GAME ON – JUNE 3
By Rob Kriete

BUCS 2020 DRAFT BREAKDOWN

First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.

The glass is presently looking half-full for a 2020 NFL season! Sure, it may be a fan-free NFL experience, at least in some cities, but sports fans can get energized about this optimism for football. Hey, it’s sports! And most of us are craving any sports contest right about now.

In the vain of optimism, I am going to put on my red and pewter (and sometimes orange) glasses to look at how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fared during the 2020 virtual draft. The prodigious and historic numbers of viewers for this event is a testament to how many fans are sports-starved. Although the NFL draft doesn’t offer anything substantial to satisfy a sports fan’s appetite, it does somewhat provide a menu. From what I can see, everything looks pretty appetizing for Tampa Bay.

First up, the Bucs traded up one pick to get offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs to help protect Tom Brady. The athletic, former wrestler, Wirfs is predicted to start at right tackle after finishing his college career at Iowa as the Big Ten O-Lineman of the Year. The learning curve for offensive lineman is often steep in the NFL, but Jason Licht and Bruce Arians certainly believe Wirfs was worth the move and have faith he will be a starter for the foreseeable future. I think it was a wise decision and understand the Bucs may have their best O-lineman since the great Paul Gruber wore the creamsicle uniforms in Tampa.

To improve the ground game, the Buccaneers drafted Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the 3rd round and Raymond Calais in the 7th round. While many pundits believe that Vaughn was a bit of an overreach in the 3rd round, the Bucs seem to like Vaughn, a hard-nose runner, as their third-down back, at least to begin his professional career. Vaughn produced a school record of 6.4 yards-per-carry at Vanderbilt and the Bucs like his running style to compliment their offense. With the 245th pick in the 7th round, the Bucs took the speedy Raymond Calais. Calais projects as a special teams player, yet with his speed, I expect the Bucs to take a look at his ability to return kicks. I like the fit of both running backs, with Tampa Bay not having that low center of gravity, third-down-back, type of runner in quite a while, and have historically had issues with meaningful kick returns.

Tyler Johnson, a possession receiver out of Minnesota, was picked by the Bucs to bolster a strong receiving core. Johnson will get some opportunities during camp, but I expect him to get only minimal chances this season unless an injury creates an opportunity. The pick remains a good one, from my perspective, as the depth at WR will prove valuable during this upcoming season.

Defensively, the Buccaneers chose Antoine Winfield Jr., a safety whose college track record at Minnesota shows a guy who has a knack for finding the football in the passing game as well as being that extra defender against the run. As Coach Bowles defense seemed to gel in the second half of the 2019 season, the play of the safeties proved to be somewhat porous. Winfield should improve the safety position for Tampa Bay immediately, and I love this pick. Additionally, the Bucs picked Khalil Davis from Nebraska, a defensive tackle who should get some playing time as a defensive lineman. Also, Chapelle Russell, a linebacker from Temple is a unique selection. Russell will spend most of the 2020 season with special teams and serve as a reserve linebacker, from what I can see. All three of the defensive picks provide quality depth, at the least, with Winfield having the opportunity to be an impact player

Sure, I will take off my Buccaneer-colored-glasses once we get around to kickoff for the 2020 NFL season, but I see reasons for optimism. This franchise has legitimately had one of its best drafts in recent memory. I hope you are looking forward to training camp next month to see these young Bucs on the field, and finally get our “Game On.”