Bucs Projected to Find Rob Gronkowski Replacement in 2024

Rob Gronkowski

Getty The Bucs could find their next elite tight end after Rob Gronkowski in 2024.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could replace Rob Gronkowski instead of Tom Brady in next year’s NFL Draft.

CBS Sports NFL Draft expert Ryan Wilson has the Bucs picking Georgia tight end Brock Bowers at No. 6 in next year’s draft. The Bucs haven’t enjoyed elite tight end play since Gronkowski’s retirement in June 2022. Second-year tight end Cade Otton will look to take a step forward amid a young tight end room, but he only produced 42 receptions for 391 yards and two touchdowns last season.

“Bowers has a sturdy 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame, and his explosive athleticism is second to none in this TE class,” Pro Football Network’s Ian Cummings wrote. “He so naturally finds soft spots downfield, and once he has the ball, he’s a bear to take down with his speed and physicality. Kyle Pitts was longer, and a more refined route runner coming out, but Bowers has similarly dynamic upside.”

Bowers dominated last season for the Georgia Bulldogs. He tallied 63 receptions for 942 yards and seven touchdowns plus 109 rushing yards and three touchdowns on nine carries. His 2021 season stood out, too, with 56 catches for 882 yards and 13 touchdowns plus 56 yards rushing and a score on four attempts.

Bucs Face Lots of Questions at Tight End

Besides Otton taking a step forward, the Bucs will likely need another pair of young tight ends to step up in 2022. That includes second-year tight end Ko Kieft, who played a blocking role last year but also caught seven passes for 80 yards and a touchdown.

The Bucs also added former Purdue tight end Payne Durham in the fifth round of the NFL Draft on April 29. Durham posted 126 receptions for 1,275 yards and 21 touchdowns in four seasons with the Boilermakers.

One Question Remains for Brock Bowers

Bowers’ shot at going in the top 10 comes at a time when his position has drastically increased in value as The Athletic’s Austin Mock and Chris Burke put it. However, going that high isn’t a shoe-in, they noted, as Bowers’ realistic draft position remains a question because of team’s needs and recent shortcomings of top young tight ends.

“Kyle Pitts [No. 4 pick in 2021] and T.J. Hockenson [No. 8 in 2019] are the two most recent examples of the NFL placing ‘elite’ value on the tight end position,” Mock and Burke wrote. ” The Lions traded Hockenson last season, after three-plus productive but unspectacular years, while Pitts needs a bounce-back year after a disappointing 2022 that included him missing Atlanta’s final six games with a knee injury. [I’d bet on Pitts’ numbers looking more like 2021 than ’22 moving forward.]”

“Will NFL front offices factor those uneven early returns into their evaluations of Bowers, the next big-time tight end? They shouldn’t be all that scared if they do — Hockenson does have two Pro Bowl berths in four years, and Pitts topped 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie,” Mock and Burke added. “Plus, Bowers’ athleticism and dynamic ability with the ball in his hands should help him flatten his position’s steep college-to-pro learning curve. Physically, he could’ve been a productive pro last season.”

“Still, in a draft class that could feature several tantalizing quarterbacks, a legit WR1 [Marvin Harrison Jr.], multiple high-upside offensive tackles and two or three edge defenders with top-10 potential, how will Bowers stack up? It’s going to be a very interesting discussion,” Mock and Burke concluded.