The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are riding high off a dominant 31-9 Super Bowl LV victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, but with many key free agents and only so much salary cap space, the reigning champions’ ability to retain core players will loom large over their 2021 NFL Draft strategy.
Although they essentially pick last in each of the first three rounds, Bucs general manager Jason Licht has found immense value in many areas of the draft in recent years. For instance, he stole safety Antoine Winfield Jr. in the second round last year, and the rookie wound up being a huge, starting contributor to the team’s championship run.
So, what will Licht and the front office prioritize? Insurance on the defensive front seven? More protection for legendary quarterback Tom Brady? Let’s take a closer look at the top prospects Tampa Bay should consider targeting, with analysis as to why the prospective picks make sense in light of the Bucs’ free agency situation.
Read More: Top 25 potential NFL free agents of 2021
Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft picks: Best prospects to target in three-round mock
First round, 32nd pick: Christian Barmore (DL, Alabama), Dillon Radunz (OT, North Dakota State), Jayson Oweh (EDGE, Penn State),
Ndamukong Suh is a free agent and isn’t guaranteed to be back due to the sizable salary he’ll likely command. There are other priority players such as pass-rusher Shaquil Barrett and linebacker Lavonte David to consider, who have longer careers in front of them than Suh.
That’s where Barmore enters the equation. Whether it’d require trading a future 2022 pick to land him or not remains to be seen, but in any event, he should be Tampa Bay’s top target.
While it’s probably cheaper to pay for an interior, aging defensive lineman like Suh as opposed to a top edge-rusher like Barrett or generational linebacker in David, it’s not quite as high-impact of a position. Plus, Barmore comes from a football factory in Tuscaloosa, and is definitely pro-ready, as his dominant Defensive MVP performance in the national championship game proved.
Radunz is an interesting prospect in that he hails from an FCS powerhouse. The caliber of opponents he faced is in question, yet Radunz is used to high expectations, and is a far less expensive option than Bucs incumbent left tackle Donovan Smith, who’s a cap casualty candidate due to his pending hit of $13.1 million in 2021.
Finally, if the Bucs let Barrett loose and figure they can get a replacement to step in for him opposite Jason Pierre-Paul, they could do far worse than Oweh. Despite lackluster collegiate production, Oweh reportedly runs a 4.33-second 40-yard dash. Pairing him with JPP and a freakish nose tackle in Vita Vea — with a freaky athlete in Devin White still at linebacker, even if David leaves — would make Tampa Bay so dynamic, multiple and versatile across the front.
Second round, 64th pick: Carlos Basham Jr. (EDGE, Wake Forest), Jabril Cox (LB, LSU), Jackson Carman (OT, Clemson)
Due to Basham’s heavier-set, 285-pound frame and his hailing from a less prominent football program, he might not get the recognition he deserves. Then again, edge players are at a premium, and the 2021 class isn’t rife with elite options.
Few produced at the level Basham did in college, though. For the Demon Deacons, he put together excellent tape from the past two seasons especially, logging 22.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks over his final 19 games. His big body is actually a plus if Tampa Bay wants to slide him around, and his play strength at the point of attack is impressive and bodes well for him to continue playing the run at a high level in the NFL.
Going to the well of LSU linebackers proved very prosperous when the Bucs made the somewhat controversial decision to nab White in the top five overall during the 2019 draft. While Cox isn’t near the prospect White was coming out of college, he’s also a far different player in terms of skill set and how he’d fit into the equation of coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense.
White has been afforded the ability to freelance quite a bit thanks to David’s assignment-sound style, wherein he’s rarely out of position versus the run and is excellent in coverage. Cox excels when he drops back to play the pass, as he racked up three interceptions and five passes defensed this past season. With White showing the knack for making splash plays and tackles for loss on opposing ball-carriers — and with plenty of room still to improve in that area — he and Cox would complement each other very well if David leaves.
What makes Carman an appealing left tackle possibility for Tampa Bay is his demonstrated prowess to protect for Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, as he seldom got beaten off the edge thanks to his length, mobility and solid pass sets, especially for someone of his size at 335 pounds.
That added weight comes in handy in the running game as well, and for a Bucs team that likes to play smashmouth football, Carman fits that paradigm, having blocked for a hard-nosed, north-south runner in Travis Etienne for multiple seasons as well.
Third round, 95th pick: Marvin Wilson (DL, Florida State), Brady Christensen (OT, BYU), Ihmir Smith-Marsette (WR, Iowa)
In the event Licht doesn’t want to swing a deal for Barmore and he’s off the board by 32nd overall, it wouldn’t be a bad bargain to land someone like Wilson. A former 5-star recruit who weathered lots of turnover and down years as part of Florida State’s traditionally strong program, he has the short-area quickness and burst to fill in as a starter. Wilson should be a far more productive pro in the right system than he was in college.
Facing decent but not spectacular competition does Christensen no favors, yet he’s one of those prospects who could slide down in the draft and benefit from going to a great team with a strong, recent track record of player development.
Whatever Christensen lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in sheer ability to get the job done in the trenches. Not for nothing: he was Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked offensive tackle in 2020 and slotted in at 17th the season before. Christensen is one of those who’ll be all over draft boards, but could be just the type of plug-and-play prospect the Bucs need to close out Day 2 of the draft.
Smith-Marsette’s upside as a downfield deep threat is what makes him an appealing Round 3 prospect for the Bucs to consider. They may lose Chris Godwin to a multi-year, lucrative contract, because he’ll be among the hottest commodities on the open market. It also depends what Antonio Brown commands in salary for 2021, as AB might want more money as he revitalizes his career.
But with Tyler Johnson making some clutch playoff catches and Scotty Miller exploding onto the scene in 2020, Tampa Bay probably won’t spend one of its first three selections on the wide receiver position, despite its potential to lose two premier playmakers. Smith-Marsette is nevertheless intriguing, and could bring a boost to the return game, as he ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns at Iowa.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft picks: Ideal 2021 mock scenario
- First round: Christian Barmore (DL, Alabama)
- Second round: Carlos Basham Jr. (EDGE, Wake Forest)
- Third round: Brady Christensen (OT, BYU)
Should Godwin, Brown and tailback Leonard Fournette all flee the Bucs this offseason for other teams, Tom Brady and the offense would still have plenty of weapons to turn to. That makes defense the top priority, because there are more potential losses on that side of the ball that could hinder Tampa Bay’s aspirations of back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
Barmore is really such a great prospect who’s right in line with the Bucs’ identity, and the fact that he had eight sacks in 2020 proves how strong he can be as an interior pass-rusher. Should he wind up being a hit at the NFL level as expected, Barmore could really open up how Tampa Bay fills out its defense not just next season, but into 2022 when TB12 is still expected to be under center amid a wide-open championship window.
The idea of the Bucs landing Oweh to replace Barrett is so tantalizing, yet it might not totally help the cause to win now. Basham’s versatility to slide inside as a 3-4 defensive end in subpackages and strength to play the run and bull rush off the edge makes him an appealing, superior fit.
Why not someone with the first name Brady to protect the blind side of the Bucs’ last-name Brady? It just fits, and if Tampa Bay does land Christensen in Round 3, it frees up the team to release Donovan Smith, or at least offers a solution at the supremely important position if Smith does stick around for one more year.
Christensen is a polished technician who dealt with the pressure of protecting a top draft prospect in BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. It stands to reason he has the mental makeup to guard for TB12, and would check in as part of a detail-oriented, strong collective offensive line in Tampa Bay.