While they may not pump out NFL prospects to the same extent as some of the traditional college football powers do, the UCF Knights have some talented players in the league. This year, they have a pretty impressive class heading into the draft. Could the Buccaneers look for help from a program just two hours down the road?
It was a historic year for UCF, one that included a 13-0 record, four wins against teams in the final top 25 and a share of the national championship. There’s a lot of draft-eligible talent from this year’s team. Although the Buccaneers‘ needs don’t match up 100 percent with the draft class coming out of Orlando, there are some guys that could be available as good depth pieces in the later rounds. Here is the full list of the Knights’ potential draft prospects:
Tight End, Jordan Akins
Linebacker, Chequan Burkett
Offensive Lineman, Chavis Dickey
Offensive Lineman, Aaron Evans
Linebacker, Shaquem Griffin
Defensive Lineman, Tony Guerad
Cornerback, Mike Hughes
Defensive Lineman, Josh Odigie
Defensive Lineman, Seyvon Lowry
Defensive Lineman, Jamiyus Pittman
Wide Receiver, Tre’Quan Smith
Senior to Watch: Defensive Tackle, Jamiyus Pittman
Linebacker Shaquem Griffin is undoubtedly the most talked about senior in this year’s class for UCF, but the Bucs obviously appear set at linebacker. Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Kendell Beckwith will be leading the charge for the foreseeable future. So as intriguing as it would be to take Griffin, twin brother of Seahawks defensive back Shaquill, Tampa Bay will likely look elsewhere. The Bucs clearly need help along the defensive line, which makes Jamiyus Pittman a guy to watch.
Considering how early it is in the draft process, it’s unknown whether or not Pittman is a sure-fire draft pick or more of an undrafted free agent option. Either way, the Buccaneers could look to him as a potential target considering the lack of depth in the trenches. He finished his senior season with 47 tackles (seven and a half for loss) and four and a half sacks. His six quarterback hits ranked third on the team. Over his four years with the Knights, he racked up thirteen sacks.
On UCF’s official website, Pittman is listed at 6-foot-1, 319 pounds. That kind of size would help the middle of the Buccaneer defensive line. He will have time over the next few months to boost his draft stock. One of those big opportunities will come in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 20. Pittman’s ceiling is likely the later rounds, though there certainly wouldn’t be any harm in giving him a shot should he go undrafted.
Other potential seniors to watch include Tony Guerad, who would also add to the defensive line, or Aaron Evans, who would give the Buccaneers some depth on the offensive line.
Underclassman to Watch: Cornerback, Mike Hughes
There are a few underclassmen leaving UCF early, but the one that could help the Buccaneers the most is Mike Hughes. Hughes initially attended North Carolina out of high school before leaving for Garden City Community College. He got to UCF just before the start of the 2017 season, but it didn’t take him long to make an impact. The former four-star quickly earned a starting cornerback spot in addition to kick and punt return duties. By season’s end, he was one of the Knights’ two most important players on defense.
Hughes finished the year with 49 tackles, half a sack, a forced fumble, four interceptions and eleven pass breakups. On special teams, he had 233 punt return yards, 635 kick return yards and three total touchdowns. His biggest moment of the year came on a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to put UCF ahead of USF with 1:28 left in a game that decided the American Athletic Conference East division. In the same game, he had a key interception that thwarted a Bulls’ scoring threat at the end of the first half.
Hughes is the type of player the Bucs could use both on defense and in the return game. The secondary is a major question mark heading into the 2018 season. Brent Grimes‘ future is unclear, Vernon Hargreaves had some struggles in 2017 and there wasn’t a lot of depth. Hughes could immediately add some nice depth and potentially turn into a starter in the league. Plus, Tampa Bay has lacked a true kick/punt return threat for most of its history. Hughes could give that area of the team a huge boost.
According to a scouting report from Walter Football, teams see Hughes as someone who could play nickel or the outside. His size (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) might make the Buccaneers a little hesitant, considering the number of undersized corners already on the roster. The next few months will be important for Hughes. Some teams have given him a second round grade, while others felt he should stay with the Knights for his senior season. Someone will likely take him in the middle rounds, potentially anywhere from the second to the fourth. Walter Football mentions the Bucs as a fit for Hughes, as well as the Browns, Colts, 49ers, Bills, Rams, Chargers, Cowboys, Vikings, Bengals and Patriots.
Another potential underclassman to watch is wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith, who would give Jameis Winston yet another talented weapon.