NFL Draft 2012: 10 Prospects Who Can Help Fix the Buccaneers

Justin Hoppe@justinjhoppeCorrespondent IIFebruary 1, 2012

NFL Draft 2012: 10 Prospects Who Can Help Fix the Buccaneers

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    Following a poor season in which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell well short of expectations finishing 4-12 and Raheem Morris was finally shown the door, management will be looking to make strides in this year's NFL Draft.

    Under the direction of general manager Mark Dominik, the Bucs have managed to make some stellar selections, stockpiling a collection of young talent on the roster, just waiting for the proper coach to transform potential into a reality.

    With the offseason right around the corner and looking toward the this year's draft, here are 10 prospects that could make all the difference as the Greg Schiano era finally begins.

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

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    Height: 6' 0". Weight: 188 pounds.
    Projected 40 Time: 4.40.
    Projected Round (2012): Top 10

    Claiborne is not only the top corner prospect in this year’s draft, he is the best defensive prospect period. The guy is a flat out game breaker with prototypical size and speed. He's solid in either man or zone and has all the potential to make his place among the best in the league from the get go.

    His astounding speed, instincts, and agility have also made him a very prolific return man which could come in handy under the right circumstances.

Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin

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    Height: 6'4". Weight: 315 pounds
    Projected 40 Time: 5.21.
    Arm: 32.5" Hand: 10.125"
    Projected Round (2012): 2.

    Calling Tampa Bay’s line “horrible” would be a vast understatement, so the Bucs would be wise to invest a high pick to solidify it. Wisconsin’s Zeitler would do wonders for the run game as he did for running back Montee Ball this past season in. A straight mauler, he not only exhibits outstanding power but does a surprisingly good job hitting blocks on defenders at the second level and protecting the quarterback in the passing game.

    My guess is that former Rutgers player and current free-agent, Jeremy Zuttah, will be retained by the Buccaneers. However, Zeitler would immediately step ahead of the utility player on the depth chart to form an impressive guard-duo with Davin Joseph.

Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska

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    Height: 6' 1" Weight: 225 pounds
    Projected 40 Time: 4.55.
    Arm: 31.125" Hand: 8.5"
    Projected Round (2012): 2

    David is simply a tackling machine, amassing nearly 300 tackles over the last two seasons alone. More than tackle production, he has a knack for making pivotal plays— he had 10 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2011—in clutch situations as he played a vital role in Nebraska’s victories over Iowa State and Penn State this past season.

    North Carolina’s Zach Brown remains the sexier pick in my opinion due to his better size and incredibly rare speed for the position. But, David is more likely be available come the Buccaneers second pick.

Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma

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    Height: 6-2. Weight: 232.
    Projected 40 Time: 4.50.
    Projected Round (2012): 2-3

    I see Lewis as a bit of a mystery. Unlike most prospects, his production has actually declined since his freshman year (in which he logged 144 tackles). After racking up 109 tackles in each of the past two seasons,he recorded just 79 this year after returning early from injury.

    Throughout this season he did not quite look the same as his foot injury looked to not only slow him down in many areas of the game, but make him more tentative about contact.

    While his drop in production was to be expected following an injury, his progressive drop over his collegiate career will see him likely fall out of the second and possibly into third round come draft day. If that scenario were to become a reality, Lewis’ combination of size, speed, and talent would be an absolute steal for a team lacking size across their linebacker unit.

LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

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    Height: 5-9. Weight: 185.
    Projected 40 Time: 4.38.
    Projected Round (2012): 3

    James has been an incredible player thus far in his college career, finishing 2011 with 1,805 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry in addition to 17 receptions for 210 yards and a score.

    Boasting world-class speed and playmaking ability to spare, the back’s only detractor in the eyes of skeptics is his lack of size at just 185 pounds. That fact, and the tendency for players of comparable ability to disappear or quickly drop off in the NFL, has raised some doubts surrounding James’ future.

    Regardless of any doubts, James would serve as the perfect complement to the much slower LeGarette Blount, granting Tampa’s offense the gift of a startling change of pace. I admit that his reception total leaves much to be desired for a third-down back, but his potential as a dynamic and threatening receiver out of the backfield is much greater than Blount’s.

DeQuan Menzie, CB, Alabama

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    Height: 5' 11". Weight: 195 pounds
    Projected 40 Time: 4.52.
    Arm: 29.625" Hand: 8.5"
    Projected Round (2012): 3

    Menzie has performed quite well, despite playing opposite to the heralded Dre Kirkpatrick, but has still flown under the radar. He is not exactly the fastest corner, but given the Tampa two system I believe he would fit in very well. Able to play in man or zone, he has also gained respect as a sound tackler which is always a good attribute to have in a corner.

    Being unaware of the status of Aqib Talib, who has proven to have a penchant for getting himself into trouble, the addition of Menzie or another talented cornerback has become supremely important going into this year’s draft.

Andrew Datko, OT, Florida State

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    Height: 6' 6" Weight: 312 pounds
    Projected 40 Time: 5.09.
    Projected Round (2012): 3-4

    Having attended Florida State and observed its players over the past four or five seasons, I cannot say I am remotely sold on anyone. But. at times Datko was very impressive. Prior to suffering a shoulder injury just four games into the season, the Seminole left tackle was well regarded as a first round selection. However he has dropped into the middle-rounds of the draft and is labeled a boom or bust pick as he has been slow to recover from shoulder surgery.

    Considering the upgrades needed to the Buccaneer offensive line, I believe Datko to be worth the gamble in the later stages of the draft.

Josh Oglesby, OT, Wisconsin

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    Height: 6-7. Weight: 331.
    Projected 40 Time: 5.32.
    Projected Round (2012): 4-5

    Oglesby had a very strong year, but playing within a Wisconsin unit that has such notable players as center Peter Kronz and tackle Kevin Zeitler did not do him any favors in the draft.

    While surprisingly nimble for a man his size, Ogelsby can be beat by skilled speed rushers. That said, the man is entirely capable of asserting his dominance in the run game in addition to providing adequate pass protection. Oglesby would be an instant upgrade over the likes of Jeremy Trueblood if not a solid addition to provide depth to the unit.

Delano Howell, SS, Stanford

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    Height: 5-11. Weight: 198.
    Projected 40 Time: 4.53.
    Projected Round (2012): 4-5

    Howell’s production fell off a cliff this season, finishing with just 45 tackles, a forced fumble and four passes broken up. This is compared to the previous two where he averaged over 70 tackles and snagged a total of seven interceptions. But the drop was for good reason.

    Howell missed three games, battled numerous nagging injuries and played with a cast on his hand throughout the season.

    It may be fair to call this selection an example of “Buc-fan-bias”, but the last time Tampa selected a safety out of Stanford he did pretty well for himself. More than that, Howell has proven to be a very solid contributor that suffered through a down year at the absolute wrong time but his momentary misfortune could prove fairly lucky for the Buccaneers.

Chris Rainey, WR/RB/KR/PR, Florida

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    Height: 5-8. Weight: 178.
    Projected 40 Time: 4.33.
    Arm: 30 3/4. Hand: 9 1/2.
    Projected Round (2012): 5-6

    Rainey is a ridiculously-fast playmaker with the versatility to play at both running back and wide receiver, in addition to his talents as a kick return man. The Bucs have long been lacking the ability to stretch the field instead opting for larger, slower targets for young quarterback Josh Freeman. Rainey’s size does lend to durability concerns as he was obviously banged up as the season wore on but the player could make a very valuable contribution on special teams having blocked six kicks over his career. Last season Rainey totaled 861 yards rushing with three touchdowns and 31 receptions for 381 yards with two touchdowns.

    Personally I would rate Rainey’s teammate Jeff Demps a better prospect to fill this particular role but the blazer (4.25) has opted to pursue a track career over football.