Tampa Bay BuccaneersAs we conclude our back-and-forth series for the week, Senior Writer Scott Smith is challenged with poaching depth options for the Bucs off other teams' rosters, but with some key restrictionsby Brianna Dix & Scott Smith
Throughout last week and concluding today, Senior Writer Scott Smith and I have rotated providing each other with various Buccaneers-related topics for our 'List with a Twist' series. The brief synopsis is that each of us have put on our creative caps, partaking in the popular offseason ritual - creating lists of every kind. However, as the name indicates, we have put a spin on the mundane compilations. Instead, we are gifting each other impromptu assignments regarding the Buccaneers and the 2022 season.
Today's Topic: If you could steal five players from other teams to add to the Buccaneers' 2022 roster, who would you choose?
Initially, that category sounds like a breeze, with many star-studded names to choose from among NFL rosters. But I had to make things more intriguing - well, challenging - for my colleague, right? Scott, here are the restrictions: You cannot choose any player who has been to a Pro Bowl or has been a first or second team Associated Press All-Pro and you cannot select based on a futuristic approach/necessity. In other words, you cannot snag Joe Burrow to become Tom Brady's successor. Lastly, you cannot pick a player who has yet to play in the league, so the 2022 draft picks are off limits. It must be an established player.
You are looking for five perhaps under-the-radar players who can boost the Bucs' roster depth and provide value in 2022. You want them to fit into the roster the Buccaneers currently have, so you don't necessarily need, say, another starting cornerback or number-one receiver. If there's a spot on the depth chart where there's competition, however, that's fair game.
Every year around the league there are countless "snubs" that occupy headlines. You know, the ones that are referred to as criminally undervalued. Well, your task is to find those players to solidify the roster in Tampa Bay. Sure, it would have been simplistic to have not placed any rules, giving you the freedom to choose Aaron Donald, T.J. Watt, Travis Kelce, Ja'Marr Chase, Jalen Ramsey, Myles Garrett, Cooper Kupp, Zack Martin, etc., but what is the fun in that? I am intrigued to find out who you will come up with. So, who will you poach, Scott?
Scott: As Butcher would say, diabolical!
Yes, had you placed no restrictions, this would have been incredibly easy. I can do it in about five seconds. Give me Donald, Watt, Quenton Nelson, George Kittle and Justin Tucker. Boom, done. But I have to admit, your way is more fun. I had to do a little bit of digging, and I focused on building depth, finding some things the Bucs may not already have and creating some insurance at positions with question marks. Here's what I came up with:
5. Eagles TE Dallas Goedert
The no-Pro Bowl restriction here was a little tough. I went looking for a good two-way tight end who would provide insurance in case Rob Gronkowski retires and be great in two-TE sets in our preferred scenario that Gronk comes back. My first thought was Kyle Pitts but that rascal already made the Pro Bowl as a rookie! I think Goedert is probably the best young tight end in the league who has yet to be named an all-star, and he started to really show that last year after Zach Ertz was traded to the Cardinals. Goedert is an above-average blocker, and I wanted to start there, because the Buccaneers already have some good pass-catching options in the likes of Cam Brate and Codey McElroy. But he also had 56 catches for 830 yards and four touchdowns last year, which isn't too shabby. Now, I know the Bucs just drafted Cade Otton, who could develop into the team's next two-way starter, but this exercise is all about 2022 and I don't want to take any chances at this position. As we learned in 2020, when you have a contending team and a chance to add another weapon to an already loaded roster, you take it.
4. Falcons G Chris Lindstrom
Lindstrom was the 14th-overall pick in the 2019 draft, and while he hasn't blown anyone away over the last three years - thus the lack of Pro Bowls and his availability here - I think he's proved to be a pretty good NFL guard. He probably doesn't draw a lot of attention because the Falcons' O-Line overall hasn't been very good during his tenure and his team hasn't been particularly competitive. Lindstrom has played right guard in Atlanta but if he came down I-75 to Tampa he would probably be thrown into the competition to replace Ali Marpet at left guard. As it stands, that's going to be a good competition in 2022 between Aaron Stinnie and rookie Luke Goedeke, and Goedeke is probably the future at the position. But, again, this is all about 2022 and adding an experienced option at that spot wouldn't be terrible. And if Stinnie or Goedeke blows everyone away in training camp and wins the job, it sure would be nice to have Lindstrom around as depth. The Buccaneers have had very good fortune in terms of injuries along the offensive line in recent years (knock on wood) but that doesn't guarantee they will again this season.
3. Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle
I wasn't going to make this list all about depth and big men in the trenches. I wanted to have some fun, too! No, the Buccaneers probably don't need another receiver, but I bet they could find a way to use Waddle, Miami's second-year water bug. That's especially true if Chris Godwin needs a little time at the beginning of the season to finish his rehab from last year's knee injury. The Buccaneers don't have a pass-catcher exactly like Waddle, who catches a ton of short passes and makes things happen with the ball in his hands. Godwin is great in the slot but is more of a big and physical option. Maybe the Bucs envision Jaelon Darden as a Waddle-type receiver, but we might as well get the proven commodity. If the league-wide trend to more Cover Two looks continues in 2022 and Tom Brady once again emphasizes quick-release passes, Waddle would come in very handy. Also, Waddle was a pretty darn good punt returner at Alabama (career average of 19.3 yards), and it would be nice to have a potentially dynamic option for that job on the Bucs' roster.
2. Panthers LB Shaq Thompson
Another good thing about this exercise is that, because it's all hypothetical, we don't have to worry about hurting anyone's feelings with our moves. It's like stashing a star running back on your bench in fantasy football. It's not real, so nobody gets upset. My point here is that, if the Buccaneers were to snag Thompson from their division rivals, he would probably be coming to Tampa as a backup. I doubt the real Thompson, who has been a starter throughout his seven-year NFL career, would be too keen on that. In this case, I'm not looking to displace either Lavonte David or Devin White in the Bucs' starting lineup, because last I checked I'm not a fool. But the Bucs don't have a lot of depth there. There is a lot of optimism that second-year man K.J. Britt, a former fifth-round pick, is going to thrive in the role of first man up at inside linebacker, but he has yet to prove that on Sundays, of course. In addition, he's probably more advanced as a downhill run-stopper than as a coverage 'backer at this point. In contrast, Thompson is good in coverage, so it would be nice if the Buccaneers had a couple different types of reserve options if either David or White is forced to miss some time. I could see both Britt and Thompson filling in in some capacity if that were the case.
1. Jets CB Justin Hardee.
This is a bit of a deep cut but I have special teams at the front of my mind here. My first thought was the Saints' coverage specialist, J.T. Gray, but a quick check reminded me that Gray not only made the Pro Bowl as a special-teamer last year but was also a first-team All-Pro. So I turned my attention to Hardee, who coincidentally used to play for New Orleans before signing with the Jets last year and emerging as one of the league's best special teams players. Bucs fans may remember Hardee from his 2017 rookie season, when he blocked a Bryan Anger punt and returned it for a touchdown. Formerly a little-used receiver at Illinois, Hardee entered the league as an undrafted free agent with Houston and, after showing some promise on special teams in the preseason, was picked up by the Saints, who converted him to cornerback. Now, I'm not going to try to sell you on Hardee being an elite option at corner, but he has played about 120 defensive snaps in his career so you could at least count on him as depth if the injury bug starts biting that spot again in 2022. But most of all he would almost certainly be one of the team's two gunners on punts, and that is a very underrated position. Rookie cornerback Zyon McCollum, who has an elite size-speed mix, is eyeing one of those gunner spots, and he and Hardee could prove to be a lethal combination in that role.
Brianna's Thoughts: Scott, well done! You had to dig deep on this one (with my limitations) but found valuable depth options for the Bucs. With a developed route tree and big catch radius, Dallas Goedert would bolster the tight end room in Tampa Bay. With the "status quo" positioning for Rob Gronkowski regarding his future plans according to Head Coach Todd Bowles, Goedert would indeed add to the offense with his versatility, being flexed in the slot or lining up as an h-back or an in-line tight end. He would provide insurance as an additional pass-catching threat and your other intriguing find I want to emphasize is Shaq Thompson.
Like you mentioned, both Lavonte David and Devin White are entrenched as starters and as the unquestioned leaders of the formidable Tampa Bay defense, paroling the middle. In regard to depth - again, definitely a hypothetical because he would never realistically be further down on the depth chart - but the Buccaneers are thin at depth. K.J. Britt flashes promise but as you wonderfully pointed out above, he is known for his prowess as a downhill force against the run. Thompson has been invariably linked to his ability in coverage. With more and more pass-catching running backs and tight ends emerging each year as the NFL transitions to pass-centric offenses, defenses must adapt. Having a dominant coverage player on the roster if either David or White had to miss time, there would be no drop-off.