Following the conclusion of the 2023 NFL season and the beginning of the offseason, teams must now look forward to roster changes via free agency and the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter the draft with the 26th overall pick and a wide array of prospects on the board to choose from.
Let’s see which players could have their names called by the Buccaneers in the first round of the upcoming draft.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Way-Too-Early First-Round Predictions
Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina
Following a 2023 draft where they decided not to take a quarterback in the first round and took defensive tackle Calijah Kancey with the 19th pick instead, we cannot rule out the possibility of the Bucs trading up to take a quarterback in the first round. If they trade up for a top-five pick, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye emerges as a great candidate to become Tampa Bay’s next quarterback.
Maye, a redshirt sophomore who recently forwent his final two years of eligibility to declare for the draft, had big shoes to fill when the Tar Heels lost star quarterback Sam Howell in the 2022 draft. However, he didn’t let the pressure get to him; in his first season as a starter, he recorded an impressive 4,321 passing yards with 38 touchdowns while throwing just eight interceptions and obtaining a 157.9 passer rating. His second season was a little worse, but still impressive: 3,608 yards, 24 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a 149.0 passer rating.
However, it’s hard to imagine the Bucs will draft Maye while also re-signing sixth-year quarterback Baker Mayfield. If they do select Maye, they’ll likely let Mayfield walk, which could be a mistake considering the great season he just had behind center for Tampa Bay. We’ll have to wait and see what they do.
Ennis Rakestraw Jr., CB, Missouri
If the Buccaneers decide not to trade up and keep Mayfield as their top quarterback option, they will likely look to improve their subpar defense. This is where Missouri cornerback Ennis Rakestraw Jr. comes into play.
A Dallas native, Rakestraw’s physicality and ability to read plays make him stand out from the rest of the prospects in his position. Over his four seasons with Mizzou, he recorded 107 tackles and was one of the brightest spots in the Tiger secondary.
As mentioned in a previous article, the defense should be the main focus for the Buccaneers heading into the offseason. As a collective, they ranked 30th in the league in passing yards allowed with 4,568, 20th in passing touchdowns allowed with 23, and 26th in passing yards per attempt with 7.5. Rakestraw would bring a much-needed improvement to Tampa Bay’s secondary and would be cheaper than signing a free agent.
Brian Thomas Jr., WR, LSU
It’s unlikely the Bucs will bring veteran wide receiver Mike Evans back to the team, given his age and market value. With that being said, Evans’ importance to Tampa Bay’s receiving corps cannot be overlooked, and the team will be forced to bring in a replacement if they want to compete next season. We have to think that, if they want to take a wide receiver that will fill in Evans’ shoes properly, they’ll have to trade up for it. A top-15 pick will likely suffice for LSU wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr.
A big, skilled receiver with great hands and excellent speed, Thomas’ last season at LSU was nothing short of impressive: he caught 68 passes for 1,177 yards and 17 touchdowns, making him Jayden Daniels’ favorite receiving target. Also, his great quickness, along with his big size, make him a dangerous red zone weapon and a great route runner, abilities that any team would greatly value from a wide receiver.
As Mayfield continues to improve his game and prove that he’s worthy of a starter job in the NFL, having a skilled receiver like Thomas as one of his weapons would certainly help his case. Picking a receiver makes sense for Tampa Bay, but it’ll likely come at a high price. It’ll be interesting to see what they end up doing in the upcoming draft.
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