Bucs meet goal of adding speed in NFL draft

Penn State wide receiver Chris Godwin, the Bucs’ third-round draft choice, runs a 4.42 40 at 6-1, 209 pounds.
Penn State wide receiver Chris Godwin, the Bucs’ third-round draft choice, runs a 4.42 40 at 6-1, 209 pounds.
Published April 30, 2017

TAMPA — The goal still is written on a grease board in Jason Licht's office. The Bucs general manager left it there after a meeting several months ago as a constant reminder that his team had a need for speed.

Nowhere is this more important or obvious than on offense, where the Bucs quickly got quicker through free agency and the NFL draft to help quarterback Jameis Winston.

The Bucs started in March by signing Redskins free agent receiver DeSean Jackson, who despite being 30 was clocked as the second-fastest man in the league last season. During the three-day NFL draft that ended Saturday, Tampa Bay added 6-foot-6 Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who runs a 4.5 40-yard dash, in the first round; Penn State receiver Chris Godwin (4.42) in the third; and Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols (4.49) in the fifth.

Outside of receiver Mike Evans, who is fast but a strider needing a little runway to get up to maximum speed, the Bucs were pretty slow last season. Winston could finish a crossword before most of his guys could get downfield. Starting in 2017, the Bucs will no longer run like cold honey.

"You know, you can't have enough speed," Licht said. "During this year, I know I mentioned this before, that speed was one thing we thought we needed to add I should say to this team. (Coach Dirk Koetter) and I talked about it numerous times. In fact, in my office I have it written on my grease board. It's been there for several months now.

"Not that I need the reminder, but I just kind of left it up there after a meeting. We did just that with the tight end … we're just looking for players, good players at that. But we thought we added some team speed."

All last season, Koetter lamented the lack of explosive plays in the Bucs offense. Koetter defines explosives as runs of 12 yards or more and passes of 16 yards of more. Jackson averages one every time he catches the football with a 17.7-yard career mark. Howard can stretch the field and was under-utilized in Nick Saban's ground and pound offense. Godwin can fly, and McNichols rushed for 1,709 yards and scored 23 touchdowns last season.

A couple of things about McNichols: With his size (5 feet 9, 214 pounds) and resume, he is Martin with better hands. McNichols' coach at Boise State, Bryan Harsin, said they call him "the Weapon." He may have gone higher but decided to have surgery on a torn labrum in his shoulder after the scouting combine. Koetter believes he could be ready by training camp.

"I know him pretty well," McNichols said of Martin. "We got to meet each other there in the spring. It's just kind of ironic."

It's hard to imagine McNichols will knock Martin completely out of a job, but he could be the perfect stand-in or third-down back until October.

When you think about the teams that the Bucs have to beat to win the NFC South, the difference may have been speed. The Falcons have it with Julio Jones, Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman and Taylor Gabriel. The Panthers added running back Christian McCaffrey and receiver Curtis Samuel. The Saints added free agent Adrian Peterson and Tennessee rookie Alvin Kamara.

"Everybody gets better," Koetter said. "It hurts you a lot when there's guys you like in the draft and you're watching who gets them. You have friends who are coaches and, 'I'm glad Marvin Lewis got this guy and I'm glad Andy Reid got that guy.' And when guys in your division get guys that you like … that's just like an extra knife. You're going, 'Oh, my gosh, we like that guy a lot.' The teams in our division, they drafted well."

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If there were a singular goal to this draft, it was to continue to add weapons for Winston.

"You want to give a young quarterback weapons to throw to," Licht said.

Before Koetter headed back upstairs to begin recruiting undrafted free agents, he was asked what he would like the Bucs' identity to be.

"A bad--- football team," Koetter said. "How's that?"