Buccaneers add offensive line help, select Duke C Graham Barton in NFL draft

FILE - Duke offensive lineman Graham Barton (62) blocks Virginia defensive end Chico Bennett Jr. (15) during the an NCAA college football game Nov. 18, 2023, in Charlottesville, Va. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Barton in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday, April 25. (AP Photo/Mike Caudill, File)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers bolstered their offensive line on Thursday night, addressing a need by selecting Duke center Graham Barton with the 26th pick in the NFL draft.

The Bucs are coming off a third consecutive NFC South championship and a franchise-record fourth straight playoff appearance.

The team has four picks in the first three rounds of the draft and seven overall. It is hoping to land several players capable of making a difference as rookies.

General manager Jason Licht and coach Todd Bowles are counting on Barton, who played left tackle at Duke the past three seasons but is projected to compete for a starting job at center with the Bucs, to contribute very soon.

“He hasn't been handed the starting job ... but I think it will be a good competition,” Licht said. “It's something Todd and I have talked about since the middle of last year. It's something we needed to improve.”

With Baker Mayfield leading the way as the successor to Tom Brady at quarterback, the team won five of six games heading into the postseason, where they beat the Philadelphia Eagles in a wild-card matchup before losing to the Detroit Lions in the NFC divisional round.

Licht’s primary focus this offseason has been retaining as many of the team’s own free agents as possible, including Mayfield (three years, $100 million), franchise career receiving leader Mike Evans (two years, $52 million) and veteran linebacker Lavonte David, who signed a one-year deal to return for a 13th season.

Negotiations targeting a long-term deal for All-Pro safety Antoine Winfield Jr., as well as a contract extension for Pro Bowl tackle Tristan Wirfs, are ongoing.

But with edge rusher Shaquil Barrett released in a salary-cap move, inside linebacker Devin White and guard Aaron Stinnie departing via free agency, and cornerback Carlton Davis III traded to Detroit, there are some holes to fill for next season.

The interior offensive line is one of them, where the Bucs lost Stinnie and Robert Hainsey has filled for an injured Ryan Jensen at center the past two seasons.

“He's got the tools to do it all,” Licht said of Barton, who hasn't played center since his freshman year at Duke. “He's a very athletic guy, plays with a great base and plays with a nasty temperament. That's all the ingredients we look for in our offensive line.”

Barton is eager to contribute anywhere he's asked to play, adding he's confident his athleticism and versatility will help him make the transition from college to the pro game.

"I think I bring a lot to the table, and I'm ready to work and get in the locker room and show I'm there to help elevate the place and help win," the two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection said.