Bucs' 2018 draft class underwhelming, but Vita Vea shows potential

Bucs rookie Vita Vea had his second sack and three tackles for a loss against the 49ers. Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2018 draft class finished significantly below expectations. Even with four picks in the first two rounds, only one player made the starting lineup in Week 1 (cornerback Carlton Davis). There were flashes of hope from various players as the Bucs' 5-11 season wore on.

The onus will be on new head coach Bruce Arians and his staff to get this group to develop and succeed in a way the previous staff couldn't.

Grade: Below average

Best rookie: After missing all of training camp and the first three games with a calf injury, it took Vita Vea, the No. 12 overall pick, half of a season to finally make an impact. His efforts didn't always show up on the stat sheet, but he had 3.0 total sacks, including 4.0 tackles for a loss (3.0 against the 49ers) and four quarterback hits. Honorable mention goes to Davis, who started 12 of 13 games, though he didn't have enough impact plays. In time, the Bucs hope Davis can use his length and physicality to shut down the league's bigger receivers.

Most improved rookie: Safety Jordan Whitehead. The fourth-round pick wasn't expected to become a starter, but injuries to Chris Conte, Justin Evans and Isaiah Johnson thrust him into a starting role for 11 games and he played more snaps than any other Bucs safety. Whitehead showed he has some real thump to him despite being undersized at 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds. In the Bucs' win against the 49ers, Whitehead shadowed George Kittle, holding him to only 49 receiving yards. His 76 combined tackles (61 solo) for the season ranked second on the team.

Jury is still out on...: Nearly everyone. Running back Ronald Jones, a second-round pick, was a healthy scratch the first three weeks of the season and did not start a game. He also missed four games with a hamstring injury and produced 44 rushing yards on 23 carries (1.91 yards per rush), 77 scrimmage yards and a touchdown. Cornerback M.J. Stewart, a second-round pick, battled a foot injury the entire season but managed to start five games. He has not showed the quick-twitch necessary to play nickelback and might be better suited for safety at this level. Justin Watson, a fifth-round pick, would have gotten more looks had it not been for such a deep group of receivers. He caught just one pass for 5 yards but did have two touchdowns in the preseason. Linebacker Jack Cichy, a sixth-round pick, suffered a torn ACL in Week 7, ending his season before he got the chance to show what he could do.

Undrafted rookie evaluation: Running back Shaun Wilson outperformed Jones in training camp and ended up winning the kick returner job. He averaged 17.43 yards per return, but he suffered a shoulder injury in Week 10 and was placed on injured reserve.