Bucs didn’t get much from the top of last year’s draft

by Gary Shelton on December 7, 2018 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Evans had a big day for Tampa Bay against Saints./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 3 a.m.

Back in late April, it all sounded so good. The NFL draft is that way. The parade comes before the performance.

And who didn't think the Bucs didn't add help. In their first pick, they took Vita Vea -- leaving the predicted pick, Derwin James, on the board. He was going to anchor the line. He was going to be special.

Then they took USC running back Ronald Jones III, a home run threat out of Southern Cal. He figured to compete for the starting job. By now, you figure he might be closing in on 1,000 yards.

Well, no.

And no.

The Bucs have gotten very little out of their first two picks. Vea has eight combined tackles and two sacks -- half of each number against San Francisco. Jones has 44 yards on 23 carries, a paltry 1.9 yards per carry.

True, you don't judge a guy's career off of a few games (Vea has appeared in nine; Jones in five). But it's safe to say the Bucs expected more impact from both of them.

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“You can’t judge anything when injuries come into play," Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said. "I don’t ever look at it as a rookie class or a sophomore class. I mean, your team is your team and you’re trying to get the best out of your team that you can. Where guys are drafted doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how they’re going to progress in that order or that’s not necessarily the way they’re going to show up in production.

"We have had some rookies that have shown up big time. Jordan Whitehead, in the games that he’s been healthy and been in there, he’s shown up big. Carlton Davis has had big games. M.J. Stewart has had some good games. I think still this class will work out fine. I think most of those guys will be here for a while, but we’ll just have to see.”

Jones had a tough week against Carolina. After his first two carries, he had six yards. He ended up with four. Vea had no solos and one assist.

“I just think Ronald is coming along," Koetter said. "I think that’s just the best way to say it — he’s coming along. He’s improved tremendously in two areas, in catching the football and in pass protection, but he just really hasn’t been able to break out as runner. Let’s face it, that’s what he was brought here to do. Part of it is we haven’t been able to get him to any open grass. It seems like he’s always running into the back of the O-line. Part of that is luck of the draw, part of that is defense and blocking, part of it might be him. It’s hard to say.

"One thing I have learned in my experience is it’s hard to coach a runner that you’ve seen do it and tell him to do it different. These guys got to where they are by being naturally gifted. Some of them have speed, some of them can break tackles, some of them have vision, but I think it’s tough. I’ve been around some really good players and I’ve just seen it enough to know that I think you’ve got to let it work itself out. I’m a big believer that if you’ve seen it on tape consistently in college — which we did —  that it will eventually show up in the NFL.”

Jones had been hampered by limited opportunities.

“We’ve had a hard time running enough for one guy, let alone for two or three," Koetter said. "Now, part of that is the way the season’s gone we’ve been behind a lot. I think part of that just is based off how your season goes and if you consistently move it. Our team is built to be a throwing team right now. That’s where our bread is kind of buttered right now. Like I said, I don’t think you’ve seen the true Ronald Jones yet, and for now I’ll just put that on me. Know that he’s progressing.”

One player who has been excellent for the Bucs is Mike Evans, who has 1,121 yards on 66 catches.

“Mike’s not afraid to say he wants to be the best," Koetter said. "He knows he’s good, but he wants to be great. We’re in a league of outstanding quarterback and receiver play, and Mike’s in the upper echelon of that group and his numbers bear that out. His consistency – Mike’s an extremely hard worker. I think he’s in the best condition that he’s been in in my four years here. I think he consistently runs his route at a faster tempo. His catch radius and his natural athleticism, those are what they are. Mike’s continued to work on his game and tried to be the best he can.”

Said quarterback Jameis Winston: “He just gets better every year. I think that’s so cliché, but that’s all our goals — to get better every single year. He’s just very dominant. He’s blessed – God blessed him with incredible talent and incredible gifts and he’s using them to the best of his abilities. I’m blessed to be able to toss him that rock. He does it ever single week, so it (isn’t a) surprise to me.”

Evans admits he's better.

"I think this season my run-after-catch has been a little bit better and my route-running has been so much better," Evans said. "I'm able to bend. I wasn't able to bend like this a couple years ago but now I'm able to bend. I've been more healthy, I'm in better shape, so I think that's been key for me. I'm a much better route-runner because I'm in better shape."

The Bucs haven't been able to run the ball well, but Koetter had praise for both tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet.

“I think when you start looking around the league, I know Donovan is a guy that gets graded down by the football gurus out there, but when you start looking around at the left tackles in the league and the guys you can get, my challenge would be — who do you want to take his place?" Koetter said. "That’s a very small number. It’s extremely small. I think Donovan is always there, he’ll play through injury, very smart, powerful, athletic. I think the only knock that you could get on Donovan Smith is that he could be a little bit more consistent, but you could probably say that about every player on the field.

“Ali’s playing extremely well. He’s playing at an extremely high level. I’ll go back and say whether Ali was playing left guard, center or right guard he’d be playing that way because he’s just a good football player.”

The Bolts go for the sweep of New Orleans on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium (1 p.m.). The last time Tampa Bay swept the Saints was 2007.





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