The Buccaneers are confident they addressed needs at five positions in the NFL draft

The Buccaneers are confident they addressed needs at five positions in the NFL draft

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t afraid to rely on young, inexperienced players to help them stay on top of the NFC South.

“Do you want to count on rookies or second-year guys all the time? Maybe not,” assistant general manager John Spytek said.

“But when they’re the right kind of kid and going to go about it the right way and you can trust them,” Spytek added, “then I don’t really have any worries about it.”

The three-time defending division champions drafted running back Rachaad White and tight end Cade Otton two years ago.

The 2023 draft yielded three more starters — defensive lineman Calijah Kancey, right guard Cody Mauch and linebacker Yaya Diaby.

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Now, the Bucs think they’ve landed another group of prospects — headed by center Graham Barton — capable of making the roster stronger.

In addition to addressing the interior offensive line in the NFL draft, Tampa Bay addressed needs for an edge rusher, third receiver, slot cornerback and running back.

Barton — selected in the first round, No. 26 overall — played left tackle the past three seasons at Duke but will compete for the starting job at center with the Bucs.

Alabama linebacker Chris Braswell was Tampa Bay’s second-round selection, followed by Georgia defensive back Tykee Smith and Washington receiver Jalen McMillan (third round), Oregon running back Bucky Irving (fourth), Texas-El Paso guard Elijah Klein (sixth) and Washington tight end Devin Culp (seventh).

“I think we’ve got good players that fit our culture, that are talented kids at positions that we kind of need. You are excited about that when it happens,” Spytek said.

“But they’ve still got to come here,” the assistant GM added, “and show us that they can play.”

The Bucs’ top priority this offseason was retaining their own free agents, including quarterback Baker Mayfield, franchise career receiving leader Mike Evans and veteran linebacker Lavonte David.

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Graham will compete for the center job that another young offensive lineman, Robert Hainsey, filled due to an injury to Ryan Jensen, who has since retired. There’s also an opening at left guard following the departure of Aaron Stinnie in free agency.

Meanwhile, Braswell will get an opportunity to bolster a pass rush missing linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who was released in a salary cap move.

Smith will have a chance to earn the nickel cornerback job, while McMillan is excited about the prospect of learning from Evans and Chris Godwin, who form one of the best receiver tandems in the NFL.


Braswell played behind a pair of first-round draft picks — Will Anderson Jr. and Dallas Turner — most of his career at Alabama.

Anderson was the third overall pick of the Houston Texans in 2023. Turner was the 17th pick in this year’s draft, and the Bucs took the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Braswell 57th overall.

“When he came in here to visit us we asked, ‘Did you ever think about leaving?’ He said, ‘No, why would I leave? I picked Alabama. I love Alabama. I’m not afraid of competition. I believe in myself,’” Spytek said. “He finally gets a chance to play this year and he produces eight sacks.”


Smith was a college teammate of Bowles’ son, Troy, at Georgia. The Bucs’ coach got a closeup view of the third-round pick whenever he was able to watch the Bulldogs in person.

“When we talked, he said he could see me playing safety or nickel. If I play safety then, obviously, I get an opportunity to learn from Antoine Winfield (Jr.), which would be a blessing (considering) the impact he has on the game,” Smith said. “Definitely can’t wait to get around him and see the type of player he is and learn under him.”


McMillan is one of three Washington receivers selected in the first three rounds of the draft. The Chicago Bears took Rome Odunze with the ninth overall pick, and Ja’Lynn Polk was taken by the New England Patriots in the second round — 37th overall.

Spytek said even on a team with two other outstanding receivers, McMillan stood out.

“There’s a smoothness and easiness to his game you really appreciate,” the assistant GM said.

“It taught me brotherhood,” McMillan said of playing in an offense with so many playmakers. “When we were playing together, I wanted them to eat. Being alongside them, it taught me that you have to share the love. At the end of the day, we’re all going to make plays and we all want to win games.”

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