The Buccaneers find themselves in the unusual—but potentially fruitful—position of having two rookie first-round draft picks entering the 2012 season.
Safety Mark Barron (seventh) and running back Doug Martin (31st) will each have ample opportunities to showcase their abilities and prove that the Bucs were wise in choosing them.
Both are expected to contribute rather extensively on their respective sides of the ball, but who will make the bigger impact during his rookie campaign: Barron or Martin?
The answer may not be as obvious as it initially appears to be.
After all, Barron will be asked to impact a defensive unit that allowed more points (30.9) and rushing yards (156.1) per game than any other team in the NFL in 2011.
Not only that, but he'll be asked to do so in a division that features quarterbacks Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton; as well as other scheduled signal callers such as Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III and Philip Rivers, among others.
In short, the task is tall.
On the other hand, Martin joins an offensive unit that, at times, struggled to find their collective rear-ends with both hands last season.
The Bucs mustered up just 17.9 points (27th) and 91.1 rushing yards (30th) per game in 2011. Which is, by and large, the reason Tampa Bay traded back into the first round to get Martin to begin with—their lack of a game-breaking, every down back.
Who will make a bigger rookie impact?
That said, we do not yet know how big of a role Martin will initially have under new head coach Greg Schiano. That is to say, just how often he'll have the ball in his hands during a game.
10 touches? 15? More?
What we do know is this: if incumbent LeGarrette Blount continues to struggle with turnovers or is slow to adapt to the new system, Martin is (likely) the next guy in line to assume the role. If that were to happen, even midway through the season, Martin's potential impact increases exponentially.
Yet in spite of that, Barron will have the bigger impact of the two come the end of the 2012 season.
For one, the defensive unit as a whole stands to improve the most, based solely off of where they finished in 2011.
If Barron plays to his potential and helps in fostering a productive culture, the Bucs could very easily improve from 30.9 points per game to...say...22 points per game—or roughly one less touchdown allowed per game.
With that hypothetical number and using last year's statistics, the Bucs would have ranked 18th overall in the category rather than 32nd.
Furthermore, a productive and disruptive defense would do wonders for the offensive side of the ball, as the unit wouldn't feel inclined to have to score points, which—as we all know—impacted quarterback Josh Freeman's play last season.
So, can the argument be made for Martin?
Certainly, anything is possible at this junction. Blount could get hurt or Schiano could name Martin the outright starter and he could very easily see 20-30 touches a game. But as it stands today, Barron is my choice.
With that being said though, I'm perfectly fine with Martin proving me wrong—it would mean the Bucs were scoring points.
And winning games.