Although Heisman Trophy finalist Bryce Love decided to stay in school for another year, Stanford still has some talented prospects worth watching. Could the Buccaneers be looking for some new additions from out west?
Back in 1993, the Buccaneers spent a third round pick on a certain safety out of Stanford, and that worked out extremely well. Of course, I’m referring to Tampa Bay great and NFL Hall of Fame finalist John Lynch. Lynch played a major role in the Bucs’ defensive success in the late 1990s and early 2000s. His name is now in the Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. Could the team find more talent from Stanford in this year’s draft? Here’s the list of Cardinal players that will be available this April:
Linebacker- Joey Alfieri
Offensive Tackle/Guard- David Bright
Center- Jesse Burkett
Quarterback- Ryan Burns
Quarterback- Keller Chryst
Offensive Guard- Brandon Fanaika
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Safety- Denzel Franklin
Offensive Tackle- A.T. Hall
Cornerback- Alijah Holder
Linebacker- Peter Kalambayi
Defensive Lineman- Harrison Phillips
Fullback- Daniel Marx
Defensive Back- Quenton Meeks
Cornerback- Alameen Murphy
Linebacker- Bobby Okereke
Linebacker- Jordan Perez
Safety- Justin Reid
Tight End- Dalton Schultz
Safety- Brandon Simmons
Offensive Tackle- Casey Tucker
Linebacker- Mike Tyler
Senior to Watch: DT Harrison Phillips
There’s no doubt that the Bucs have some serious work to do along the defensive line. Getting some depth on the edge is more of a priority, but the interior needs a boost as well. Gerald McCoy can only do so much, so getting him some help in the middle should be on Tampa Bay’s to-do list in the coming months. Not only that, but McCoy is getting up there in age and while he is still playing at a high level, the Bucs need to make sure they have some youth ready to take over in case he hits a decline in a few years. Stanford’s Harrison Phillips is a guy that could be worth watching, as he fits that need well.
Phillips just completed his senior year, but had one year of eligibility left. Instead, he opted to enter the draft. Walter Football ranks him as the tenth-best tackle in the draft, Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him sixth and Draft Wire’s Luke Easterling has him third. There’s some variation there, but regardless, there’s a lot to like about him. He led the Cardinal in tackles, as a defensive tackle, in 2017 with 103. His seven and a half sacks led the team as well. Walter Football’s scouting report mentions that he won’t be an effective pass-rusher in the NFL because he “struggles with double teams.” However, when you have a guy like McCoy up the middle, how often are teams going to double up on Phillips? That particular mark against the big man shouldn’t deter the Bucs from giving him a look.
Easterling, on the other hand, points out Phillips’ “ideal frame” and “high motor.” He also mentions his versatility and ability to fit whichever scheme gets thrown his way. No matter whose scouting report you want to trust more, there’s definitely enough there in terms of both size and skill to make him an intriguing prospect to pair with McCoy up the middle.
As a senior, Phillips was named a second team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. After a good week at the Senior Bowl, he definitely has the potential to climb up the board, which would probably make him less likely as an option for Tampa Bay. Bucs fans may not love the idea of taking a defensive tackle before an edge rusher or running back, but if he is available in the second round, general manager Jason Licht has to give some thought to the idea. A guy with that kind of size and ability would instantly upgrade the Tampa Bay defensive line, one that finished the 2017 season dead last in sacks.
Underclassman to Watch: S Justin Reid
Sticking with the defensive side of the ball, a good prospect to keep an eye on is safety Justin Reid. Reid’s brother, Eric, was a first-rounder out of LSU in 2013 and is still with the 49ers. Justin is a lock to join his brother in the NFL, which is why he decided to leave Stanford before his senior year. And with the Bucs continuing to get younger in the secondary, he could be a potential option in the first few rounds. Pairing him with Justin Evans would give Tampa Bay a young and promising safety combination for years to come.
The first check mark for Reid is that he can play both strong or free safety, which makes him a fit for Mike Smith’s scheme. That versatility and his well-rounded skillset would make him valuable to Tampa Bay. He can tackle and cover, lacking any big-time shortcomings in either. In 2017, he finished second on the team in tackles (99) and pass breakups (six), while leading in interceptions (five). At 6-foot-1, he is an inch taller than Evans, who will head into his second year in 2018. Having two young safeties with versatile skillsets could benefit the Bucs for years, regardless of whether or not Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith are still around in 2019.
In his junior season, he played well enough to earn first team All-Pac 12 honors, as well as second team All-American honors from the Associated Press. Walter Football sees Reid as a first-to-second round guy, but there are other analysts who have him a little lower. The Bucs shouldn’t reach for him, especially considering the other talent available at the position in this year’s draft. In particular, Texas’ DeShon Elliott is someone that Tampa Bay has been linked to early in the draft process. If it’s a decision between Reid in the second round or Elliott in the third, it would make more sense for the Bucs to lean toward the latter. But even still, Reid is someone the team should take a long look at before the draft rolls around.
Cornerback Quenton Meeks is another Stanford underclassman to keep an eye on in the coming months. In his final season with the Cardinal, he totaled 65 tackles, two interceptions and a team-high eight pass breakups. Running back Bryce Love was another potential target for the Bucs before he decided to return to school for another year.