When the Bucs are announced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to be on the clock, who exactly will be at the top of their draft board? The team has a few "need" positions which, with the offensive-Einstein Jon Gruden at the head of the war room, always seems to start with a Quarterback. This year Quarterback is the least of the teams worries on draft day. With veteran captain Jeff Garcia calling the signals, and a talented, young offensive line, if Gruden has a poor draft followed by a poor season, he may be out the door. Drafter: Beware.
With the loss of long-tenured Brian Kelly this off-season, Cornerback is a glaring need for the Bucs. Ronde Barber and Phillip Buchannon are the projected starters as of now, backed up by talented but careless Torrie Cox, along with Sammy Davis and Darrell Hunter (one year in the league). There has been talks lately that handcuff the Bucs and the Eagles in a trade for somewhat disgruntled CB Lito Sheppard to go to Tampa in exchange for a 2nd Round pick this year, and either a 5th Round pick in next years draft or a player. However nothing has been set in stone yet.
Wide receiver is also a top priority in this years draft for the Buccaneers. In order for Joey Galloway to continue to be productive, he needs a productive supporting cast running routes with him to create diversion and opportunity. Defenses keyed-in on Galloway last year, and his numbers including receptions, yards and touchdowns all dropped again for the second consecutive season since joing Tampa in 2005. Michael Clayton had a tremendous rookie year in '04 (80 catches, 1193 yards, 7 TD), but since has only had a total of 87 catches in 3 years, to go along with totals in yards and touchdowns from those 3 years combined that do not even match his rookie year numbers (1092 yards, 1 TD). Maurice Stovall is talented and has good size but is yet to truly mesh into Gruden's complicated West Coast offense. Stovall has been much more productive as a gunner on the punt team in recent times. Ike Hilliard had his best season as a Buccaneer by far in '08 (62 catches, 722 yards, 1 TD), but it most likely was a result of Galloway's declining numbers because of defenses than Hilliards' effectiveness, as he had more drops in key spots than usual. Not to mention he's at the ripe age of 32 in his 12th NFL season. If Jeff Garcia is going to be effective in Jon Gruden's pass-first offense, Earnest Graham needs to be consistant in running the football and the wide receiver position clearly needs to be solidified through this draft.
A couple of solid picks, as well as realistic picks for the Bucs at these positions could be Mike Jenkins, Cornerback from USF (1st Round, 20th Overall), and Donnie Avery, Wide Receiver from Houston (2nd Round, 52nd Overall).
Mike Jenkins will go in the first round, whether to Tampa or to another corner-needing team. Jenkins has solid technique to go along with good speed, which are both key in a Cover-2 defense. He is also very physical against the run, which in the Tampa-2 is a much coveted asset in a corner. Jenkins, although not as noteworthy as say a DeSean Jackson from Cal, also has the ability to return kicks. The Bucs must hope that Jenkins drops to 20, which is foreseeable as corner is one of the deeper posotions talent-wise in this years draft. Prospects such as Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie (Tennessee State), Leodis McKelvin (Troy), Aqib Talib (Kansas) and Brandon Flowers (Virginia) can all make first-round pick cases.
Donnie Avery is fast. Maybe even Joey Galloway fast with some work in the NFL and help from the ageless wonder. Avery ran a 4.28 40 at the combine and will be a deep threat no matter who ends up with the speedster from Houston. Avery is an outstanding route-runner, and despite being a little undersized (5'11'' 192 lbs) he is a tough matchup for cornerbacks who aren't as willing to fight for the ball on the pass as he is. Other top wide receivers who more than likely will not fall to the Bucs in round two include Limas Sweed (Texas), DeSean Jackson (Cal), Malcolm Kelly (Oklahoma), and James Hardy (Indiana). The Bucs must address corner in the first round if they wish to continue to be known for that vaunted Tampa-2 defense, which ranked #2 in the league last year only behind the Steelers. But with Gruden having a strong say as to what goes on behind closed doors in the Buccaneers war room, do not be surprised if the Bucs try to go offense in the first round.