Tom Brady rolled into Tampa and completely changed the culture and expectations surrounding the Buccaneers. Now, the former laughing stock of the NFL, a team that led the league in turnovers and finished under .500 just a year ago, is expected to go and make a deep playoff run.
50 million dollars for 2 years of a 43-year-old Tom Brady seems like a pretty steep investment, so what supporting cast did the Bucs put around Brady to help him win? One of his most important demands was offensive weaponry, and the Bucs have some of the best. First off, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans make up probably the best wide receiver duo in the league. Their tight end situation isn’t ideal… but only because they have too many starting-caliber players at the position. OJ Howard, Cameron Brate, and Rob Gronkowski are all currently on the Bucs roster. Tom Brady wanted an elite offensive unit, and he got one.
Even after the Bucs’ historic free agency, there were still some positional needs leading up the draft. The Bucs offensive line, running game, and secondary were all pitiful last year and none of those positions were addressed adequately in free agency. GM Jason Licht had some work to do in this draft to get Brady’s cast up to scratch, so let’s see what he came up with.
Round 1, Pick 13: Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
Tristan Wirfs is a steal at 13, considering he was getting tons of top-10 buzz before the draft and the Bucs desperately need offensive line help. Tampa’s offensive line ranked 23rd in run blocking and 22nd in pass protection last season, and after that abysmal performance, they lost their veteran right tackle, Demar Dotson, in free agency. So, it’s safe to say Wirfs has great value at 13 and that he addresses a dire team need.
Wirfs’ athleticism should be beyond human ability, and that’s not an exaggeration. At 6’5” 320 lbs, Wirfs ran a 4.85 40-yard dash. He also measured a 36.5” vertical and a 121” broad jump. For reference, first-round WIDE RECEIVER Jerry Jeudy has a 35” vertical and a 120” broad jump and he’s 6’1” not-even-200 pounds. Wirfs’ body just shouldn’t be able to do the things that it does.
Wirfs isn’t just a raw talent though; he has sound technique and versatility on the offensive line. His surprising speed and quickness give him the ability to play tackle or guard at the next level. He is great in run support and pass protection, both of which will be extremely important with young, unproven running backs and a 43-year-old quarterback with little-to-no mobility.
I love this pick for the Bucs. My only question mark surrounding it is why they needed to trade up one spot to select him. The 49ers were clearly going in a different direction, so I’m not sure what the thought process going into that was. I think Wirfs can be a reliable do-it-all lineman for years and will make an instant impact on their playoff hopes for next season.
Round 2, Pick 45: Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota
Antoine Winfield Jr.’s father, Antoine Winfield Sr., was a member of the Buffalo Bills and the Minnesota Vikings. He was drafted a year before Brady, and even got an interception against him. Now it’s Junior’s turn, but he’ll be playing with Brady rather than against him.
Winfield Jr. is a great fit for the Bucs. Last season, 78.54% of the yardage that was gained against the Bucs defense came from passing plays, ranking #1 in the league. This is partially because the team’s run defense is so solid, but regardless, they need to clean up their secondary if they want to make the playoffs, and Winfield will definitely help with that.
He is a ballhawk who patrols the middle of the field with purpose and the intent to hit. Finding the ball in the air is definitely a strength of his, he can lay huge blows to receivers who cross his zone, and his open-field tackling is good (not great but he has time to improve). He won’t play in the box much because he has trouble taking on blockers, but the Tampa doesn’t need much help in run support anyways.
Winfield could have some trouble in jump ball situations due to his smaller frame at 5’9”. However, he has great physicality and ball skills, so if that ball is in the air, he will make it a difficult catch at the very least. I like this pick because it gives the Bucs the playmaker in the third level that they were missing last year. He could face challenges due to his size, but the man has a lot of fight and power in that 5’9” body.
Round 3, Pick 76: Ke’Shawn Vaughn, RB, Vanderbilt
The Buccaneers need more stability in the run game, but Ke’shawn Vaughn isn’t the best fit. Most of the abilities that Vaughn showed during his college career were simply average. He doesn’t have overwhelming speed, getting around tacklers is a challenge, his athleticism isn’t elite, his vision out of the backfield is inconsistent, and his acceleration is poor. There is definitely room for improvement and Vaughn could end up being valuable in a few years’ time, but he won’t provide the instant success in the run game that the Bucs need over the next two years.
He does have a few things going for him; delivering hits on defenders is his specialty. The first tackler getting Vaughn down in college was a rare feat due to his vicious stiff arm, powerful truck move, and power back build. At 5’10” 214 lbs, Vaughn can run people over with ease and nearly always falls forward for extra yards as a result.
I like that the Bucs went for a running back early in this draft, but Vaughn was not the best player available. Picking Vaughn over pro-ready talents like Zack Moss, Darrynton Evans, or even Eno Benjamin is a crime, and whatever it is Jason Licht saw in Vaughn that makes him more valuable than those 3 guys is a mystery to me. He isn’t a bad prospect by any means, I just imagine him riding the bench for a few years before starting, but the Bucs don’t have time on their side and he will need to produce right away.
Round 5, Pick 161: Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
Tyler Johnson has very promising traits that could make him the next great late-round receiver. He lacks high-end speed and agility, which limits his ceiling somewhat, but he makes up for these ineptitudes with his technical prowess.
There is not a single route in an NFL playbook that this guy can’t run. He can get open at any level of the field, even on the deep ball, despite the fact that he can’t blow by defenders. He can line up in the slot or on the outside, which will be valuable due to Chris Godwin’s versatility and ability to do the same. The Bucs wanted one more weapon for Tom Brady in the passing game, and they got one in Tyler Johnson.
He may have a difficult time acclimating to the speed and physicality of NFL football due to his sub-par athleticism, but that’s the kind of value you get in the 5th round. With his route-running ability and 6’1” 206 lb frame, Johnson can be an instant starter and could eventually become a Davante Adams-type star.
Round 6, Pick 194: Khalil Davis, DT, Nebraska
Khalil Davis is an intriguing prospect, but I don’t think he will do much for the Bucs. Davis will be a backup to Vita Vea, who has a limited injury history and started all 16 games last season. The Bucs’ depth at DT is slim, but I think theyshould have spent this pick on someone that could be of use rather than just filling out the depth chart.
Davis is undersized for an interior lineman at 6’1”, and his small wingspan won’t do him any favors either. Davis depends on his quickness and speed on the inside to make tackles and shed blocks. A 4.75 40-yard dash at the combine and 32 reps on the bench are both outstanding for his size and position. Nevertheless, Davis can’t just rely on speed at the next level and will have trouble with his size.
Davis is nothing more than a backup with upside, and given the Bucs’ circumstances, I think this pick would have been better spent rounding out their inconsistent and depth-starved offensive line.
Round 7, Pick 241: Chapelle Russell, LB, Temple
Chapelle Russell has fought back from two ACL sprains to the same knee to get to this point, so you can check toughness off his list of attributes. However, this does raise some questions about his durability.
Russell is a seventh-round pick, so he isn’t the most reliable. Instincts and gap reads in the run game are definitely not his strong suit, but he has good play speed and his coverage is passable. The Bucs could use some depth at off-ball linebacker, and Russell can come in and play if need be (provided he stays healthy).
Round 7, Pick 245: Raymond Calais, RB, Louisiana-Lafayette
The fact that the Bucs drafted 2 running backs and only 1 offensive lineman in this draft is absurd, but Calais isn’t a bad pick in the seventh round. This running back class was stacked with second-to-third-round talent, but scarce in the later rounds. he isn’t an every-down back and will most likely be used as a speedy change of pace back if he is used at all.
At 5’8” 188 lbs, he can’t carry the workload of a #1 or, quite frankly, #2 back. This pick was clearly made to appease Brady’s want for more weapons, and Calais could be productive over the next few seasons as a guy that gets 2-3 carries and maybe 1 target per game or helps prepare the defense for faster backs in practice. Again, I would have liked to see an offensive lineman here, but Calais was definitely worth a 7th-round pick.
Overall Draft Grade: B
The Bucs found the new cornerstone of their offensive line in Tristan Wirfs, they found 2 weapons to pair with Ronald Jones in the backfield, they grabbed a dynamic playmaker in the secondary, and they stole a great wideout late in the draft. Tyler Johnson will surprise some people at the next level if the Bucs give him a shot in the slot.
GM Jason Licht clearly had an agenda going into this draft, and that was to give Tom Brady the help he needs to compete for a championship. Unfortunately, they did not execute that strategy to the best of their ability. I wish the Bucs had gotten some more depth at offensive line, but other than that, the positions they went after were very solid, even if the players themselves weren’t the best fit. Overall, the Bucs improved at almost every position of need and they found depth players to fill out their roster with reliable backups.