Friday, April 17, 2009

2009 Buccaneer Draft Preview

I’ve gone through the offseason activity thus far and how I feel Tampa Bay’s additions/re-signs fit into their plan. Now, let’s take a look at how the Bucs could put those 8 picks of theirs to use. Since they traded their second rounder to Cleveland, Tampa Bay currently has only one day one pick. While I’m sure they’d like to trade down and recoup that pick, there are many other teams thinking the same thing. I think in order to have any chance of trading down, Josh Freeman or possibly one of the second tier tackles (Britton, Beatty) would need to be there. Although I think it's highly unlikely the Bucs are able to move down, all it takes is one team having enough interest in getting one of those guys to start discussions.

Who should Tampa Bay target with their selections?

Here’s my take:

Round 1

Larry English, DE (Northern Illinois)
This is probably a little early by some draft boards, but if the Bucs aren’t able to trade down, I’d like to see them spend the 19th pick on the productive player from Northern Illinois. He is the school’s all time sack leader (31 ½) and is the only defensive player in Mid-American Conference history to win the conference MVP award two years in a row. English gets a bad rap for the level of competition he faced, but that hasn’t slowed NFL vets Brandon Jacobs and Bart Scott, both Southern Illinois alums and recipients of $25 million and $48 million deals respectively this offseason.

English brings a non-stop motor and tremendous first step. Despite the level of competition he routinely faced, English certainly brought his A game against bigger schools such as Minnesota and Tennessee. In those two games, English totaled 3 ½ sacks and 4 ½ TFL. He didn’t put up great timed numbers at the combine or his pro day, but to steal a line from Warren Sapp, “The eye in the sky don’t lie.” English’s film is impressive. The comparisons to Dwight Freeney are warranted. He’s agile off the edge, shows nice hip movement, and is relentless in his pursuit. I think he’ll hold up as a run defender in the NFL and show himself to be a 3 down player. He’s extremely coachable and willing to do what it takes to improve his game.

If I’m drafting a DE in this spot, I’d much rather spend the pick on a guy like English than a paper positives player like Michael Johnson from Georgia Tech. Johnson is a physical freak and has the extremely rare blend of size and burst off the line. To me, he's far too inconsistent, disappears too often against the run, and doesn't (at the moment) have the upper body strength to hold up against professional tackles. Yes, he definately has the frame to add bulk, but is he committed to doing so? A player with his body/size and abilities should be going in the top 10, but there’s a reason he’s not.

Alternative Selections –
My first alternate would be Vontae Davis, CB (Illinois). Like his brother Vernon, Vontae is a stud athlete. He makes the big plays on the big stage and doesn’t mind mixing it up with receivers. He’s extremely strong (a CB best 25 reps at the combine) and will go up and get the ball when it’s in his area. His excellent straight line speed, fluid hips, and physical nature would fit perfectly with what the Bucs are moving towards in the secondary. Pairing him opposite Talib for the next 5+ years would give the team one heck of a corner combo.

I really think they’ll go DE or CB at 19, but a few receivers might draw interest if they’re on the board when the Bucs pick. Hakeem Nicks (UNC) showed up a bit heavier at his pro day than he was at the combine, which may throw up some flags for some teams, but he’s extremely talented. He’s strong/tough, blocks well down field, and doesn’t mind going over the middle. He’s Michael Clayton with hands. If the Bucs went receiver in round one (with Crabtree and Maclin out of the equation) Nicks would be my choice.

Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland) has a ton of speed (WR combine best 4.30 forty) and size (6-2, 210) to go with it, but his routes need a lot of work. I stressed the need for a deep threat, and he certainly provides that. He’s not terribly versatile at the moment, isn’t an over the middle guy, and will need a bit of work with his receiving technique (consistency). Is he going to get any stronger? DHB is generating some late buzz and has even been projected to the Raiders at #7 overall.

Percy Harvin (Florida) is extremely talented and hard working, but he’s spent too much time on the sidelines for me to spend the 19th pick on him. He’s got great vision and if healthy should be quite a playmaker in the NFL. Will he get enough touches each week to warrant such a high selection, and considering their strong needs along the defensive line and at corner, can the Bucs afford to spend the 19th pick on such a guy? The recent off field red flags aren't earning him any money.

Selecting one of the top remaining tackles (Eben Britton, Arizona and William Beatty, U Conn) would mean that more than a few of the Bucs’ top options are already of the board when they pick.

Round 2

Rashad Jennings, RB (Liberty)
I know they don’t have a second round selection, but if they did, I’d really love them to spend it on Jennings. I realize that RB isn’t a dire area of need, but I love what I’ve seen from this kid. He has a tremendous combination of size (6-1, 231), speed (ran a 4.39 forty at his pro day), and strength (29 reps at the combine; vs. Chris Wells and Knowshon Moreno – both 25 reps). His strong shuttle showings demonstrated his ability to change directions quickly and move well laterally; two skills that come in handy in a ZBS. He’s a physical runner with a strong upper body. Watching his film, he displays very good vision and footwork both in traffic and the open field. He’s a tough inside runner and is more than adequate as a receiver out of the backfield. He’ll need to work on his pass blocking, but so does nearly every back entering the NFL. Jennings transferred from Pitt after his freshman year in order to be close to his father who suffers from diabetes. I believe that if Jennings had stayed at Pitt for his entire career, we’d be talking about him as the first RB off the board in this draft. I really like this kid’s future and look for him to draw serious consideration from the Houston Texans in round 2. Jennings would pair with Slaton to provide the Texans with quite a dynamic backfield combination.

Round 3

Coye Francies (CB, San Jose State)
I love this guy’s size, athleticism, and aggressiveness combination. He demonstrates nice field awareness and plays with a tough demeanor and plenty of attitude. He had great postseason showings at the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl which helped boost his stock. Francies is another guy with nice cover speed, fluid hips, and the tenacity to frustrate receivers. He possesses fine closing speed as well and is more than willing to step up and support the run. Despite his lack of overwhelming experience, I think he’d be a steal if he lasts until the Bucs pick in the third round.

Alternative Selections –
Assuming this is their second pick of the draft, I’d really like to get a corner here. If Francies is already off the board, there are two guys that top my list of alternate choices.

Keenan Lewis (Oregon State)
Lewis doesn’t have the athleticism and top speed of other corners, but he’s an experienced 45 game starter with strong hands and an aggressive playing style. Opponents threw away from him, allowing him to accrue only 3 INTs in ’08. His tackling could use some work, but I like his determination and attitude. Lewis would give the Bucs two Beaver alums in the secondary (Piscitelli).

Mike Mickens (Cincinnati)
Mickens is another experienced corner who lacks elite speed. He did have surgery on his left knee in November and reaggrevated it at the Senior Bowl, which kept him out of the combine. This may keep him in the third round range. Despite the lack of top speed, Mickens displays an impressive ability to close on the ball. Healthy for his pro day, Mickens turned in 4.57 and 4.59 forty times. He has the ability to play in both man and zone schemes, is tough against the run, and was plenty productive in his time at Cincinnati. Teams playing man coverage may have him a bit lower on their list than zone coverage teams.

Sherrod Martin (Troy) is another corner worth mentioning here. I don’t like him nearly as much as Lewis or Mickens, but Martin has great sideline to sideline speed and brings it as a blitzer. He’s not as physical as I’d like and needs some help with his tackling technique, but there’s definitely talent there. He has nice hips and field awareness and shows CB/FS versatility. The Bucs did well in picking up a corner from Troy last year.

If the Bucs go receiver in this round, I would take either Derrick Williams (Penn State) or Mike Wallace (Mississippi). Some believe Williams is overrated and won’t pan out at the pro level. I disagree. I like his strength, hands, vision, and field awareness. He posted a disappointing 40 time (4.68) at the combine, but he had the flu and hadn’t worked out in two weeks prior. Some players would have shied away under those circumstances, but I like that he went for it. A healthy Williams posted a 4.47 at his pro day, showing the speed that most were hoping for. He’s versatile enough to play inside, outside, out of the backfield, in the return game, or under center as a Wildcat option.

Wallace is a speed receiver who posted the second fastest combine 40 at the position (4.33). He started out as a mid-late day two prospect, but his postseason performance and fine 40 at the combine have him rising up the boards. He’s a tough vertical threat who shows some elusiveness. He’s far from a finished product (hands and routes need work), but you can’t teach his speed.

Round 4
I keep going back and forth with this pick, as there are two guys I’d really like to draft in this area. At this point, I’m going with…

Jarrett Dillard (WR, Rice)
This guy is one of my three favorite players in the draft (along with English and Jennings). He’s a disciplined receiver who won’t break any stopwatches but runs great routes and simply gets the job done. When you watch his film, you can see his tremendous hip movement which allows him to make very smooth and unpredictable changes of direction. Production, production, production (257 catches over 3 years and 60 career TD). He’s an intelligent player and polished route runner who I believe will have a fine pro career due to his dedication and underrated pure football skills. No, he doesn’t address the need for a deep threat, but I think Dillard would offer the Bucs much more than guys like Stovall, Warren, Hankton, and Clark that are currently on the roster. He reminds me of Ike Hilliard.

Alternative Selections –
Jason Williams (LB, W. Illinois) – Here’s the player I keep flip flopping with Dillard. To be honest, I lean more towards him being the pick, but I just really like Dillard. Yeah, Williams is another small school player. He’s an extremely active and physical linebacker who is climbing up draft boards around the league. He wasn’t invited to the combine but began getting noticed with an impressive East-West Shrine Game performance. Williams continued wowing teams with his workout at Northwestern’s pro day, running a 4.44 forty at 238 pounds. He’s squarely on Tampa’s radar, and with his combination of size, speed, and explosive play, he most certainly should be.

Xavier Fulton (T, Illinois) is very athletic LT with huge potential. Fulton started his career as a DT, but his athleticism won him a spot at the money position on the offensive line. He’s really raw, but I think he’s got the skills to develop into a solid lineman in the Bucs’ new ZBS system.

Chris Baker (DT, Hampton) is a guy who would probably be going much higher than this had he not run into more than his share of trouble at Penn State. A couple of off-field fights in ’07 led to him pleading guilty to two misdemeanors and eventually his departure from the program. He shows good quickness for a big man and does a nice job consistently collapsing the pocket. He’s stout against the run and has plenty of strength to win the 1 on 1 matchups. His character is certainly a question mark for teams, but he has more natural talent than a lot of the players who will be drafted ahead of him.

Round 5 –

Roy Miller (DT, Texas)
Roy’s an experienced and productive big man who is a solid anchor in the middle of the line. He holds up very well against double teams without giving ground, which is essential for what Bates wants our DTs to do. In addition to a solid base, his 37 reps on the bench at the combine (second at his position) demonstrated his sufficient upper body strength. Miller isn’t going to break any sack records, but he did tally 25 TFL and 10 sacks during his 49 game Longhorn career. Miller also lined up in the Texas backfield on occasion to give the offense a punishing lead blocker. I think he’d be a very good rotational guy up front in Tampa’s defense.

Alternative Selections –
Terrance Taylor (DT, Michigan) is similar to Miller. He’s a stout run defender who can push the pocket and disrupt plays in the backfield. Taylor was a 3 year starter at Michigan and is the one player who put up more reps than Miller (37) at the combine. His conditioning needs some work, and he doesn’t move laterally or disengage from blocks nearly as well as Miller.

Jason Watkins (T, Florida) is a versatile tackle with experience on both ends of the line. He has nice length (6-6) and athleticism and will really benefit from NFL coaching. Watkins blocks well in space and shows the ability to be effective at the second level. He’d be an ideal backup swing guy in my opinion. I like his effort.

AQ Shipley (C, Penn State) came to University Park as a DT and brought that tough mentality over to the offensive line. He’s an experienced 3 year starter who came away with the Rimington Trophy, which goes to the nation’s best center, in ’08. Shipley is an anchor in pass protection and is hard to bull rush. He has good footwork and holds his own in the middle of the line. The fact that he's a little short (6-1, 304) is probably the biggest factor for him being this low on the draft board.

Round 6 –

Devin Moore (RB, Wyoming)
Moore wasn’t invited to the combine, so he held his own show prior to the combine. He ran forties of 4.41 and 4.43, and the rest of his numbers would have put him squarely in the top ten in Indy. Moore leaves Wyoming as the school's all time leading rusher. In addition to his speed, I like his change of direction and vision in tight places. He’d be a nice change of pace runner behind Ward and Graham. (This pick is made under the assumption that the Bucs do not draft Rashad Jennings.)

Alternative Selections –
Deon Butler, WR (Penn State) - I know I’ve already mentioned Derrick Williams, but I like Butler too. I think he’s an underrated late round prospect who was a consistent performer at Penn State. Another record holder, Butler exits as the school’s all time receptions leader and is a tough player for his size (5-10, 182). He ran an impressive 4.38 forty at the combine which was 4th best at the position. As his school record indicates, Butler has reliable hands and also demonstrates impressive vision and elusiveness in the open field. Blocking’s not his game, but he has the ability to make plays, and that’s what the Bucs will be looking for.

Terrance Knighton (DT, Temple) is an underrated big man (6-3, 321) who tallied 54 tackles and 7.5 TFL in '08. He’ll need to work on his strength and is definitely a project, but the skills are there (see Greg Peterson). He’d be practice squad material.

Round 7 – (3 picks)

Joel Bell (T, Furman)
A late round sleeper, Bell has really nice size (6-6, 315) and athleticism. He has good footwork and blocks well on the move, making him an enticing ZBS tackle prospect. Bell’s an experienced three year starter who’s very coachable. He’s not quite as strong as he needs to be, but there’s definitely room for growth.

Everette Pedescleaux (DE/DT, Northern Iowa)
The Bucs get another defensive lineman. Pedescleaux is really quick for a big man and is relentless in pursuing the ball all over the field. He sheds blocks well and consistently gets into the backfield. He’s quite a gap splitter from the tackle position and is projecting as an NFL end. For the skills I just listed, I think he'd be a hell of a catch for the Bucs this late in the draft. His athleticism is demonstrated by the fact that he initially went to the University of Minnesota as a power forward for the basketball team. I caught wind of this guy early on in the offseason and was immediately impressed. He's very raw, but I think he's got a lot to work with and could be a perfect fit for this defense.

Quinten Lawrence (WR, McNeese State)
Here’s your deep threat. Lawrence has a very thin frame and isn’t going to be a blocker. His level of competition is suspect, but his speed isn’t. He accelerates well and shows elusiveness in the open field, but he did miss most of '08 with a broken right ankle.

Alternative Selections –
Tiquan Underwood (WR, Rutgers)
– He was inconsistent and in Kenny Britt’s shadow at Rutgers, but his size/speed combo is good value here in round 7. Underwood put up 4.36 and 4.40 forties at his pro day, demonstrating his sufficient straight line speed. He’s also an effective punt team gunner.

Joe Burnett (CB, UCF) is an experienced corner who has also seen time as both a kick and punt returner. His straight line speed isn’t quite what I’d like (4.57 combine 40), but he does have good game speed. I like his strength, hands (evidenced by his 16 career interceptions), and closing speed. The closing speed combined with his field awareness help make up for the lack of timed speed.

Andrew Hartline, T (Central Michigan) – experienced and durable; athletic ZBS type tackle; can and needs to get bigger

Stryker Sulak, DE (Missouri) – really quick off the snap; situational player; limited upside

Brandon Swain, DT (West Texas A&M) – quick and athletic; good numbers against poor competition

Marlon Lucky, RB (Nebraska) – had a disappointing senior year; patient; vision; nice hands; not a HR threat

In summary:
1 – Larry English, DE
3 – Coye Francies, CB
4 – Jarrett Dillard, WR
5 – Roy Miller, DT
6 – Devin Moore, RB
7 – Joel Bell, T
7 – Everette Pedescleaux, DE/DT
7 – Quinten Lawrence, WR

English gives them a needed bookend opposite Gaines Adams. Francies provides instant depth and (hopefully) future starter opposite Talib. He, Talib, and Mack could be quite a young trio of corners in a couple of years, and the Bucs would have only spent first round money on one of them.

Again, Dillard reminds me of Ike Hilliard. He’d be quite a 4th round pick if he came anywhere close to matching Hilliard’s career production. Miller would step into an immediate rotation up front with Hovan, Sims, Greg Peterson, and possibly Dre Moore and Chris Bradwell.

Devin Moore is the change of pace back to go with Ward and Dunn. He also allows Clifton Smith to focus primarily on return duties, the duties that earned him Pro Bowl honors. I’d hate to lose that important dimension to the team due to him getting hurt on offense. Bell and Pedescleaux give both lines (offensive and defensive) an athletic developmental player, and Lawrence is a deep threat who, due to lack of other options, could have a good shot at making the roster despite being a 7th round pick.

It wouldn’t shock me if the Bucs tried to recoup a draft pick by trading Davin Joseph and/or Alex Smith. The Bucs don’t have a ton of depth on the team, but guard and tight end are two areas with some talent. Jeremy Zuttah is going to be tough to keep out of the lineup this year. The versatile, heady rookie stepped in early for an injured Joseph and handled himself quite well for a first year guy. Alex Smith looks to be 4th on the TE depth chart behind Winslow, Stevens, and John Gilmore (a superb ’08 signing). I’m not anxious to deal Joseph, but I’d like to see if they can get something for Smith.

Projected pre-camp roster:

QB – McCown, Leftwich, Griese, Johnson
RB – Ward, Graham, C Smith, Cadillac (inj.), Moore
FB – Askew, Storer, Cook
WR – Bryant, Clayton, Stovall, Jackson, Dillard, Lawrence, Clark, Warren, Campbell, Hankton
TE – Winslow, Gilmore, Stevens, Smith
T – Penn, Trueblood, Lee (G/T), Bell
G – Sears, Joseph, Zuttah, Mahan (G/C)
C – Faine

DE – Adams, English, White, Wilkerson, Pedescleaux
DT – Hovan, Sims, Peterson, Miller, Moore, Bradwell
LB – Phillips, Hayes, Ruud, Hayward, Crowell, Black, Koutouvides, McCoy
CB – Talib, Barber, Mack, Francies, Cox
S – Jackson, Piscitelli, Allen, Nicholson

K – Bryant, Nugent
P – Bidwell
LS – Economos

This isn’t the ’85 Bears, but for a team that’s been pretty stagnant the last few years, I think it’s a step in the right direction. In a few days we’ll see what approach the Bucs take to making this team a contender again.


  1. Talbuc, very thorough and well thought out entry. The more I read and think about it, the more English reminds me a lot of Spires.(Which isn't a bad thing necessarily.) However I don't think a 6, maybe 7 sacks a year DE is such a good value at #19 overall, especially considering the lack of pass rush generated from the DT position the new scheme seems to tolerate. Maybe I am saling English a little short but I really see the team hard pressed to pass up Vontae Davis(if he is still there) at # 19. I like his long term potential to be a great one(especially if he gets the chance to work with Raheem) and he fills an immediate, glaring need to find another credible corner to start opposite of Talib and allow Barber to slide to nickel. The one thing that scares me about why they might pass on him(if available), is the fact Raheem seems to be still emanored with Barber, even considering last season's lackluster performace. Addressing corner in the 1st, we look for a D-line who may have slipped or possible go with a WR in the 3rd. I can't say I like Dillard in the 4th, as the think we need another deep threat reciever and are fine with the 3 possession recievers we already have in Clayton, Stovall, and Warren. Maybe they look to add another D-line prospect in this round as well. I still like the idea of adding Miller in the 5th, even if we have selected another DT already. I also don't see Underwood slipping to the 7th, maybe we look at him in the 6th? I haven't heard of this Quinten Lawrence, but a deep threat reciever would definitely be worth a look in the 7th.

  2. Thanks J-Rock. When I look at the talent that should be available at each position in each round, I worry about our ability to address DE on day 2. I'll admit that I like English more than most and that he's probably a slight bit of a reach at #19. If Orakpo and Brown are off the board, English, Johnson, Maybin, and Ayers are your options. I've already blasted Johnson, I don't think Ayers is the pass rusher we need, and I'm having the hardest time forming a solid opinion on Maybin. I love his skills, but with being so raw and ineffective against the run at this point, I have trouble endorsing him. When I combine that with the hard working, productive English, the decision becomes a bit easier.

    Oh, you know where I stand on Barber. I strongly feel that we need to get a pass rusher and starting (eventually) corner with our first two picks. I don't see how an aging Barber, a guy who openly struggled in a zone scheme, is going to be effective when he's asked to get up in a receiver's face, bump him off his route, and stay with him man to man down the field. Yes, I still have Vontae as plan B if he's on the board. He and Talib would give teams/receivers fits, and you know that two competitive guys like that would bust their butts trying to outdo each other.

    I understand the Dillard sceptisicm. I pointed out that he doesn't address the need for a speed guy, but I do think he can come in and be better than anyone we have not named Bryant or Clayton.

    I'm not a terribly big Underwood fan (really poor '08), and I probably have him rated a little lower than he should be.