“You’re on the Clock”: Fire the Cannons (2019 NFL Draft Part 5 of 6)
The “You’re on the Clock” segments are draft analysis series that are put together by HTN contributor Matthew Watson to provide you with some preparation and intrigue before the big night. In this series, Matt provides his thoughts on the top 5 draft slots in the 2019 NFL draft, including depth chart analysis, prospect reviews and team strategies. The series begins on April 15th with the Arizona Cardinals and the #1 draft selection and finishes on April 25th with a summary and final thoughts. Feel free to leave your own comments on the post with your own thoughts about each pick!
Fifth Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
All the signs point to: LB Devin White
Matt’s Maneuvers to consider: DT Ed Oliver, trade down for additional defensive pieces
2018 Season Recap
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a thoroughly confusing season last year. It began with Jameis Winston’s 3-game suspension which left Tampa fans expecting a lost campaign from the get go. This was followed by the famous “Fitzmagic” stretch of three games where backup Ryan Fitzpatrick was absolutely ridiculous while defeating New Orleans, shocking Super Bowl Champion Philly, and barely losing to the Steelers. This was followed to a demoralizing 48-10 loss to Chicago which exposed all of Tampa’s defensive woes, and it was pretty much downhill from there.
The Bucs had one of the top passing attacks in the league thanks to one of the best receiving cores including Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and OJ Howard. However, they had a non-existent running game, a horrendous defense, and a head coach in Dirk Koetter who couldn’t decide between Fitzpatrick and Winston as his starting quarterback. The potential was there for the young Bucs as they lost by a touchdown or less to Pittsburgh, Atlanta twice, Cincinnati, the Giants and the Cowboys, which left the team and the fanbase wondering “what if?”
The positives for Tampa included Mike Evans’ Pro Bowl campaign, Chris Godwin’s emergence as an outstanding young #2 receiver and Jason Pierre-Paul impressing with 12.5 sacks in his first year with the club. On the downside Tampa’s pass defense was the 7th worst in the league and DeSean Jackson’s consistently complained about his targets and playing time.
The biggest offseason move that Tampa Bay made was firing head coach Dirk Koetter and hiring the legendary Bruce Arians. Bruce is an offensive genius and bringing him on is Tampa’s last ditch effort to get something out of former #1 overall Jameis Winston. He also brings experience and hopefully stability to a Tampa organization that has had 4 coaches in the last 10 years. He brings along former Jets head coach Todd Bowles as his defensive co-ordinator who will transition Tampa’s defense into a 3-4 defensive front (3 down lineman and 4 linebackers).
Tampa took the opportunity to ship out DeSean Jackson for a late round pick and also lost Adam Humphries to free agency which slightly weakens the receiver group. They also made some under-the-radar signings in linebackers Deone Bucannon and Shaquil Barrett, but overall it was a quiet offseason for Tampa Bay.
The first pick in this draft for Tampa, without any hesitation, has to be on the defensive side of the ball. With an improving offensive line and outstanding receivers there are no significant gaps to fill on the offensive side of the ball. I would suggest taking a running back and an extra receiver in the middle rounds to shore up the depth, but the defense was so poor last year that something has to be done.
The additional wrinkle is the transition to the 3-4 defensive front. Several role players from Tampa’s former scheme won’t transition well and as such they need to adjust the roster at linebacker and defensive line. Vita Vea is a great size and talent fit for the nose tackle, and Jason Pierre-Paul proved last year that he could play well inside. However, franchise stalwart Gerald McCoy could be on his way out, due to his massive contract and his unlikely transition to the new setup. Therefore if Quinnen Williams were to somehow drop to the 5th pick I don’t think Tampa would hesitate to draft him as McCoy’s successor. In the reasonable scenario where he does not, there is another intriguing defensive prospect on the board in Ed Oliver. The Houston defensive tackle is a great pass rusher and run defender and would cause a great deal of trouble for any offensive line. Upon review of his tape, you can see very quickly that he is very intelligent, has great vision and is a tremendous physical force. He often maneuvers interior lineman in order to get an open tackle on a running back, or simply runs right through them to sack an unsuspecting quarterback. Oliver has been generating a lot of noise among the draft community recently, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Tampa go after him with the fifth overall pick. In a division with the likes of Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton, Tampa needs to ensure that its defensive front is up for the challenge.
In terms of the other levels of the defense, there has been a lot of speculation that Tampa would take the top linebacker in the class Devin White to replace the departed Kwon Alexander in the middle of the Buc’s defense. While they absolutely could take him at number 5, with so many amazing defensive lineman prospects on the board it almost seems like a waste to draft at such a high draft slot. If anything, Tampa should trade back to the middle of the first round and look to take a top linebacker or cornerback somewhere between draft spots 10-15. This would also provide Tampa with additional picks that they can use to add another starting cornerback, a free safety, or more pass rushers to their suspect defense.
Tampa Bay is in a very influential spot on the draft board and with many needs and a prime trade chip in Gerald McCoy, it would not surprise me to see the Bucs make at least one trade on Thursday night. However, if they stay put, I would hope they wouldn’t hesitate to draft a premium defensive prospect like Quinnen Williams or Ed Oliver because Tampa is in desperate need of impactful playmakers on that side of the ball. This will be an interesting opening year in the Bruce Arians regime, and hopefully Jameis Winston and the rest of the Buccaneers are ready to take the next step in the ultra-competitive NFC South.