TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers called it right, Tom Brady was a big winner in the NFL draft.
The Bucs bolstered protection for the six-time Super Bowl champion, acquired a ball-hawking safety to improve an ascending defense, and even added a couple of more playmakers to an already potent offense.
The team feels Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs, Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Minnesota receiver Tyler Johnson are capable of contributing as rookies on a roster with high expectations after signing Brady and trading for tight end Rob Gronkowski this offseason.
“I think one thing that stands out to me is each and every one of these guys love to play football. They’re ballers,” coach Bruce Arians said of a seven-player draft class that included four late-round picks on Saturday.
“They’re going to go out, have fun. They’re gym rats, and they’re smart, aggressive-type players,” Arians added. “When you have that type of draft, each and every guy brings a redeeming quality that’s going to give him a chance to make it.”
First-round pick Wirfs fills the need for a right tackle to shore up an offensive line that yielded 47 sacks in 2019.
Second-rounder Winfield is a versatile defender who lined up all over the secondary in college. Vaughn and Johnson are third- and fifth-rounders, respectively, who are eager to do whatever asked to earn supporting roles.
The Bucs are coming off a 7-9 finish and haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, a 12-year hiatus that’s the second-longest active drought in the league.
Bringing in Brady and adding Gronkowski to an offense featuring Pro Bowl receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, as well as a pair of productive tight ends in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, has the Bucs thinking Super Bowl.
Arians welcomes heightened expectations.
“I love ’em. I embrace it. I want our guys to feel that we are a team to beat,” the coach said Saturday.
“Everybody that left our locker room in that last meeting knew we should have been playing in the playoffs — that we beat ourselves, and if we could correct the turnover ratio, we would have a chance,” Arians added. “So, yeah, I think everybody who walks in our building is expecting to win.”
IN TRISTAN WE TRUST
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Wirfs is an exceptional athlete who ran a 4.85-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, where his 36 1/2-inch vertical jump and 10-foot, 1 inch broad jump also were best among offensive linemen.
He’s expected to become an immediate starter at right tackle, but Arians and general manager Jason Licht stressed they won’t rush his development.
“He hasn’t played a game yet in the NFL, so we’ll have to see how it goes,” Licht said. “We’re not anointing him as a future Hall of Famer yet, but we’re just very excited to work with him. … I’m sure he’s going to come in and know he’s got to earn his keep.”
The Bucs didn’t have a pick in the fourth round after parting with one in the pre-draft trade that brought Gronkowski to Tampa Bay from New England and using another fourth-rounder (No. 117) to move up one spot in the first round to select Wirfs 13th overall. In both cases, Arians and Licht felt the price was worth it.
“A proven winner. Great passion for the game,” Arians said of what Gronkowski brings to the locker room. “History of really taking care of his room, making sure if any young player needs help he’s going to help them. … A guy that knows what it takes. For he and Tom (Brady) to be together, I think it will be great for our culture.”
Winfield’s father, Antoine Winfield, was a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills in 1999 — the year before Brady entered the NFL with New England. Antoine Sr., who also played for the Vikings during a 14-year career, had an interception off the Bucs quarterback in 2001 — Brady’s first season as a full-time starter with the Patriots.
The Bucs were attracted to Antoine Jr.’s versatility and envision him filling a number of roles for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, much like Tyrann Mathieu and Budda Baker were used in Arizona while Arians was coaching the Cardinals.
“I can play pretty much anywhere. I can play on tight ends, I can play on slot receivers, I can blitz, I can play in the post,” Winfield said. “Versatility is my biggest asset, and I feel like Tampa Bay is going to use me well that way.”
The Bucs selected four players Saturday, beginning with Johnson in the fifth round, No. 161 overall. Nebraska defensive tackle Khalil Davis was added in the sixth round (194), and Temple linebacker Chapelle Russell (241) and Louisiana running back Raymond Calais (245) followed in Round 7.