It's Week 9 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the midst of the playoff hunt. The last thing any Bucs fan is looking forward to right now is the 2022 NFL Draft.
However, it's Tampa Bay's bye week and content is limited as such. So strap in your seatbelts: We're going on a ride into the upcoming offseason with our first Buccaneers mock draft of the year!
This exercise mocks the first three rounds of the draft (Tampa Bay's picks only) based on where the Buccaneers would be projected to pick if the season ended today, according to The Draft Network and Tankathon.
Being the reigning Super Bowl champion, 6-2 at the bye and having returned every starter from last season, the Bucs wouldn't appear to have many team needs on the surface. However, the team will be limited on cap space this offseason while several stars and meaningful contributors are set to become free agents in March, which led to some interesting choices in our debut mock.
First round, 24th overall: Drake London, WR, Southern California
This isn't to suggest that wide receiver is a need for the Buccaneers right now. This is to suggest it could be a need as starters Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown's contracts expire after this season. And with Tom Brady under contract through 2022, the worst thing the Buccaneers could do is allow his weapons to dwindle.
Thus, a big-time playmaker in USC's Drake London is our first selection.
London would ideally serve as Godwin's replacement should the fifth-year pro sign a large deal elsewhere, as Godwin is currently playing well on the franchise tag and will have the opportunity to do so barring injury down the stretch. Godwin is a team player who the Buccaneers would like to keep around long-term, but everything will come down to his price tag and if Tampa Bay can manage it.
Experienced out wide and in the slot (playing over 900 career snaps inside), London - 6-foot-5, 210 pounds - exploded this season with an incredible 88 receptions for 1084 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Before he got hurt, London was viewed as a potential top-ten pick, and now, he could fall into the late first round as a result - right into the Buccaneers' lap.
Second round, 56th overall: Jermaine Waller, CB, Virginia Tech
You would be hard-pressed to find any position group in the NFL with as many injuries this year as Tampa Bay's cornerback room, which has seen five of its members sidelined for at least one game. In addition, the team's No. 1 corner, Carlton Davis III, as well as contributors in Richard Sherman, Pierre Desir, Dee Delaney and Rashard Robinson will see their contracts expire in March.
If Davis leaves in free agency, the Buccaneers will need to find a long-term starter at cornerback. And even if not, the team will need to bolster its depth at the position, and an infusion of young talent could be beneficial.
Enter Jermaine Waller, a product of head coach Bruce Arians' alma mater, Virginia Tech. Waller, 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, has two-plus years of starting experience (he played two games in 2020 before a season-ending injury) and has tallied 90 tackles, 1.4 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, seven interceptions and 13 defended passes in that stretch.
Long and athletic with an understanding of zone and man techniques, Waller fits the mold that Tampa Bay looks for in cornerbacks. His ties to Arians' former university are a fun cherry on top, making the Buccaneers and Waller a solid pairing.
Third round, 88th overall: Jamaree Salyer, OL, Georgia
In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers selected a versatile offensive lineman with their third-round pick. It might seem odd to see the Bucs do that again in this mock, but for Jamaree Salyer, the thought process would be different than the one for Robert Hainsey.
As Ryan Jensen approaches 31 years old and is set to become a free agent this offseason, the Buccaneers selected Hainsey - a former tackle and guard at Notre Dame - to develop at center and eventually take Jensen's spot in the starting lineup.
As for Salyer, a three-year starting tackle with ample experience at guard and a handful of snaps at center, he could slide right into Tampa Bay's starting lineup should right guard Alex Cappa depart in free agency this spring. He could also serve as Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs' backups as a swing tackle upon arrival.
Salyer, 6-foot-4, 325 pounds, is one of the top pass protectors in college football, credited by Pro Football Focus for not allowing a sack in his four-year college career.
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