TAMPA, MAR. 2, 2018 – After finishing the 2016 season with a 9-7 record, including winning six of their last eight games and barely missing out on the playoffs, much hope and hype was put on the Tampa Bay Bucs.  They were expected to take the next step by not only making the playoffs in 2017, but also to go deep in the post-season with a possible appearance in the Conference Championship game as a stepping stone back to the Super Bowl.

My how hard Tampa Bay fell off this past season!

Not only did the Bucs drop from second to last place in the NFC South with a putrid 5-11 record, they were the only team in their division that didn’t make the playoffs, watching as their hated rivals from New Orleans, Carolina and Atlanta finished 11-5, 11-5 and 10-6, respectively.

Some step upward! Somebody forgot to tell the Bucs they’d need all the requisite equipment to scale Mount Everest, not just a leisurely skip to the next level.

Tampa Bay actually made their team much better going forward towards the 2017 season, adding free agent standout DeSean Jackson at WR/KR, along with the constructive drafting of TE O.J. Howard from Alabama, S Justin Evans from Texas A&M, WR Chris Godwin from Penn State, and RB Jeremy McNichols from Boise State.  Even losing back-up QB Mike Glennon to a ridiculous contract from the Bears was offset with the signing of versatile ‘grey beard’ (almost literally) Ryan Fitzpatrick, most definitely an upgrade from the former.

With Jameis Winston throwing to Mike Evans, Jackson, Godwin, Adam Humphries… along with a stud TE combo of Cameron Brate and the rookie Howard… many fans thought the scoreboard at Raymond James would light up like a pinball machine.

Except it certainly didn’t work out that way…

The Bucs precipitous decline from 2016 to 2017 wasn’t such a drastic statistical anomaly, scoring 19points fewer (1.19pts less /game) while giving up 13 more points (.82pts more/game) this past year.  Statistically, it doesn’t seem like much, but it did equate to four more losses and a Top Ten pick (#7) in this upcoming draft.

So who should the Bucs go after with the #7 Pick?  Well, first off, we can assess at least two if not four quarterbacks likely will be taken in picks 1-6.  For optimum purposes, let’s project three QBs (Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, and Sam Darnold) will be drafted either by quarterback needy teams positioned ahead of the Bucs (Cleveland, New York Giants, Denver, New York Jets) or a team willing to trade up for a signal caller (trade with Indy or with Cleveland’s #4 pick).

Needless to say, one of these players – Bradley Chubb, Saquon Barkley, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James, Calvin Ridley, Roquan Smith, Orlando Brown, Quenton Nelson, Arden Key – will be available to plug in for a need… on the offensive line (Brown or Nelson), defensive line/rush end (Chubb or Key), defensive back (Fitzpatrick or James) or running back (Barkley, although unlikely he’ll drop).  The Bucs are pretty stout at Linebacker and Wide Receiver, so it’s doubtful GM Jason Licht will pick Smith or Ridley.

Since the Bucs can always use help along the defensive front, you could see them grabbing Chubb (although doubtful he’d be there when the Bucs pick) or a rush specialist like Arden Key to pair with their high-output performers Gerald McCoy … and to a somewhat lesser degree Noah Spence.   Taven Bryan from Florida would be a great asset to acquire, too, but pick #7 is a bit high for the Gator.  Another possible wide-body could be Da’Ron Payne from Alabama or Maurice Hurst from Michigan… again, more likely if they trade back.

The Bucs could benefit by grabbing an offensive lineman, but honestly I think at #7 they’ll take the highest rated defensive back still on the board, with Fitzpatrick of Alabama being the top prize.  If he’s gone, grabbing James from FSU would keep the talented Safety in state, but since the Bucs drafted Evans in the second round last year, many would likely scream at this pick (even though they would have probably the most talented young safety tandem in the NFL) unless they foresee James switching to cornerback.

If they don’t like other cornerback possibilities (such as Denzel Ward of Ohio State or Joshua Jackson of Iowa) to pair with Vernon Hargreaves, Robert McClain, Ryan Smith or Brent Grimes, look for the Bucs to trade back to a team needing a quarterback (and liking one of the prospects still available) or some other draft prodigy a front office has earmarked as a ‘Franchise Savor’ – think Kansas City and their trade last year to grab Pat Mahomes for example.

All questions will be answered on the 26th of April, so you’ll just have to wait until then to see.

Jay “Captain Jack” Levy, BCP Contributor