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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Breaking Down the Rookie Class After the Preseason

J.J. RodriguezContributor IISeptember 5, 2012

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Breaking Down the Rookie Class After the Preseason

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hedging their bets on the future.

    That's right. Their plan, their long-term strategy, their "M.O.", if you will, is to have the younger crop of players pick this franchise up and carry it on their shoulders for the next 7-12 years.

    That younger crop, which includes 'veteran' Bucs such as defensive end Adrian Clayborn, linebacker Mason Foster and tight end Luke Stocker, among many others, are supplemental to the current crop of rookies whose raw talent is only eclipsed by their untapped potential.

    Safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin, linebackers Lavonte David and Najee Goode, cornerback Keith Tandy and running back Michael Smith have all just wrapped-up their first professional preseason.

    With that in mind, how did they fare?

    What did they show, or not show, that has fans either clamoring for the future to arrive, or dreading for the day it finally does?

    In short, just how bright is the franchise's future, with this rookie class at the helm?

Mark Barron

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    Mark Barron's preseason debut was slightly delayed due to a toe injury which caused him to miss the first game against the Miami Dolphins.

    Since his return to action, Barron made up for lost time by tallying four tackles, two pass deflections, and an interception which he returned for a touchdown.

    Barron will enter his rookie season as a starter alongside 15-year veteran Ronde Barber, which means not only will he have ample opportunities to showcase his talent on a week-in, week-out basis, but he'll get to do so next to one of the craftiest defensive backs of this generation.

    Barber is attempting to make the transition from cornerback to safety, due in large part to the lack of depth.

    Opposing offenses know that there are essentially two rookies at safety for the Bucs—one new to the league, the other new to the position.

    Which leaves little doubt that Barron and Barber can expect more than their fair share of action throughout the season.

    Barron's 2012 season projections:

    65-85 tackles, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and one touchdown

    Projected final grade:

    B+

Doug Martin

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    Doug Martin has earned his role as the starting running back for the Bucs, slashing and dashing his way over, through and around defenses.

    This preseason, Martin rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, while also adding four catches for 19 yards.

    Martin, selected 31st-overall in April's draft, has quickly endeared himself to Bucs fans due to his electric ability and game-breaking potential.

    As the starter, Martin will get the lion's share of the load, even if he is 'splitting' carries with LeGarrette Blount to start the season.

    With new head coach Greg Schiano wanting to emphasize the run early and often, look for Martin to get somewhere between 15-25 touches per game—if not more.

    Martin's 2012 season projections:

    Rushing: 260 carries, 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns.

    Receiving: 50 catches, 400 yards and three touchdowns.

    Projected final grade:

    A-

Lavonte David

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    There is little question that the Bucs landed a rare talent in linebacker Lavonte David. No, what stands out more is the fact that they were able to land him period.

    After all, ESPN had him ranked as the 36th-best player—and second-best linebacker—in April's draft. If you may recall, the Bucs drafted him with the 58th-overall pick.

    Since arriving in Tampa, all David has done is tackled everything within reach—and then some.

    Possessing sideline-to-sideline quickness and agility, along with phenomenal instincts, David looks to have cemented his status within the Bucs' linebacking corps for the next 10-12 years. 

    He finished his first preseason with six tackles, a pass deflection and an interception.

    Oh, and he erased much of the uncertainty at linebacker, too.

    Teamed up alongside second-year middle linebacker Mason Foster and sixth-year veteran Quincy Black, the Bucs appear to finally have the pieces in place to solidify the middle of their defense.

    David's 2012 season projections:

    110-130 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and one defensive touchdown.

    Projected final grade:

    B+

Najee Goode

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    A fifth-round pick, Najee Goode will begin his rookie season as the primary backup to middle linebacker Mason Foster.

    In four preseason contests, Goode tallied 12 tackles and one pass deflection. He showed glimpses of good instincts, but at this point appears to need further development to become a more well-rounded linebacker, particularly in pass coverage.

    Goode's biggest—and most likely—contributions will come on special teams, which is certainly nothing to overlook. Given the youth and relative inexperience on the defensive side of the ball, a solid special teams is imperative to making their jobs easier.

    And putting the defense, as a whole, in better position to succeed.

    Goode's 2012 season projection:

    20-40 tackles, one fumble recovery

    Projected final grade:

    C-

Keith Tandy

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    Keith Tandy was drafted as a cornerback, but has since made the transition to safety, where he will begin the season as a third-stringer.

    Showing a nose for the football, Tandy racked up a team-leading 24 tackles during the preseason, to go along with one pass deflection. 

    As mentioned above, Tandy will be afforded time to learn his new position, as he is behind both veterans Ronde Barber and Ahmad Black.

    Much like fellow West Virginia teammate Najee Goode, Tandy's most-likely contribution this season will come from special teams.

    Tandy's 2012 season projections:

    10-25 tackles

    Projected final grade:

    D

Michael Smith

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    In just four contests, Michael Smith has taken the Bucs' modest return game and turned it into one of great potential and excitement.

    In fact, his 317 return yards was second-most in the entire league during the preseason, trailing only Houston's Trindon Holliday, who had 359 yards and two touchdowns.

    And considering how historically bad the Bucs have been on kick returns, having someone with true 'home run' capability would give the team a unique dynamic to work with—and opponents to worry about.

    While his impact may not be as impressive as a ball carrier out of the backfield this season, there is little doubt that at some point this season, Smith's kick return ability will have played a huge role in the outcome of several games.

    Smith's 2012 season projections:

    30-45 returns, 950 yards, two touchdowns.

    15-30 carries, 125 yards, zero touchdowns.

    Final projected grade:

    B+


    Stay up-to-date on the latest Bucs news and more by following J.J. on Twitter. You can also "like" him on Facebook.

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