TAMPA — The Bucs once again find themselves in the Tom Petty portion of the NFL draft: The waiting is the hardest part.
Picking 27th overall means there is no guarantee that one of the handful of players they would like to select still will be available. A year ago, they owned the final pick of the first round and didn’t make a selection until three minutes after midnight.
“We’ve gone through all the scenarios, and you have all the pre-draft drafts in your mind and you meet about everything, so it’s about how many guys are there that you want to take at that spot,” head coach Todd Bowles said. “That’s when it becomes nerve-wracking, when there’s only one or two (players) that you can take that late in the draft that you like.”
Bowles is a long-time defensive coordinator, and that side of the football will be on his mind Thursday night.
Specifically, the Bucs want to get younger on the defensive line.
There is a reason Ndamukong Suh has not yet re-signed with the team. He’s 35, and he has earned about $9 million per year with the Bucs.
They believe there is a good chance they could address that position with their first pick. If they do, it’s possible Suh won’t return in 2022.
The two players who have been linked most to the Bucs in mock drafts are Houston defensive lineman Logan Hall and Georgia defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt. Both took top 30 visits to Tampa Bay.
Hall turned 22 Wednesday and is the more versatile of the two. He’s 6-feet-6, 283 pounds with the frame to add more weight later. He recorded six sacks for the Cougars last season.
Wyatt, 24, is a true defensive tackle and not as versatile. But he would anchor what has been the league’s best run defense over the past three seasons next to Vita Vea. Scouts believe Wyatt has a big upside as a pass rusher.
Six other players that make sense for the Bucs at No. 27 include tight end Trey McBride of Colorado State, receivers Treylon Burks of Arkansas and Christian Watson of North Dakota State, safety Lous Cine of Georgia and a couple of interior offensive linemen ― Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green and Boston College’s Zion Johnson.
But Tampa Bay has more than adequate replacements for retired Pro Bowl guard Ali Marpet in Aaron Stinnie and Robert Hainsey.
Bowles admits he’s had to play catch-up on the draft since taking over as head coach, especially on offense.
“It’s been to great have (Bruce Arians) to lean on, but I’ve been kind of catching up on my own since I took the job,” Bowles said. “I’ve had a couple of weeks now to get caught up to the offensive side of the football, so I’ve been doing my homework and we’re pretty much on the same page now.”
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When Bowles was the Jets’ head coach in 2017, they drafted safeties in the first and second rounds: Jamal Adams (sixth overall) and Marcus Maye (39th overall).
But that’s a lot of draft capital to spend on that position, with starters such as Antoine Winfield Jr. and Mike Edwards. In addition, the Bucs signed Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan in free agency.
The strength of the draft is in the middle rounds, where there is plenty of depth. McBride could leak into the second round, but he probably won’t last until the Bucs choose 60th overall.
“It’s a good draft,” Bowles said. “There’s a lot of depth in this draft, a lot of good players, and obviously you’re going to take a good player in the first round, so we’re just looking forward to it.”
Bucs general manager Jason Licht has a penchant for draft-day trades. He’s made 13 of them during his career. But if he doesn’t think there’s a player with a first-round grade available at No. 27, he could attempt to move down and pick up an extra pick.
“It does look like a draft (where) there’s going to be some good players in the mid-rounds, for sure,” Licht said. “There may not be 30 guys that you think are legit first-round picks, but there’s going to be a lot of good players in the middle rounds.”
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