Breaking down final roster battles as Bucs cut to 53
The Bucs made their first 12 cuts on Sunday, getting them down to 77 players, with two more moves to make by Tuesday and another 20 to get them to 53, presuming that J.R. Sweezy and Louis Murphy -- who still haven't even practiced -- will open the season on the physically unable to perform list.
Most of those 53 jobs are likely decided in the minds of the Bucs' front office, with only a handful realistically in play for Thursday's preseason finale -- there are injury questions that will shape the initial roster as well, with no real public insight from the team as to the severity of those question marks.
Being extremely conservative, we can point to 38 locks to make the Bucs' roster, with 15 jobs generously up for grabs. There are perceived leaders for these jobs, but we can't know that decisions have been made. You could see marginal players traded for low-round picks or other spare parts in the next week as well.
Here's a position-by-position breakdown of the roster bubble, with 29 players in reasonable contention for those 15 roster spots. The number in parentheses is how many the Bucs are likely to carry on the 53.
QB (2-3): Jameis Winston and Mike Glennon are locks, unless the Cowboys somehow decide to ramp up any offer for Glennon given their QB issues. Ryan Griffin is trying to convince the Bucs to carry a third QB. It would be a second full year invested in him as a No. 3 just to line him up as the 2017 backup -- again, he's never played in an NFL game. Just depends on how the Bucs like their depth at other positions that will actually get on the field this season.
RB (3): Doug Martin and Charles Sims are locks. Veteran Mike James and rookie Peyton Barber are competing for the No. 3 spot -- James a much more known commodity and Barber would likely be someone the Bucs could sign to the practice squad. Another position where they'll keep an eye on who is waived by other teams with deep backfields. The Bucs are averaging 2.7 yards per carry in preseason, so no backup has really made a strong case to stick.
WR (5): Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Adam Humphries are locks. Russell Shepard would seem a safe bet for the fourth, and Donteea Dye looked to be in good shape for the fifth before his hamstring injury. That would leave Kenny Bell and Evan Spencer either as a sixth WR who would help on kick coverage, or Bernard Reedy in position to step in as receiver/returner if Dye won't be healthy for Week 1. And we'll have to revisit this position in late October when Louis Murphy in theory could return from PUP and contribute on the active roster.
TE (4): Seems like Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Cameron Brate and Luke Stocker are locks. Rookie Danny Vitale is playing a ton on special teams, so he seems well ahead of veteran Brandon Myers, who would be expensive as a backup tight end. The wild card is undrafted rookie Alan Cross, who is more likely a match for the practice squad.
OL (9-10): I count seven locks, in starting tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson, starting guards Kevin Pamphile and Ali Marpet and centers Joe Hawley and Evan Smith. Gosder Cherilus makes sense as a swing backup tackle, at least until Sweezy is healthy. That leaves a bevy of young, unproven linemen for the 8th and 9th spots, if not a 10th. They might not even dress on game day, but I think it comes down to four names: rookies Leonard Wester and Caleb Benenoch and first-year players Josh Allen and Ben Gottschalk. Realistically, Gottschalk can go to practice squad and Allen comes down to whether Bucs want to carry 10 linemen at the expense of depth at other positions. Again, somebody will be gone when Sweezy joins the club in late October.
DL (9-10): I see seven locks here as well, in ends Robert Ayers, Will Gholston, Noah Spence and Jacquies Smith, as well as tackles Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence. There's a good battle for the fifth end spot between Howard Jones and Kourtnei Brown, though Jones has produced on the NFL level much more. Brown is more a question of whether they keep a sixth end for special-teams help. The options for a fourth DT are where the Bucs seem most likely to grab a newcomer off waivers -- as it stands, it's Cliff Matthews, A.J. Francis and rookie DaVonte Lambert, but none have played much or shown much in the preseason. If the Bucs carry only three true DTs, they put themselves at risk to depth concerns since the top three all missed time with injuries last season.
LB (5-6): Starters are locks in Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Daryl Smith. If they only carry five, it's safe to think two will come from draft pick Devante Bond (who has a hamstring injury), undrafted rookie Luke Rhodes and veteran Adarius Glanton. The only other options on the roster are second-year pro Josh Keyes (who was the only healthy SLB Friday) and undrafted rookie Micah Awe, who's likely a practice squad match right now.
CB (5-6): Four corners are locks in Vernon Hargreaves, Alterraun Verner, Brent Grimes and Jude Adjei-Barimah. Johnthan Banks would be the fifth, though he's mentioned as a trade possibility to a team that might value him more; Josh Robinson would be next if the Bucs carried a sixth corner. Only other one left is FSU's Javien Elliott, who'd do well to make the practice squad.
S (4-5): Seems like four jobs are set, with the release of Major Wright. Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald are your starters, veteran Keith Tandy is the third safety and rookie Ryan Smith can play special teams and learn on the job as the fourth. Only other safey is undrafted rookie Isaiah Johnson, who's likely a practice squad guy.
Specialists (3): These seem like locks after the release of punter Jake Schum: Roberto Aguayo is the kicker, with Bryan Anger as the punter and holder on kicks. Andrew DePaola has been the only long-snapper on roster all off-season, so it'd be surprising if the Bucs made a change there after letting Aguayo get used to him on snaps since spring.
If we didn't mention a player by name here, it means we're presuming they're among the cuts to get to 53 in the next week. I'm not convinced they split the roster with 25 on offense and 25 on defense -- could make a case for a defensive lean, since two on offense could be gone when Sweezy and Murphy return in late October. Wouldn't be surprising at all if the Bucs were active on the waiver wire as they were last year in adding 3-4 players cut elsewhere. Lots up for grabs in the next week ...