2020 NFL Draft: Making the Bucs' Case for a 1st-Round WR
Just hear me out, okay?
Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers already have two Pro Bowl wide receivers in their prime.
Yes, Chris Godwin is about to get a huge long-term extension, and Mike Evans already got his.
But if this offseason is about a win-now mentality for the Bucs, and they want to give Tom Brady as much immediate help as possible to make a championship run, spending the No. 14 overall pick on a wide receiver might just be their best move.
First, let's look at the draft board.
Sure, the Bucs are in desperate need of a starting-caliber offensive tackle to replace Demar Dotson. Joe Haeg was a solid signing in free agency, but he's a bridge guy at best, and not a long-term solution. And yes, it's a fantastic year to need an offensive tackle at the top of the draft. There are four blue-chip tackle prospects in this class, all of whom could make a strong case as the best of the bunch.
The problem for the Bucs? Picking at No. 14 might not be high enough to get any of them. Iowa's Tristan Wirfs, Georgia's Andrew Thomas, Alabama's Jedrick Wills and Louisville's Mekhi Becton could all be off the board by the time Tampa Bay goes on the clock, so unless they're willing to move up for one of them, they could be forced to reach if they want to spend that pick on a tackle.
Don't want to reach for a tackle? Fine, they'll just go defense, right?
Sure, but where's the immediate need on defense now? Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh are all back for at least the 2020 season. Are the Bucs really going to spend their most valuable draft resource on South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw or LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson when either of them would be a rotational player in 2020?
This pick can't just be about the present, of course. But it does have to find the right balance between putting Tampa Bay over the top and kicking the can down the road.
That's why taking a wide receiver might just be Tampa Bay's best bet.
Let's say all of those top four offensive tackles are off the board. Add at least three quarterbacks (LSU's Joe Burrow, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, and either Oregon's Justin Herbert or Utah State's Jordan Love), top-ranked defenders like Clemson's Isaiah Simmons, as well as Ohio State's Chase Young and Jeff Okudah, and this year's top interior defensive lineman, Auburn's Derrick Brown.
That's 11 players off the board, all of whom are highly likely to be taken before the Bucs pick.
No receivers taken yet.
That means, even if two receivers came off the board to finish off the 13 spots ahead of Tampa Bay, at least one of this year's elite receiver prospects would still be available: Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, or Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb.
Are the Bucs really a better team in 2020 if they take Kinlaw, Chaisson or even one of this year's top safety prospects over any of those three receivers.
Some could make an argument for a running back instead, and that makes some sense. Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor is this year's top prospect, and he's absolutely worthy of first-round consideration. The Bucs also have a much bigger need at running back than they do at wide receiver. But I'm still convinced that it's easier to find productive running backs outside of the first round than it is to find dynamic playmakers at wide receiver. Yes, this year's receiver class has rare depth, more so than this year's impressive running back class. But I still give the nod to the receiver in terms of overall value.
Tampa Bay watched Breshad Perriman sign elsewhere this offseason, which was expected after his impressive finish to the 2019 season. Hamstring injuries ended the campaign prematurely for both Evans and Godwin, showing just how important depth can be.
Evans is just 26 years old, with four years left on his current contract. Godwin is only 24 years old, and is likely to get his extension at some point this year. If the Bucs drafted Jeudy, Ruggs or Lamb, that third weapon would be locked up on a rookie deal for at least four seasons, with a fifth-year option. That would give Tampa Bay the NFL's best trio of wide receivers for at least the next four years, giving Brady at least two years with them, and leaving them in place for whoever ends up taking over for him down the road.
The Bucs can get better value on Day 2 at both offensive tackle and running back than they would reaching for one at No. 14 overall (assuming the top four tackles are gone). Yes, they could also take advantage of the deep receiver class and get a talented prospect at that position in that same range, but nobody with the pro-ready polish or instant-impact ability of Jeudy, Ruggs or Lamb.
I'm not saying Kinlaw or Chaisson or any of those other players won't end up being better pros in the long run than any of these three receivers.
But for this Bucs team, and this moment in time, giving Tom Brady a three-headed monster at wide receiver might just be the best way to spend that first-round pick.