The Buccaneers had a highly successful draft week, but what does that mean for the team moving forward?
First and foremost, let us all celebrate the fact that somehow O.J. Howard was able to slip down the draft boards right into the lap of the Buccaneers. The addition of Howard not only has the Tampa brass jumping for joy, but also the fan-base as a whole. It may not have been Dalvin Cook (thankfully), but Buc faithful are starting to realize what kind of player they are getting in Howard.
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If you take a look at the current roster, the Bucs have five true tight ends and eight total if you count the fullbacks. Quite obviously, heading into the regular season they will be carrying around five total on the 53 man roster. So who should Buc fans keep an eye on?
By looking at the fullback group first, the headlined players are Austin Johnson and Alan Cross. Quayvon Hicks is a player that was brought in early this offseason, but both Johnson and Cross have had their foot in the door by playing snaps this past season. Fan favorite Cross may have his work cut out for him this up coming pre-season due to the size differential Johnson brings to the table.
Due to the fact that Johnson is seen as more of a typical fullback, look for him to win this position battle due to his lead blocking ability that Cross does not possess.
As for the tight end group itself, the current roster features a list of O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Luke Stocker, Antony Auclair, and Tevin Westbrook. To begin with, fans should already expect the dual threat tight end OJ Howard to receive most of the workload for this upcoming season. As an extremely rare talent in the current age of the NFL, his ability to both block and catch is something that has Head Coach Dirk Koetter excited.
Brate should receive plenty of time on the field this season as well. Koetter’s two tight end set offense will create mismatches that will propel this team in the right direction. Brate’s ability in the pass game has been stellar over the past two seasons, and there is a reason he lead the league for touchdowns by tight ends.
Beyond the two premier tight ends of this Bucs roster, it begins to get a little hairy.
As for veteran Stocker, Coach Koetter has appreciated him since he took the job. Stocker has been used much over his career as a blocker, and with his versatility to line up in the backfield when needed, will make this roster once more.
Unfortunately for Westbrook, he has been of little use to the Bucs over the past few seasons other then a productive camp body. Westbrook, who can almost be considered a veteran due to his years in the Bucs organization has never seen his way onto the field for the Bucs during the regular season and looks to be a forgotten man on the Bucs depth chart.
Finally in terms of undrafted free agent signing Auclair, the Bucs have a player who they stole from right under the nose of teams in this league. Auclair is a French-Canadian player from up north, who has seen his fair share of snaps in college and was widely regarded as a mid to late round selection in this year’s draft class. Much like many products out of Canada, his draft stock was not very high, but even Lance Zierlein of NFL.com saw potential after his time at the East-West Shrine Game.
"“Auclair gets check marks across the board for size, length and athleticism and it doesn’t hurt that he plays with some edge as an in-line blocker. While the step up in competition will be substantial and could require an adjustment period, Auclair has all the tools to become a quality NFL backup with eventual starter traits if he reaches his potential.”"
This small quote should have Buc fans excited. It was quite obvious in his play at the East-West Shrine Game that Auclair has the intangibles to be a productive player in the NFL. If Tampa is able to help this product reach towards his potential, expect Auclair to be a guy who rises in the depth chart for the Bucs.
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Also get to know your second rookie tight end, you are gonna want to remember the name.