The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hit free agency and the NFL Draft out of the park last year and it resulted in a Super Bowl LV title. This offseason, they are carrying that same momentum into the 2021 draft after retaining every single starter on that championship-winning squad in free agency. Of course, the signing of Tom Brady was the headliner of last offseason, but the Bucs did wonders in the draft as well. They traded up to pick tackle Tristian Wirfs with the 13th overall pick and followed that selection up by taking safety Antoine Winfield Jr. in the second round. Both those players were named to the All-Rookie Team.
As they turn their attention to the 2021 draft, they'll be looking to replicate that success at various positions of need as they look to become the first team since the 2003-04 Patriots to repeat as champions. Below, we've set up a blueprint for Tampa Bay to follow to ensure that it walks away from the draft in the best position to once again be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
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Get ahead of looming free agents along the front-seven
The defensive line and outside linebacker are two spots that are positions of strength for the Bucs in 2021, but the floor could fall out from under them a bit in 2022. While the team has star defensive tackle Vita Vea under team control for the foreseeable future, Ndamukong Suh and Steve McLendon are both signed through only 2021 while Rakeem Nunez-Roches is under contract through 2022. The Bucs could go down a similar route with Suh next offseason and hand him another one-year deal. It'd be wise for the club to also inject some youth at the position during a time where it won't be asked to immediately carry the load. The 2021 season could be used for the team to develop a defensive tackle behind Suh before giving way in the years to come.
To a lesser degree thanks to the Shaq Barrett extension, the same can be said at outside linebacker. Jason Pierre-Paul is signed through this coming season and the 32-year-old will then be looking at free agency. If an edge defender falls to No. 32, this could be a savvy selection for the Buccaneers in hopes of maintaining that elite pass rush that was vital in their Super Bowl victory. Similar to defensive tackle, addressing it now gives the club a bit of a cushion to develop a player slowly thanks to a stacked depth chart.
Add high upside depth to the offensive line
Wirfs (rookie contract) and Donovan Smith (signed extension through 2023) are building blocks that the Bucs can depend on at the tackle positions for the foreseeable future but they do have some questions along the interior of the O-line going forward. Center Ryan Jensen is entering the final year of his contract and right guard Alex Cappa has been dealing with injuries throughout the early goings of his career, including a fractured ankle that he suffered in the playoffs. With those two situations in mind, adding some depth along the interior of the offensive line that also possesses the upside of possibly ascending into a starting role could be beneficial for Tampa Bay as it tries to protect Brady in his remaining seasons.
This isn't a need that must be addressed in the first round of the draft, but if they can find some diamonds in the rough that they can mold over the course of 2021, it may help them in the long run.
Draft a QB to develop behind Brady
Because of Tampa Bay's ability to re-sign every free agent that it wanted to bring back, there are not many pressing needs on the roster that need to be filled via the draft for the purposes of the 2021 season. That, in turn, gives the franchise the flexibility to search for a developmental quarterback it can begin grooming for whenever Brady decides to hang up his cleats. Prospects like Davis Mills out of Stanford, Florida's Kyle Trask or even Kellen Mond out of Texas A&M should all be available through Day Two of the draft and all possess some solid potential of becoming a capable starter with the proper tutelage.
Brady did sign an extension this offseason that will take him through his 45-year-old season in 2022 but anything beyond that is a mystery. For the long-term security of the Buccaneers, getting a quarterback in the fold now could be the right direction to go in. In an ideal world, that prospect can spend the next two seasons learning the game behind Brady and be ready to go if No. 12 decides to retire. That's the type of situation the Patriots were hoping to achieve by selecting Jimmy Garoppolo all those years ago. While Brady crashed those plans by defying Father Time, that doesn't mean the Bucs shouldn't create similar insurance at QB in the event that he walks away at the end of this current contract.
Bonus: Take best player available in the first round
Again, the Bucs filled a lot of holes in free agency by retaining a large chunk of their Super Bowl-winning core. That now puts them in a position to essentially go in any direction in the first round. For a large chunk of the pre-draft process, a running back has been the pick for Tampa Bay at No. 32 but with the arrival of Gio Bernard, that becomes a little less of a hole to fill and one that may not require a first-round pick.
What the club should do is simply see what shakes down to them and go with the best-player-available approach. That's essentially what CBS Sports NFL Draft expert Josh Edwards has the club doing in his latest mock draft by selecting FSU corner Asante Samuel Jr. with that selection. Is corner a massive need? Not really, but why not inject a widely talented player at the position when you can? If that best player available just so happens to also come at a position of need that we highlighted above -- like Tulsa edge rusher Zaven Collins -- all the better. Mainly, Tampa Bay should not be looking at a specific position to fill with this spot and simply keep all of its options open in the event the draft gets a little whacky and a gem falls on its lap.
Here's the prospects CBS NFL Draft writer Josh Edwards has the Bucs taking in his mock draft:
|Round (overall pick)||Prospect (position)||College|
Asante Samuel Jr. (CB)
Tyler Shelvin (DT)
Brady Christensen (OT)
Joshua Kaindoh (EDGE)
David Moore (OG)
Carlo Kemp (DT)
Quintin Morris (TE)
Racey McMath (WR)