The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been the ultimate yo-yo team over the last decade. After starting the decade off very strong, with continuous playoff appearances leading to the 2002 Super Bowl title, the Bucs have seen seasons of five, four and three wins, as well as two nine-win and one 11-win season. This season, Tampa Bay owns the #3 pick in the draft, the third time over the last six years that the Bucs choose in the top five. Add to that the early picks in rounds two, three and four as well as a 2nd rounder (#42 overall) acquired from the Bears, and five of the first 101 names called on draft weekend will be wearing red and pewter caps.
Now, the important thing is knowing what to do with those five picks, as they dictate where the team will be heading over the next several seasons, so this is a breakdown of what I would do if I ran the Tampa Bay Buccaneer war room.
Last season saw the departures of Jon Gruden and Monte Kiffin, and the arrival of Raheem Morris. Under new defensive coordinator Jim Bates, the once proud Buccaneer defense struggled and was among the league’s worst. But there was light at the end of the tunnel. The last six weeks of the season were highlighted by Bates’ departure and Morris’ return to the Tampa Two defensive scheme. The stats that the Bucs defense put up over those last six weeks would have ranked them sixth in the NFL, much better than what the first ten games brought us. On top of that, Tampa was able to travel to Seattle and beat the Seahawks (always a tough road trip for the Bucs) and followed that with another road win, in the Super Dome; over the eventual league champion Saints. So, the end of the season saw resolve on the part of Raheem Morris and his team, and promise of potential good things in the future. Rookie QB Josh Freeman had his ups and his downs but looked poised on the field, and is looking forward to a good sophomore season.
Which returns us to the war room, and identifying the teams’ biggest needs. With Antonio Bryant now practicing his craft in Cincinnati, the need at wide receiver just screams out at anyone who looks at this roster. Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall and Sammie Stroughter combined for 71 receptions last year, six less than Kellen Winslow managed by himself. All three of those players will need to take a big step forward in 2010. The Bucs also added former Eagle receiver Reggie Brown to the mix, but it’s certainly still not enough to scare any decent opposing secondary. The only player on the roster that does that is Winslow.
Continuing on offense, Tampa could also use a home-run hitter in the backfield, something Cadillac Williams just can’t be anymore after his injuries, something Derrick Ward was supposed to be but isn’t, and something the steady Earnest Graham will just never be. Tampa Bay is also still hoping to re-sign their offensive tackle combo of Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood. Not doing so will likely send tackle skyrocketing up the needs list for the team.
On defense, what’s needed? Well, a little bit of everything, though the team may not be in dire straits for anything. That’s a good thing, as the team can choose where to improve by picking the best player available instead of reaching for a player of need. What the Bucs need is a pass rushing specialist at DE, a Corner to eventually replace Ronda Barber and play opposite rising star Aquib Talib, an outside linebacker in the mold of Derrick Brooks that can send Quincy Black to the bench, and a dominant defensive tackle that makes the entire defense better by his mere presence.
On, to the draft.
First Round - #3 pick overall
I only like two players here, three if the need for offensive tackle becomes bigger than it currently is. My first choice here is the big man from Nebraska, Ndamukong Suh. I think this man has the potential to be the most dominant DT of his era, and I haven’t been this excited about a defensive tackle since Warren Sapp many moons ago. I believe Suh has the capabilities to be a player very similar to Sapp. So, what if Detroit selects Suh, should the Bucs just go ahead and take the consolation prize, Gerald McCoy? In my opinion, no. I don’t have McCoy ranked at nearly the level that I have Suh, and the Bucs’ DT rotation isn’t in shambles, meaning a DT is not needed here unless it is the right DT, Suh. There is another player I have rated extremely high, and apparently a lot higher than most draft ‘experts’, and that is Clemson RB C.J. Spiller. Spiller could immediately make the entire Buccaneer offense more dangerous, similar to a Chris Johnson in Tennessee perhaps. Those are the two players I like here, Suh or Spiller. If the Bucs feel as strong about McCoy as I do about Suh, I suppose that would be an acceptable pick, as would OT Russell Okung if the situation calls for it.
Second Round - #35 & #42 overall picks
Here is where need should be addressed. If the right CB or LB falls to either selection, grab him; otherwise find a receiver and a defensive end at this stage of the draft. There are a lot of DE/LB’s that will be going off the board in the 2nd half of the first round, but one or two is likely to end up here for the Bucs to choose. Among the defensive players who could still be there at #35, TCU LB Jerry Hughes, USC DE Everson Griffen and Florida DE Carlos Dunlap. I am not excited about Griffen, but would be ecstatic at either of the other two players being there, especially Hughes. As far as Wide Receiver is concerned, it’s tough to get a read on who teams like. While Dez Bryant is still regarded as the top prospect, his stock keeps falling. But there is a plethora of receivers after that, and any of them could be the 2nd receiver or the 7th receiver off the board. I don’t think Golden Tate will last to #42, but Demaryius Thomas could still be there, as well as Arrelious Benn, Damian Williams and a host of others. I like Thomas and Benn, but would not reach for any of the other receivers here. So, if those two are off the board, this might be the time I look for CB help and draft Devin McCourty, Patrick Robinson or Chris Cook.
Third Round - #67 pick overall
Here is where you clean up what you couldn’t find in Round two, and you also add OT to the mix, regardless of what happens with Penn and Trueblood. Also, if the Bucs are lucky enough to have Jerry Hughes right now and they want to play him at LB, then defensive end is still a need at this spot. So, who are the candidates? At DE, perhaps the ‘other’ Florida DE, Jermaine Cunningham, gets his name called here. At WR, the guy I like most at this point is Minnesota’s Eric Decker. At CB, that would be the hometown boy out of USF, Jerome Murphy. And if OT Jared Veldheer is still around, passing him up would be a hard thing to do indeed.
Fourth Round - #101 pick overall
More clean-up can be done here, but at this point you really want to make sure you’re simply drafting the best player on your draft board that’s still available. Some of the players that may be around here and worth the selection are Bama CB Javier Arenas, Murray State DE Austen Lane, and receivers Marty Gilyard and Blair White of Cincinnati and Michigan State, respectively.
In summary, this would be my personal dream draft.
#3 – DT Ndamukong Suh
#35 – LB Jerry Hughes
#42 – WR Demaryius Thomas
#67 – OT Jared Veldheer
#101 – CB Javier Arenas
Also, an acceptable draft would be
#3 – RB C.J. Spiller
#35 – WR Demaryius Thomas
#42 – DE Carlos Dunlap
#67 – CB Jerome Murphy
#101 – LB Navorro Bowman
And, perhaps a more realistic draft
#3 – RB C.J. Spiller
#35 – CB Patrick Robinson
#42 –WR Arrelious Benn
#67 – DE Jermaine Cunningham
#101 – OT Ed Wang