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Gronk or no Gronk, Bucs must address tight end in NFL draft

Currently, Cameron Brate is the only tight end on the roster with more than one NFL catch.
Trey McBride of Colorado State (85) runs through drills during practice for the Senior Bowl in February. McBride won the 2021 Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end.
Trey McBride of Colorado State (85) runs through drills during practice for the Senior Bowl in February. McBride won the 2021 Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end. [ BUTCH DILL | AP ]
Published Apr. 20|Updated Apr. 21

TAMPA — Conventional wisdom suggests that before unretiring, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady got some type of assurance that the “Tommy and Gronky” show would be renewed for 2022.

But with each day that tight end Rob Gronkowski remains vague about his future, the tease nudges closer to torment for Bucs fans.

As it stands, veteran Cameron Brate and 29-year-old Codey McElroy (one NFL catch) are the only tight ends on the active roster.

With 2017 first-round draft pick O.J. Howard now in Buffalo, securing Gronkowski for one more season seems a necessity.

But even if that transpires, landing a tight end for the future early in the draft next week seems equally necessary, if not imperative.

Related: How Gronk, Ndamukong Suh could affect the Bucs draft

As this position goes, Tampa Bay’s board should be intact when the team picks at No. 27.

While no apparent generational talent (i.e. Kyle Pitts) exists, the class contains several solid prospects, and all still should be available late in the first round.

“I’d say (the tight end class) is pretty solid,” general manager Jason Licht said Tuesday.

“There’s some good players. There’s never as many tight ends as there are receivers or running backs or offensive linemen, but I would say it’s pretty solid.”

Here are the tight end prospects we feel make the most sense for Tampa Bay:

1. Trey McBride, Colorado State

The 4.56-second 40-yard dash recorded by Trey McBride at Colorado State's pro day would have been the second-fastest among tight ends at the NFL scouting combine.
The 4.56-second 40-yard dash recorded by Trey McBride at Colorado State's pro day would have been the second-fastest among tight ends at the NFL scouting combine. [ DARRON CUMMINGS | AP ]

Size: 6 feet 4, 246 pounds

Measurable of note: Ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds at his pro day, which would have been the second- fastest time among tight ends at the scouting combine.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, and many other draftniks, consider McBride the top prospect at the position. The ‘21 Mackey Award winner as the country’s best tight end represents the complete package in terms of blocking and ball skills. A three-sport high school star, McBride set school records last year in receptions (90) and yards (1,121).

2. Cade Otton, Washington

Washington tight end Cade Otton (87) tries to avoid a tackle during his team's 52-3 romp of Arkansas State last September.
Washington tight end Cade Otton (87) tries to avoid a tackle during his team's 52-3 romp of Arkansas State last September. [ ELAINE THOMPSON | AP (2021) ]

Size: 6-5, 247

Measurable of note: Ankle surgery sidelined Otton for nearly all combine and Washington pro day drills.

A college teammate of Bucs linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Otton started four years for the Huskies, totaling 91 catches and nine touchdowns. More important, he excelled as a run blocker and seems an ideal fit for the Bucs’ two-tight-end sets. The son and grandson of revered Washington prep coaches, Otton had ankle surgery in November but insists he’ll be ready for training camp. “I’m running pretty well on the field, starting to get into some cutting, and it’s coming along,” he told the NFL Network on Tuesday.

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3. Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State

Ohio State tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, a former Berkeley Prep standout, hoists tight end Jeremy Ruckert after a touchdown at Indiana. An exceptional in-line blocker, Ruckert could be high on the Bucs' tight-end board as the NFL draft approaches.
Ohio State tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, a former Berkeley Prep standout, hoists tight end Jeremy Ruckert after a touchdown at Indiana. An exceptional in-line blocker, Ruckert could be high on the Bucs' tight-end board as the NFL draft approaches.

Size: 6-5, 250

Measurable of note: He had 22 reps of 225 pounds on bench press at Ohio State’s pro day.

Ruckert shares at least two commonalities with Gronkowski: Both are New York natives who relish in-line blocking. Overshadowed by the Buckeyes’ plethora of pass-catchers, Ruckert nonetheless had 26 catches for 309 yards and three touchdowns last season and finished with 12 touchdown catches in four years. He went viral in 2019 with a one-handed, 16-yard scoring catch from Justin Fields in the Big Ten title game.

4. Greg Dulcich, UCLA

Former UCLA walk-on Greg Dulcich (85), seen here competing in the Senior Bowl in February, evolved into a first-team All-Pac-12 tight end.
Former UCLA walk-on Greg Dulcich (85), seen here competing in the Senior Bowl in February, evolved into a first-team All-Pac-12 tight end. [ BUTCH DILL | AP ]

Size: 6-4, 243

Measurable of note: His 40-yard dash of 4.69 seconds was the fifth-fastest among tight ends at the combine.

Dulcich appears higher on other tight-end boards because of his speed, ball skills and production (42 catches, 725 yards, five touchdowns in 2021). His in-line blocking leaves a bit to be desired, though, which might make the Bucs a bit more leery than other suitors. But as a converted receiver, the former walk-on can get vertical as well as any tight end in the draft.

5. Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina

Coastal Carolina tight end Isaiah Likely, a Senior Bowl participant, finished his college career with five touchdowns of at least 50 yards.
Coastal Carolina tight end Isaiah Likely, a Senior Bowl participant, finished his college career with five touchdowns of at least 50 yards. [ BUTCH DILL | AP ]

Size: 6-4½, 245

Measurable of note: He had the best vertical jump, 36 inches, at the combine.

A major offensive contributor during Coastal Carolina’s national emergence, he finished his four-year college career with 133 catches for 2,050 yards and 27 touchdowns. Five of those scores went for at least 50 yards. If he can hone his blocking skills, Likely could be a force in the league for the next decade.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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