Bucs' pre-draft visits show heavy focus on defense
Less than half of the Bucs' 30 pre-draft visits allowed by the NFL have been reported, but every single one has been on the defensive side of the ball, not a surprise knowing that Tampa Bay has drafted only one player on defense in the past two drafts.
It's not uncommon for a team to draft a player it never brought in for a visit, but here are the 13 players reportedly lined up for visits:
-- Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida: The Wharton grad is a popular match for the Bucs at No. 9 in mock drafts, and Tampa Bay had secondary coach Jon Hoke on hand for his pro day in Gainesville last week. The Bucs have added veteran Brent Grimes at corner, but Jason Licht also made it clear it was a "bridge" signing to help mentor a potential successor.
-- Myles Jack, LB, UCLA: Unlikely to still be around when Bucs pick at 9, but Walterfootball.com has him lined up for a visit. The signing of veteran Daryl Smith sets up pairing him with a rookie at strongside, but Jack is likely an every-down linebacker, and Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander aren't likely coming off the field. But if he were to fall, the Bucs would have three top-tier young linebackers to build around.
-- Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville: He'll visit the Bucs next week -- new DC Mike Smith has talked about the importance of building a defense from the line of scrimmage, and the Bucs haven't drafted a defensive tackle since Akeem Spence in 2013. Could he go as high as No. 9? If the Bucs see him as a talent ready to start alongside Gerald McCoy, they could build the pass rush from the interior.
-- Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky: The Bucs had defensive line coach Jay Hayes running Spence through drills at EKU's pro day -- he's likely a reach at No. 9, and the Bucs would have to be OK with off-field problems that forced him to transfer from Ohio State and go the small-school route. He's difficult to place, going anywhere from the top 10 to out of the first round in mainstream mock drafts.
-- Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State: Probably not in the top tier of pass-rushers with Joey Bosa or DeForest Buckner, but the Bucs had Jay Hayes at Ogbah's pro day to get a closer look. At first, 9 seems too high for him but he's likely gone by 39, but the Bucs are bringing him in, so he has to be on the short list of options to address the pass rush high in the draft.
-- Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss: Another prospect with off-field concerns to offset promising talent -- according to Draftinsider.net, the Bucs are one of 14 visits he has lined up, and again, teams' biggest questions might be conduct-related. If he were to fall to 39, the Bucs could be a match, but he's seen by some as a 3-4 end for his ideal scheme fit.
-- Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State: Had six interceptions in 2014 as the Buckeyes won a national title -- likely a second- or third-round pick, but Bucs haven't drafted a safety since 2012, so expect them to use a mid-round pick at the position. He'll visit April 10.
-- Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor: Howard said at Baylor pro day that he had a visit lined up with the Bucs -- he's likely a second-day pick, leaving after his junior year after getting five interceptions to lead the Bears last season. Tampa Bay had its college scouting director, Mike Biehl, at Baylor pro day, but they also had assistant DL coach Paul Spicer there, so that might be more to see DT Andrew Billings or DL Shawn Oakman.
-- Aaron Wallace, LB, UCLA: The "other" Bruins linebacker is a late-round option -- limited starting experience, but strong numbers, running a 4.59 40 at his pro day with a 36-inch vertical while weighin 242 pounds. Walterfootball.com has him coming in for a visit, and NFL teams will see a lot of him as they look at tape or Myles Jack.
-- Cyrus Jones, CB-KR, Alabama: The bonus here is as a punt returner -- ran a sub-4.5 40 and projects as a mid-round pick. Bucs haven't re-signed Bobby Rainey, so expect them to take a player -- either at DB or WR -- who could double up as a return specialist.
-- Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn: Smallish but with track-star speed, Jones ran a 4.33 at the combine and was a national champ in the hurdles in high school. Might be a nickel in the NFL at 5-9, and is probably a third-day pick in draft.
-- Antwione Williams, LB, Georgia Southern: He'll be in Tampa for his visit on April 12 -- he worked out for Bucs linebackers coach Mark Duffner in Atlanta and could be a late-round match for that strongside opening to learn from and eventually take over for Daryl Smith.
-- Ryan Smith, CB, N.C. Central: Small-school standout has an impressive list of private workouts and visits lined up -- he's likely a late-round pick, but has good speed and athleticism and tested well at the combine in Indianapolis.