The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Best Direction in the 2016 NFL Draft

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers firing of Lovie Smith wasn’t so much a curious move as curious timing. The franchise appeared to panic over the potential departure of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. I’m not sure why Koetter is considered to be of such importance but that’s where we are.

Koetter will presumably be shown patience since the Buccaneers were criticized some for moving on from Smith less than 12 months after drafting his franchise quarterback. Jameis Winston showed during his rookie season that he has notable flaws that need to be eroded away but that he is also an exceptional talent who can help his team compete right now. The Buccaneers shouldn’t rush the process though.

Winston’s focus at this point should still be on development. The Buccaneers focus should be on adding to their foundation, taking the most talented players they can regardless of what they need right now.

Save for quarterback, and maybe running back, there isn’t a position on the Buccaneers roster that is set for the short and long term. Their foundation to build around moving forward consists of Winston, Mike Evans, Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy. Younger players such as Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet and Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be expected to take a step forward in 2016. After those players, the Buccaneers have too many older players who are either limited in ability or approaching/enduring their declines.

Picking ninth overall in the first round won’t let the Buccaneers get a marquee player from this class. It’s simply not that deep at the top. However, they will be in a good position to add one of the best tier-two options. As we’ve seen on many occasions over recent years, tier-two prospects can often develop to the point that they are better than the players who go ahead of them in the draft. Aaron Donald, Odell Beckham, Todd Gurley and Marcus Peters stand out from just the past two seasons.

Defensive options are more likely to be the best available players when the Buccaneers go on the clock. Defensive linemen in particular. Sheldon Rankins is a penetrating inside presence who would be somewhat similar to Gerald McCoy but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. McCoy and Rankins would be talented enough as a partnership to overcome their fit together. In today’s pass-heavy NFL, having two defensive tackles who can destroy the designs of running plays and get consistent pressure on passing plays would be hugely valuable.

Rankins isn’t a popular pick for Tampa Bay in mock drafts, but Kevin Dodd and Vernon Hargreaves are.

Hargreaves is an excellent cornerback who would immediately be the best starter the Buccaneers had at the position. If Hargreaves isn’t an option or if the Buccaneers aren’t interested in him, then Mackenzie Alexander, William Jackson III or Eli Apple have all been discussed as potential picks in that range. Alexander and Hargreaves are the only two who would really be worth going that high though.

Dodd is an enigmatic prospect. His production in college was inconsistent while some question just how athletic his athletic upside is. What makes Dodd stand out is his fluidity. He is so comfortable moving in space or reacting to offensive linemen in tight. He likely wouldn’t be an immediate starter as a rookie, instead focusing on developing after the draft to become a key player for the Buccaneers later on. This may suit Koetter’s coaching staff as the Buccaneers already invested in Robert Ayers to be a starter this offseason.

They do have a plethora of players to pick from as starters across from Ayers already on the roster, but if the Buccaneers want an immediate starter then they could look at Dodd’s former teammate. Shaq Lawson is the better defensive end prospect. He doesn’t show off the same fluidity as Dodd, but is extremely strong while showing off enough explosiveness to project forward as a quality pass rusher in the NFL. Lawson would immediately make an impact for the Buccaneers as a run-stopping, power-rushing edge defender.

If the draft goes as expected, the Buccaneers could have a choice from a few safeties in the second round. This would make a lot of sense for them because their secondary is porous at this point. However, the name to watch is Ryan Kelly. Kelly is a phenomenal center prospect from Alabama who isn’t always considered a first round prospect. If he falls to the Buccaneers in the second round, he should be the priority. He would immediately be the team’s best offensive lineman.

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