TAMPA – The debate over what the Buccaneers will do with their first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft has already begun.
Some believe the Bucs should spend that pick, No 19 overall, on a wide receiver to complement top wideout Mike Evans. Others believe the Bucs should spend it on a running back because, let’s face it, we have no idea if Doug Martin will ever play in Tampa again.
The debate will go on well into the spring, by which time those wishing for an offensive or defensive lineman or a safety will have weighed in as well. There is at least one prominent former NFL scout, coach and executive, however, who believes there is no reason for debate.
According to Pat Kirwan, a former Bucs scout and NFL coach and executive who runs now hosts a SiriusXM NFL Radio show and runs the RealFootballNetwork.com website, the Bucs should concentrate on fixing their running game above all else.
“Running games come before quality No. 2 receivers,” Kirwan said this week during a Facebook live chat for the RealFootballNetwork. “Yes, you need to get a second receiver, but if you can’t convince your opponent that you’re running the ball, then they’re doubling your wide receiver. So the running game counts.
“And the way Doug Martin’s career has gone, it’s a shame. But I would say get a big-time running back. Then, because of the quality of your quarterback and the nature of a true No. 1 receiver in Mike (Evans), you can get away with a third- or fourth-round receiver. Look at what Tyler Boyd has done for the Bengals.”
Boyd wasn’t a third- or fourth-round draft pick. He was a second-round selection, taken 55th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. And he wasn’t the Bengals second-best pass catcher this year, he was their third-best, ranking behind A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell in targets, receptions and yards.
But he was an impact player nonetheless and the Bucs would probably go so far as to argue that they have other pass-catching options besides Evans in tight end Cameron Brate and slot receiver Adam Humphries who can make an impact as well.
What the Bucs don’t have right now is an experienced every-down running back. They lost the only one they knew for sure that they had when Martin was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s PED policy and announced he was seeking treatment for a dependency issue.
That’s all but left the cupboard bare. After all, Jacquizz Rodgers, who has never run the ball more than he did last year, is a free agent and it became apparent this past year that Charles Sims, when he isn’t hurt, is best suited for a third-down role.
So unless there’s a feeling inside the wall of One Buc Place that either Peyton Barber or Russell Hansbrough can carry the ball 25 times a game, it would seem that running back has indeed become the Bucs top priority this offseason.
Does that mean they’ll spend their first draft pick on a running back? No. As they always do, the Bucs are sure to add a free agent or two to avoid being pigeon-holed into such a move. One way or another, though, the Bucs do have to fix their running game.
And as Kirwan suggests, they need to fix it before they fix their receiving corps.