Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 4 Pieces the Bucs Need in Order to Become a True Contender
They say it's good enough when it comes to horseshoes and hand grenades. Close, however, won't get it done in the NFC, or its South division, for that matter. That lesson was in full effect for the Buccaneers yesterday afternoon when they put together a complete offensive game plan at home against the Atlanta Falcons and still walked away with a 24-23 loss.
It's unnecessary to point the finger at Tampa's offense for failing to hang more points on a Falcons defense that gets shallower and less effective as the season wears on. Rather, there were two defensive positions that really cost the Bucs yesterday. Coincidentally, those two positions are tops on the list of pieces Tampa Bay must acquire and develop if it wants to take back the NFC South crown.
P.S. It's not a coincidence.
Without further ado, here are the needs that should be tops on Tampa Bay's grocery list next spring.
To say that the Buccaneers desperately need upgrades (yes, that's plural) at cornerback would be like saying the New York Jets need an entirely new regime (obvious, yet impossible to overstate). And you know it's bad when the Bucs' big "addition" at corner last spring—Eric Wright—is someone who couldn't hold a job with the Detroit Lions.
The fix? Well, free agency is always the best place to start, and if the Eagles blow up their current regime and shed some of the bigger contracts on the roster, then Nnamdi Asomugha immediately becomes a person of interest for Tampa Bay. Asomugha is no spring chicken (he'll be 32 years old when training camp opens in July), but the Buccaneers' secondary is in dire need of a pure shutdown-type presence, and Asomugha still owns the power tools necessary to fit that bill.
Should the Bucs instead look to the 2013 NFL Draft for cornerback help, they'll find two excellent first-round prospects in Alabama's Dee Milliner and Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks, as well as day-two prospects like North Carolina State's David Amerson, Washington's Desmond Trufant and Florida State's Xavier Rhodes.
Tampa Bay's interior defensive line should have been addressed for the long term when Mark Dominik nabbed Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy and UCLA's Brian Price during the 2010 NFL Draft.
Well, while McCoy has turned out to be the real deal despite having biceps that tear if you even look at him wrong, Price was just a straight-up bust. He's gone now, and his absence serves as a reminder that Tampa Bay needs something—anything—at the one-technique position.
Fortunately for the Bucs, the 2013 NFL Draft is absolutely loaded at any and all defensive line positions. And though the class' best one-technique—Utah's Star Lotulelei—will be looooooong gone by the time Tampa Bay is on the clock, a few powerhouse prospects, such as Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins, Georgia's John Jenkins and Purdue's Kawann Short, could still be available.
Hankins and Jenkins probably project best as zero-techniques in the 3-4 scheme, but both prospects have demonstrated the athleticism and pass-rush prowess necessary to play defensive tackle in the 4-3.
Nothing against Dallas Clark or Luke Stocker, but the Buccaneers would be wise to get more athletic at tight end. No truth to the rumor that every current NFL GM during their tenure must draft at least one sub-4.7-running tight end, but if the Buccaneers are indeed interested in finding franchise-caliber prospect at the position next spring, Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and Stanford's Zach Ertz will be the men to call.
Eifert plays like a supercharged Kyle Rudolph, and Ertz has some Tony Gonzalez in his game. Not too shabby.
The Bucs' day-two selection of Nebraska outside linebacker Lavonte David last spring looks like a home run at this point. But while David and second-year standout Mason Foster have certainly upgraded the Bucs' once-porous linebacker corps, it's a group that is still a work in progress.
Tampa Bay could find the final piece of its linebacker puzzle next April by springing for an outside linebacker like Stanford's Chase Thomas, Rutgers' Khaseem Greene or heaven forbid, UCLA terror Anthony Barr (quarterbacks and punters beware!). Florida's Jelani Jenkins, though a bit undersized at 235 lbs, would be another worthy outside linebacker candidate.