6 Intriguing Players to Consider for Tampa Bay in the 2013 NFL Draft
After a 7-9 season which could be looked at as both encouraging and disappointing, no time seems more important for the advancement of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers than April 25-27.
That weekend is the 2013 NFL Draft.
The Buccaneers have plenty of room for growth on a roster which improved three wins, from 4-12, in head coach Greg Schiano's first year.
One thing to consider when looking at the following slides is the type of player that seemingly responds to the coaching style of Schiano and his staff.
Tampa Bay looks to be building a team under similar principles that brought great success to coaches like Tony Dungy.
It would appear Schiano is looking for players who will buy into his no-nonsense program. Players whom could be qualified as the cliche "character guys."
Some of the best evidence of this would be the exiled Aqib Talib and the lack of playing time for LaGarrette Blount. Both are players with exceptional skills and checkered pasts.
On the other hand if you listen to Schiano's prized rookie, Doug Martin, you first notice how humble he is. The same can be said for team captain Gerald McCoy who had his best season in 2012, earning his first Pro Bowl selection.
Along with Martin, Mark Barron and Lavonte David were 16-game starters as rookies. All three players served as defensive captains in their final years on campus.
Keep in mind these are simply suggestions on who should get a closer look from Tampa Bay. It would be highly unlikely for all or most (or any?) of these players to end up wearing Pewter and Red in 2013.
Kenny Vaccaro, Defensive Back, Texas
The first player on our list is an intriguing one for sure. Kenny Vaccaro of the Texas Longhorns is a guy who has preformed well at safety throughout his college career.
However, if you put in the tape on Vacarro you may notice a few things that make his early-round grade questionable, especially at safety. Throughout his career the Longhorns have used the senior as a nickel corner, making a transition from safety a reasonable thought.
The first thing that jumps off the film is Vaccaro's inability to be a sure tackler. He undoubtedly displays a willingness to make hits, although he seems more inclined to leave his feet in search of the big play than wrapping up ball carriers.
As far as coverage is concerned, Vaccaro is above average when playing zone. On the flip side, his man coverage skills are as good as anyone in this draft, save Dee Milliner.
As he does in tackling, Vaccaro has a tendency to go for the big play. His knack for taking risks can be a double-eged sword, but with great closing speed things usually end well for the defense.
At 6'1" 218 pounds, Vaccaro has the size to match up with most receivers around the league. He also has the "swagger" possessed by most good corners.
According to NFL.com, when asked why he stayed in Austin for his senior season, Vaccaro said:
"I wanna win the Thorpe, that's it ... And go to South Beach."
Although neither prediction came true, his season was not a total loss, amassing a team leading 96 tackles and two interceptions.
With Tampa Bay in dire need of help on the back end, plugging in a safety who is not a great tackler could be a risky proposition. That being said, if Vaccaro can transition to cornerback he could help fill a giant hole in the Buccaneers defense.
NFL Comparison: Cortland Finnegan, St. Louis Rams
Projected Round: 1-2
T.J. McDonald, Safety, USC
T.J. McDonald is a classic case of a talented player becoming undervalued early in the draft process because of an underachieving team.
USC came into 2012 with high hopes and ended up a disappointing 7-6, losing five of their last six including their bowl game.
McDonald, the son of former 49ers Pro Bowl safety Tim McDonald, has the genetics to be an NFL star. He shows exceptional strength and above average athleticism for his 6'2" 205-pound frame.
He played more of a hybrid role at Southern Cal, lining up in multiple locations on the field due to his versatile skill set.
McDonald was most impressive when lined up in the box, close to the line of scrimmage. Despite only recording one sack in 2012, he showed a rare knack for rushing the quarterback. He consistently harassed the passer on his blitzes.
That is a role the Buccaneers have usually asked Ronde Barber to provide.
Equally as impressive is McDonald's ability to stop the run before it even starts. He makes plays in the backfield on a regular basis, as long he reads the play correctly.
It appears McDonald relies mostly on instincts and could benefit from becoming more diligent in film study.
At the same time, he is an above-average pass defender and is fantastic in coverage against tight ends.
While McDonald has many of the same skills as last year's first-round selection, Mark Barron, the players would complement each other well.
Barron looks like a less athletic Sean Taylor on film, a player Greg Schiano helped develop as defensive backs coach at the University of Miami.
NFL Comparison: Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks
Projected Round: 1-2
Dri Archer, Athlete, Kent State
If you haven't seen Kent State's Dri Archer play football, you are missing out.
The diminutive Archer (5'7") makes up for size with track-star speed. He explodes out of the blocks with an amazing first step, making him extremely dangerous.
While the competition Archer excelled against was less than stellar, we have seen this story before. Most draft websites won't even list Archer under prospects since he is an undersized junior who has yet to declare for the draft.
However, his head coach, Darrell Hazell will be leaving after Kent State's bowl game on Sunday. That game will give Archer the ability to showcase his skills on a National stage for perhaps the first time. It is fair to assume he will declare during his postgame interview if and when he wins MVP of the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Archer does not go completely without recognition, however. He was voted a first-team Walter Camp All-American kick returner.
In addition to his three kick-return touchdowns in 2012, Archer accounted for 20 touchdowns, 15 rushing, four receiving and one passing. Archer is a true do-it-all athlete.
He shows shifty moves and great acceleration, all the while maintaining the ability to absorb hits. The biggest negative about Archer, other than his size, would have to be his tendency to drop passes. Often times he will look to where he will run before catching the football.
If in fact Mike Sullivan remains offensive coordinator, you can look for the Buccaneers to attempt to improve the weapons of what was a mostly impressive offense. Tampa Bay may be just a few pieces, and an improved Josh Freeman, away from a top-five offense.
Adding a player who could provide a slot receiver, a supplement to Doug Martin and a impact return man for one roster spot would do wonders to help improve the offensive production.
Players like Darren Sproles, Randall Cobb and Percy Harvin have helped create a pivotal role in the NFL for great athletes.
Archer can become that player.
NFL Comparison: Randall Cobb
Projected Round: 2-4
Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
Every year there seems to be at least one or two offensive tackles who make their way into the top 15 picks. This year Michigan's Taylor Lewan looks like he is on his way to being one of those guys.
After his strong performance against South Carolina phenom JaDaveon Clowney, scouts are paying attention to Lewan.
This was far from his only impressive game, evidenced by the video above. In his matchup with Notre Dame Lewan was close to dominant for most of the game against the highly regarded duo of Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt.
Lewan all but eliminates the speed rush, with his long arms and quick backpedal. His eagerness to get back has left Lewan susceptible to good inside moves, however.
He has room to grow within the running game, but when he gets to the second level he is athletic enough to take on both linebackers and defensive backs.
With a running back like Martin, who was second in the league in 2012 with 800 yards after contact, downfield blocks could lead to even more explosive running plays.
It remains to be seen, but if drafted by Tampa Bay Lewan would most likely be slotted in next to Carl Nicks on the left side. Donald Penn would move to right tackle.
NFL Comparison: Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
Projected Round: 1
Kyle Long, Offensive Lineman, Oregon
You may notice that the film to the left is that of Kenjon Barner. While he could become a dynamic NFL running back, the player we are focusing on here is the left guard, No. 74.
That is the son of Hall-of-Famer Howie Long and brother of Rams defensive end Chris Long.
Kyle Long made his way to Eugene by way of a DUI while at Florida State on a baseball scholarship. The former pitcher is an unpolished football product who is tough to evaluate.
He played most of the season at guard because of injuries. While he played well on the inside, his 6'8" frame makes him the perfect candidate for right tackle.
His most impressive quality has to be his speed and athleticism. He is fun to watch pulling and in the screen game.
Long struggles to get an initial push at times in the running game, but he has a high motor for an offensive lineman and always finishes his blocks.
Long may not be an instant starter in the NFL, but with a Hall-of-Fame bloodline it is hard to imagine him not picking up the finer points of line play.
NFL Comparison: Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers
Projected Round: 3
Jordan Rodgers, Quarterback, Vanderbilt
There certainly is a fair share of NFL bloodlines in the 2013 draft class. Jordan Rodgers of Vanderbilt may have the most impressive one.
The younger brother of Packers All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers transferred to Vanderbilt after following his brother's footsteps and playing at Butte College.
While at Butte, Jordan did something that not even big brother could. His sophomore year, Rodgers led his team to an undefeated season and a Junior College National Championship.
It seems every quarterback anywhere close to six-feet tall is automatically compared to Drew Brees. This comparison is different.
Watch the tape above. If you squint and don't think about who you are watching, you might have visions of Drew Brees.
Not buying it?
Watch this highlight reel of Brees at Purdue. The shiftiness in the pocket, quick feet, run when necessary attitude and strong arm are all eerily similar to a young Brees.
There is a divided sentiment in regards to incumbent Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman. Either way Schiano is sure to bring in competition to the quarterback position. At the least, the backup quarterback position.
Rodgers could be picked up late in the draft. At the best he is the low-risk, high-reward type player that can make a franchise. At the worst he will develop into a quality backup.
NFL Comparison: Drew Brees
Projected Round: 6-7