Bucs take Duke center Graham Barton in 1st round of NFL draft at No. 26

TAMPA — It’s no secret the Bucs have missed the cantankerousness of Ryan Jensen and the consistency of Ali Marpet, two key members of the offensive line on their Super Bowl 55 team.

They believe Duke center Graham Barton may be a combination of both Pro Bowl players.

The Bucs used the 26th overall pick to select Barton on Thursday in the first round of the NFL draft. And Baker Mayfield is expected to have someone new snapping him the ball this fall.

“He reminded me a little bit — and a lot of us — of Ali (Marpet),” general manager Jason Licht said. “He had some Ryan Jensen in him, which is a very good thing, too, and the personality of Tristan Wirfs, so he had some pretty good lab work there.”

The 6-foot-5, 313-pound Barton was primarily an offensive tackle during his career with the Blue Devils. But injuries forced him to play his final six games, with five starts, at center during his freshman year.

The only negative for Barton is his 32-7/8 arm length, which is short by NFL standards.

The Bucs began the day with plenty of needs but planned to focus on improving in the trenches on both sides of the football.

Tampa Bay never really recovered from the career-ending knee injury suffered by Jensen on the second day of training camp in 2022. They have struggled to replace Marpet, who retired that offseason.

While center Robert Hainsey has been solid, the Bucs have lacked the kind of physical play they had grown accustomed to with Jensen. In part, it’s why they finished last in rushing average each of the past two seasons.

“We had him (as a) center, but he can play guard. He did a pretty damn good job playing tackle, too,” Licht said. “So, there’s a lot of versatility there with him. We had him targeted.

“To be honest with you, the whole time we were crossing our fingers that he would make it to us and he did, so that’s good. He’s got a tenacious playing style that we like.”

Barton said he had several meetings with the Bucs leading up to the draft, including with offensive line coach Kevin Carberry. He expects to begin working at center and/or guard when he gets to Tampa Bay.

“I think center (or) guard is probably where I’m going to be originally, and then kind of see where I best fit and what they need the most and what works best for me,” he said. “I’ve been working on it all spring — I’ve been snapping for the last couple of months and I feel pretty good, I feel confident. I’m ready to get in.”

Barton is an extraordinary athlete for his size with a lacrosse background. He ran the 40-yard dash at his pro day in 4.95 seconds.

“I think (my athleticism) is the reason I’m talking to you guys right now,” he said. “It helps me get off the ball, it helps me get to my landmarks. It’s just kind of what I’ve built my game around and I’ll continue to build my game around my athletic ability. I’ve added some strength, added some power, continuing to be more consistent, hitting my targets, improving my hand placement, improving my feet — I think those are all things I’ll always have to work on, especially transitioning from college to the NFL.”

The Bucs also needed an edge rusher to replace Shaquil Barrett, who was released after five seasons and signed with the Dolphins.

They had an interest in Florida State’s Jared Verse, but he was picked by the Rams with the 19th overall pick. Penn State’s Chop Robinson, also one of the Bucs’ top-30 visits, went to the Dolphins at No. 21.

The Bucs benefitted from a historic class of signal-callers, pushing plenty of good players to the bottom of the first round.

The shocker in the first round was the Falcons selecting Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., a Tampa Bay product, with the eighth pick, despite the fact they signed and guaranteed Kirk Cousins $100 million in the offseason.

“I’m sure they have their reason for it, which is a long-term plan for them,” Licht said of the Bucs’ NFC South foe. “If you hit on him, you’ve got the future with him so I totally understood. I didn’t think it was a crazy move whatsoever.”

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