Each Buccaneers pick analyzed: GM Licht focuses on D-line
Jason Licht knew he was negligent in not addressing the defensive line in four seasons as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager. Other than taking Noah Spence in the second round of 2016, the position had gone ignored for too long and tackle Gerald McCoy was like a man on an island.
So it was maybe no surprise the Bucs finished last in the NFL in sacks in 2017. Licht went to work in the offseason. It started in free agency with the signing of defensive tackles Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein. Then they jumped on Vinny Curry, who was released by the Eagles and signed a three-year, $23 million contract. Finally, they traded their third-round pick to the Giants for two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
On Thursday, that trend continued when the Bucs selected Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea with the No. 12 overall pick.
Tampa Bay came close to getting either North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb or Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, who went just ahead of the Bucs' original No. 7 overall pick.
With those players gone, Licht decided to move back five spots with the Buffalo Bills while picking up an additional two second-round picks.
Vea's rare combination of size and quick feet will provide the Bucs with an enormous nose tackle who can provide push up the middle and take some heat off McCoy.
After watching the Bucs finish last in the league in total defense last season, allowing 378.1 yards per game, Licht had seen enough. Tampa Bay's defense was also last in third-down percentage at 48 percent, and opposing quarterbacks had a 94.6 passer efficiency rating against it.
Tampa Bay had two other major needs entering the draft: running back and defensive back.
The extra selections helped Licht address both areas.
Tampa Bay took Southern Cal running back Ronald Jones II with their first of three picks in the second round. He will give the offense some explosive runs, something they didn't get three of the past four seasons from Doug Martin, now in Oakland.
Then the Bucs selected defensive backs with three of their next four picks.
"We overhauled the defensive line room quite a bit," Licht said. "(Head coach) Dirk (Koetter) and I thought that was a necessity coming off of last year. Like I said before, it starts up front, and you can never go wrong having some (butt) kickers up there.
"When we brought (Vea) in, I asked him, 'What's the most important thing a defensive lineman can do?' And I believe he said, 'Kick the crap out of the guy in front of me.' I liked that about him."
The Bucs continued the theme from free agency of finding players with guile and grit.
"Ultimately, we identify guys who have dealt with adversity the right way," said Bucs receivers coach Skyler Fulton.
That's not to say they have all been mistake-free. Three had some off-field problems in college and two were suspended for games because of it. But they learned from them and moved forward.
"You have to take the last play behind you and move forward," Licht said. "You've got to love it to be able to do that. Guys that don't necessarily love it if things aren't going well, they're not necessarily going to give their best effort I've found in the past."
A closer look at the Bucs' picks
Round 1/12 - Vita Vea, DT, 6-4, 347, Washington
The Bucs were oh-so-close to landing Bradley Chubb or Quenton Nelson, but Vea was the next player on their board and they were happy to pick up a couple of second-round picks from Buffalo and still select him at No. 12. He will occupy blockers, be an asset in the run game and free up DT Gerald McCoy.
Round 2/38 - Ronald Jones II, RB, 5-11, 205, Southern Cal
Jones brings the big-play back into the Bucs' running game. He has 12 rushes of 40 yards or more in his career with the Trojans, where he rushed for 3,619 yards and 39 touchdowns, averaging a robust 6.1 yards per tote. He also caught 32 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns and is considered a natural pass-catcher who can contribute more in that regard in the NFL.
Round 2/53 - M.J. Stewart, CB, 6-0, 205, North Carolina
Stewart gives the Bucs a play-making cornerback who can also play inside at nickel in Mike Smith's defense. He had six interceptions in his career, but none in the past two seasons. The Bucs needed to address this position with Vernon Hargreaves likely to move to the slot corner position and 35-year-old Brent Grimes returning.
Round 2/63 - Carlton Davis, CB, 6-1, 203, Auburn
Davis gives the Bucs something they don't have - length at the cornerback position. He is a good zone scheme player who can be physical at the line of scrimmage and re-route receivers.
Round 3/94 - Alex Cappa, G, 6-6, 305 Humboldt State
The Bucs had success plucking Ali Marpet out of a Division III school. So they went to the deep well again with Cappa, a Division II player who will likely be a backup at the guard position. Bucs liked his nasty streak.
Round 4/117 - Jordan Whitehead, S, 5-11, 195, Pittsburgh
Whitehead is the cousin of former All-Pro defensive back Darrelle Revis. He comes from the football factory of Aliquippa, Pa. Has outstanding speed and could also play inside for the Bucs.
Round 5/144 - Justin Watson, WR, 6-3, 225, Penn
Watson becomes the third Ivy League player on the Bucs, joining Ryan Fitzpatrick and Cameron Brate. All-time career leader in receiving at Penn. He has 4.42 speed and a 41-inch vertical and will have to earn his keep initially on special teams.
Round 6/202 - Jack Cichy, LB, 6-2, 234, Wisconsin
Missed all of 2018 with a torn ACL he suffered in preseason camp. Played in 24 games with 11 starts. Projects as a weak-side linebacker in the Bucs defense.