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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bucs introduce first-round pick O.J. Howard

Jason Licht said the Bucs have had their eye on O.J. Howard since the 2015 season, when there was a chance he would leave early after helping Alabama to a national championship.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Jason Licht said the Bucs have had their eye on O.J. Howard since the 2015 season, when there was a chance he would leave early after helping Alabama to a national championship.

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was impressed to see that O.J. Howard wanted to play in the Senior Bowl at a time in which many first-rounders politely decline, and he was even more impressed when he and general manager Jason Licht saw what the Alabama tight end was able to do in the first practice in Mobile, Ala., back in January.

"First day of Senior Bowl practice in pads, Jason and I were sitting on the 35-yard line and O.J. is putting on a clinic out there," Koetter said. "After about two periods, I stood up and said to Jason, 'I've seen the guy I want,' and I walked down the stairs."

Howard, a 6-foot-6, 251-pound tight end with 4.51 speed in the 40-yard dash, went to the Bucs with the No. 19 pick on Thursday night, much lower than most had expected him to go. Howard said he had been told he could go between No. 6 and 20 and wasn't worried about the wait until he heard from the Bucs.

"I just want to say thank you to the whole Tampa Bay organization, Coach Koetter, to Mr. Licht and thank everybody for the opportunity to come and be a part of this franchise," he said. "I'm very excited to get to work, and I know we have big plans for the future." …

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Kiffin: Unselfishness, work ethic made O.J. Howard stand out

Part of what makes O.J. Howard a great player is the unselfish way he carried himself, former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Part of what makes O.J. Howard a great player is the unselfish way he carried himself, former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said.

Bucs first-round pick O.J. Howard certainly could have had more passes thrown his way in three years at Alabama, but part of what makes him a great player is the unselfish way he carried himself, former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said Friday.

"He's a phenomenal kid and a team leader. Really one of the hardest-working guys I've ever been around," said Kiffin, now the head coach at Florida Atlantic after three years coaching Howard at Alabama. "I was there three years, and on offense we had guys that set the tone for how they worked. It wa Amari Cooper, the next year it was Derrick Henry, and last year it was O.J. Howard. I think he learned from those guys and now he's passed that down to the next guys there."

Kiffin said there was much outside criticism of how Howard was utilized last season -- he totaled 14 catches and one touchdown in the first seven games, all lopsided wins, as Alabama eased in a freshman quarterback -- but the senior handled his role without any complaint. …

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Becht: Bucs could have NFL's best 1-2 TE combo in Howard, Brate

Cameron Brate tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Cameron Brate tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season.

Anthony Becht knows the challenge of being a tight end drafted in the first round, and he called an Alabama game last year as an ESPN analyst, so he's well-equipped to evaluate the merits of Bucs first-round pick O.J. Howard, the tight end from Alabama.

"He by far was the best tight end -- I thought there was a gap between him and the rest of a deep class that was available," Becht said Friday morning. "The size and speed and athleticism factor -- some guys have the size but OK speed. All those things, he's top-tier plus. He's got the height at 6-6, a 250 frame. The kid's yoked up, with a little more room to fill in. The speed element to stretch the field, he'll become one of the elite downfield runners out of all the tight ends that are in the NFL. That's the element he brings."

Becht said Howard came back for his senior year in part to improve his blocking and has made progress to become "serviceable," but he'll continue to improve in the NFL. His downfield blocking in space, against linebackers or safeties, is much stronger and will be an asset for his size, he said. Off the field? Even better, Becht says. …

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Tight ends have thrived in Dirk Koetter offenses

Tony Gonzalez had two huge seasons working with Dirk Koetter in Atlanta at the end of his career.

Times files (2009)

Tony Gonzalez had two huge seasons working with Dirk Koetter in Atlanta at the end of his career.

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter could barely contain his excitement Thursday night after landing Alabama tight end O.J. Howard with the No. 19 pick in the NFL Draft, continuing a long history he's had of tight ends flourishing in his offense.

"I'm the first to admit that I like tight ends," said Koetter, who saw Cameron Brate tie for the NFL lead among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season, matching the Bucs' franchise record for the most by a tight end.

Koetter's history with successful tight ends goes back a long way, and includes perhaps the greatest tight end in NFL history. You'd have to think Howard is among the most talented tight ends he's worked with, but it's a long list. Take a trip back ...

2015: In Koetter's first season with Tampa Bay, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins ties for the team lead with four touchdowns despite playing in only seven games. Brate, emerging as a threat stepping in when ASJ was injured, has another three touchdowns in limited action. …

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What they're saying about Bucs rookie O.J. Howard

The Bucs used their first-round pick, the No. 19 pick overall, on Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was projected by many draft experts to be a top-10 pick.

[Associated Press]

The Bucs used their first-round pick, the No. 19 pick overall, on Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was projected by many draft experts to be a top-10 pick.

The Bucs used their first-round pick, the No. 19 pick overall, on Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was projected by many draft experts to be a top-10 pick. General manager Jason Licht called it a "pipe dream" that Howard would fall to the Bucs at 19, and there was praise from all sides on the Bucs' choice.

"I'm amazed," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said on the live draft broadcast. "You think about Jameis Winston and the weapon he can be. You've got Cameron Brate and now you add a guy like O.J. Howard. He'll help out your running game ... you look at a guy like O.J. Howard, you'd like to see him sustain a little better, but I like the blocking. You don't see out of too many tight ends these days." …

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O.J. Howard is a 'throw back' to what tights ends were in NFL

O.J. Howard is an in-line tight end who can block but has the speed to stretch the field and become a receiving weapon.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

O.J. Howard is an in-line tight end who can block but has the speed to stretch the field and become a receiving weapon.

One of the first people O.J. Howard heard from after being selected by the Bucs with the 19th overall pick was quarterback Jameis Winston.

“He texted me as soon as I was drafted and said, “Hey man, welcome aboard,’’ Howard said.

The Alabama tight end was expected to be gone long before the Bucs made their first round selection Thursday. When coach Dirk Koetter said when they still had about a half dozen teams ahead of them in the draft, he didn’t want to jinx the team’s good fortune.

“I actually had to go to the bathroom for the last six picks but I was afraid to stand up,’’ Koetter said. “I didn’t want to jinx the mojo in there.

“We said we needed more explosive players and this is an explosive player. He just plays inside instead of outside and we’ve been fortunate to add speed on the outside with DeSean Jackson to pair up with Mike and now we’ve got two tight ends to pair side by side in Cam (Brate) and O.J.

According to Koetter, Howard represents what has become a dying breed in college and pro football – an in line tight end who can block but has the speed to stretch the field and become a receiving weapon. …

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Bucs' Mike Evans remembers 'emotion' of his draft night

It's been three years since the Bucs took Mike Evans with the No. 7 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but the Pro Bowl receiver remembers well how emotional he was that night, realizing what he had been able to accomplish for his family. Evans couldn't stop himself from crying in joy, especially as he held his daughter Mackenzie.

"The whole week, everyone was asking me was I going to get emotional," Evans said this week. "I was like 'Naw,' I guess because it didn't feel real at the time. Then I got off the phone with Lovie (Smith) and Jason Licht, and then I was holding my daughter and they called my name. I was overwhelmed with emotion. To know that I could provide for my daughter and my family, it was a great experience."

You can check out a three-minute video of Evans being selected here -- he's wiping back tears more than a minute after being picked. It's also wild to think how much has changed for his college teammate and close friend, Johnny Manziel, who gets a hug from Evans on the way to meet commissioner Roger Goodell. Manziel, of course, would fall to No. 22 and the Browns, who are still searching for a quarterback entering tonight's draft. …

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Bucs' opportunity to trade down may depend on QB market

North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky is among the quarterbacks that will receive first-round consideration.

AP photo

North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky is among the quarterbacks that will receive first-round consideration.

A robust quarterback market and a run on that position will give the Bucs their best opportunity to acquire more picks by trading down in the first round of Thursday's NFL draft.

Tampa Bay has discussed the possibility of moving down from the No. 19 overall pick with more than three teams. As many as four quarterbacks could go in the first round this year, although none are considered locks to become franchise passers such as Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, who went 1-2 to the Bucs and Tennessee, respectively, in 2015.

North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes and Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer all will receive first round consideration. Some longshots to go in the first round include California's Davis Webb or Pittsburgh's Nate Peterman.

The most likley trading partners for the Bucs would be the Houston Texans at No. 25 and the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 27. Texans coach Bill O'Brien is a good friend of general manager Jason Licht and Bucs coach Dirk Koetter used to work on the same staff as Chiefs coach Andy Reid at Div. II San Francisco State, so there is a high level of trust between those organizations. …

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Bucs trading down? Here's Jason Licht's draft-deal history

The Bucs, having traded down 19 spots in the fourth round, used a seventh-round pick to trade back up four spots to get Kwon Alexander in 2015.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

The Bucs, having traded down 19 spots in the fourth round, used a seventh-round pick to trade back up four spots to get Kwon Alexander in 2015.

Given the perceived depth of the 2017 NFL Draft, it's not too surprising, but ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Wednesday morning that the Bucs, sitting at No. 19, have reached out to at least three teams about trading down, potentially out of the first round entirely.

We'll get to Jason Licht's three-year history as an active draft-day trader, but first -- what might the Bucs be able to get by sliding down at bit? The most likely option would be to trade down a few picks -- say you anticipate having several prospects you'd be happy with at 19, but would like to pick up, say, another pick Friday. There's an old "draft value card" that Jimmy Johnson came up with, giving a relative value to all picks -- I'm sure it varies from draft to draft and team to team, but as a starting point, you can always use it to float trade possibilities. …

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Finebaum: Warren Sapp has 'no credibility' to criticize Myles Garrett

Warren Sapp is under fire for his criticism of the draft's likely No. 1 overall pick, Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, pictured, as being "lazy."

AP photo

Warren Sapp is under fire for his criticism of the draft's likely No. 1 overall pick, Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, pictured, as being "lazy."

Two days before the NFL Draft, former Bucs star and Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp is under fire for his criticism of the draft's likely No. 1 overall pick, Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, as being "lazy."

Sapp made his comments to ESPN's Adam Schefter on Sunday, saying of Garrett: "I don't see it from this kid. I see the splash plays; everybody gets those. Where's the game he took over? Where? Any defensive lineman who's the No. 1 pick, you turn up and you say 'There it is!' This kid, no, I don't. I'm a pretty plain and frank guy, and I watch the tape and he disappears. I watch the tape and he absolutely disappears. ... I see a lazy kid that makes four plays a game. This is the No. 1 guy? No, no, no. This ain't even close."

Sapp had 96.5 sacks in his career, 77 with the Bucs, so he knows plenty about defensive line success, and worked as an analyst for the NFL Network until two years ago, when he was fired after an arrest in Arizona on Super Bowl weekend on misdemeanor charges of soliciting a prostitute and assault. …

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Adrian Peterson chooses Saints, will face Bucs twice

Running back Adrian Peterson, who had expressed an interest in playing for the Bucs, is signing with the Saints, which means the former NFL MVP could face Tampa Bay twice this season, including the season finale in Tampa on Dec. 31.

[Associated Press]

Running back Adrian Peterson, who had expressed an interest in playing for the Bucs, is signing with the Saints, which means the former NFL MVP could face Tampa Bay twice this season, including the season finale in Tampa on Dec. 31.

Running back Adrian Peterson, who had expressed an interest in playing for the Bucs, is signing with the Saints, which means the former NFL MVP could face Tampa Bay twice this season, including the season finale in Tampa on Dec. 31.

Peterson, 32, is signing a two-year deal worth $7-million, according to ESPN. He rushed for an NFL-best 1,485 yards in 2015, but was limited to three games and 72 yards last season due to a knee injury. He also played only one game in 2014 due to a suspension related to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault, alleging Peterson had "an incident of abusive discipline" with his then 4-year-old son.

Peterson won't be the only running back in New Orleans, which also returns Mark Ingram, who rushed for 1,043 yards last season. That combination will only benefit Drew Brees, who threw for an NFL-high 5,208 yards and 37 touchdowns last season. The Saints are literally getting Peterson for 20 cents on the dollar, compared to the $18-million he would have made if the Vikings had exercised his option for 2017. New Orleans opens this season in Minnesota on a Monday night and a game that will now be highly anticipated. …

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Bucs' Kwon Alexander pulling for old LSU teammates

Kwon Alexander lasted until the fourth round in 2015 before the Bucs took him.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Kwon Alexander lasted until the fourth round in 2015 before the Bucs took him.

Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander is entering his third NFL season but is still only 22, so he remains close with his former LSU teammates, who could be a big part of Thursday's first round of the NFL Draft.

"All of them -- back at LSU, we're all close. We always want to see somebody succeed," Alexander said Monday as the second week of offseason conditioning began for the Bucs. "We've got a couple of guys being top-flight going in the first round, like (safety) Jamal Adams, (running back) Leonard Fournette and (cornerback) Tre White. I can't wait to see where those guys go. It's going to be a fun draft to watch."

Alexander lasted until the fourth round in 2015 before the Bucs took him, so he had to wait through two full days of not being picked, but that didn't stop him from stepping in as an immediate starter -- he's already piled up 238 tackles in 28 career games.

"I had to wait for a little bit. That was the stressful part," he said. "Getting drafted was the most amazing part. They (called and) asked me 'Do you want to be a Buc?' I already knew what my mindset was, to come in and start anyway. When I got that chance, that's what I did." …

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Bucs' Mike Evans ready to take on leadership role, even at 23

"I'm going to be a more vocal leader," said Mike Evans, entering his fourth season in the league.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

"I'm going to be a more vocal leader," said Mike Evans, entering his fourth season in the league.

A year ago, Mike Evans excelled on the field, catching 12 touchdowns on the way to his first Pro Bowl, but with some of the veteran presence gone from the Bucs receiving corps, he understands he'll have to be more of a leader in 2017.

"I'm going to be a more vocal leader," said Evans, entering his fourth season in the league. "I always try to lead by example, but I'll be more vocal now, since V-Jax is gone."

The Bucs brought in free agent DeSean Jackson, 30, who can take over the veteran presence that Vincent Jackson had, but the Bucs will also be without Louis Murphy and Cecil Shorts, both 29, and Russell Shepard, 26, who were part of last year's group.

Much like Jameis Winston, who has quickly stepped up as a leader at 23, Evans said he's comfortable trying to command authority in a leadership role despite his relative youth.

"That's how it was for me in college as well -- guys were seniors and I was a redshirt freshman and I had to be a leader," Evans said. "I was a starter and I was one of the best players on the team, so I think the best players, no matter their age, should be comfortable being a leader." …

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19 for 19: Nineteen players mocked as Bucs' pick at No. 19

The most frequent pick for the Bucs' first-rounder is Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

The most frequent pick for the Bucs' first-rounder is Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.

Pretty much any time a national site or newspaper that covers the NFL throws up a mock draft, I'll tweet out a link to give people another perspective on what the Bucs might do with the No. 19 pick. You certainly agree with some more than others, but I see a value in sharing as many different views as possible -- this shows how difficult it is to project a pick deep into the first round, and reminds people how much guesswork is usually involved.

I went back and checked the last 40 mock drafts I linked to -- this goes back to January, which is before free agency, before the combine, where there's even less known to even line up team needs with perceived talent in the draft. How many different players were paired with the No. 19 pick in those 40 mock drafts? NINETEEN. From eight different positions -- nearly everything, save quarterback, linebacker and special teams. It's reasonable to think a handful of these players will still be there when the Bucs pick again at No. 50, and that the Bucs will pass on some of them a second time. …

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Mike Mayock: RB should be Bucs' priority with 19th pick

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock held a conference call on Friday to talk about next week's NFL Draft, and he offered his insights on what the Bucs should do with their first-round pick, No. 19 overall.

"They've got to take some pressure off Jameis Winston ... 24 turnovers last year, too many," Mayock said. "They've got to help him with the run game. I think that's got to be their first priority."

Mayock said FSU's Dalvin Cook and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey "make sense at 19," but said he thinks McCaffrey will already be picked when the Bucs are up.

"Could Dalvin Cook be staring them in the face at (19)?" he asked. "I think he could be, and I think he needs to be in the conversation. ... At 19, does the tailback or running back make the most sense?"

Mayock said because of the age of cornerback Brent Grimes (turns 34 in July) and defensive end Robert Ayers (turns 32 in September), the Bucs must "continue to upgrade their defensive backfield" and "have to continue to look for edge rushers ... (and) upgrade that group."

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