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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Boise State coach: McNichols well-prepared for Koetter offense

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." …

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Bucs get their RB: Boise State's Jeremy McNichols

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. …

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Bucs fufilling GM Jason Licht's need for speed on offense

The Bucs selected Penn State receiver Chris Goodwin in the third round.

Getty Images

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. …

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Bucs trade up into 3rd for LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith

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.

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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.

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Bucs get speed in 3rd with Penn State WR Chris Godwin

The Bucs added speed to their passing game in the third round with Penn State receiver Chris Godwin.

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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.

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Bucs take Texas A&M safety Justin Evans in 2nd round

Justin Evans had 87 tackles and four interceptions in 2016.

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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. …

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Bucs introduce first-round pick O.J. Howard

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.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

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." …

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Kiffin: Unselfishness, work ethic made O.J. Howard stand out

Part of what makes O.J. Howard a great player is the unselfish way he carried himself, former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

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. …

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Becht: Bucs could have NFL's best 1-2 TE combo in Howard, Brate

Cameron Brate tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

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. …

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Tight ends have thrived in Dirk Koetter offenses

Tony Gonzalez had two huge seasons working with Dirk Koetter in Atlanta at the end of his career.

Times files (2009)

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. …

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What they're saying about Bucs rookie O.J. Howard

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.

[Associated Press]

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." …

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O.J. Howard is a 'throw back' to what tights ends were in NFL

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.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

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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Bucs' Mike Evans remembers 'emotion' of his draft night

It's been three years since the Bucs took Mike Evans with the No. 7 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but the Pro Bowl receiver remembers well how emotional he was that night, realizing what he had been able to accomplish for his family. Evans couldn't stop himself from crying in joy, especially as he held his daughter Mackenzie.

"The whole week, everyone was asking me was I going to get emotional," Evans said this week. "I was like 'Naw,' I guess because it didn't feel real at the time. Then I got off the phone with Lovie (Smith) and Jason Licht, and then I was holding my daughter and they called my name. I was overwhelmed with emotion. To know that I could provide for my daughter and my family, it was a great experience."

You can check out a three-minute video of Evans being selected here -- he's wiping back tears more than a minute after being picked. It's also wild to think how much has changed for his college teammate and close friend, Johnny Manziel, who gets a hug from Evans on the way to meet commissioner Roger Goodell. Manziel, of course, would fall to No. 22 and the Browns, who are still searching for a quarterback entering tonight's draft. …

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Bucs' opportunity to trade down may depend on QB market

North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky is among the quarterbacks that will receive first-round consideration.

AP photo

North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky is among the quarterbacks that will receive first-round consideration.

A robust quarterback market and a run on that position will give the Bucs their best opportunity to acquire more picks by trading down in the first round of Thursday's NFL draft.

Tampa Bay has discussed the possibility of moving down from the No. 19 overall pick with more than three teams. As many as four quarterbacks could go in the first round this year, although none are considered locks to become franchise passers such as Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, who went 1-2 to the Bucs and Tennessee, respectively, in 2015.

North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes and Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer all will receive first round consideration. Some longshots to go in the first round include California's Davis Webb or Pittsburgh's Nate Peterman.

The most likley trading partners for the Bucs would be the Houston Texans at No. 25 and the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 27. Texans coach Bill O'Brien is a good friend of general manager Jason Licht and Bucs coach Dirk Koetter used to work on the same staff as Chiefs coach Andy Reid at Div. II San Francisco State, so there is a high level of trust between those organizations. …

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Bucs trading down? Here's Jason Licht's draft-deal history

The Bucs, having traded down 19 spots in the fourth round, used a seventh-round pick to trade back up four spots to get Kwon Alexander in 2015.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

The Bucs, having traded down 19 spots in the fourth round, used a seventh-round pick to trade back up four spots to get Kwon Alexander in 2015.

Given the perceived depth of the 2017 NFL Draft, it's not too surprising, but ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Wednesday morning that the Bucs, sitting at No. 19, have reached out to at least three teams about trading down, potentially out of the first round entirely.

We'll get to Jason Licht's three-year history as an active draft-day trader, but first -- what might the Bucs be able to get by sliding down at bit? The most likely option would be to trade down a few picks -- say you anticipate having several prospects you'd be happy with at 19, but would like to pick up, say, another pick Friday. There's an old "draft value card" that Jimmy Johnson came up with, giving a relative value to all picks -- I'm sure it varies from draft to draft and team to team, but as a starting point, you can always use it to float trade possibilities. …

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