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Column: Drafting The Bucs 2018: Running Back

Controlling the time of possession can be the key to success for Tampa Bay this coming season. Which running back will be the key to doing just that?

This is a deep running back class. After parting ways with Doug Martin, who had several strong seasons for the Bucs, but never really saw true long term success, Tampa Bay was able to lean on young talent to get them through 2017.

Keeping Peyton Barber was a solid choice during off-season retention, but rest assured, the Buccaneers will look to add a “bell cow” or a three down back to not only control the time of possession, but to take pressure off star Quarterback Jameis Winston.

The obvious choice, if he falls, will be our first prospect, but if we look to address our secondary or line spots, we can rest comfortably in knowing that whether we look to early day two, or early day three acquisitions, we can add a valuable piece to a fine roster.

Let’s really get wild and crazy this Easter morning, we’ll talk about four prospects instead of the usual three. As I stated earlier, this running back class is like an ocean, deep and vast, laden with talent who the franchise can lock up as they strive for success this season and for the long-term.

Running Back:

Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State, 6’0, 233 lbs.)

You’re crazy Joel, Saquon at pick seven?! Everyone is a draft expert this time of year, right? I’ll include myself in that statement. The fact of the matter is, this is a draft that will see Quarterbacks flying off the shelf like a Black Friday sale.

Barkley being the pick is not completely out of the realm of possibility. There aren’t many backs that are spoken about as early as often as Barkley has been. Ezekiel Elliott is the only other name in recent memory, and despite last year’s controversy, look at the difference maker he’s been on the field for the Dallas Cowboys.

Do yourself a favor and go watch Barkley’s media tour from several weeks ago. This young man is going to be a locker room leader. He has “it”, now whether or not that transitions to the football field remains to be seen, but not only is he a threat, he’s a dual threat. He has the ability to see the lanes before they develop, but he can catch out of the backfield and on the edge.

Pull up a chair, watch the film, as is often said about the “ball”, the tape doesn’t lie either.

Barkley’s 2017 campaign saw him amass 1,271 yards with 18 touchdowns. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry while racking up those yards as well. He also hauled in 54 receptions for 632 yards and three touchdowns when he acted as a receiver.

In 2016, Barkley amassed 1,496 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards a carry. He had 28 receptions for 402 yards and four touchdowns during his sophomore campaign.

We can talk at length about his freshman season as well, but the scouts were on this young man, early and often. He has always been spoken about with great respect and his numbers speak for themselves. If we had Barkley at the running back position with deep threat receivers and polished tight end production, adding several offensive linesmen in later rounds, we have the makings of something great.

Bucs fans may surely rejoice if this immensely talented young man slides to pick seven and without a shadow of a doubt, it’s safe to say that seeing his card turned in would immediately see fans in their local athletic stores adding his jersey to their collections of Bucs memorabilia to wear on game days at Raymond James Stadium for years to come.

Sony Michel (RB, Georgia, 5’11, 214 lbs.)

With the next two prospects, we’ll paraphrase the late, great Ray Charles as we keep Georgia on our minds.

Michel will potentially be available as an early day two options if we address other needs in round one, and anyone that took in Georgia football this season saw Michel bursting through the seams and open holes, leaving defenses in the dust.

Living in the great state of Oklahoma, I watched Michel run roughshod through my beloved Sooners with ease, and if given the opportunity to do so with Tampa Bay, NFC South division opponents will experience the same melancholy sadness that accompanies “taking the L” thanks to Michel’s uncanny speed.

In 2017, Michel ran for 1,227 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging 7.9 yards per carry. That is an incredible stat in and of itself, but what’s even more amazing is that he wasn’t the only feature back at a legendary school. Michel had to share the carries with our next prospect, and that’s truly exemplary with that knowledge piled onto those impressive numbers.

If there is one concern with Michel, it’s that he had several fumbles in each of several seasons. Don’t sound the alarms just yet, he faced tough defenses who will see many of their defensive stars on NFL rosters and with proper coaching, that can be cleaned up as he dresses for battle on Sundays at home and away.

Michel is another option that is sure to please Bucs fans if his card is turned in early on day two.

Nick Chubb (RB, Georgia, 5’10, 220 lbs.)

Chubb was the second feature back to come out of Georgia this year. He and Michel split carries, and while Michel seemed to come in, bursting through holes, dazzling fans with his speed, Chubb was the bruiser, pounding away at defenses across the country, fighting for crucial yardage to see his team at the doorstep of victory.

Averaging six yards a carry, Chubb had 15 touchdowns and 1,345 yards last year, as with Michel, insanely impressive because he wasn’t the only back carrying the ball.

He really exploded during the Georgia/Oklahoma game as Michel did, but Michel seems to be the back getting all the praise for what the Georgia running game did.

Chubb is a true three down back and if he’s able to average even close to the yards per carry that he did last year at Georgia, we’re going to have many a frantic defense and head coach watching precious time ticking away on the clock as they look to mount their comeback against our Bucs.

The idea of Chubb and Barber taking pressure off of Jameis Winston as he looks to throw the deep ball is enough to have fans salivating at the thought of high scoring games and key wins as we look to return to NFC glory and playoff births.

There is nothing great about a losing season and it’s a position we don’t want to see ourselves in again for years to come, but since we have been humbled and since we have the opportunity to choose talent early this year, let’s make the best of it, adding valuable cogs to our roster.

Ronald Jones III (RB, USC, 6’0, 200 lbs.)

The most absurd thing about this year’s draft is that nobody is talking about Jones. My goodness, I know that many eyes have been on Sam Darnold and his path to the NFL, but goodness gracious, go watch tape of this talented young athlete. Jones may very well be the steal of the draft as it relates to the running back class.

In 2017, Jones averaged 5.9 yards per carry with 19 touchdowns and 1,550 yards. 19 touchdowns! As referenced earlier in the column, this is a deep running back class and with the multitude of talent, the two backs that are the least talked about are Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson and USC’s Ronald Jones III.

Jones has this ability to find open holes that you can see on tape and you find yourself re-watching it, saying, wait, did that just happen? It did. As with Michel and Chubb, if we address concerns on defense or the line in round one, Jones in round two? That’s something I’ll buy right away.

Coming in 200 pounds, he added weight before the Trojans began their 2017 season and even in doing so, he displayed a lightning quickness that was only matched by his impressive ability to carve up defenses, shedding blockers and finding open field.

If there is any controvery surrounding this year’s running back class, it can only be in the form of heated draft room discussions about which back to add to the backfield.

Take comfort Bucs fans, we have a golden opportunity to add a very talented player to our roster this year and if we do add the right piece to our 2018 puzzle, we may very well be pleased with the offensive for years to come!

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