It's April already?
Boy, March went by quick.
Another month, another extensive mock draft.
Now that free agency is over, the NFL Draft seems to creep nearer and nearer each day. Every scout, analyst, and reporter worth his salt scours the Internet for any and all draft-related news, in search of a scoop or a new angle.
While this may be a mixed blessing, mock drafts are still fun and interesting. They give fans a chance to imagine what their favorite franchises may look like if they decide to do X, or how they may win a Super Bowl if they go in direction Y.
For this mock draft, I played the role of Tampa Bay's general manager. I concentrated on improving the defense, then adding depth to the offense.
Hopefully, this will resemble the real thing.
I'm still sticking with this pick.
Morris Claiborne has all the tools necessary to replace either the aging Ronde Barber or the legally troubled Aqib Talib, and then some. Combined with the newly signed Eric Wright, Claiborne could actually be part of a secondary that offensive coordinators have to scheme around. When your division includes the likes of Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, and Drew Brees, that is a very good thing.
The Arizona Cardinals (somewhat ironically) used the fifth pick in the last year's draft to dress Patric Peterson in red, and found huge success. Against Arizona, quarterbacks managed only 6.9 yards per attempt, versus 7.3 during the 2010 season. Peterson himself intercepted 2 balls and defended 13 passes, the second most on the team. Give or take a few years, he could challenge the mighty Darrelle Revis for the title of best defensive back in the NFL.
And Claiborne's supposed to be a better coverage corner.
If the Buccaneers did not play in the NFC South, Trent Richardson would be just as good of a pick. He'd add a whole new dimension to an offense that struggled in 2011.
However, there is an argument that running backs should not be selected in the Top 10, which does have some truth. Richardson is supposed to be the best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson. And look at where the Vikings are now. Even a possible Hall of Fame running back could not keep Minnesota from stinking up the NFC North.
Draft Claiborne, no matter what his Wonderlic says.
This pick is extremely difficult for me to make.
First of all, we have no idea who will be left on the board at this point. Seriously; beyond for roughly fifteen first round locks, no one really knows whose name will be called on the first day.
Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller has Tampa Bay taking Mark Barron, an Alabama strong safety. I have no problems with this, but it is somewhat unlikely that Barron will fall out of the first round, given that so many teams need safeties.
Assuming that Mark Dominik already selected Morris Claiborne, the team's top needs are at outside/inside linebacker, running back, safety, defensive tackle, right tackle, and quarterback, roughly in that order.
There are a number of players who will probably go in the first round, but should they make it to No.36, would be perfect for the Bucs. If Doug Martin, the Boise State running back, is still around, he would be a great pick. He'd provide Greg Schiano with the bell cow rusher he has always wanted. Harrison Smith, another safety, could replace the free agent Sean Jones and bring the secondary to a whole new level.
Meanwhile, there are many players who fit the team's needs, but have skill sets more suited for the late 2nd round. Inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks could help move sophomore Mason Foster to the outside. If Dominik decides to draft an outside linebacker, he could pick up Lavonte David, Bobby Wagner, or even Zach Brown. Unfortunately, most of the OLBs left at this point either have low ceilings or are mostly developmental prospects, compared to other second rounders.
Minor needs need not be addressed this early in the draft. The second round is too early for a backup quarterback and too early for a need as small as right tackle. Unless Fletcher Cox, Michael Brockers, or Dontari Poe fall this far, drafting a defensive tackle would not make sense. The value of any other DT would not merit using an early pick on a minor need.
One could make the argument that linebacker is an even bigger need than cornerback for Tampa Bay. Mason Foster may have impressed during his rookie season, but lacks the ability to read an offense before the snap. And though that skill will come in the future, it is necessary for the Bucs to have solid linebackers around Foster to compensate. Last year's OLB combo of Quincy Black and Geno Hayes played like chumps, so the position must be upgraded.
That's why I see Tampa Bay picking up outside linebacker Zach Brown with the 36th pick. He'd provide the most value at this point in the draft, and has the necessary skill set to start from day one.
Thus far into the draft, the Bucs have already strengthened their two weakest positions.
Logically, the next step is to eliminate the third most pressing need.
Though there may be sleeper linebackers available, drafting a running back would provide the most value. Greg Schiano likes his running backs, as evidenced by his use of Ray Rice at Rutgers. LeGarrette Blount could use another player in the backfield to help carry some of the slack.
An agile runner like LaMichael James would be perfect for Tampa as he provides a contrast to Blount's power rushing. At Oregon he was a playmaker in every sense of the word, and has all the tools to be a huge NFL success.
If not James, the front office should take looks at Chris Polk, Robert Turbin, and Isaiah Pead.
I just went there.
Remember when Vontaze Burfict was being mocked to the first round?
He now has been saddled with character concerns, based on his violently aggressive on-field play, and poor combine and pro day showings did not help his case.
Still, when I watch his tape, I see a Day Two selection, even as I take into account these detractors.
Under the leadership of Greg Schiano, Burfict could become the football player he was always meant to be.
In this mock draft, the Buccaneers have focused on improving their poor defense with 3/4 of their picks. Because of the successful offseason, which saw Tampa Bay sign WR Vincent Jackson and OG Carl Nicks, the team now has the luxury of dealing with minor needs.
Although the franchise lost backup quarterback Josh Johnson, it gained Dan Orlovsky, who actually led the horrendous Indianapolis Colts to some wins last season. This would be impressive, save for the fact that his first career win as a starter came after six years of NFL experience.
Josh Freeman needs a winner holding the clipboard. BJ Coleman, out of Chattanooga, has the skills to be a competent backup in case Freeman ever gets injured. He impressed at the East-West Shrine Game, and found himself surging up draft boards everywhere.
Coleman could be a serviceable backup for years to come.
It couldn't hurt to have a mammoth right tackle on the offensive line.
Levy Adcock did not receive an invitation to the combine, but has enough raw talent to one day start in the NFL. He could join the Bucs and challenge Jeremy Trueblood as starting right tackle.
If Adcock proves that he is good enough, Tampa Bay might just gain the best offensive line in all of football.