The NFL scouting combine begins this week in Indianapolis, which means draft boards will change based on the results of a player's performance. Also, expect nearly every player mentioned in the top 10 of the draft, minus quarterbacks, to be linked at some point with the Bucs.
Frankly, despite their obvious need for a pass rusher, general manager Jason Licht has to keep an open mind, because you never know which player will get pushed down to them at No. 7 — especially with as many as four quarterbacks and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley likely to be off the big board before the Bucs make their first selection.
Without accounting for trades or free agent signings — the Cleveland Browns or another team could swing a deal for Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins — ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has released his Mock Draft 2.0.
Kiper has Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen going to the Cleveland Browns No. 1 overall. Allen had a strong week at the Senior Bowl, and Kiper compares his stats and low completion percentage to that of Matthew Stafford when he came out of Georgia.
The New York Giants are in need of an heir apparent to Eli Manning. But at No. 2, Kiper has them selecting Barkley, arguably the highest-rated player in the draft regardless of position. Barkley is special, and since the Browns also pick No. 4 overall, they could take him first and then wait for a quarterback.
The player who seems to be locked in to the Indianapolis Colts' No. 3 overall spot for Kiper and other draft boards is North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb. The only team with fewer sacks than the Bucs last season were the Colts with 25. They don't need a quarterback, so there seems almost no way the best edge rusher is making it to No. 7.
At No. 4, Kiper has the Browns taking Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. It's unclear whether the Bucs view Fitzpatrick as a safety, a nickel corner or an outside cornerback. But he can help any team's secondary.
At No. 5, Kiper has the quarterback-needy Denver Broncos selecting Southern Cal's Sam Darnold. Many believe Darnold, despite an alarming number of turnovers (22), is the best passing prospect.
At No. 6, the New York Jets would select Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield in this mock draft. That's assuming they don't secure a free agent quarterback such as Cousins.
So who does that leave for the Bucs? Everyone else. With UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen still on the board according to this mock draft, Tampa Bay would get a lot of offers to trade down and scoop up an extra first round pick.
If they stay at No. 7, Kiper has the Bucs selecting Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. What about the defensive needs? Well, the Bucs couldn't run the ball very well last season, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. "He's a plug-and-play starter who dominates defenders and can get to the second level,'' Kiper said.
The Bucs could lose guards Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith to free agency, creating a real need. Kiper has Nelson as the No. 4 overall prospect in the draft on his Big Board. Controlling the line of scrimmage and time of possession with the run game also helps the defense.