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Having kept team together, Bucs can address depth in NFL draft

We examine four positions the Buccaneers are likely to address with the 32nd overall pick.
Alabama running back Najee Harris (22), a two-time 1,000-yard rusher and excellent receiver out of the backfield, could be a target for Tampa Bay with the NFL draft's 32nd overall pick.
Alabama running back Najee Harris (22), a two-time 1,000-yard rusher and excellent receiver out of the backfield, could be a target for Tampa Bay with the NFL draft's 32nd overall pick. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]
Published Mar. 25, 2021|Updated Mar. 26, 2021

As you read this, an elaborate stage and makeshift studio are being erected on the shores of Lake Erie for the most tense, tedious, tantrum-inducing weekend on the NFL calendar.

The 2021 draft, live from Cleveland, kicks off a month from Monday.

As the reigning Super Bowl champion, the Bucs will have the last pick (No. 32 overall) in the first round. How they use the pick, or whether they use it at all, has been the source of mock-draft speculation in every nook of cyberspace.

Related: USF coach Jeff Scott selling his Tampa house, formerly owned by Lovie Smith

While conjecture on that initial pick splays across the fan base’s collective consciousness, determining the team’s areas of greatest need comes with a bit more logic and reasonable deduction. While the front office successfully has kept the Super Bowl 55 starting lineup together, its shelf life beyond 2021 is a little sketchy.

At some point, general manager Jason Licht will have significant gaps to fill. He can get a head start on that task in this draft by addressing the following areas.

1. Defensive tackle

Alabama defensive lineman Christian Barmore (58) celebrates sacking Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (12) in the second half of the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
Alabama defensive lineman Christian Barmore (58) celebrates sacking Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (12) in the second half of the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. [ MICHAEL AINSWORTH | Associated Press ]

Aside from quarterback, no position on the team is as chronologically advanced as this one. Ndamukong Suh is 34, free agent Steve McLendon (who may or may not retire) is 35 and William Gholston will be 30 on opening day. While nose tackle Vita Vea, 26, is entrenched at his spot, it’s time to start replenishing around him in Todd Bowles’ 3-4 alignment.

Possible targets with 32nd pick:

Christian Barmore, Alabama

Had 65 QB pressures over last two years, tops among all Power Five defensive tackles (per Pro Football Focus).

Daviyon Nixon, Iowa

Agile 300-pounder was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Appears versatile for any scheme.

Levi Onwuzurike, Washington

Vea’s former college teammate was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick in 2019 before opting out in 2020.

2. Outside linebacker

Miami lineman Jaelan Phillips celebrates intercepting a pass against FSU during the first half of the 'Canes' 52-10 romp on Sept. 26, 2020.
Miami lineman Jaelan Phillips celebrates intercepting a pass against FSU during the first half of the 'Canes' 52-10 romp on Sept. 26, 2020. [ MICHAEL LAUGHLIN | Sun Sentinel ]

While the Bucs locked up Shaquil Barrett for the foreseeable future (with a four-year, $72 million deal), they must go about finding Jason Pierre-Paul’s eventual replacement. JPP, who turned 32 on New Year’s Day and had knee surgery in February, has a year remaining on his current contract. Fortunately for Tampa Bay, this draft appears to be teeming with edge rushers.

Possible targets with 32nd pick:

Azeez Ojulari, Georgia

A rangy (6 feet 2¼, 249 pounds), flexible, fast edge rusher. Ojulari ran the 40 in the mid-4.6 range at Georgia’s pro day.

Joseph Ossai, Texas

Had 16 tackles for loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles in nine games in 2020. Shined at Longhorns’ pro day.

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Jaelan Phillips, Miami

Tantalizing prospect despite concussion history. Operated in 4-3 at Miami, but could transition to edge.

3. Running back

Clemson running back Travis Etienne (9), a two-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year, totaled 85 catches over the past two seasons.
Clemson running back Travis Etienne (9), a two-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year, totaled 85 catches over the past two seasons. [ BART BOATWRIGHT/THE CLEMSON INSIDER | ACC Pool ]

Now that the Bucs have reached a 2021 agreement with Leonard Fournette, this position no longer represents an area of immediate need. But “Playoff Lenny” and speedster Ronald Jones (in the final year of his rookie contract) both essentially will be on one-year deals this fall. Stands to reason Licht and Co. almost certainly will look to address the spot with a three-down guy whose sturdiness is complemented by soft hands.

Possible targets with 32nd pick:

Najee Harris, Alabama

An upgrade from Playoff Lenny? This two-time 1,000-yard rusher totaled 70 catches the past two years.

Travis Etienne, Clemson

This two-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year also has pass-catching chops (85 receptions in last two years).

Javonte Williams, North Carolina

A productive, powerful option if Harris and Etienne are off the board (1,140 rushing yards, 25 catches in 2020)

4. Interior offensive line

Despite an extensive injury history at both FSU and Alabama, Landon Dickerson's versatility may prompt an NFL team to gamble a first-round pick on him in the 2021 draft.
Despite an extensive injury history at both FSU and Alabama, Landon Dickerson's versatility may prompt an NFL team to gamble a first-round pick on him in the 2021 draft. [ VASHA HUNT | AP ]

So left tackle Donovan Smith is on board for at least another couple of years, Ali Marpet remains granite-solid as a guard, and right tackle Tristan Wirfs might have enjoyed the best rookie year of any Buc ever. But can one really have enough offensive linemen? Center Ryan Jensen has a year remaining on his current deal and right guard Alex Cappa is coming off an ankle fracture. The Bucs added some depth by re-signing Aaron Stinnie, who shined in place of Cappa in the playoffs, but they need more.

Possible targets with 32nd pick:

Wyatt Davis, Ohio State

Arguably the best pure guard available. Virtually immovable in one-on-one situations.

Landon Dickerson, Alabama

Injury history (two torn ACLs) is a red flag, but this dude’s the most versatile interior lineman available.

Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC

Allowed only eight pressures as a tackle in 2020 (per Pro Football Focus), but also has played guard.

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