NFL Mock Draft SZN is upon us, and here’s who the experts have the Buccaneers selecting with the NFL Combine underway in Indianapolis.
With the NFL Combine officially underway in Indy this week, conversations about the draft are only getting more serious. Most teams in the league have been in Draft Mode for a while now, with other like the Chiefs and Eagles likely just now starting to dust off the scouting reports.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fall into a weird middle groud of being a playoff team that has been looking ahead to the draft for months. Not only did the team vastly underperform this season, but we all knew the Tom Brady era was on borrowed time and would end in the near future.
It officially ended when he retired at the beginning of Feburary, but long before that experts were thinking about linking some of this year’s quarterbacks to the Bucs. Not everyone, though, is in that state of mind as the experts looking at what Tampa Bay will do at No. 19 are all over the map.
Here’s a quick round up of what some of the top NFL Draft experts are predicting for the Bucs as the draft begins to come more into focus at the Combine.
NFL Mock Draft: Who the experts have Buccaneers drafting right now
Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN: Emmanuel Forbes, CB/Mississippi State
While the knee-jerk reaction for some would be to have the Buccaneers drafting a quarterback in the first round, a lot of folks are going completely the other way. It seems like Kyle Trask is going to get a legit shot at the job, and he effectively acts as a rookie.
Kiper is among many experts who have the Bucs looking at the defensive side of the ball with the No. 19 pick, specifically addressing cornerback. It was a serious position of need before Jason Licht and crew filled it a few years ago, but it’s looking like a refresh will be needed. Not only do the Bucs need depth in the secondary, they’ll need to account for the potential loss of Jamel Dean and the upcoming extension for Antoine Winfield Jr.
"If Jamel Dean leaves in free agency, the Bucs will have a huge void at one cornerback spot. Forbes is a great option to fill it. He’s a bit of a boom-or-bust defender — he had 14 interceptions over three seasons, but he also gave up a few long touchdowns — and he has a smaller frame; he was listed at 180 pounds. If he puts up a great 40-yard dash time at the combine, this is the range he will go in April’s draft."
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network: Bijan Robinson, RB/Texas
Not every expert has the Bucs going defense, though. In fact some have the Bucs drafting offesnive help outside of the quarterback position.
Taking a first-round running back is insanely risky, and the conversation about doing so has cycled back to wondering if there’s enough value versus picking up a guy on Day 2 or 3. Robinson is the top back in this year’s class, though, and the recent loss of Leonard Fournette could motivate the Bucs to give him a good look.
"“The Bucs need to figure out what they’re going to do at quarterback in the wake of Tom Brady’s retirement, but Robinson will take pressure off whoever is under center”"
Todd McShay, ESPN: Lukas Van Ness, DE/Iowa
The secondary isn’t the only area of the roster Todd Bowles could look to deepen his defense. Just like how finding good cornerbacks had long been a need, edge rushers haven’t been plentiful in Tampa Bay over the years.
Drafting Van Ness, who is by all accounts an absolute beast in every way, would give the Bucs a young defensive end to build into the defense for years to come. The defense ahs been a bright spot over the last three seasons and it seems as though the unit is in a position to re-tool and reload there more than anywhere else on the roster.
"Shaquil Barrett should be returning from a torn Achilles, but the edge rush group could otherwise see a lot of turnover in free agency. Van Ness, meanwhile, never started a game at Iowa but managed back-to-back seasons with seven sacks. His length, quickness and power would be welcomed in Tampa Bay, where pressuring the QB is a big part of the team’s defensive identity."
Natalie Miller, USA Today: Christian Gonzalez, CB/Oregon
Consensus seems to be leaning toward the Bucs using the NFL Draft to replace Jamel Dean — sort of a Stefon Diggs for Justin Jefferson situation. It’s starting to feel like it’s a matter of who the Bucs take at cornerback rather than if they’ll spend the pick on that position.
"“Tampa Bay recognizes they must get better in the secondary, and here they make a move to get an elite-level athlete with an exceptionally high ceiling in Gonzalez. He has the potential to be a No. 1, high-end corner in the league for a long time, and the Bucs make the move to try and develop him into just that.”"
Ryan Wilson, CBS Sports: Will Levis, QB/Kentucky
Of course, it’s hard to not give in to the notion that the Bucs should draft a quarterback. In this specific scenario, Wilson has the Bucs trading up to No. 9 and drafting Levis. Such a thing would be an absolute nightmare scenario, as Tampa Bay would be mortgaging the future for a guy who might not be much better than Trask.
If trading for Levis is on the table, the Bucs would probably be wiser to roll with Trask and draft one of the better quarterback prospects next season rather than jumping the gun now.
"This would be a bold move, but if Tampa stays at No. 19, four QBs will be off the board. Levis, who definitely looks the part, was plagued by injuries and poor play all fall. That said, NFL teams love how he projects to the next level, but he’ll be a controversial talking point in the coming months.”"
Trevor Sikkema, Pro Football Focus: Nolan Smith, EDGE/Georgia
Another edge rusher the Bucs might consider is Georgia standout Nolan Smith. The Bulldogs defense wasn’t as historically great as the 2022 team, but some of the guys coming into this year’s draft played on that unit plus got another year of National Championship experience.
Smith is one of those guys, and seems very close to Lukas Van Ness as someone who could be the next young star on the Bucs defense.
"“This is becoming a common selection for the Bucs in mock drafts, and it’s because they need to add speed to their pass-rush profile. Smith was a former No. 1 overall recruit for his athleticism and is one of the best sub-240-pound run defenders you’ll see.”"
Damian Parson, The Draft Network: Kelee Ringo, CB/Georgia
Why not consider another Georgia Bulldogs defensive stud to step into the same role in Tampa Bay? If Nolan Smith isn’t the guy at No. 19, perhaps his teammate Kelee Ringo is.
Ringo was a star on the Georgia defense, starting in both seasons the team won a national championship, and possesses track speed that could help recharge the Bucs secondary if they lose Dean.
"Kelee Ringo could step into Jamel Dean’s role on the outside as a rookie with similar usage and body types—both are tall, long-limbed, and have explosive straight-line speed. Ringo can match up with bigger-framed wide receivers in man and operate in zone coverages well. Todd Bowles should love this new addition to his secondary.”"