Bucs sought depth in latest NFL draft

by Gary Shelton on May 2, 2021

in general

Darden should help the return team. (Photo by North Texas Mean Green)

Sunday, 4 a.m.

Here at the caboose end of the NFL draft, you are weary. You have suffered eternal waits to try to get excited about scraps. You have heralded the arrival of backups and projects. You have endured all the conversations about Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson.

And at the end, you probably decided this:

This is better.

Frankly, it was a delight to watch the Bucs pick last, because it reminded everyone that this team won the Super Bowl a year ago. Hey, the draft is the property of the Jaguars and the Jets and the Bengals, the way it used to belong to the Bucs. And if picking last is part of the price of winning, well, no one is going to complain for very long.

You know this franchise, and you've suffered through other drafts. For the Bucs,

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K.J. Britt should help on special teams./Photo by AU Athletics

Most seasons have died in disappointment, and most drafts have brought in a brand new toy. You would hold him up to the light, and you would try to convince yourself that, this time, there was something different, that this Tito me, the team finally would turn things around.

And then it wouldn't.

We suffered through Booker Reese and Vinny Testaverde and Rod Jones. We endured Josh Freeman and Eric Curry and Charles McRae. We lived through Dexter Jackson and Roberto Aguayo and Gaines Adams. The dream-eaters.

The fatal flaw of the Tampa Bay organization, through the years, is that the Bucs didn't draft players to be impact players; they drafted them to be the best darn player on the field. They drafted them to stop the losing, which is a lot to ask of any rookie.

Yeah, drafting special teamers is better. Really, it is.

Give the Bucs credit for trying to mine for gold. They picked up an interesting project in Joe Tryon, although he'll spend most of rookie season watching Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. They got a quarterback, although he might spend the season as the third quarterback. They drafted an offensive lineman, Robert Hainsey, whose strength is that he can back up a lot of players. They drafted a fast receiver in Jaelon Darden -- although it's a puzzle if the Bucs will keep enough receivers active to play him. They drafted a linebacker, K.J. Britt, for the special teams. They took designated special-teamers in Chris Wilcox and Grant Stuard, both of whom will compete for special teams' play.

"As Bruce (Arian) told you last night, we wanted to stress special teams," general manager Jason Licht said. "We feel pretty good about what we’ve done."

The Bucs coveted Darden enough to trade up int the fourth round to get him because of the concerns another team might want a returner or a speed receiver.

"He’s got great hands," Licht said. I was watching with him with Bruce.  He loves the hands, the ability to track the ball and catch the ball away from his body. He has just great quickness. He’s very fast, but he’s quicker than fast. He can really put his foot in the ground and explode out of his breaks. We think he has a chance to be a very good returner.”

In Britt, the Bucs drafted an aggressive linebacker who could be a backup to Devin White and Lavonte David.

"He's a thumper" Light said. "He’s the alpha. You talk to anyone at Auburn, they tell you he's the man."

Stuard was Mr. Irrelevant - the last pick the draft.

“We love him as a person, and obviously, as a player," Licht said of Stuard. "He’s got a lot emotion on the field. He’s had a little bit of a tough life, he’s been taking care of his siblings and all of these things that you can talk to him about, but he’s a very mature person, a very accountable person and a very accountable football player. Guys that can get through tough times and adversity – that’s a big box to check for us. We think that it definitely helps them in their chances of making our football team.”

On Wilcox, Licht said: “We definitely see some ability there as a gunner. We liked him as a corner because of his length and his speed. He fits the profile of the guys that we have here. Our guys are long, have long arms and can run. He’s going to fit right in with them, he can learn with them and hopefully develop into a good player.”

Overall, Licht said he thinks all of his draft picks have a chance to make the Bucs' team. Given how set the roster is, that would take some doing.

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