Bottom line question: Are the Bucs better than a year ago?

by Gary Shelton on April 30, 2017 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Sunday, 4 a.m.

The burning question is this: Are the Bucs a better football team?

You can cheer the guys they drafted. You can lament the guys who got away. You can shake your head and ask about the offensive line or an edge rusher or a backup quarterback.

But in the end, it comes down to his: Are the Bucs a better team?

Yes, you can quibble here or there. You can want a different safety or a different running back or a different wide receiver.

The bottom-line to any draft, however, is the basic question. Did the team get better in the face of a roster that is growing older? Did the Bucs win in the never-ending game of attrition? And, yes, you ca ask this: Did the Bucs avoid the minefield of troubled athletes?

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Last question first: They certainly seemed to. They didn't come anywhere near Joe Mixon or Dede Westbrook or other potential hand-grenades. They even avoided Dalvin Cook, although I read an article Sunday that suggested that one “runner” may have been responsible for wrecking his reputation. Is it true? Who knows?

Let's take it by picks.

O.J. Howard: He's an overwhelming favorite already. There is a fascination with tight ends, and Howard was the best one in the draft. He should get playing time immediately, alongside Cameron Brate on early downs and sharing time with him on the later ones.

Justin Evans: He's a hitter, but his reputation isn't that of a crisp tackler. Again, the Bucs could have won over the mockers if they had simply taken Obi Melifonwu instead, but the team liked Evans better. It'll be interesting to see how quickly Evans gets into the mix.

Chris Godwin: Adding Godwin was like running up the score. The Bucs already had added weapons around Jameis Winston. But the Bucs proved last year they liked adding a guy and drafting a guy to a need area. They did it again with Godwin, who should be a fine slot receiver alongside Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.

Kendell Beckwith: Beckwith could be a steal if he's recovered from his knee injury. Think of it like this. Licht drafted Beckwith higher than he drafted Kwon Alexander. That's got to count for something, doesn't it?

Jeremy McNichols: All along, I was among those who wanted the Bucs to pick a slam-dunk running back. They didn't. Still, McNichols has enough of a skill set to help. What you think of the Bucs' running back situation depends on what you think of Doug Martin. If you're ready to treat the first three games of the season (he'll be suspended) like an injury, the Bucs are okay. If you think he's trouble waiting to mess up again, you aren't.

Stevie Tu’ikolovatu: The Bucs wanted Tu'ikolovatu badly enough to throw in next year's seventh-round pick, too. If he can add heft to the defensive run game, then Tampa Bay could become hard to run up the middle against.

Yes, there are still holes. This team isn't complete. It needs a better pass rush, a dependable runner, a solid offensive line. But it's a better roster. How much better? That's why they play the games. If the Bucs are right on the players they took, they took one at each level of the defense, one in the backfield and a tight end and wideout. The team is faster. The team is bigger.

“I talked about the speed last night being something that we were going to really look into this year to improve our football team, and so was physicality on defense,” said Bucs' general manager Jason Licht. “With Kendell (Beckwith) and with Stevie (Tu’okolovatu) we’ve got big, physical guys. Nobody is guaranteed a spot right now on this roster, but right now we like the competition they’re going to bring and those assets that they bring. Overall, obviously starting with O.J. (Howard), that was great. We’re still coming off that high; hopefully we don’t come off that for another decade. We were really happy with all the picks that we got. I don’t think you’ll ever find a general manager say, ‘Oh, you know, we had a crappy draft.’ We’re really happy with the picks that we got. We weren’t necessarily going after guys that we know.”

“It’s never as easy as the plan that you outline. It goes about a million different directions; you try to bring it back together. It’s going to sound like a simple answer, but you want to bring good football players in. You want to bring playmakers, you want to bring in some good guys in the trenches. You want a great leader in the quarterback, which I feel we hit a windfall with. You want to give that quarterback, a young quarterback weapons to throw to. At some point it’ll turn a little bit where we need to really build up this defense with young players, more young players too. We feel like we’ve got some good, young players on that side of the ball. It’s about where we thought.”

Say this for the Bucs. They attacked most of their weaknesses. A tight end. A safety. A linebacker. A defensive tackle. Cleary, Tampa Bay feels better about its roster.

Licht on Evans: “He’s a big hitter. He’s a tough guy, he’s smart. We talked yesterday about guys that are the right kind of guys and we feel that he is one of those guys. (We) spent a lot of time with him during this process, had him in for a visit, workouts, combine, all that stuff. Just kept growing on us more and more. He’s not afraid to stick his head in there, that’s for sure. He’s rangy, he makes a lot of plays on the ball, he plays with a lot of anticipation. He’s got good speed, ball skills, so he’s going to be in the mix too, to compete for a starting role.”

Licht on Godwin: “We felt like he was a great addition to our depth. He’s got a big upside, he’s a tough guy as well. He’s got good hands, tore it up in that bowl game versus USC. But he also played well throughout the year, nice two-year career as a starter there. He’s got an upside, he’s going to compete for a role.”

Licht on Beckwith: “He’s a guy that – we’ve been watching a lot him for the last two years. We didn’t know if he was going to come out the year before. We had reports dating back two years on him and we had big grades on him. He got hurt so he slid a little bit because of it. We’re anticipating – I mean, we haven’t got our hands on him besides physicals during this process – you want to be around a guy everyday to know exactly what his – where he is exactly. We’re very confident he’s going to be ready this season, could be July that he’s ready to go. Same with Jeremy (McNichols). But, he slid because of that a little bit. I could foresee, my staff does an incredible job, I’ve got to give them all the credit – they can see a trend starting or stopping. He was a linebacker that we really coveted. If we didn’t get him there, we felt like we were going to have a hard time getting him there in the fourth. So, that’s why we moved up for him. He’s physical, he’s smart, he’s called defenses there.”

Licht on McNichols: “We do think that he does have value as a first-and-second down player, or a ball carrier. What strikes us the most or what jumps out at you the most, is his ability on third down and in the receiving game. But he is a good runner, too. Any time you’ve got a guy that is well-rounded like that at that position, you’re going to have him higher on your board.”

Licht on Tu’ikolovatu: “He’s a big guy; he plays really physical. He’s actually got good quickness for a big guy, you can see that in every game that you watch. But in the bowl game, it really stood out. He’s a two-down player but he’s very powerful, plays with great technique. He’s got really good instincts. He’s  what we’ve been saying with all these guys, he’s a great guy. Great guy, great guy in the locker room. He’s one of my favorite stories in this year’s draft. He transferred from Utah and he’d already graduated, so he had a year left to play. So he goes with his wife to L.A., lives with his wife in a Suburban for a month and didn’t tell anybody there. None of his teammates knew, none of the coaches knew, until he was able to get his stipend for his housing.

Not convinced? That's okay. We live in a world where opinions change. Athletes can alter your thoughts of them quicker than anyone else.

For now? Yes, I think the Bucs are better. They're faster, deeper, more physical.

Ah, but are they good enough? That's the better question.

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