consider spending their top pick in this year’s draft on a high-upside edge defender who could rotate in as a rookie and spell JPP before eventually taking over his starting role.
The Bucs might be set here for the 2021 season after bringing back veterans like Ndamukong Suh, Steve McClendon and Rakeem Nunez-Roches. But all three are on one-year deals, and 30-year-old Will Gholston is on the final year of his current contract, so the future is thin alongside Vita Vea.
Unfortunately, this year’s draft class is one of the weakest in terms of interior defensive line talent that I’ve seen in 20-plus years of covering the draft. That doesn’t mean the Bucs won’t be able to find talent there, it’ll just have to be at the right spot for the value to make sense.
The tackle spots are set for the foreseeable future, but the interior of the Bucs’ offensive line might need some overhaul after the 2021 season. Center Ryan Jensen and right guard Alex Cappa have both been solid if not stellar, but they’re also going into the final year of their current deals.
Tampa Bay might not have the cap space to bring both of them back on extensions next offseason, so spending an early pick on a versatile blocker who can play either guard or center would be a wise investment. Don’t be surprised if they double-dip, either, taking multiple prospects who can play those spots.
This is an underrated need for the Bucs. The kicking game should be solid again, thanks to the return of the Ryan Succop/Bradley Pinion/Zach Triner battery, but both the coverage and return game need some help.
Tampa Bay lost its best gunner in Ryan Smith to free agency this offseason, so it should be mining the late rounds of this year’s draft for a similar prospect with the athleticism, intelligence and toughness Smith brought to that valuable role.
The Bucs have also been in desperate need of a difference-maker in the return game, instead of the revolving door of disappointment they’ve had in recent years. Considering their lack of glaring needs elsewhere, spending a draft pick on a pure return specialist should be a priority.
Tom Brady obviously doesn’t look like he’ll be slowing down anytime soon, but the Bucs would be wise to start looking to the future at the game’s most important position. Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians admitted as much earlier this offseason, telling the media that finding a young quarterback to develop is definitely one of his team’s current needs.
The only problem? The top five quarterbacks in this year’s class are all likely to be off the board in the first half of the first round, and there’s a huge gap between them and the rest of this year’s passers. If the right guy is still on the board on Day 3 (Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond, Florida’s Kyle Trask, Stanford’s Davis Mills, Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman), the Bucs might be willing to take a chance, though.
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This might not look like a need on the surface, with the young and talented trio of Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean all returning, as well as veteran reserve Ross Cockrell. But Davis will need a contract extension after this year, and it won’t be cheap. The Bucs will be up against the salary cap again next year, so they might not be able to afford him.
The Bucs have done a great job identifying and developing their recent draft picks at corner, and it wouldn’t be surprising for them to plan for the future by taking another one in the early rounds this year to guard against Davis’ potential departure. In today’s pass-happy NFL, you can never have enough talented corners.
Mike Evans is locked up for a while still, but Chris Godwin is set to play the 2021 season on the franchise tag, so there’s no long-term assurance of his presence right now. Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson are young and promising, but I’m not sure their presence would stop the Bucs from taking the right receiver at the right spot in this year’s draft.
This is a dark-horse candidate for Tampa Bay’s first-round pick. This year’s receiver class is loaded with explosive playmakers, and it wouldn’t be shocking if the Bucs tried to maximize their Super Bowl window by spending their top pick on a pass-catcher who can make an immediate impact, especially if Antonio Brown remains unsigned.
Yes, the Bucs have a crowded depth chart here already. Signing veteran Giovani Bernard gave them the pass-catching third-down specialist they needed, but there’s a bigger need for the future lurking beneath the surface. Bernard is only on a one-year deal, as is Leonard Fournette. Ronald Jones II is in the final year of his rookie deal. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, a third-round pick in last year’s draft, has been a mixed bag with limited opportunities.
If the Bucs have a chance to add one of this year’s top running back prospects (Alabama’s Najee Harris, Clemson’s Travis Etienne, North Carolina’s Javonte Williams), all of whom have three-down skills sets and would upgrade both the running and receiving aspects of the Tampa Bay backfield with just one player as opposed to a committee, would give the Bucs improvement in both the long and short term.