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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5 Needs That Must Be Addressed This Offseason

Just three weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 6-6 with a legitimate shot at making a playoff run after finishing with the league’s worst record last year.

Instead, the Bucs have rattled off three straight losses to teams with losing records, and only a road date with the 14-1 Carolina Panthers stands between them and another offseason of roster overhaul.

The Bucs have hit on many of their draft picks over the last two years, led by what look to be cornerstone pieces in Jameis Winston, Kwon Alexander, Mike Evans, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Charles Sims, Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. But in watching the Bucs limp to the finish line in 2015, it’s not hard to notice they’ve spent only one draft pick over those two years on a defensive player.

Head coach Lovie Smith’s crew has struggled mightily on defense this year, and infusing it with plenty of fresh talent should be the team’s prime objective in the offseason, both in free agency and through the draft.

Tampa Bay is on track to be picking in the top 10 when the 2016 draft rolls around, and it could pick as high as sixth overall depending on Week 17’s results.

It’s too early to project potential free-agent targets, but let’s take a look at Tampa Bay’s biggest needs heading into the offseason and which prospects it should be looking at when the draft rolls around.

It’s no secret the Bucs have lacked a consistent pass rush in recent years, and things haven’t changed in that department since Smith took over prior to the 2014 season.

Tampa Bay hasn’t had a player register double-digit sacks in a season since Simeon Rice tallied 14 a decade ago, and Smith predicates his defense on getting after the quarterback with just the front four. That hasn’t happened consistently enough, which has been a key contributor to the defense’s struggles over the past two seasons.

If the Bucs end up picking in the top 10, it might be too early for them to consider taking Clemson’s Shaq Lawson or Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah. But if they wait until the second round to grab an impact edge-rusher, they could still get a talented one in Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence.

Ohio State kicked Spence off the team in 2014 after multiple failed drug tests, but he resurrected his career at EKU and has stayed out of trouble since. He has the explosiveness and knack for making plays in the backfield that Tampa Bay desperately needs coming off the edge.

Tampa Bay’s secondary has struggled all season long, and despite playing musical chairs with their cornerback spots, the Bucs have yet to find an effective starting lineup at the position.

Johnthan Banks has regressed, and the team benched him for undrafted rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah. The Bucs also cut Tim Jennings and relegated Alterraun Verner to the nickelback spot, and Mike Jenkins has been disappointing in limited action. Sterling Moore has been the best of the bunch, but that’s not saying a lot.

The Bucs might end up picking high enough to grab this year’s top cornerback prospect, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III, but he’ll likely be off the board by the time they pick. In that scenario, Tampa Bay would be wise to consider moving back and targeting Iowa’s Desmond King, should he forgo his senior year and enter this year’s draft.

King, the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s best defensive back, has a skill set that perfectly fits what the Bucs want in their corners: He’s physical at the line of scrimmage; he’s at his best in zone coverage, when he’s able to come downhill and close on the ball; and he’s not afraid to mix it up in the box against the run.

Tampa Bay’s corners had their share of problems, but the issues in the secondary didn’t stop there for the Bucs. Injuries and inconsistency plagued the team’s safeties all season long, especially in coverage, and the unit will need a serious overhaul in the offseason.

Bradley McDougald had an up-and-down season, failing to progress as much as many expected after he showed flashes of playmaking ability last year. Major Wright and Chris Conte spent plenty of time on the injury report, and neither was effective when healthy.

If they’re not able to get their hands on Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey in the top 10, the Bucs would be wise to spend at least a mid-round pick on a player such as Duke’s Jeremy Cash or Boise State’s Darian Thompson to infuse some much-needed young talent into their last line of defense.

Despite breaking in two rookie starters since Week 1, Tampa Bay’s offensive line has been the unsung hero of the 2015 season, helping pave the way for another Pro Bowl season by running back Doug Martin and playing well for a unit that injuries have plagued.

The starting lineup could look solid again in 2016, but depth is a serious issue. With that being the case, look for the Bucs to go after some versatile linemen in both free agency and the draft to help plug multiple holes up front and potentially take over starting roles in the future.

One player for Bucs fans to keep their eyes on in the mid-round range is Baylor’s Spencer Drango, who played tackle for head coach Art Briles’ Bears but could end up being best suited to play guard at the next level.

Injuries have exposed how badly the Bucs need to bolster their depth at receiver before the 2016 season rolls around.

A torn ACL ended Louis Murphy’s season early, and Vincent Jackson’s absence in recent weeks because of a knee injury has been painfully evident. Behind top target Mike Evans, the Bucs have had to rely on a pair of undrafted rookies in Donteea Dye and Adam Humphries as well as special teams ace Russell Shepard.

Rookie Kenny Bell had a promising training camp, but the team placed him on the injured reserve list (hamstring) before the regular season began—so the Bucs will welcome his return next year. But Jackson will be 33 next season while carrying a salary-cap number over $12 million, which means he might not be around much longer.

Tampa Bay should try to find some young, economical veterans in free agency—without ruling out addressing the need through the draft.

One name to keep an eye on is Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, who should come off the board sometime on Day 2 of the 2016 draft. He could make an instant impact as a slot receiver and return specialist before eventually transitioning into Jackson’s replacement as Tampa Bay’s No. 2 receiver.

Source: Bleacher Report

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