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Bucs are big Aggies fans in NFL draft

Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to be gone when the Bucs pick.

Associated Press

Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to be gone when the Bucs pick.

TAMPA

It happened every time they turned on a tape to watch Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

As Johnny Football made his magic with Houdini-like escapes, throwing passes from impossible angles, two of his teammates kept jumping from the screen: receiver Mike Evans and left tackle Jake Matthews.

All three Aggies have a chance to be selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft tonight, a feat that has only occurred twice in the past 18 years.

Bucs general manager Jason Licht and coach Lovie Smith had a tough time not falling in love with those three during late-night film sessions. In fact, they would be thrilled if any were still on the board when they make the No. 7 overall selection.

"They're easy to evaluate because we've seen a lot of tape on them," Licht said. "I wouldn't say we've seen more tape on them than anybody else. But when you're going through all the receivers, you happen to watch the linemen on their team, you're exposed to them a little bit more. It's an interesting situation there where they've got three very good players."

Manziel, the most polarizing draft prospect in many years, would bring Tampa Bay a franchise quarterback with unique improvisational skills. He also would be a good fit in the new offense under coordinator Jeff Tedford, the former University of California head coach.

The Bucs signed Bears free agent Josh McCown in March and immediately named him the starter. But he will be 35 in July and clearly his presence means the team isn't bullish on backup Mike Glennon. Having McCown would allow Manziel time to develop.

But the club's two biggest needs might be at receiver and on the offensive line. With no playmakers opposite receiver Vincent Jackson, it was hard for Licht and Smith not to notice the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Evans, who kept showing up on the receiving end of so many Manziel missiles.

Evans is frequently compared to Jackson and could stretch the field with his 4.5 speed in the 40. It would give the Bucs a couple of big, bookend wideouts like McCown had success with in Chicago with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

"He's really very similar to Vincent Jackson already," former Bucs and Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "I don't know if you want two of those on the same team. I don't know that you don't. Depends on what Jeff Tedford has in store."

At 6 feet 5, 305 pounds, Matthews kept peeling off potential tacklers from Manziel. Licht believes he is athletic enough to play guard for a year or two before moving to left tackle. The Bucs signed Bengals free agent Anthony Collins to a five-year, $30 million contract in March to play left tackle, but he also has played guard.

If the team needed more information on Manziel, Evans or Matthews, it can just consult strength coach Dave Kennedy, who held the same position at Texas A&M the past five years.

Though the bulk of the Bucs' draft will be aimed at improving the league's worst offense, Smith is a defensive coach. At No. 7, the Bucs might be fortunate to consider Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who along with All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy might give the team the best 1-2 inside pass rush in the NFL.

What the Bucs can't control is what happens in front of them. At least four teams in the top five — Texans (1), Jaguars (3), Browns (4) and Raiders (5) — are QB-needy, and the Rams (2) are dangling their spot for Manziel-ites.

"He will excel at whatever you ask him to do," Gruden said of Manziel.

If Evans and Clemson's Sammy Watkins, the top receiver, are both gone, the Bucs could consider LSU's Odell Beckham (5-11, 198), a player with 4.43 speed. Trading down might be a possibility since the Bucs own only six picks. By moving down, they still could pick a quarterback such as Fresno State's Derek Carr, whose brother David played for Tedford at Fresno State.

Smith spoke to the only thing the Bucs are certain of tonight: "At that seventh spot, we feel we'll get a pretty good player there."

Bucs are big Aggies fans in NFL draft 05/07/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 10:51pm]
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