NFL DRAFT DEEP DIVE: TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
By Rebecca Rennie
The NFL Draft is over, and we cannot head into the three-month abyss that is the offseason without looking at what all 259 selections mean for each franchise. Whilst too early to judge just how successful a draft class each team’s was, we can look at how rookies fit within schemes, where they stand on depth charts, and who we can expect to make an impact in 2021. We continue our team by team series with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
|3||95||Robert Hainsey||OL||Notre Dame|
|4||129||Jaelon Darden||WR||North Texas|
The reigning Super Bowl champions executed on a deliberate effort to return their full complement of starters in free agency. That opened the opportunity to go in a multitude of potential directions with the final pick of the opening round. While “need” might be too strong a word, there were positions to potentially target despite the apparent completeness of the roster. Future impending free agents suggested that interior offensive line, safety, defensive tackle and edge could all be in play.
The latter was the choice, with the Bucs opting for Washington edge defender Joe Tryon at pick 32. Heavily rumored to be the choice as the event approached, he was indeed valued amid a strong group of prospects at the position in the late round one range. Tryon has clear physical traits with length, upfield burst and agility that provide a high upside.
That said, Tryon was inconsistent with some development to go to unlock that potential. The former Huskies pass rusher has requisite strength to go with the length. However, he can have some issues working off contact and retaining balance. Developing counters when the initial quickness does not result in an early win will add to his effectiveness. He flashes good extension and hand use but can misfire too often currently.
Tryon could not have landed in a better spot to maximize his abilities, however. It is easy to project his skill set into Todd Bowles’ defense. The Bucs boasted one of the better pass rushing duos in the league with Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. There’s certainly room for another within the rotation behind the starters, with Tryon likely to have every opportunity to earn snaps early as a rookie. JPP is not slowing down yet but the 1st round addition ideally develops into his long-term replacement.
A logical pick in round one was followed by one of the more widely critiqued selections of the draft as a whole. With plenty of perceived high-value prospects remaining and the Bucs poised to take advantage, they made the controversial choice of Florida QB Kyle Trask to close out Round 2. With modest-at-best physical tools in terms of arm strength and mobility, Trask could have limited starting potential. He has shown some good touch to the intermediate and deeper areas of the field, and generally took advantage of the talented weapons available on a stacked 2020 Gators offense.
It always felt as though the Bucs were a strong contender to add a mid-round quarterback. Personally, the gut feeling was that Kellen Mond was destined to end up a Buccaneer. Trask was the choice with Mond still on the board, however. The traits typically attributed to a Bruce Arians quarterback added to the surprise over the selection. It is noted that Arians may not have an extended tenure as head coach, however. Trask could exceed expectations, but may not be more than a career backup in the pros. In which case, this seemed too early.
It would be more difficult to find fault with the choice of Robert Hainsey in Round 3. The trenches in Tampa were in need of short-term depth and projected long-term starters on the O-line. Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa and backup Aaron Stinnie all having expiring contracts after next season. Hainsey could find a starting role if either Cappa or Jensen are not re-signed. In the meantime, he has the versatility to provide depth at multiple spots across the line. A college tackle, he projects best to the interior for the pros. Controlled and technically sound, Hainsey may not be most athletic mover but is consistent with his hands and leverage.
High character prospects with an unquestioned love of the game were one of the themes of this 2021 draft class. No selection might epitomize that more than the final selection of the draft. Houston’s Grant Stuard could be what Bucs fans wanted Riley Bullough to be. Stuard brings incredible energy and motor that could make him a standout special teamer immediately. Unlike Bullough, Stuard should have enough quickness and range to stick.
Stuard joins Auburn’s K.J. Britt as much-needed additions to the depth chart at linebacker as well as on special teams. Lavonte David and Devin White are as good as it gets, with Kevin Minter the serviceable but average third option. Britt has some limitations in space but is ultra-physical. It would not surprise to see both rookie linebackers earn snaps on defense before long. Cornerback Chris Wilcox may have a tougher route with good size and athletic traits but a work-in-progress in execution. He may be one for the practice squad initially but has developmental upside.
One to Watch: Jaelon Darden
A darling of draft media, Jaelon Darden was an exciting addition to the loaded Bucs receiver group in the fourth round. Though slightly built, the North Texas standout is shifty with great body control. Even with the context of competition, it’s hard to argue with the exceptional production, either. That included a massive 31 touchdowns over the past two seasons (21 games). With Darden, Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller, the Bucs have plenty of options beyond Evans and Godwin.
Darden measured in at under 5’8” and 174 lbs. He has ways to win despite the small frame that shone on film and in testing. Darden’s pro day included a 4.46 dash time, but the remainder of his numbers impressed also. The Mean Green receiver’s testing reflected the suddenness and explosiveness that results in his ability to separate and thrive in space. His exceptional 6.67 three-cone time is rare territory. As with several in this class, Darden can make an impression on special teams. He will have the chance to take over as a returner on the team.
|Calvin Ashley||OT||Florida A&M|
|Jose Borregales||K||Miami (FL)|
|Augie Contressa||S||Stony Brook|
|Sadarius Hutcherson||IOL||South Carolina|
|T.J. Simmons||WR||West Virginia|
|Lawrence White||S||Iowa State|
While all the drafted rookies have a strong chance to make the roster, it could be difficult for the 2021 class of UDFAs. They include three secondary players and a pair on the offensive line amongst a diverse group overall. One stands out in particular as a potential steal. It was a relative surprise to see South Carolina O-lineman Sadarius Hutcherson go undrafted.
Hutcherson brings experience and versatility with NFL-level physical traits. Starting 39 games, Hutcherson looked the part against quality SEC opposition, playing both guard and tackle. His power stands out with the strength to hold up at the point of attack at the NFL level. With some tightening up of his footwork and form, he can become a useful depth player on this roster alongside Robert Hainsey.
There may be a spot available for one of the two undrafted safeties. Stony Brook’s Augie Contressa is at his best as a physical presence in the box, while Lawrence White from Iowa State has appealing coverage range. It will be intriguing to see which skill set gets the nod, should one of the two prevail. Cincinnati defensive lineman Elijah Ponder can be deployed across the line in multiple fronts, and has some pass rush potential. If he can flash that ability in camp, he is another who could earn a place on the practice squad.
There is plenty to like about the strategy from Jason Licht and the team. With no glaring holes in the roster entering the draft, they were not forced into any particular direction. Even so, they successfully supplemented some areas that warranted reinforcements. A high-ceiling edge rusher was a strong opening selection. Tryon can be an early contributor in the rotation to boost an already stacked defensive front seven. Interior O-line and linebacker depth were taken care of. Adding another explosive weapon for Tom Brady is always a worthy investment as well. Darden can thrive with attention allocated elsewhere.
The selection of Kyle Trask in the second round has clearly been a talking point post-draft. It would seem optimistic to expect him to become a viable successor to Brady. An addition at quarterback was expected going into the draft though, and Trask began a run of selections at the position.
Regardless of the draft outcome, the Bucs look set to compete for more championships in the immediate future. The choices were mostly logical to support the next run but with eyes on the future also. Expect Tryon and Hainsey to be full-time starters eventually, with Darden also set to be an early contributor. The later picks all have the traits for special teams that ought to secure their positions on the roster.
CFB/NFL DRAFT analyst
Rebecca is an NFL Draft analyst focusing primarily on the FCS and Group of Five conferences, and a fan of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Stanford Cardinal. You can find her other articles here and follow on Twitter @bex_r86.