One consistent storyline each year on "Hard Knocks" is the drama of long shots trying to grab the final spots on a team's 53-man roster, and undrafted rookies are usually a big part of that underdog story.
The Bucs don't need a TV show to understand the potential impact of undrafted rookies -- last year's team had them all over the field: RB Peyton Barber, TE Alan Cross, OT Leonard Wester, DL Channing Ward and DaVonte Lambert and DB Javien Elliott.
The Bucs will bring in their six draft picks, the undrafted rookie free agents and a bunch of tryout players for rookie minicamp this coming weekend, and expect some of the tryout players to land contracts as well. Two years ago, that happened with Adam Humphries, and three years ago with Cameron Brate. Here's more information on some of the Bucs' newest additions: …
Immediately after closing out its 2017 NFL draft class, the Bucs have moved onto supplementing that group with undrafted rookie free agents. We're up to 11 names confirmed -- they'll be in town on Friday for the Bucs' three-day rookie minicamp. Remember, there were a ton of players that made the Bucs' roster and made impacts as undrafted rookies last season, so don't write any of these off too quickly.
Here's the names we have so far:
Antony Auclair, TE, Laval (Canada)
Deondre Barnett, DE/OLB, Southern Illinois
Richie Brown, LB, Mississippi State
Riley Bullough, LB, Michigan State
Maurice Fleming, CB, West Virginia
Alex Gray, S, Appalachian State
Korren Kirven, OL, Alabama
Christian Kuntz, LB, Duquesne
Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado
Greg Mabin, CB, Iowa
Paul Magloire, LB, Arizona
Jonathan Moxey, DB, Boise State
Thomas Sperbeck, WR, Boise State
Jesus "Bobo" Wilson, WR, Florida State
Drew Williams, LS, South Carolina
Other names reportedly coming as tryout players: Arkansas DE JaMichael Winston, Eastern Michigan TE Cole Gardner, Fresno State CB Tyquwan Glass, Florida DT Darious Cummings, UTEP WR Cole Freytag ...
Even in the seventh round, the Bucs can draft with urgency, and they sent next year's seventh-rounder to move up 14 spots and draft former Utah and USC defensive tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, a massive 348-pound prospect.
The Bucs sent next year's pick to the Dolphins so they could move up and grab Tu'ikolovatu, who is one of the draft's more colorful characters. He started his college career in 2009, spent three years on an LDS mission, then spent two months living in his car in Los Angeles last summer after transferring to USC for his final season.
We'll have more on the Bucs' efforts to sign another class of undrafted rookie agents Saturday night ...
There was already a strong connection between Boise State and the Bucs, with Dirk Koetter starting his head coaching career there and Doug Martin playing for the Broncos before coming to Tampa Bay. The drafting of running back Jeremy McNichols in the fifth round only strengthens that pipeline, and familiarity will help the rookie this fall.
"Jeremy's going to walk in there and be football intelligent. He's going to know protections and speak the language," said Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, who played quarterback for Koetter at Boise State. "He'll understand what they're teaching, and that's a carryover from my time with Dirk ... When our guys get to the next level, they are going to know ball. They know how to study film, know how to prepare, and that's going to help him when he gets into the playbook."
Harsin cited McNichols' versatility -- he played some receiver as a freshman and had 88 receptions in the last two seasons as a running back while also handling some kickoff returns as well.
"As a player, he brings that versatility -- how you use him, we called him The Weapon," he said. "He was a guy we could do a lot of things with." …
After two days and five rounds, the Bucs have drafted a running back, using their fifth-round pick on Boise State's Jeremy McNichols, who rushed for 1,709 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter had his first head coaching job at Boise, and it's also where Doug Martin went to school -- there will be quite a battle among the Bucs running backs in training camp. McNichols is 5-foot-9 and 214 pounds -- he had 1,337 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and has been an active pass-catcher with 474 receiving yards and another four touchdowns last fall.
"I know him pretty well -- we got to meet each other this spring. It's kind of ironic," McNichols said Saturday. "We're similar sizes and went to Boise State and we have a similar running style."
The Bucs now have Martin -- facing a three-game suspension to start the season and still not guaranteed a roster spot -- along with Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims and Peyton Barber, all battling with McNichols for what is likely four roster spots at the most. …
The Bucs selected Penn State receiver Chris Goodwin in the third round.
The goal still is written on a grease board in Jacon Licht’s office. The Bucs general manager left it there after a meeting several months ago as a constant reminder that his team had a need for speed.
Nowhere is this more important or obvious than on offense, where the Bucs have quickly gotten quicker through free agency and the NFL draft to help quarterback Jameis Winston.
The Bucs started by signing Redskins free agent receiver DeSean Jackson. On Thursday, Tampa Bay used their first round pick on 6-foot-6 Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. Then on Friday, the Bucs selected Penn State receiver Chris Godwin in the third round.
The weapons for Winston program has been a success.
“He’s got to be a happy guy,’’ Licht said of Winston. “I asked Dirk (Koetter) if we should start calling him Air Coryell.
“You know, you can’t have enough speed. During this year, I know I mentioned this before, that speed was one thing we thought we needed to add I should say to this team. Dirk and talked about it numerous times. In fact, in my office I have it written on my grease board. It’s been there for several months now. …
Kendell Beckwith won't be immediately available to the Bucs, as he tore his ACL in November in a game against Florida and underwent surgery.
The Bucs squeezed in a buzzer-beater on Friday night, trading up to get the final pick in the third round and using it to select LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith.
Tampa Bay sent a sixth-round pick to the Jets to trade up 18 spots, from the 125th slot in the fourth round to the 107th at the end of the third. As a result, they have only two picks -- in the fifth and seventh rounds -- on the draft's final day Saturday.
Beckwith, 22, won't be immediately available to the Bucs, as he tore his ACL in November in a game against Florida and underwent surgery. He was a three-year starter at LSU, and was the team's leading tackler when he went down with injury, finishing his senior year with 91 tackles, including six for losses. As a junior, he had 84 tackles and 10 TFLs. He has good size at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, and once healthy, he should compete for the team's strongside linebacker job, and general manager Jason Licht said he can also play middle linebacker.
The Bucs added speed to their passing game in the third round with Penn State receiver Chris Godwin.
The Bucs put their search for a running back on hold for a day but went back on offense, adding speed to their passing game in the third round with Penn State receiver Chris Godwin.
Godwin, 21, ran a 4.42 40 at the NFL combine, making him one of the fastest players on the team -- he'll learn as a rookie from veteran DeSean Jackson, both of them adding considerably to the Bucs' receiver depth along with Pro Bowl standout Mike Evans.
Godwin had 11 touchdowns for the Nittany Lions in 2016 as well as 982 receiving yards, this after getting 1,101 yards and five touchdowns in 2015.
Justin Evans had 87 tackles and four interceptions in 2016.
Much of the buzz surrounding the Bucs entering Friday's second round was the possibility of a running back taken, with reports that Tampa Bay was trying to trade up from No. 50, potentially to get Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.
That never happened, with the Vikings trading up to take Cook at No. 41 -- Oklahoma's controversial Joe Mixon went two picks before the Bucs to Cincinnati, and Tampa Bay stayed put and filled a big need, selecting free safety Justin Evans of Texas A&M.
"I'm coming in believing in my mind, thinking I'm definitely a starter," said Evans, 21, who joins free-agent signee J.J. Wilcox and returning safeties Chris Conte and Keith Tandy in competing for a starting job. "But I'm coming in with a humble mindset."
Evans had 87 tackles and four interceptions in 2016 -- four years ago, he had no scholarship offers out of high school and started his college career at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College -- "a different route than a lot of kids take" -- before landing at Texas A&M. He's fast enough that he had a 90-yard kickoff return this past season, breaking out in his second season after starting his college career in junior college. …
Jason Licht said the Bucs have had their eye on O.J. Howard since the 2015 season, when there was a chance he would leave early after helping Alabama to a national championship.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was impressed to see that O.J. Howard wanted to play in the Senior Bowl at a time in which many first-rounders politely decline, and he was even more impressed when he and general manager Jason Licht saw what the Alabama tight end was able to do in the first practice in Mobile, Ala., back in January.
"First day of Senior Bowl practice in pads, Jason and I were sitting on the 35-yard line and O.J. is putting on a clinic out there," Koetter said. "After about two periods, I stood up and said to Jason, 'I've seen the guy I want,' and I walked down the stairs."
Howard, a 6-foot-6, 251-pound tight end with 4.51 speed in the 40-yard dash, went to the Bucs with the No. 19 pick on Thursday night, much lower than most had expected him to go. Howard said he had been told he could go between No. 6 and 20 and wasn't worried about the wait until he heard from the Bucs.
"I just want to say thank you to the whole Tampa Bay organization, Coach Koetter, to Mr. Licht and thank everybody for the opportunity to come and be a part of this franchise," he said. "I'm very excited to get to work, and I know we have big plans for the future." …
Part of what makes O.J. Howard a great player is the unselfish way he carried himself, former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said.
Bucs first-round pick O.J. Howard certainly could have had more passes thrown his way in three years at Alabama, but part of what makes him a great player is the unselfish way he carried himself, former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said Friday.
"He's a phenomenal kid and a team leader. Really one of the hardest-working guys I've ever been around," said Kiffin, now the head coach at Florida Atlantic after three years coaching Howard at Alabama. "I was there three years, and on offense we had guys that set the tone for how they worked. It wa Amari Cooper, the next year it was Derrick Henry, and last year it was O.J. Howard. I think he learned from those guys and now he's passed that down to the next guys there."
Kiffin said there was much outside criticism of how Howard was utilized last season -- he totaled 14 catches and one touchdown in the first seven games, all lopsided wins, as Alabama eased in a freshman quarterback -- but the senior handled his role without any complaint. …
Cameron Brate tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season.
Anthony Becht knows the challenge of being a tight end drafted in the first round, and he called an Alabama game last year as an ESPN analyst, so he's well-equipped to evaluate the merits of Bucs first-round pick O.J. Howard, the tight end from Alabama.
"He by far was the best tight end -- I thought there was a gap between him and the rest of a deep class that was available," Becht said Friday morning. "The size and speed and athleticism factor -- some guys have the size but OK speed. All those things, he's top-tier plus. He's got the height at 6-6, a 250 frame. The kid's yoked up, with a little more room to fill in. The speed element to stretch the field, he'll become one of the elite downfield runners out of all the tight ends that are in the NFL. That's the element he brings."
Becht said Howard came back for his senior year in part to improve his blocking and has made progress to become "serviceable," but he'll continue to improve in the NFL. His downfield blocking in space, against linebackers or safeties, is much stronger and will be an asset for his size, he said. Off the field? Even better, Becht says. …
Tony Gonzalez had two huge seasons working with Dirk Koetter in Atlanta at the end of his career.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter could barely contain his excitement Thursday night after landing Alabama tight end O.J. Howard with the No. 19 pick in the NFL Draft, continuing a long history he's had of tight ends flourishing in his offense.
"I'm the first to admit that I like tight ends," said Koetter, who saw Cameron Brate tie for the NFL lead among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season, matching the Bucs' franchise record for the most by a tight end.
Koetter's history with successful tight ends goes back a long way, and includes perhaps the greatest tight end in NFL history. You'd have to think Howard is among the most talented tight ends he's worked with, but it's a long list. Take a trip back ...
2015: In Koetter's first season with Tampa Bay, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins ties for the team lead with four touchdowns despite playing in only seven games. Brate, emerging as a threat stepping in when ASJ was injured, has another three touchdowns in limited action. …
The Bucs used their first-round pick, the No. 19 pick overall, on Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was projected by many draft experts to be a top-10 pick.
The Bucs used their first-round pick, the No. 19 pick overall, on Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was projected by many draft experts to be a top-10 pick. General manager Jason Licht called it a "pipe dream" that Howard would fall to the Bucs at 19, and there was praise from all sides on the Bucs' choice.
"I'm amazed," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said on the live draft broadcast. "You think about Jameis Winston and the weapon he can be. You've got Cameron Brate and now you add a guy like O.J. Howard. He'll help out your running game ... you look at a guy like O.J. Howard, you'd like to see him sustain a little better, but I like the blocking. You don't see out of too many tight ends these days." …
O.J. Howard is an in-line tight end who can block but has the speed to stretch the field and become a receiving weapon.
One of the first people O.J. Howard heard from after being selected by the Bucs with the 19th overall pick was quarterback Jameis Winston.
“He texted me as soon as I was drafted and said, “Hey man, welcome aboard,’’ Howard said.
The Alabama tight end was expected to be gone long before the Bucs made their first round selection Thursday. When coach Dirk Koetter said when they still had about a half dozen teams ahead of them in the draft, he didn’t want to jinx the team’s good fortune.
“I actually had to go to the bathroom for the last six picks but I was afraid to stand up,’’ Koetter said. “I didn’t want to jinx the mojo in there.
“We said we needed more explosive players and this is an explosive player. He just plays inside instead of outside and we’ve been fortunate to add speed on the outside with DeSean Jackson to pair up with Mike and now we’ve got two tight ends to pair side by side in Cam (Brate) and O.J.
According to Koetter, Howard represents what has become a dying breed in college and pro football – an in line tight end who can block but has the speed to stretch the field and become a receiving weapon. …
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