Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Could Martin's ban prompt Bucs to draft a running back in first round?

TAMPA — The news of Doug Martin's four-game suspension for violating the NFL's police on performance-enhancing drugs means the Bucs are no longer financially tied to him as their primary back next season.

That raises a new question: Could the Bucs use their first-round draft pick in April on a running back, hoping to get the kind of spark Ezekiel Elliott has given the Cowboys in leading the NFL in rushing as a rookie?

The Bucs have other pressing draft needs: finding a speed receiver to complement Mike Evans, a playmaking safety and even a dominating defensive tackle to line up next to Gerald McCoy.

But as long as coach Dirk Koetter has a run-first offense, establishing that run will be a priority, and the Bucs may not see a reliable answer now in Martin, or in Jacquizz Rodgers, who has played well at times this season, or Charles Sims, who has missed significant time to injuries in two of his three NFL seasons.

Elliott has made a huge, immediate impact for the Cowboys, but he was taken with the No. 4 overall pick. The Bucs (8-7) will likely pick around No. 18 in the 2017 draft, give or take a spot or two based on this weekend's games ending the regular season.

Drafting at 18, they almost certainly won't be able to get LSU's Leonard Fournette, seen by most draft experts as a rare back with franchise potential who is worth a top-five pick.

If the Bucs identify running back as their biggest need, this year's draft class has depth, which is probably a better option than the limited ones in free agency. Picking at 18, it's possible — though unlikely — they'd be able to land Florida State's Dalvin Cook, who played at FSU with quarterback Jameis Winston in 2014. Cook rushed for at least 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons.

Mock drafts vary on Cook. CBS Sports and USA Today have him going 13th to the Colts. Fox Sports has him falling to No. 26.

Would the Bucs favor Cook over another top prospect, such as Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, or backs who could be picked in later rounds? Will they be more like the Saints, who drafted Mark Ingram in the first round in 2011, or the Falcons, who found a gem in Devonta Freeman in the fourth round in 2014?

The Bucs have shown a penchant for drafting Seminoles in recent years, with mixed results. Winston, taken No. 1 overall in 2015, is now a franchise quarterback. Kicker Roberto Aguayo, picked in the second round last year, has been inconsistent and is among the NFL's worst kickers in his rookie season.

When Florida State plays Michigan on Friday in the Orange Bowl in Miami, there will be a significant interest in draft talent on both sides. Wolverines safety Jabrill Peppers is a potential top-10 pick. FSU defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker is a likely first-round pick as well. Michigan tight end Jake Butt may be the top prospect at his position. Wolverines pass-rusher Taco Charlton and cornerback Jourdan Lewis could also go in the top 50.

In a few days, the Bucs will know where they will pick in the draft, and in a few months, there may be a better sense of whom they will pick.

   
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