TAMPA, MAY 4, 2018 – I’m not sure if you noticed or not, but apparently some significant things have come about here this past week in the ever presently important ‘Top That World’ of the National Football League. If you thought I was talking about some guy named Brady getting permission to ‘hang with the guys’ for another two years… aaaaaaah… nope.
Trust me, I won’t give that team in New England any further press unless it’s warranted, thank you. Having some Brazilian-German stick-figure wife give you a “Hall Pass” isn’t news; it will only be news IF said quarterback gets broken in half sometime this season and his wife does the Will and Grace inspired “Told’ya’Sooo!!” dance…
I am of course talking about last Thursday’s through Saturday’s events in Jerry World… the NFL Draft of 2018. I’ve discussed at great length how the Florida teams, particularly the Bucs and Jags, could improve their teams for the upcoming year. Now that the draft is over, let’s review what was positive and not so great for Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.
I’m sure many of you would agree with me when I say in Free Agency you get your needed replacement parts, but you get heart and soul through the draft. Team building and gelling needs to take place with both, but IF you make the right decisions in April, FOR THE MOST PART anyone a team acquires in March or May – July should be considered ‘bonuses’ more than anything else.
Obviously, the Jaguars were in the better position, having done well in this past year’s playoffs… coming THIS CLOSE to going to the Super Bowl. However, as nearly scripted each year, their Patriotic foes woke up to defeat the ‘Cats, ascending to where THEY (New England) consider their rightful place as AFC Champs. The Jags were THE BEST Defense in the AFC last year (#2 in the NFL overall behind only the Vikings) and have a downright SCARY Defense.
So what did they do to improve their team for 2018? You would think they would go primarily offense in order to help out their pedestrian quarterback Blake Bortles, as scoring more points would do wonders for making sure their defense could save energy in clamping down against their opponents. With their foes fighting to make up points against a suffocating defense, the Jags could theoretically make a march towards a much higher seed in their conference.
I guess that’s why WE are on THIS side of the field while the Player Personnel Department, Scouts and other professionals are on THAT side of the field. The NFL is indeed a ‘copy-cat’ league, as what can work for one team is often tried to be imitated by others. Seeing the Eagles throw wave upon wave of push by their defensive front against TB12 and the New England Offensive Line, the Jags figured what better way to complement their already terrifying Defensive Line of Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus, Yannick Ngakoue, and Dante Fowler amongst others by adding the ‘country strong’ lineman and son of a Navy Seal from the nearby University of Florida – Taven Bryan.
Also, what do you do when you have a top-flight secondary with players such as A.J. Bouye, Jalen Ramsey, Jalen Myrick, Barry Church, and D.J. Hayden at the nickel? How about drafting 6’2” Free Safety Ronnie Harrison from the National Champions of Alabama? I’m sure Nick Saban taught him a few things about defense while in school which can be used by Jacksonville. Leon Jacobs, a projected Rush End/Outside Backer from Wisconsin, along with Punter Logan Cooke also will add to the defense.
Sure, the Jags didn’t draft JUST Defense, grabbing some toys for Bortles, Leonard Fournette and Offensive Coordinator Nate Hackett. D.J. Chark is a burner out of LSU and will take much of the sting away from losing one of their better receivers in Allen Hurns to the Cowboys. The 6’6” mountain of a tackle Will Richardson will shore up the O-line, while the 6’4” Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee will look to make the squad to possibly unseat Bortles if the acquisition of Cody Kessler from the Browns won’t do it for him.
As for the Bucs, many pundits (including myself) thought their chances of drafting some help for the defensive backfield was paramount for them, and both Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick were both available for the taking at pick seven. However, Tampa Bay traded back to pick #12 with a trade by the Bills for quarterback Josh Allen. When the Bucs’ pick again rolled around, James was still on the board, but the Pewter Pirates took a page out of the Eagles book like the Jaguars, snagging behemoth tackle Vita Vea from the University of Washington. Vea will mesh well with the reconstituted D-line of newcomers Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry at Defensive End and Beau Allen at D-Tackle, along with stalwart holdovers in D-Tackle Gerald McCoy, and Ends William Gholston and Noah Spence.
The Bucs did in fact shore up their secondary with three picks which should get immediate consideration for playing time and/or nickel/dime packages. The first of their two second round picks was M.J. Stewart from UNC, who should push last year’s rookie Vernon Hargreaves for snaps. Next, Cornerback Carlton Davis from Auburn has the ideal size and aggressiveness to combat the NFC South’s big receivers, and may also push the smaller Hargreaves and/or veteran Brent Grimes to a back-up role. Their round four addition of Pitt Safety Jordan Whitehead should pair nicely with Justin Evans playing the free spot and Whitehead low in the box.
Additional picks for the Bucs were linebacker Jack Cichy from Wisconsin, who joins a crowded ‘backer crew, but depth is always a concern and may stick after all. Not shy about drafting small-school offensive linemen (think Ali Marpet a few years back), Jason Licht got a ‘big nasty’ with 6’6”, 305lb Alex Cappa from Humboldt State who many are already penciling in as a jack-of-all-trades back-up until he finds his niche. Finally, for me personally their best under the radar pick was Justin Watson in round five, a 6’3”, 225lb wide receiver who’s also deceptively fast (4.42 in the 40) and athletic (a 40” vertical). The Bucs had great luck in nabbing Penn State’s Chris Godwin, and hope they’ll be twice triumphant in the Keystone State with the addition of Watson from Penn.
Look for a definitive jump in expectations for the Bucs in 2018 in the NFC, as many a pundit thinks the Jaguars may be the team to unseat both the Pats and Steelers as favorites in the AFC. 2018 does portend to be exciting in anticipation for both clubs indeed.
Jay “Captain Jack” Levy, BCP Contributor