The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made headlines this offseason for Jason Licht and company’s masterful work, but what they did in 2018 is also in need of some praise. The fact that the Buccaneers are the first team of the Super Bowl era to return all 22 starters (and some change) is incredible. There’s no other way to slice it.
Sure, a lot of it had to do with past free agents coming in through the last couple of years as well as “kicking the can down the road” when it comes to their contract restructures, but the window is wide open, no sense adjusting it now.
Jason Licht is now seen as a God walking amongst mere mortals when to comes to the NFL General Manager circles, but that wasn’t always the case. It’s especially true in some of his draft picks. Roberto Aguayo anyone?
Licht is getting his credit now, but what he did in the 2018 Draft is also in dire need of some love. Let’s take a deep dive.
The Buccaneers selections during the 2018 NFL Draft were as follows:
- Round 1, Pick 12 – Vita Vea
- Round 2, Pick 38 – Ronald Jones II
- Round 2, Pick 53 – M.J. Stewart
- Round 2, Pick 63 – Carlton Davis
- Round 3, Pick 94 – Alex Cappa
- Round 4, Pick 117 – Jordan Whitehead
- Round 4, Pick 144 – Justin Watson
- Round 6, Pick 202 – Jack Cichy
Suffice to say, M.J. Stewart pretty much sticks out like a sore thumb, and that thumb was amputated following the 2019 season. It would be a colossal failure considering Stewart was a second-round pick, but the Bucs had three that year, and as you can see the others turned out ok.
As for the entirety, that is an impressive haul. Stewart notwithstanding, the remaining seven picks were on the Buccaneers Super Bowl championship roster in 2020, with five of them being crucial starters.
Of those starters, Vita Vea has All-Pro potential and is already arguably the best nose tackle in football, while also being the key to this defense, whereas Alex Cappa was yet another small-school gem that landed in the Bucs’ laps. Cappa is an anchor on the offensive line and missed the majority of the playoffs due to injury, which was a crime. Cappa very well could have been a Pro Bowler in 2020.
Carlton Davis and Jordan Whitehead were both huge in the secondary, providing the perfect security blanket for Tampa’s elite front-seven. Davis especially, as he lead the team in 2020 with four interceptions, while Whitehead gave the Bucs as much bang for their, ahem, “Buck” as a day-three pick. In the case of Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette may have gotten all the shine as “Playoff Lenny” but Jones has been a quality starter and was during the majority of 2020, coming 22 yards short of 1,000 despite missing two games.
As for the rest, Jack Cichy hasn’t played much as a reserve linebacker, and eventually found his way onto injured reserve, but will still be getting his ring. Justin Watson was another depth guy but did lead all special teams players in tackles in 2020, as a receiver. For these two being in the “back-end” of the draft, the Buccaneers certainly could have done worse.
Overall, this draft was an absolutely elite haul with only one real “miss”. The 1995 Draft that netted the Bucs Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks will always get all of the love, but 2018 is right up there, and when is all said and done may very well end up among the best of the best.