The Key To The 2018 Draft

May 4th, 2018


Run the football. Stop the run. Rush the passer.

When you boil pro football down to its most basic elements, the winning formula emerges. Yes, there are exceptions like the pass-happy Patriots, who just happen to feature the best quarterback to ever play the game.

Exception noted.

But look at the Saints. When New Orleans won the Super Bowl, Sean Payton’s offense was blessed with exceptional balance. When the Saints were resurrected last season, rookie Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram combined to rush for 1,852 yards and 20 touchdowns.

In the seven years in between, Drew Brees threw for a zillion yards and New Orleans won one division title.

Given the overhaul of their defensive line, the Bucs have every reason to expect they will be stout defending the run. Beau Allen and Vita Vea are undeniably strong at the point of attack and Jason Pierre-Paul remains solid against the run.

And isn’t run defense supposed to be Will Gholston’s forte?

The pass rush issues have also been addressed, with Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry at the forefront. A healthy Noah Spence would be icing on the sack cake.

But what about Dirk Koetter’s ground game? Ah, that’s the question.

Trojan Horse

Craving balance and achieving balance are two different animals, and every Buc fan knows this running attack hasn’t gotten the job done since 2015, when Koetter arrived as offensive coordinator. That was the season Doug Martin and Charles Sims ran wild and Tampa Bay finished with the No. 5 offense in the league.

Before that year, the Bucs had never ranked better than ninth.

Coincidence? I think not.

So here comes Ronald Jones, a Trojan horse who specializes in long gains out of the backfield. The season opener may be more than four months away, but Mr. Jones looms as the key to the 2018 draft.

“I’d say it’s safe to assume he’s going to make an impact,” Jason Licht says. “We’re very happy with Peyton Barber. To be the starter and the lead dog right away, I can’t say that, but we’re very excited to have him.”

So is Koetter, who tried to stick with the running game the past two years, despite meager production.

This may be a quarterback-driven league, but nine of the top 10 rushing teams made the playoffs in 2017, with the 9-7 Cowboys the only outlier.

And it’s worth noting that much of Tampa Bay’s red-zone woes can be traced directly to a ground game that produced only eight touchdowns.

Defenses tighten up when the field constricts, making it challenging to reach the end zone through the air.

Of the eight teams that were limited to eight rushing touchdowns or fewer last season, none made the playoffs.


Magic Number

So along came Jones.

“He brings something that we haven’t had for awhile here — and that’s juice,” Licht says. “He’s an explosive runner.”

If the Bucs running game continues to struggle, you won’t be able to blame Doug Martin anymore. That tugboat has sailed to Oakland, where Jon Gruden will try to resurrect a career once filled with so much promise.

If Jameis Winston is still averaging 34 pass attempts per game this fall, that spells trouble, with a capital “T” that rhymes with “P” that stands for problem. If Jones lives up to his billing, that means problem solved.

Rumble, young man, rumble.

37 Responses to “The Key To The 2018 Draft”

  1. Pickgrin Says:

    This is ROJO

    See ROJO GO


  2. JimmyJack Says:

    A lot of fans are saying Dirk will use a committee backfield but how true is that? In his 2 years as a HC he has used a feature back. That might be what he wants again.

  3. Evolvingbucfan Says:

    Looking forward to seeing Ro-Jo in Ray-Jay. could be the Ro-Jo show??

  4. AKick'nTheBucNuts Says:

    If, after the added FA’s and rookies, they still can’t run or stop the run, there will be a lot of “F” words hurled at them this season.

    I know what you Buc fans are thinking.

    The word is “FIRED”.

    Get your heads out of the gutter.

  5. StPeteBucsFan Says:


  6. Gambelero Says:

    I wonder about the tradecraft. Your articles are really well written, your points thoughtfully constructed and your hypotheses carefully supported with intricate data (none of the teams with 8 or fewer touchdown runs made the playoffs). Yet, the Joes’ articles get so many more comments (and presumably more clicks). Before the draft, a “Barkley is better than a Nelson” or an “If the big three are gone and there are no tradedown options,” article would get dozens of comments in minutes even though a scenario where both Barkley and Nelson were available at 7 was nearly impossible to envision and the big three and all four QBs going in 6 picks was mathematically impossible.

    Maybe the Sage is too smart for the attention deficit era. Or perhaps the Joe Bucs demo is, outside of Nut, Pickgrin, St. Pete and a few others, not literate enough, not numerate enough to read through your long posts. Or maybe the Joes’s dimwittedness is just an act. They just pretend to not understand spreadsheets, stats and complicated math (like counting to 7); and both Joe’s (or at least one Joe) are the real Sage(s). And in an attention deficit, semiliterate milieu, masters at speaking to the masses.

  7. BucDan Says:

    I want to first say that I absolutely LOVE Ira’s columns. A fresh set of Hall of Fame credentialed eyes is great for this site.

    Gambelero brings up a good point. I am sure that the analytics of views backs up the content, regardless of comments. Joe(s) have pointed this out countless times. There are a hundred posters, but TENS OF THOUSANDS (Joe, correct me!) of unique views per article.

    Ira is getting his love.

  8. Lord Cornelius Says:

    “Of the eight teams that were limited to eight rushing touchdowns or fewer last season, none made the playoffs.”

    New England also had a top 10 rushing offense last year despite the misconception.

    Literally every single team in the top 10 of rushing offense made the playoffs last year except for Dallas – who still had a winning record:

    5-New Orleans
    9-Kansas City
    10-New England



    All those teams also had good defenses as well. The worst ranked defense was Buffalo at 18th in PPG. Everyone else was 13th or better

    Good luck to any team with a bottom 5 defense / bottom 5 run game winning jack sh1t.

    Meanwhile – if you have a top 10 run game and top 10 scoring defense you are almost a lock to push for the playoffs.

    But yeah to some people this is all Jameis Winston’s fault somehow lol.

  9. Lord Cornelius Says:

    It’s honestly amazing that given our absolute sh1t run game and defensive play; we were still 3 simple defensive stops at the end of the games from going 8-8.

    We have the horses to right the ship this year but who knows till kickoff

  10. Radman Says:

    The Dirk and Smitty show better be a hit this year or it will be canceled.

  11. Defense Rules Says:

    @Ira … “That (2015) was the season Doug Martin and Charles Sims ran wild and Tampa Bay finished with the No. 5 offense in the league. Before that year, the Bucs had never ranked better than ninth. Coincidence? I think not.”

    Very good article Ira, but IMO 2015 was a great rushing year for a different reason: a stud LG by the name of Logan Mankins. He not only started 15 games for us that year, but he was also the undisputed leader of the OLine. Probably nothing exceptional about the starting lineup that year … except Mankins multiple Pro Bowl & All-Pro background:

    LT Donovan Smith – 16 Games started (Rookie)
    LG Logan Mankins – 15 Games started (10 yrs)
    C Joe Hawley – 14 Games started (5 yrs)
    RG Ali Marpet – 13 Games started (Rookie)
    RT Gosder Cherilus – 13 Games started (7 yrs)

    Evan Smith also played in 8 games (started 5) as well as Demar Dotson who played in 6 games (started 3). Two solid rookies starting plus 3 vets starting backed up by 2 more vets.

    Bucs had a great year rushing in 2015 IMO because of that well-led OLine AND because Dirk Koetter was solely focused on his OC job. Martin & Sims obviously deserve credit for gaining nearly 2,000 rushing between them plus over 800 yds receiving between them, but it was the horses upfront that allowed them to do it. The OLine hasn’t been the same without Mankins’ leadership & on-field performance.

  12. darin Says:

    I couldnt agree more Ira. Gota get back to the basics, and Licht sees that loud and clear now. Licht bought into Dirks explosive stuff far too long. Shame on him for that but credit to him for finally getting the tough guys. Gota beat em up and outcoach em in this league. That will never change. Great offseason by Licht. If it goes south next season you wont hear “patience” from the Glazers.

  13. Chris@Apple Roof Cleaning Tampa Says:

    Some say it is our Offensive Scheme that makes it hard to run the ball, but those people may be ignorant to the fact that when Koetter had Maurice Jones Drew up in Jacksonville, he had several 1000 + Yard running seasons.
    I am both excited, but not entirely sold on RoJo, who had the benefit of both a Tackle and QB selected in the first round of the weak Pac 12. I wanted Guice to be picked instead, but WTF do I know ?

  14. Pickgrin Says:

    DR Says:
    “The OLine hasn’t been the same without Mankins’ leadership & on-field performance.”

    True That!

  15. Lord Cornelius Says:


    Good points. I think Koetter called a better game as well that year. I didn’t have the same issues with play calling and design compared to the last 2 seasons.

    And Doug Martin / Charles Sims seemed to run with much more conviction / decisiveness. Martin in particular had much better vision /timing that year whereas it has been terrible since imo. Plenty of runs last year where Martin did not see holes or make the correct cuts

  16. 813bucboi Says:

    balance attack would do wonders for this team…..

    dirk has all his weapons now…..
    smitty has all the tools……


  17. 813bucboi Says:


    and who dirk have holding his hand telling him to run the ball?……Coincidence? I think not

    mankins made a difference no doubt but we all knew the HC at the time loved to run the ball…..

    problem is, currently we have no identity….something Winston pointed out mid season last year…..we cant say we’re a tough team….cant say we’re a ground and pound team….cant say we’re a good defensive team…..we’re a decent passing team but we cant score in the red zone……lol….

    plain and simple if dirk(now monken) doesn’t get back our 2015 offense we’re screwed…..and we had less weapons in 2015…..


  18. Mike Johnson Says:

    Time will tell. Dirk and Smitty have all the tools in the toolbox now. No more..I need a RB, A DE, a DB an O lineman. What we need now is sound coaching..and NOT..thru binoculars!! Batter up coaching staff. We gonna see what you truly got…or not.

  19. Destinjohnny Says:

    Still say we should have drafted Bo S with our 6th round pic

  20. StPeteBucsFan Says:


    Agree with your analysis. That Mankin led line did the job that year. Talent wise we’re actually in better shape. Marpet and Smith are not rookies anymore but rather 4th year vets. Dot of course is a vet…Our new center brings nasty attitude and our kid draft pick also has a rep as a mean guy. Our OL “could” be something special this year.

  21. Cobraboy Says:

    Who would thunk it? Football is won in the trenches? Where have I heard that?

  22. Cobraboy Says:

    I don’t fault the offense last season for a bad record.

    Last season the Bucs opponents had a super easy game plan: double McCoy and then blow every other DL 3 yards downfield. Then when the Bucs blitz, burn them.

  23. ImJustHereForJameisNews Says:

    Mmmmm sack cake…

  24. I Bleed Pewter and Red Says:

    Has anyone watched tape on this Jordan Mailata, the 20-year-old Australian rugby player drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 7th round of the NFL draft, The dude is 6-foot-8 and weighs 346 pounds. They want him at G

  25. '74 Bucs Fan Says:

    It should be rocking at ROJO Stadium!

  26. Defense Rules Says:

    StPete … Yes we do have more talent now, but leadership is the key element that’s been missing IMO. I see Donovan starting to step up more recently, but no one else on the OLine. My hope is that Ryan Jensen will grab the leadership mantle that Mankins wore and run with it.

    Cobraboy … Lots of JBFers don’t seem to hold the offense accountable to nearly the same degree they hold the Bucs defense accountable. Bucs’ offense was able to march up and down the field, mostly via our passing attack, but they scored woefully few points for their efforts. In our 11 losses we averaged 18.6 PPG … that’s not very good IMO for a team that’s focused its’ resources on the offense. We lost 7 games last year by less than 7 pts. I personally had higher expectations for the Bucs’ offense after our 2016 year (9-7 record).

    For their part, the defense stunk it up trying to stop the run, especially late in games, and gave up gobs of yardage in the passing game. But in terms of giving up points, they actually did quite well IMO. Giving up 382 pts on the season is surely nothing to brag about, but quite a few of those points can be directly attributed to the offense’s turnovers (not just TD runbacks but also horrible field positions from many of the turnovers). So I guess we disagree on that … I do fault the offense just as much for our 5-11 record as I fault the defense.

  27. '74 Bucs Fan Says:

    ROJO better be able to pass protect or he won’t see the field on third down. And the D will stack the box on 1st and 2nd if he’s on he field knowing it’s a run. Be creative Dirk! Would love to see slants to ROJO and DJax, and just let them boyz go!

  28. '74 Bucs Fan Says:

    The game is won in the trenches. Defense wins championships. Speed kills.

    We’re on our way folks!

  29. SB Says:

    @Gambelero.. I think it is the fact that Ira is absent of opinion and shock value posting that don’t cause his articles to get so many comments. He doesn’t create conflict in his postings as the Joes do. However I feel that IS their M.O. Smart business plan imo. Love the site but that was some good insight you provided.

  30. Lamarcus Says:

    I hope they don’t use RJ2 as they do Simms. Tipping off your offense doesn’t help the offense like last year especially when you need some momentum drives.

  31. Mike Johnson Says:

    I don’t fault our Offense. We scored enough points to win games last year. Some say we needed more points? Well, the way our Defense was playing, the more we would have scored? The more the opposition would have scored. We Could not stop..Tampa Catholic!!! So this talk of more points is stupid. Maybe you were not watching the games I watched where on more than 7 or 8 occasions, the opposition just..watzted into our end zone for the game winning touchdown or into out territory for the game winning field goal. Not once but..Repeatedly. It became so regular, most of us up and left if the other team had the ball with a minute left and down by 3 or 4 points. Because We knew..The game was lost. IF..this Defense is better, we will certainly win more games this season. But don’t tell me we needed more points. We needed more DEFENSE!

  32. SB Says:

    We were 25th in the NFL in Red Zone offense Mike.
    And JW3 had more fumbles than any other QB
    And Koetter stuck with DM22 for too long and he had the worst YPC in the League.
    There is blame in the Offense.

  33. ComeOnJoe Says:

    You can also take from this that having a good run game improves your defense. At least statistically. Less time on the field for the offense. Rested defenders. KC and Dallas were hardly defensive juggernauts but they were able to mask their inadequacy. The run game allows teams to control time of possession and when you control the clock with a lead the opposing offense is forced to pass. Defense is less difficult when the opposition is one dimensional.

  34. cmurda Says:

    This draft will be judged as much for the Ronald Jones pick as the Vea pick. Probably more so. Vea looks like the real deal but did Licht swing and miss getting scared off by Guice or did he knock it out of the park with Jones over Guice. I’ll admit that the off-field concerns with Guice are a concern but I was hoping for Guice in the 2nd rd.

  35. teacherman777 Says:

    The Patriots have

    1. Sonny Michel
    2. James White
    3. Burkhead
    4. Jeremy Hill
    5. mike Gillisslee

    you think Belicheck undervalues RB’s?

  36. German Buc Says:

    @Gambelero: That’s easy. All the trolls aren’t smart enough to commend unter an Ira-article.

  37. Fire Lichtt Says:

    Ira is a great columnist. This is another fine piece of work by him. Finally some real comments and holding management accountable for what is likely to happen. Although I’m more for drafting pot smoking defensive tackles (warren sap) than hamstring issue having running backs, ROJO will hopefully heal well and be a ball (not stick) carrier that puts in work.