Buccaneers: Penn State Nittany Lions 2018 draft prospects

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 30: Penn State Nittany Lions players pose for a photo after beating the Washington Huskies 35-28 during the Playstation Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 30: Penn State Nittany Lions players pose for a photo after beating the Washington Huskies 35-28 during the Playstation Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

As we continue our look at the 2018 draft class, we look at a program that produced a breakout rookie from the Buccaneers’ 2017 draft haul. Could Tampa Bay find another potential star from Penn State this year?

The Buccaneers got a steal in the third round of the 2017 draft when they selected wide receiver Chris Godwin. In his rookie year, Godwin caught 34 passes for 525 yards and a touchdown. Heading into 2018, he is expected to take on a larger role in the offense. As Tampa Bay looks to build out a playoff and Super Bowl-caliber roster, it could turn back to the Penn State program, which has returned to its former status as a perennial contender in the Big Ten. Here is the full list of draft prospects coming from the Nittany Lions this year:

Safety- Marcus Allen

Safety- Troy Apke

Running Back- Saquon Barkley

Wide Receiver- Saeed Blacknall

Linebacker- Jason Cabinda

Cornerback- Christian Campbell

Defensive Tackle- Parker Cothren

Defensive Tackle- Curtis Cothran

Tight End- Mike Gesicki

Cornerback- Grant Haley

Wide Receiver- DaeSean Hamilton

Senior to Watch: Cornerback, Christian Campbell

The Tampa Bay defense needs help. That help needs to start up front with the pass rush, considering the Bucs were last in the league in sacks this past season. An improved pass rush would help the secondary, but there are definitely upgrades needed in the secondary as well. It was reported that the team will try to bring Brent Grimes back for another year, but that’s not a certainty. Vernon Hargreaves showed some inconsistencies last year, but will still be around. But with the uncertainty surrounding both corners, Tampa Bay will need to address the position. Penn State’s Christian Campbell would be an intriguing option.

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Campbell has more size than any of the Bucs’ current cornerbacks. At 6-foot-1, he could match up well against big NFL receivers. Not only that, but he has speed to go along with his size. Walter Football has his projected 40 time at 4.56, which helps build out his versatile skillset. Over his four years with the Nittany Lions, he played in 44 games and racked up 102 tackles (61 solo), a sack, five tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, three interceptions and 21 passes defended. In his senior season, he was an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten defense.

Walter Football ranks Campbell as the 23rd-best cornerback in the 2018 class and projects him to go somewhere between the third and fifth round. If the Bucs don’t go with Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick in the first round, Campbell could be a viable option in the third or fourth round. Tampa Bay could realistically go pass rush in the first round, running back in the second and offensive line in the third. That would set them up to select a player in the fourth or fifth round like Campbell to help out the secondary. He will have a good chance to increase his stock with strong play during Senior Bowl week.

Other seniors to watch: S Marcus Allen, CB Grant Haley

Underclassman to Watch: RB Saquon Barkley

Penn State only has one underclassman declaring for the draft, but he’s one of the most talked about players. Saquon Barkley is the top running back in the draft by absolutely everyone’s standards. He isn’t a major possibility for the Bucs, but strange things happen on draft night. He will likely be gone by the time the Bucs pick. However, a run on quarterbacks could drop him a few spots. Should he be around when Tampa Bay picks at No. 7, there will be a tough decision to make. Running back is a big need for the Bucs, but they have even bigger needs. But that brings up the age-old debate: do they draft for need or for the best player available?

Barkley would instantly give the Bucs a boost in the backfield. That goes without saying. But if it comes down to a pass-rusher like Bradley Chubb or Barkley, Tampa Bay has to go with Chubb. The running back class is extremely deep, which gives the Bucs plenty of second, third or even fourth round options. Pass-rushing prospects are much thinner, as are offensive guards. Chubb, guard Quenton Nelson and possibly cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick would be the top three on the Bucs’ board if they’re going based on needs. But if the Bucs really are going for the best available player and Barkley is there, he would be the pick.

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Over three years, the 5-foot-11 back ran for 3,843 yards and 43 touchdowns while catching 102 passes for 1,195 yards and eight touchdowns. He was in consideration for the Heisman Trophy for much of his junior year before falling out after a couple of down games. Whichever team lands the Nittany Lion star is going to get a whole lot better on the offensive side of the ball.

You’re probably wondering why anyone would pass on a prospect like Barkley all the way until the seventh pick. Well, the Browns, Giants, Broncos and Jets could all take quarterbacks. The Colts could even look for a signal-caller, though they have been linked to Chubb. The Browns could take Fitzpatrick with their second top-five pick. If that is the situation, would the Bucs pass on a running back of Barkley’s caliber? Some fans would be irate if they did. Some would understand it. If that situation comes into play, I don’t envy general manager Jason Licht.

What do you think, Bucs fans? Does Licht go for Barkley if he’s there? Let us know your thoughts on him, Campbell or any other Penn State prospect in the comments, on Twitter or on Facebook.