The draft is over. The players have been evaluated and now we look towards how they will likely fit with the returning team. What made this a really good draft for the Bucs was that basically every players was drafted with a role in mind. The team had specific weaknesses coming into the offseason and Jason Licht targeted these players to improve them. Here’s how I see each guy fitting in.
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For OJ Howard, it’s only a matter of time before he’s the starting tight end. He may not take over for Cameron Brate as the main receiving TE for a while (this is a position that usually sees rookies progress somewhat slowly), but Howard is NFL ready as a blocker. I expect him to be the second-string TE to start the year and as he adjusts to the NFL game take Brate’s starting job before the year is over. So when Howard isn’t the future hall of fame player we expect him to be to start the season, don’t be shocked. He will take a few weeks to hit his stride and emerge as the Bucs starting tight end before long. But make no mistake, this guy will emerge as one of the best pass catching tight ends in the NFL sooner rather than later. His physical tools (6’6 size, 4.51 speed and excellent hands) are special. In a year or two, Howard will be up there with the best receiving tight ends in the game.
Justin Evans is another guy who will take some time before he lives up to his draft potential. I would be a little surprised if he was the starting free safety to open the season. However, if his tackling significantly improves over the offseason, the way Kwon Alexander’s did when he entered the league, Evans could win the job in the preseason. Keep in mind, drastic growth doesn’t happen quickly. That’s why I expect him to start the year as a back up. Where he could see meaningful action is in nickel packages. With no clear slot corner having locked down the job, Evans could come in for that role. He could also work as the third linebacker in obvious passing downs. This was the team can ease him into NFL action and hide his big flaws in run defense.
Chris Godwin is going to give the Bucs WRs a lot of flexibility. I see him as primarily an outside guy, but he will practice working out of the slot as well. The nice thing about him being a better fit on the outside is that it allows the Bucs to move DeSean Jackson to the slot on some plays to create matchup problems. He also provides legitimate depth, something the Bucs didn’t have last year, at the wide receiver position. If Evans gets hurt, Godwin can step in for him. If DJax goes down then Godwin can take his place on the outside and let Adam Humphries take over as the primary slot receiver. This kind of depth and versatility is the kind of thing teams need to be successful.
One guy who may not have a role this year is Kendell Beckwith. That’s because he might not be able to play at all this year. He went down with a torn ACL towards the end of last season and that injury usually takes around a year to fully recover. If he were healthy, he’d be my pick to win the strong-side linebacker job. I believe that is the Bucs long term plan for him and are willing to give him a year to get healthy before making major contributions next season.
Jeremy McNichols comes with a clear plan; a backup plan. As of now, I don’t see a place for him on the 53 man roster. At this time I have to call him a guy who’s destined for the practice squad. This isn’t because he’s a bad player, but rather that Charles Sims currently occupies the role McNichols would play. Both are pass catching change of pace backs who really shouldn’t get a whole lot of carries. However, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before Sims gets injured again. His inability to stay healthy is what motivated this pick. So there is a good chance McNichols sees meaningful action this year and replaces Sims in the long term. There’s also a chance that Sims stays healthy and McNichols never sees an NFL field this year. Time will tell. Either way, the Bucs will have a quality pass catching RB to work with moving forward.
Say it with me, “Stevie Tu’ikolovatu”. Get used to the name because I expect him to be a key part of the Bucs defensive tackle rotation and their run defense. The big nose is a load in the middle of the defense. He’s very strong and difficult to push back even when double teamed. However, he’s so much more than just a big space-eater. His ability to use his hands and throw blockers off him to make a tackle is very impressive. It will be very challenging for teams to run past him up the middle. He will probably be the backup one technique, which is perfect for a guy who isn’t extremely athletic. Tu’ikolovatu will help keep the rest of the defensive tackles fresh as legitimate depth who can come in and impact the game for the Bucs.