The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have had the clearest goals with their approach to the 2014 NFL Draft of any team in the league. After building a strong defense and hiring Lovie Smith as their head coach, the Bucs used every pick on offense. Not only that, but they also added a good amount of size to their team. The Bucs believe they have a good enough defense to win and used every asset both in free agency and in the draft to try to improve their offense. The approach, the fits for the picks they made and the values for the values were either good or at least arguable with all of their moves.
The first pick of their draft was wide receiver Mike Evans. After trading Mike Williams to the Buffalo Bills and a lot of talk of perhaps taking Sammy Watkins, the Bucs opted to go with the best receiver in the draft in my view. And the guy Evans most compares is now his teammate in Vincent Jackson.
There are critics that suggest the Bucs need to match speed across from Jackson’s size, but the bottom line is that both are incredibly difficult matchups and are almost always open even when they are covered, so quibbling over the style of how they win seems largely meaningless. There are not many teams equipped to deal with that much size on the outside.
Evans is raw when it comes to running routes and in some respects, there was a sense that he and his college quarterback Johnny Manziel had a place they were going to meet and however Evans wanted to get there was fine. There are also some questions with maturity as Evans was extremely young as a redshirt sophomore and had some small issues on the field where he lost his cool.
On the plus side, no one was as good when it came to high pointing the football as Evans was this year. His ability is uncanny. In the games I watched, of all the 50/50 balls thrown to Evans, only two hit the ground; two. That is not passes that hit Evans’ hands or excluding passes deflected. Only two passes hit the ground, period. That is extraordinary. As a result, he is open even when he is covered. His size, strength and ability to concentrate and catch the ball is tough for anyone to counter.
Teams have to decide how many players they want to spend trying to defend Jackson on one side and Evans on the other. Both are big time red zone threats and make it easy for a quarterback in terms of room for error in their passing. And the setup for Evans is perfect as he is not expected to come in and be the man right away. He can ease his way in and when he is ready, he can take over and become their top threat. Evans also will have the ability to learn from Jackson how to be a professional and train with someone who plays much the same way he does.
In the second round, the now big Buccaneers got bigger by selecting Austin Seferian-Jenkins, tight end from Washington. Jackson and Evans are huge on the outside and now they were adding a power forward in tight end Jenkins. There were plenty, including myself, who thought Jenkins was worth a first round pick but a foot injury discovered during the scouting combine made it so he was never able to work out for teams and they had to project his workouts, which hurt his stock. Jenkins had lost some weight and was planning to impress teams with more speed.
Jenkins’ loss in terms of draft stock may be the Bucs’ gain. Jenkins has shown he can be a tremendous blocker and collapse the right side with his strength at the point of attack. The effort and focus can waver, but when he is on, he can dominate and for a team that has Doug Martin, that is welcome addition to what they want to do.
Jenkins also shows natural ability as a receiver. He has good hands and uses his body well and like Evans, could go up and high point the ball. Jenkins looked like he was going up for a rebound and at times, would completely block out the opponent that had no chance to stop him.
The hope for the Bucs is that he is more fluid and more explosive at a lower weight. If that is the case, he gives them a nice presence able to work the middle of the field and make it that much more difficult for opponents to defend their receivers on the outside. Jenkins has been great even with wavering focus, so if he buys in and gives the Bucs everything he has, he can be a huge weapon for them and the best tight end in the class.
With their third round pick, the Bucs went with a reach in terms of pure value, but a sensible pick for what they wanted. Charles Sims was a productive running back for Houston and then West Virginia, but he was a well-rounded back. Sims could block at a high level and help a team as a receiving threat out of the backfield. As a pure runner, Sims was relatively average.
For the Bucs, Doug Martin is the man. He can do everything for them but they needed a reliable back that could come in and help them in the blocking scheme, being an outlet receiving option and the running production would largely be a secondary option. If they expect Sims to be a hugely productive runner behind Martin, they may be disappointed, but he is ideal as a glue guy and role player. Sims is the type of player that could stick around the league for a decade because of his polish and understanding of how to do the little things.
In the fifth round, the Bucs took a pair of developmental offensive linemen. First, they took Kadeem Edwards out of Tennessee State. Edwards had offers to go to SEC schools but academics forced him to go to Tennessee State. He has good size and strength, but needs to trim up his body and continue to improve his technique while also working to add strength.
Edwards was not great in his time at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, but he was certainly not awful either. As a developmental interior lineman, Edwards makes sense and could pay off in a little while in addition to providing depth. It will not hurt that he has Carl Nicks to learn behind as he tries to come back from MRSA.
With the second pick of that round, the Bucs took perhaps the rawest player in the draft in Kevin Pamphile. Pamphile was born in Haiti and did not start playing football until late in high school. Then, he went to Purdue and did not play his first year before then going in as a defensive lineman. He then moved to the offensive line and ultimately became the team’s left tackle.
Pamphile’s athleticism is incredible. He moves well, makes it look easy in how quickly he could slide and how light on his feet he was, able to kick out and lead block. On tape, it was clear that Pamphile was trying to figure out what he was doing as the play was going on. The result was that he would often get in position but he was thinking so much that he was never able to really worry about using strength and winning with power.
Pamphile is a fantastic piece of clay to mold and teach the game. He has every physical tool necessary to play left tackle in the NFL and if he can learn and develop, Pamphile could not just play in the NFL, he could be fantastic there. And if he ultimately falls short or has an injury, the investment was a relatively small one. There is almost nothing but huge upside as he goes to the Bucs and along with Edwards, they have two guys that just need to soak up all the knowledge possible.
With the last pick of their draft, the Bucs took another receiver in Robert Herron from Wyoming. Whereas they had picked up tons of size early in the draft, Herron gave them a big time speed element, but he is not simply a 40 time. Herron has shown he can be a great route runner in addition to a speed threat. There were times when his hands were impressive, but he had his share of struggles in Mobile where it seemed like he was fighting the football.
Herron was a good value lost in an incredibly deep class. He could not only make the team but he can produce for them early. The biggest thing that has hurt Herron has been injuries and staying on the field, but when he is there, he has been a playmaker producing against tough competition.
The Bucs went with a wholesale offensive draft and they really needed it. They added a ton of size on the outside as well as in the middle and improved both the running and passing game. The hope from the Bucs’ perspective, if the offense can be more productive, it will also pay dividends to a defense that played a ton of plays and did not get a lot of favors last year, especially early in the year.
The only real value that one could truly quibble with is Sims in round three, but if they took him as a reliable third down back that could come in and block as well as catch and chip in some rushing yards, it makes sense for what they needed. There may have been better runners there but Sims is really effective as a role player. The overall approach to the draft made sense for the Bucs, they played the board well and they drafted for the present as well as the future. In a tough NFC South division, the Bucs could use this draft to vault into being a contender for a playoff spot.