Bolstering Defensive Depth Should be a focus for the Bucs
By Calvin K (Twitter: @Calvin_SGF)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off a 31-9 steamrolling of the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, and they are primed to make another run this year, returning all 22 offensive and defensive starters from 2020. Having won the Super Bowl, the Bucs pick last in Rounds 1-3 of this year’s NFL draft (excluding compensatory picks). However, they will still have an opportunity to make some improvements to their team. Here are three options for their first three picks.
Round One (Pick 32): Carlos Basham (DE, Wake Forest)
The Buccaneers had a good pass rush in 2020, finishing sixth in the league in sacks with the help of Jason Pierre-Paul, Devin White, Shaquil Barrett, and Ndamukong Suh. However, both Pierre-Paul and Suh only have one year left on their contracts, and it could be hard to pay them both big money, especially since Barrett signed his four-year, $68 million extension.
A good pass rush is vital for a defense’s success, because if a unit has players that can consistently get to the quarterback, it forces the QB into mistakes, which can elevate the linebackers and secondary by giving them the opportunity to make plays. Basham showed his pass-rushing ability in college, and he was also solid against the run game, so he could further boost a defense that allowed the fewest rushing yards per game in 2020.
Basham certainly has the talent to be a future starter, but he would most likely be a rotational player in year one. However, with the opportunity to develop, he could step into a full-time starting role once Pierre-Paul and Suh hit free agency, becoming a key piece of the Buccaneers’ defense for years to come.
Round Two (Pick 64): Elijah Molden (CB, Washington)
The Buccaneers’ stout pass rush was extremely important to their defensive success in 2020, and the pressure that they created allowed the secondary to have some great moments last year. However, the Bucs’ secondary isn’t elite, and if they lose Pierre-Paul and Suh after next year, the secondary could suffer along with the pass rush.
Cornerback Carlton Davis is locked in as the Bucs’ #1 CB, and Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean played well last year also. However, both of them had some inconsistencies last year, so adding Molden as a rotational slot corner could help mask some of the problems. Molden played well in his four-year career at Washington, picking up 79 tackles, four interceptions and 12 pass deflections in his 2019 season. He only played four games in 2020, but he still played well with 26 tackles, one interception, and a deflection.
Despite what the numbers might show, his tackling could still use some improvement. However, his coverage and play recognition abilities are excellent, and those skills give him an opportunity to be very good in the slot. The Bucs have the luxury of having three solid cornerbacks, so Molden wouldn’t have to play full-time right away. However, having that extra guy could provide some training camp competition, and all four cornerbacks should get better because of it.
Round Three (Pick 95): Kenneth Gainwell (RB, Memphis)
Running back is another position that the Bucs could improve, as depth behind Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette is scarce. 2020 third-round pick Ke’Shawn Vaughn seems to be a bust, and Fournette’s contract is only for one year. Head coach Bruce Arians doesn’t tend to use just one workhorse back, so he should be inclined to get another guy in the draft. Gainwell is a player with lots of upside who could be available in the back of Round 3.
Gainwell is an explosive runner who is also a fantastic pass-catcher, and he could step in right away as a third-down back for Tampa Bay. Jones and Fournette are both solid pass-catchers, but the Bucs currently don’t have a pass-catching specialist RB. Gainwell could fill that role for them, and he is a great receiver both out of the backfield and in the slot.
Gainwell is a talented player, but his main weakness is the fact that he will probably never be a workhorse back. His size is a concern, and because of it, he may not become a good between-the-tackles runner in the NFL. However, Gainwell has shown that he can be electric in space, and there’s certainly a place for him in the NFL. The Bucs’ offense can be easily optimized for Gainwell’s skill set, and he could be extremely effective in creative packages designed to get the ball in his hands.