The Buccaneers are doing their best to put themselves in position for the Tom Brady era in Tampa Bay to get off to a roaring start. They are already one of the biggest winners of the offseason after successfully wooing the six-time Super Bowl champion to join the pirate ship in free agency and were even able to talk tight end Rob Gronkowski out of retirement and execute a trade with the Patriots to bring him aboard. Those two moves alone should drastically improve the Bucs heading into 2020, but they didn't stop there.
Arguably the team's biggest need heading into the 2020 draft was along the offensive line. After all, Tom Brady -- while still able to lead a team to a Super Bowl -- is no spring chicken as he'll begin next season at age 43. One bad hit and things could light up in flames under center for Tampa in short order, so ensuring that TB12 is protected during his time in Florida was priority No. 1.
The interior of offensive line is solid in Tampa with with center Ryan Jensen and left guard Ali Marpet, but that unit did rank 23rd in pass protection in 2019, according to Football Outsiders. With that in mind, tackle was an area they needed to attack. They did so by trading up one spot to No. 13 overall to secure Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, who was looked at as one of the top tackle prospects in this class. The 6-foot-5, 320 pounder has experience playing at both the left and right tackle spots, but will likely find a home at right tackle in Tampa Bay. He graded fourth among qualifying tackles in his class (per Pro Football Focus) and has unreal athleticism that should help the entire line improve in the seasons to come.
This is especially important for the version of Tom Brady the Buccaneers are getting as the quarterback did complete just 32% of his passes when under pressure last season, which ranked 30th in the NFL. Overall, this acquisition of Wirfs is a slam dunk and much needed.
While this was one area that was filled and the Buccaneers did a great job at this draft in general, there are still some questions that need answering on the roster that we'll highlight below.
1. Clear up the situation at RB
Outside of bringing in an offensive tackle, the running back position was one that many people pegged the Buccaneers to address rather early at the draft. They did select Ke'Shawn Vaughn out of Vanderbilt in the third round, but that hardly clears up whatever they are trying to mold in the backfield. Vaughn has the ability to catch passes out of the backfield, which has proven to be a rather lucrative spot in a Tom Brady-led offense, but he is a bit hit-or-miss and may not be entirely sturdy in pass protection. That lack of experience as a blocker may curb his ability to see the field early in the year.
This was also a bit of a reach taking him where they did, but understandable after the club elected to trade both of its fourth-rounders (Wirfs trade up, Gronkowski deal). Utah's Zack Moss was also still on the board, which may have been a better selection.
Ronald Jones looks like he'll remain Tampa starter heading into 2020, which isn't exactly what many envisioned prior to the draft. As a team in 2019, the Buccaneers ranked in the bottom-10 in the league in total rushing yards (1,521).
2. Draft a QB to develop behind Brady
Prior to the draft, general manager Jason Licht noted his belief that Tampa could afford to draft a young quarterback to groom behind Tom Brady. Well, that was before they shipped away two fourth rounders to the Patriots and 49ers in deals that helped land them tight end Rob Gronkowski and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs. That seemingly took them out of the quarterback market at the 2020 draft.
They could have brought in Georgia's Jake Fromm in the fifth round, but elected to draft wide receiver Tyler Johnson out of Minnesota at No. 161, just a handful of picks before the quarterback went off the board to the Buffalo Bills at No. 167. Tampa does have its backup already in-house in Blaine Gabbert, so this isn't a huge need for 2020, but it will be something for the club to think about soon. After all, Brady is only signed through the 2021 season and will be 43-years old when Week 1 rolls around.
3. Spend a premium pick for the defensive line
Tampa was able to retain some key figures along the defensive front in Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul earlier this offseason, but they still did lose Beau Allen and Carl Nassib. They added Khalil Davis out of Nebraska in the sixth round, but they didn't use a premium pick to really inject some top-tier talent combined with that youth into the rotation. Given the reach for running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn in the third round, Tampa may have been better served going the defensive tackle route in that round with Neville Gallimore or Jordan Elliott and addressed running back in the later rounds. Suh only signed a one-year deal with the club and will begin the 2020 season at age 33, so the club may want to look for a long-term answer in the interior sooner rather than later.