Bucs plan to take advantage of strong RB class in NFL draft

Tampa Bay was trying to add a free-agent running back until the bidding went too high. With only two veteran ball carriers on the roster, the Bucs will turn to the draft.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley speaks during a news conference at the NFL scouting combine. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley speaks during a news conference at the NFL scouting combine. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Published Mar. 27, 2018

ORLANDO — The Bucs have only two running backs with NFL experience on their roster — Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers. Unable to add another ball carrier in free agency, coach Dirk Koetter said Tuesday that they will address that position in the draft.

Koetter said the Bucs explored the free-agent running back market and had their eye on a player or two until the salaries skyrocketed. Vikings free agent Jerick McKinnon signed a four-year, $30 million contract with the 49ers. The Patriots' Dion Lewis got a four-year, $19.8 million deal from the Titans.

"Things are different all the time," Koetter said. "This year, all of sudden, running backs got valued. The free-agent running backs that came out this year, all of a sudden there was a big market and the price — we were in on it. We were in on at least one and the price just skyrocketed and we had a lot of other guys we wanted to sign and Jason (Licht) and Mike Greenberg have to balance that all out. The good news is, it's well publicized, it's a very strong running back class in the draft."

The Bucs have the No. 7 overall pick. With as many as four quarterbacks expected to go before them, there is a very slim possibility that Penn State's Saquon Barkley falls to Tampa Bay.

But, like Koetter says, it's a deep running back class that includes Georgia's Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, LSU's Derrius Guice and Southern Cal's Ronald Jones II.

As it stands now, Barber would be the Bucs' starter after leading the team with 423 yards and three touchdowns.

"My confidence level is high in Peyton," Koetter said. "I've said many times, 'If a guy is on our team, I have confidence in him.' You know, as we sit here today, Peyton is our starter at running back. Now, that might change based on the draft. We've already seen one trade that came out of nowhere so you never know what's going to happen. But Peyton started games for us last year. If he's our starter, that's fine, and we have a lot of confidence in Jacquizz as well."

In fact, Rodgers is more than capable of playing the third down role for the Bucs.

"Yes, Jacquizz can play that role and you know, I don't think it's any big secret that we can't go into the season with two running backs," Koetter said. "We're going to be adding a running back here somehow, some way between now and when fall camp starts. How the roles shake out, we'll see how that goes. But I'm confident Jacquizz can play that role if need be."