In a recent mock by Pro Football Focus, the Buccaneers choose to ignore their pass rush woes in favor of an elite safety prospect. Would it be a wise decision, and how likely is that scenario to play out?
The debate rages on over who Tampa Bay should select with the seventh overall pick in April’s draft. Notre Dame guard Quentin Nelson, N.C. State edge rusher Bradley Chubb, and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley have been the three most popular picks in most mock drafts, but a safety from Florida State was Pro Football Focus’s latest prognostication for the Buccaneers.
Steve Palazzo of PFF released his second mock draft on Thursday, and in it the Buccaneers surprisingly choose to pass on Bradley Chubb in favor of Derwin James, the do-it-all Seminole safety. And it wasn’t just Chubb that they passed on – Nelson and Barkley as well were ignored in favor of James in this mock.
The obvious argument against this bold move is that the Buccaneers desperately need help on both the offensive and defensive lines. In 2017 Tampa’s pass rush was dead last in sacks, and its offensive line was mostly mediocre before it got devastated by injuries. Generally speaking, when a team is in a position like the Bucs are, they would choose to use their top ten pick on a lineman. But as we’ve come to learn over the last few years, Bucs general manager Jason Licht is not your average draft philosopher, and will take a player even if the consensus believes otherwise.
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We’ll get to whether this scenario is actually plausible, but first, a closer look at James.
As a prospect Derwin James is as safe and clean as they come. James played three seasons in Tallahassee and was among the best defensive backs in the nation every Saturday that he took the field. As a freshman he made his presence felt immediately, racking up 4.5 sacks and 52 total tackles. A knee injury forced James to the sidelines during his sophomore season, but he returned to form in 2017 as a junior and continued to dominate both in coverage and near the line of scrimmage. In both of his full seasons on the field, he was PFF’s top graded safety in the nation.
At 6’3, 215 lbs James is built similar to a modern day linebacker, and punishes pass catchers with bone-jarring hits. With that skill-set alone he’d have a role in the NFL, but James also has the movement skills of a defensive back and even has legitimate chops as a pass rusher. Think Kam Chancellor, only faster and more versatile.
Crazy as it may sound, Palazzo’s scenario of James, Chubb, Nelson and Barkley all being available at pick seven is actually somewhat plausible. Three of the four play positions that are undervalued in the top ten (guard, running back, and safety), and Indianapolis is the only team ahead of Tampa with a real need for pass rusher. If three quarterbacks, Alabama corner Minkah Fitzpatrick, and two players like offensive tackle Connor Brown and cornerback Josh Jackson go in the top six, Tampa’s dream would come to fruition.
In this wild scenario, I believe that the decision would come down to Chubb versus James versus Nelson, with Barkley as the odd man out. How Tampa chooses to approach free agency will probably reveal the choice; if the Buccaneers can acquire a big-time veteran pass rusher like Ezekial Ansah, and at least one starting offensive linemen, they’ll be free to focus on lesser priorities, such as safety.
The woes of the defensive and offensive lines are such that it’s easy to forget how badly the team needs help in the secondary. James would immediately step in opposite of Justin Evans and give the team a physical presence in the secondary that they haven’t had since…Jermaine Philips? Mark Barron? Either way, it’s been a while, and James could go a long way towards fixing one of the NFL’s worst defenses.
So, Buccaneer fans, what are your thoughts on selecting Derwin James in this draft? If the team made the right moves in free agency, could you potentially see them ignoring Bradley Chubb and Quinton Nelson? Sound off in the comments and let us know.