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The 2017 NFL Draft has come and gone, with the Buccaneers adding six new players to their roster. Among those picks was O.J. Howard, a tight end out of Alabama who many analysts believed could have been a top-five pick. The Buccaneers selected Howard at No. 19, a pick that many media members considered to be the best of the entire draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper said that the Bucs’ first-round pick was “in the running for the best pick in the draft” while NFL.com’s Adam Schein declared that the Buccaneers are headed for the playoffs after a successful draft.
Last December, Alabama and Florida met in the SEC Championship Game for the second year in a row. The combined rosters for the Crimson Tide and the Gators at that time featured 18 players who would be drafted the following spring, including five eventual first-round picks.
Alabama tight end O.J. Howard and Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis were two of those future first-rounders, with Howard going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at #19 and Davis coming off the board just two picks later thanks to the Detroit Lions. Unfortunately for Davis, an injury kept him off the field for that game last December, while Howard caught two passes for 41 yards in Alabama’s lopsided 54-16 victory.
Both the Buccaneers and the Lions hope their prized first-round rookies are still on the field to face each other this coming December, almost exactly a year after that 2016 SEC Championship Game. In fact, Howard-vs.-Davis is just one a number of potential all-rookie showdowns that could have a big impact on Tampa Bay’s 2017 season. Below, we list one such rookie duel for each of the Bucs’ six 2017 draft picks, assuming they all make the regular-season roster. The matchups are listed in chronological order, ending with that potential Howard-Davis matchup.
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When Jameis Winston entered the NFL, much was made over Florida State’s complex playbook, which many felt would help Winston’s transition to the NFL. That proved to be accurate as Winston went on to pass for more than 4,000 yards during his rookie season. Howard, the Bucs’ first-round draft pick, believes he’s in a similar situation. “[The playbook is] very similar,” Howard said. “Very similar, just different names, different terminology. That’s what makes it kind of easy right now, because it’s kind of a similar to the offense we ran at Alabama.”
That’s the number that new Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey china tight end O.J. Howard will wear as he begins his professional career. The Buccaneers drafted the Alabama tight end with the 19th overall pick last Thursday night and have big plans for him in what is potentially a very explosive offense.
Many believed Alabama tight end O.J. Howard would be a top-ten pick in this year’s draft, pushing him far out of reach for the Buccaneers at No. 19. But with three quarterbacks going in the top half of the first round on Thursday night, Howard began to fall. The Buccaneers ultimately were able to secure the player unanimously considered to be the best tight end in this year’s draft, and the Bucs’ players and media were excited about the team’s selection.
That could include trying Kevin Pamphile, who started at left guard last season, back on the edge, where he played in college. Caleb Benenoch, a 2016 sixth-round pick, also played both tackle and guard at UCLA. Wester, however, is the one true tackle on the current depth chart behind Dotson and Donovan Smith.
Even if the Buccaneers end up with the same primary starting line as a year ago – LT Donovan Smith, LG Kevin Pamphile, C Joe Hawley, RG Ali Marpet and RT Demar Dotson – the different combinations they try in the coming months could end up being relevant during a long season.
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The Buccaneers did not have a first-round pick in 2013, having traded it to the Jets for cornerback Darrelle Revis. The team hit big on Evans in 2014, and that could begin a trend of option years for the team, as early returns on 2015 first-rounder Jameis Winston and 2016 first-rounder Vernon Hargreaves have been very good.
Just 23 years old, Evans is a key part of an exciting young core on offense for the Buccaneers. He and the 23-year-old Winston have helped Tampa Bay’s offense record two of the top three total yardage and passing yardage season totals in franchise history. Winston is the first quarterback in league history to open his career with consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons, and the Buccaneers have made an effort to surround him with an increasingly potent array of weapons. Most recently, Tampa Bay used free agency to add a premier big-play receiving threat in wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The 10th-year veteran adds explosiveness to an offense that also features such promising young players as tackle Donovan Smith, guard Ali Marpet, tight end Cameron Brate and wide receiver Adam Humphries.
Evans, though, is sure to remain Winston’s favorite target. That will likely be true through the 2018 season, at least, and the Bucs hope it will remain so well beyond then.