TAMPA, Fla. -- With the NFL scouting combine set to take place next week in Indianapolis, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will get a closer look at top draft prospects in areas of need who have piqued their interest. Here’s a closer look at some of those needs and players who could fill them.
Right tackle Demar Dotson is a free agent and nearing the end of his career and the Bucs aren’t sold on Donovan Smith as a long-term solution at left tackle, which creates a need for a starting right tackle who could possibly be groomed into a starter at the left spot. Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Louisville's Mekhi Becton and Houston's Josh Jones are considered the top five prospects at the position.
At 6-foot-7 and 369 pounds, Becton is surprisingly nimble for an athlete his size. Thomas, who started at both left and right tackle, really jumps out as a run-blocker and has terrific length with 36-inch arms. Wirfs, a former state champion wrestler, can play both right and left tackle, although some have projected him as more of a guard at the next level. Willis played right tackle at Alabama, protecting left-handed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's blind side, but teams see him as capable of lining up on either side. Jones was a four-year starter at Houston, logging 45 games at left tackle, and while he’s light on his feet, he has shown some inconsistency with his hand usage.
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The big question surrounding the Bucs this offseason is whether Jameis Winston will return. Even if he does, the general feeling is that it will be under the franchise tag or a short-term deal. The Bucs have to explore their options, which should mean a look at this crop of quarterbacks. The Bucs have three or four quarterbacks with first-round grades -- likely LSU's Joe Burrow, Tagovailoa and Oregon's Justin Herbert. But all three of those quarterbacks are long gone before the Bucs pick at No. 14 in Mel Kiper's latest mock draft. So how do the Bucs feel about the four behind them -- Jordan Love, Jacob Eason, Jalen Hurts and Jake Fromm?
Love has a big arm, but he also threw 17 interceptions (with 20 touchdowns) and doesn’t know when to give up on plays, which doesn’t exactly solve the problem they’ve had with Winston the past five years. Eason has a strong arm and threw only eight interceptions last season, but at times, he has been timid. That can be seen as both good and bad, depending on whether coach Bruce Arians can infuse some "no risk it, no biscuit" into him. If the Bucs want to wait, Hurts and Fromm are options. Hurts showed a lot of athleticism and mobility, but there are concerns about his decision-making, while Fromm might lack some of the physical traits but is smart and accurate.
There’s uncertainty next to defensive tackle Vita Vea with Ndamukong Suh slated to become a free agent. And because defensive coordinator Todd Bowles loves to employ double- and triple-A gap blitzes, fortifying this area is a must. At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds with 34-inch arms, Javon Kinlaw out of South Carolina could fit the bill, as could 6-foot-5, 318-pound Derrick Brown out of Auburn. Both have explosiveness that is off the charts. Brown’s versatility is a bonus, as he lined up as a nose tackle but also a three-technique and edge rusher, something Suh does as well. Kinlaw has experience lining up in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 as a tackle.
There’s also uncertainty about a return for safety Justin Evans, who is coming off two foot surgeries. That could make Alabama’s Xavier McKinney an option, considering Arians said at the end of the season that they could use an impact player in that department. There’s also LSU's Grant Delpit, who’s capable of playing single high and in the box, although there have been concerns about tackling (he also dealt with some injuries last season). Cal’s Ashtyn Davis figures to test very well in Indianapolis and should be in the mix as well.
The Bucs have drafted four corners in the past four years and are encouraged by what they’ve seen out of Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting. But if Bowles has the opportunity to get better on the back end, he will. Keep an eye on Florida’s C.J. Henderson, Alabama’s Trevon Diggs and LSU’s Kristian Fulton -- all players the Bucs have interest in. All are over 6 foot and 200 pounds. Henderson is fast and can hang with anyone in pure man coverage, while Fulton’s strength is his disruption. (The NCAA suspended Fulton for 19 months for tampering with a drug test.) Diggs’ strengths are his length and ball skills.