Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Breaking down the 2016 NFL draft: Offensive line (w/ video)

Who the Bucs have

Donovan Smith, LT (6-6, 338): Played every snap at left tackle as rookie last year. Could be anchor, yet some still think Bucs could use No. 9 overall pick on a tackle.

J.R. Sweezy, LG (6-5, 298): Only big free-agent addition on offense, he's tasked with replacing Logan Mankins. Tough run blocker for Doug Martin.

Joe Hawley, C (6-3, 302): Signed after being cut by Falcons last year, stepped up after Evan Smith injury and kept job for rest of season. Should start again. Can be free agent next year.

Ali Marpet, RG (6-4, 307): Jumped from Division III to opening-week starter as rookie last year. Needs to continue progress in second season.

Demar Dotson, RT (6-9, 315): Missed first half of last season with injury; split time in second half. RT job is his going into camp. Highly motivated in contract year.

Kevin Pamphile, T (6-5, 315): Used extensively as "jumbo" tight end for six-man line. In third year, still waiting for chance to prove himself as full-time starter.

Evan Smith, C (6-2, 308): Lost starting center job last year, but can be solid backup at guard and center. Shows Bucs' improved depth from last season.

Gosder Cherilus, RT (6-7, 316): Would be expensive as backup right tackle, but Bucs want depth to guard against injury.

Depth: Bucs have four more offensive linemen on roster, battling for backup spots and hoping Tampa Bay doesn't draft a lineman. Garrett Gilkey is coming off an ACL injury. Centers Josh Allen and Ben Gottschalk would have to beat out Evan Smith. Guard Antoine Everett is a long shot with depth at interior spots.

Top five draft prospects

Laremy Tunsil (above right), T, Ole Miss (6-5, 310): Potential No. 1 pick before Rams-Titans trade to get top picks. Seen as potential franchise left tackle. Will go in top four, five picks.

Ronnie Stanley, T, Notre Dame (6-6, 312): Likely top-10 pick. Could have gone in last year's draft. Fewer off-field concerns than Tunsil (who had NCAA suspension last year for improper benefits), but likely picked after him.

Jack Conklin, T, Michigan State (6-6, 308): Former walk-on (!) might be left or right tackle in NFL. Size, toughness will put him in top half of first round.

Germain Ifedi, T, Texas A&M (6-6, 324): Brother Martin is DE with the Bucs. Could have four to five tackles taken in first round, also with Ohio State's Taylor Decker, Indiana's Jason Spriggs.

Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama (6-4, 311): First round may not have any interior linemen, but Kelly is best of the class. Three-year starter and leader for Crimson Tide.

Under the radar

Joe Haeg, T, North Dakota State (6-6, 304): Who is this year's Ali Marpet? Not many small-school linemen candidates, but Haeg (60 starts) could go in third round.

Free agency

The Bucs made a major investment in J.R. Sweezy to replace retired Logan Mankins at left guard. There's good depth, with Gosder Cherilus and Evan Smith being kept as likely backups despite being paid like starters. If the Bucs were to draft an offensive lineman, he might displace Cherilus or Smith by the time final cuts come around.

Best guess

The Bucs so neglected their defense in the past two drafts that it's hard to see a top pick going to the offensive line. But if their main goal is protecting and maximizing QB Jameis Winston, finding a long-term answer at right tackle or center might be worth a pick in the top three rounds, perhaps a mid-round prospect who can serve as a backup this year and transition to starter in 2017.

Greg Auman, Times staff writer

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