Can Tampa Bay bring the entire gang back again in 2022? Either way, the draft will be critical

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay could have a very different-looking team next season.

Overall, 11 current starters will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, 12 if you count Richard Sherman.

Tampa Bay’s list of free-agent starters include:

However, that list does not include key backups, such as running backs Ronald Jones II and Giovana Bernard, guard Aaron Stinnie and DL Patrick O’Connor, all of whom will become unrestricted free agents. And it doesn’t include a pair of cornerbacks who will be a free agent at the end of the 2022 season, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean.

Then again, fans and media alike probably thought the same about this year’s squad until Tampa Bay became the first team in the salary cap era (1994) to bring back all 22 starters.

Luckily, the Buccaneers have drafted well in recent years and have several young players at some of those positions. OL Robert Hainsey, a third-round rookie this year out of Notre Dame, can play guard or center. Fifth-round rookie WR Tyler Johnson could get more playing time next season after a storied career at Minnesota. The same goes for fourth-round rookie Jaelon Darden out of North Texas. Edge Joe Tryon-Shoyinka has already had some big moments after the team drafted him in the first round this year. And more could be expected next season out of LBs K.J. Britt (fifth round, 2021) and Grant Stuard (seventh round 2021).

So while the cupboard isn’t exactly bare, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to restock it.

Here are five players who might interest Tampa Bay in the 2022 NFL draft:

Round 1: C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa

The 6-foot-3, 290-pound junior could help a lot of teams, including the New York Jets, the New York Giants, Buffalo, Minnesota and Dallas. Linderbaum is currently ranked as the No. 6 overall prospect in the latest Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board.

So why would the best player at his position fall into the latter half of the first round?

History says it’s possible.

The first center drafted last season, Alabama’s Landon Dickerson, was taken in the second round by Philadelphia with the No. 37 overall pick. Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz went to New Orleans with the No. 24 pick in 2020. N.C. State’s Garrett Bradbury was taken No. 18 overall in 2019 by Minnesota. Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow was taken by Detroit with pick No. 20 in 2018.

In fact, no center has gone higher than pick No. 15 overall since 2011, when Miami drafted Florida’s Mike Pouncey. Since 2011, the first center drafted has averaged out around the 30th pick of the draft.

So history says you can almost count on Linderbaum lasting all the way to the late 20s to early 30s.

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