Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
5'11" | 195 | RS Sophomore
It's no secret the Bucs need an infusion of young talent on defense, and no unit needs it worse than the secondary. Tampa Bay's pass defense allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete nearly 70 percent of their passes in 2015, as the team cycled through six different starting combinations at corner.
Alexander is not only one of the most talented cover men in this year's draft class, he's also got the confidence, competitiveness and swagger it takes to be a true shut-down corner in the NFL. Claiming before this season he was the best corner in the country ("It's not even close"), Alexander further confirmed his belief that he's the best in the nation at shutting down opposing receivers:
Alexander still has eligibility left at Clemson, but he's already 22 years old and probably won't see his draft stock go any higher than it already is now. If he declares early, he'll be worth a top-10 pick. If the Bucs miss out on Florida State's Jalen Ramsey and Florida's Vernon Hargreaves III at No. 9 overall, Alexander would hardly be a consolation prize.
Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky
6'3" | 261 | RS Junior
The Bucs need pass-rush help just as badly as they need to improve in the defensive backfield, so they're early focus in the draft will likely be on those two areas.
Spence began his college career as a standout defender at Ohio State, leading the Buckeyes with eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2013. But he developed a drug addiction, leading to two positive drug tests and eventually being declared permanently ineligble at Ohio State.
After realizing he was heading down a destructive path, Spence appears to be doing all the right things to get himself clean. He resumed his collegiate career at EKU, racking up 11.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for the Colonels in 2015. He still has a year of eligibility left, but he's likely to declare early for this year's draft.
His off-field issues may scare off some NFL teams, but it appears Spence has gotten his life together and is making huge strides after costing himself a chance to be part of a national championship team in 2014. If he manages to slip to the Bucs' pick in the second round, they would be wise to pounce and add the dynamic edge-rusher they'd lacked for years.
Justin Simmons, S, Boston College
6'3" | 201 | Senior
Tampa Bay played musical chairs all year at corner, but inconsistent play and a lack of quality depth at safety was just as much to blame for the team's struggles in the secondary.
Simmons is one of the more balanced safety prospects in this class, with the range and athleticism to be effective in coverage, while also possessing the instincts and technique to be a reliable tackler. He tied for 2nd in the ACC this year with five interceptions, while adding 67 tackles and three fumble recoveries. For a deeper look at Simmons' skill set, check out this film breakdown by Jon Ledyard of USA Today.
Though he does have experience at corner, Simmons is best suited to play free safety at the next level. The Bucs are in desperate need of defenders who have a knack for making big plays and creating turnovers, and Simmons has proven he fits the bill.
Mike Thomas, WR, Southern Mississippi
6'1" | 200 | Senior
Ohio State's Michael Thomas will get plenty more attention from NFL teams this Spring, and with good reason. But there's another pass-catcher by the same name who is flying uder the radar down in Hattiesburg.
The Golden Eagles' version of Mike Thomas is an underrated big-play threat who averaged 19.6 yards per catch this season, the highest mark of any FBS receiver with at least 65 receptions. For the season, the Chicago native hauled in 71 catches for 1,391 yards and 14 touchdowns, going over 100 yards receiving in eight of his 13 games.
Thomas has adequate size and bulk for an every-down NFL receiver, is fast enough to stretch the field and has the leaping ability and ball skills to be a valuable asset in the red zone. For a great in-depth breakdown of Thomas' skills, check out this video from Matt Waldman, author of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.
Check out this ridiculous one-handed catch.
Tampa Bay's lack of depth at receiver was painfully evident this year, as injuries to veterans Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy left the team thin on both talent and experience at the position. They'll get Kenny Bell back next year (the rookie fifth-rounder was placed on season-ending injured reserve before the start of the regular season), but Jackson will be a year older and Murphy will be trying to come back from a torn ACL. Adding a young playmaker like Thomas to the receiving corps would be a great move with this pick.
Cyrus Jones, CB/RS, Alabama
5'10" | 196 | Senior
Few players have improved over their four years in Tuscaloosa as much as Jones, who has become the team's best corner and a dynamic playmaker in the return game. Jones provided two of the most important plays that set the tone for Alabama's dominant 38-0 Cotton Bowl victory over Michigan State, snagging a clutch interception in the red zone just before the half, then making the highlight reels with a 57-yard punt return for a score to break the game open in the second half.
Not only do the Bucs need to build more depth in the secondary, they've needed an upgrade in the return game for quite some time. They missed on last year's sixth-round pick (Utah return specialist Kaelin Clay), and should be looking to take another swing on that position in this draft.
Jones' lack of ideal size could keep him from being anything more than a nickel corner at the next level, but that position has gained value in rececnt years as teams have employed 3 and 4-receiver sets with increased frequency, making the nickelback basically another starting corner. Jones could challenge for that job as a rookie while giving the Bucs an immediate spark as a return man.
Derek Watt, FB, Wisconsin
6'2" | 236 | RS Senior
Montee Ball. James White. Melvin Gordon. Corey Clement.
The Badgers have had quite a run of productive backs over the past four seasons, but there's been one constant for all of them: JJ Watt's little brother, plowing the road. Watt has been Wisconsin's starting fullback for all of his four seasons in Madison, paving the way for some incredibly successful rushing attacks. He's an effective lead blocker, but also athletic enough to get out in the flat and be useful as a receiver out of the backfield.
Tampa Bay spent a late-round pick on Hawaii's Joey Iosefa last year, showing they're interest in spending those picks on players who could potentially be immediate starters. Iosefa didn't stick, but with veteran Jorvorskie Lane suffering a broken leg for the second straight season, don't be surprised if the Bucs look to bring in another young player who could challenge him in training camp for the starting fullback job.
Nick Richter, OT, Richmond
6'6" | 304 | RS Senior
Another sixth-rounder, another pick with impressive NFL bloodlines.
Richter's father, Jim, spent 16 seasons in the NFL, 14 of which he spent in Buffalo, where he was a starter on all four of the Bills' AFC Championship teams. Jim was a two-time All-American at North Carolina State who also won the Outland Trophy in 1979, and both of Nick's brothers also played for the Wolfpack.
A freshman starter for the Spiders in 2011, Richter started all 11 games at right tackle in 2012, helping anchor an offensive line that gave up just five sacks all season. After an injury cost him all but two games of the 2013 season, Richter returned to the starting lineup the past two seasons. Bucs GM Jason Licht has proven he has an affinity for small-school blockers (Tennessee State's Kadeem Edwards in 2014, Hobart's Ali Marpet in 2015), so don't be surprised if he takes another one this year.