Mercifully, the season of conjecture and cone drills, 40 times and five-round mock-ups, has ended.
The actual NFL draft — the most hyped off-field spectacle in sports — commences tonight at 8 with the first round, and runs through Saturday. The Bucs, as reigning Super Bowl champions, own the 32nd and final pick of the opening round, meaning they’ll select some time around midnight.
Speculation over whom — or even if — they’ll select at No. 32 will rage right until that wee hour. With all 22 starters (not to mention all three specialists and every key reserve including Antonio Brown) back from that Super Bowl squad, the Bucs have the luxury of selecting the best player available — or even trading the pick — instead of addressing a glaring need.
“We are excited about the fact that ... in a lot of drafts where you have a lot of needs, now we have more a lot of wants,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said last week. “It’s exciting to go into a draft like that.”
For the purposes of your pre-draft orientation, we’ve produced a steady supply of content regarding the prospects in the 2021 class, and the approaches the Bucs could take entering this weekend. We’ve assembled most of it right here.
First, a position-by-position look at some of the prospects the Bucs could be considering:
We also took a closer look at a few individuals:
Travis Etienne, running back, Clemson. While the Bucs have four backs under contract, only one is signed for 2022. Could they be compelled to take a versatile speedster such as Etienne?
Quinn Meinerz, offensive lineman, Wisconsin-Whitewater. Tampa Bay has developed a universally lauded knack for transforming offensive linemen from obscure colleges into starters. Could Meinerz, a Division III standout (and Senior Bowl darling) be the next?
Jaelan Phillips, edge rusher, Miami. Phillips, whose extensive injury history is offset by an intriguing upside, could be an eventual heir to Jason Pierre-Paul.
Christian Barmore, defensive tackle, Alabama. While Warren Sapp’s assessment of Barmore isn’t too flattering, draft analysts generally indicate this 310-pound pass rusher could be the best in a meager crop of defensive tackles.
In addition to our positional breakdowns, we examined the question of whether the Bucs should use the draft to find quarterback Tom Brady’s eventual heir. We also looked at the Patriots’ spotty history of drafting backups (and would-be replacements) for Brady.
We also engaged in a little hindsight, reflecting on Tampa Bay’s 2020 draft class (which could go down as its best ever), and looking back at how other No. 32 overall picks panned out.
Where the Bucs pick
Day 1: 32nd overall
Day 2: 64th, 95th
Day 3: 137th, 176th, 217th, 251st, 259th
Watching the draft
ABC, ESPN, NFL Network and ESPN Deportes will carry the draft live, starting with tonight’s first round at 8 p.m. Coverage of rounds 2 and 3 begins Friday at 7, with rounds 4-7 beginning Saturday at noon.
Those same four networks also will live stream the draft on their respective apps. Radio coverage is being provided by SiriusXM, Westwood One, and ESPN Radio.
You can also follow our reporters on Twitter:
Rick Stroud: @NFLSTROUD
Joey Knight: @TBTimes_Bulls
Matt Baker: @MBakerTBTimes
Rachel West: @rachelwest__
Mari Faiello: @faiello_mari
Tampa Bay Times Sports: @TBTimes_Sports
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