Just how much do the Buccaneers need a cornerback in the 2011 NFL Draft?
At the end of last season it was likely the farthest thing from the minds of Bucs coaches, players and fans. But in recent months serious questions have arisen facing the cornerback position.
Rather than going into the NFL Draft with focus solely on offensive line, linebackers and a strong defensive end, Tampa Bay is forced to throw cornerback into the mix.
The current situation, in a nutshell, is this: Aqib Talib is all but out of the picture. He was recently charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. And you can rest assured that, no matter the outcome, Raheem Morris and company will cut him.
He was a tremendous playmaker last year with six INTs, 11 passes deflected, 40 tackles (39 solo) and a defensive TD, all in his third year in the league. He had a future ahead of him as the Bucs' elite cornerback, shutting down whatever side of the field he lined up on.
But we have seen it in the past. Jerramy Stevans caught all of three passes last year after his problems with the law. A DUI got linebacker McCoy cut from the team. Neither performed at the caliber, or had the bright future like Talib. But he won't be back.
On the other side of the field you have Ronde Barber. A true veteran. Still putting up play after play, recording over 80 tackles last year. But he was drafted in 1997. At 36, you have to wonder what is left in the tank. He was recently re-signed for one season, but after that you have to assume he'll take a bow.
So who's on deck? Certainly not Vince Anderson, undrafted rookie last year, three games, one tackle. Newcomer D.J. Johnson, another undrafted cornerback coming in from the Giants where he recorded practically no stat line. Elbert Mack and Myron Lewis are on board, but you heard their names called a combined 20 times last season.
E.J. Biggers could roam left cornerback in place of Talib. He showed signs of promise when he was on the field. 56 tackles, 11 deflections, but a single interception doesn't fill the void.
So, just how necessary is it to look at the 2011 NFL Draft and wonder, "Maybe we should stretch a bit. Maybe we really do need this."
With both outside and inside linebacker to address and a gaping hole where a defensive end should be, you have to imagine they would pass with their first pick. They would opt for Akeem Ayers at linebacker, or a Ryan Kerrigan or Cameron Jordan if they fall that far. But you know that Jimmy Smith will be on the board at pick 20.
He is a fast, big, press coverage cornerback. And they don't come around that often. With a little polish he could become great. But at pick 20 that's a stretch. Leave the first round to a linebacker.
Round 2 rolls around. Smith is long gone. Brandon Harris too. Do you try to bolster the front seven a little more? Or do you take a long hard look at Aaron Williams.
Williams is a corner with tremendous closing speed and great hands. Hardly even thrown at in his last year at Texas. But he lacks the poise and experience to start immediately. He can fill in at nickel, but you have more pressing issues. Take the DE.
Round 3. Talent is falling off the board now. Dowling is gone, Patrick is gone. You can still use a linebacker. And you can't forget about potential needs on the offensive line. Josh Freeman is a strong man, but no one can get hit that much.
But there he is. Brandon Burton, out of Utah. A shut down corner in the Mountain West, his skills could translate to the NFL. He is aggressive on the line and disruptive, causing headaches for receivers. He can read the passer in zone and close on the ball quickly. You have to pull the trigger.
Its not worth the risk to wait any later. Beyond the third round all you have are projects. Some speedy players, but they lack the poise and size and talent to shine immediately.
A cornerback should be taken at number three for the Bucs. Burton can contribute right away to fill the whole left by an irresponsible player, a player that needed to be let go.
Pick No. 84 in the 2011 NFL Draft is Brandon Burton to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.