Saturday, May 12, 2012

2012 NFL Draft - Review of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Picks

Now that was the most enjoyable Buccaneer draft I’ve witnessed in years.  GM Mark Dominik has (rightfully) been under fire for past draft selections and contracts issued, but surrounded with a few football minds in Greg Schiano, Butch Davis, Jimmy Raye, and Mike Sullivan, the Bucs have put together possibly the most impressive offseason in team history.  Sure the Bucs roster wasn’t exactly overflowing with premier talent prior to the March 13.  Most any addition would be an improvement, but they’ve added at least five instant impact players to a team previously having none. 

Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks were the highlights of free agency.  A limited offense was boosted by the additions of the game’s best guard and an upper echelon #1 receiver.  Josh Freeman, the former #1 pick entering year four, needs to show significant strides this season.  He hasn’t been surrounded with the offensive weapons like a lot of other QBs in the league, but after picking up Jackson as his go-to guy, there should be no excuses for not showing noticeable progress. 

Given the known weaknesses in the back seven of the defense, one had to figure the draft would be defense-heavy.  The defensive tackles make you hold your breath every time they get on the field, hoping they don’t get hurt, so bringing in Amobi Okoye was a solid move.  Speaking of injuries – Da’Quan Bowers just tore his Achilles and will miss the whole season if it was a complete tear.  After this, one has to wonder if he’ll ever be a productive pro.  Unfortunately, this injury happened after the draft, so the Bucs are left with a barren free agent market until/unless teams start making cuts later in camp.   That bad news aside, the Bucs have brought in at least five players, including free agent corner Eric Wright, who should make an impact this year on defense. 

Here’s my take on the talent the Bucs drafted and some of the moves made to acquire said talent.

Once the Browns made the move up to #3 to draft Trent Richardson and the Vikings took Matt Kalil at #4, word spread that the Bucs were looking to move down two spots with Jacksonville.  What later became obvious was that Morris Claiborne, the player everyone had Tampa Bay committed to, wasn’t the highest rated remaining player on their board.  When Dallas dealt up to #6 just ahead of Tampa and took the LSU cover man, many fans were upset that the Bucs supposedly missed out on their guy.  If they wanted Claiborne, they would have sat put and taken him at #5.  They wouldn’t have risked that trade with Jacksonville for just a 4th rounder if they really wanted Claiborne.  .

By moving down two spots to #7 the Bucs acquired a 4th round pick from the Jaguars, recouping a draft pick that was lost in last year’s draft to move up for Luke Stocker.  That 4th rounder proved vital as it later helped trigger two additional draft deals  Sure I would have liked to get more than a 4th rounder for that deal down, especially given what some other teams gave up to move up, but that’s not a big deal in my opinion.  The Bucs got the player they wanted and addressed a huge defensive need.

Mark Barron has been a premier player on an Alabama team loaded with future pros for the last three years.  As the QB of the Crimson Tide’s defense, Barron earned a reputation as an enforcer who combines plus play recognition with a willingness to inflict punishment and the playmaking ability to flip the field.  He’s a certain improvement over Sean Jones and gives the Bucs the most potential they’ve had at the position since John Lynch.  Speaking of the former All Pro, here’s what he had to say about Barron (quote from Tampa Bay Times):

"Now, that's what I'm talking about," Lynch wrote of Barron in his report. "This is a big-time game-changing football player. My own opinion (I know he's hot), is that if he slips and you see an opportunity to go get him, do. This is guy is a start and top-line right now. He will definitely impact a team.

"What do I like so much? Everything. He sees things well. He recognizes and reacts quickly. He has very good athletic ability. He tackles well in space. He demonstrates great ball skills.

"In addition, he's nasty. He finishes, and he finishes violently."

Barron was a pleasant draft day curveball and will become a Buccaneer fan favorite in no time.  As Mike Mayock said – the guy’s ceiling is his floor; an All Pro safety.  There was little to no risk in making the pick.  Barron gives Coach Schiano his defensive leader; a player the team will hopefully be leaning on for the rest of the decade. 

Pick Grade – 10 out of 10
Not only did they land a premier talent, but they recouped a lost 4th round pick in the process. 

Needless to say, I was thrilled when the Bucs moved back into the 1st round to make their second selection of day one.  When the trade was announced I was vociferously hoping that Doug Martin was their target, and in a few short minutes, it was revealed that the Boise State back was indeed the next new Buccaneer.  I mentioned my preference for Martin in my offseason preview and had him as the clear #2 back in the draft. 

For the second time in two picks, the Buccaneers score big in an area they sorely lack.  Martin is the complete primary ball carrier the offense was missing.  Sucker Punch was the Bucs #1 guy last year, but his shortcomings are clear.  He doesn’t run hard for a back his size, he can’t catch, and won’t block.  Martin doesn’t give them a compliment to SP.  He makes SP the compliment; a move that had to be made for this offense to reach its potential.  I also love the karma that he’s being replaced by a Boise State Bronco. 

Martin gives Coach Schiano his Ray Rice 2.0; a strong compact runner able to make positive yards both inside and on the edge.  Not only is Martin a noticeable upgrade over SP as a runner, he’s already a solid pass catcher and well ahead of the rookie curve as a pass blocker.  He doesn’t make negative plays and has the potential to be one of the game’s more consistent and productive backs for the foreseeable future. 

Pick Grade – 10 out of 10
Making the move to #31 only cost the Bucs their second rounder and an exchange of 4th rounders.  Well done.  To me the gap between Martin and the next back in the draft from a complete ball carrier prospective was wide.  The Bucs did well to make sure they got their man.

Alright, now you’ve got me excited.  After landing the draft’s premier safety and #2 back, filling huge needs, the Bucs dealt back into the 2nd round and addressed their greatest remaining need by drafting WLB Lavonte David with the 58th overall pick.  To make the move, the Bucs surrendered their 3rd and 4th round selections; another inexpensive trade pulled off by the Bucs.  I was very pleased that they did not surrender any future picks in the process. 

The Bucs linebackers were awful last year.  I realize that Mason Foster was a rookie, but he looked absolutely overmatched far too often in the middle.  I still believe he’s best suited to play outside, but given the insane contract given to Quincy Black last year and the team’s lack of attention to the position in free agency, Foster’s likely spot appears to be MLB once again.  Geno Hayes’ play peaked long ago, and he couldn’t hold onto the starting WLB job.  The Bucs won’t lose any sleep over him joining the Bears, with or without David. 

I had David listed as their R2 pick in my mock, and the Bucs were able to get him 22 picks later than their original R2 draft spot.  David’s selection made the Bucs 3 for 3 in adding instant impact players.  He should step in as the WLB starter day one and give the Bucs a big upgrade at the position.  Instincts, physicality, and tackling technique are three of David’s better traits and were areas in which Hayes sorely lacked. 

(From Pewter Report)
“Guys that love the game, and everybody says they love it, but guys that live it – this guy (David) lives it,” Schiano said. “You have to kick him out of the facility, he trains, he’s all about football – those guys are generally – I’ve never had one that wasn’t tough. That’s so important to them so they’re going to do whatever it takes to win that football game. That’s what I mean when you talk about these three guys (Mark Barron, Doug Martin and David).”

Pick Grade – 9 out of 9
Bravo Buccaneers!  David’s a solid upgrade to a weak linebacker unit and fits Coach Schiano’s description of Buccaneer men.  

After taking two rounds off, the Bucs went back to the linebacker well, selecting the versatile Najee Goode from West Virginia.  Goode not only gave the Mountaineers a huge boost by successfully manning multiple positions.  He also raised his draft stock in the process.

Goode may already be the stoutest linebacker on the roster; a non-hesitant force against the run.  He’s more of a hitter than a tackler at this point, but given his reputation as a hard working leader at the collegiate level, I’m sure dedication to improving his technique as a professional won’t be an issue. 

I see him as a MLB, SLB, and special teams player for the Bucs, and there’s plenty of room for a guy like that on this defense.  Goode is a guy with a lot of confidence, and if his ceiling is a slightly better Adam Hayward, he was well worth a 5th round pick.

Pick Grade – 4.75 out of 6
Nothing against Goode, but I would have taken Zebrie Sanders or one of the remaining corners (Josh Norman, Ryan Steed, Asa Jackson) with this pick.  I’d have a hard time passing up a versatile lineman with Sanders’ potential this late in the draft.    

Here’s the guy that might intrigue me the most from this Buccaneer draft class.  I mentioned Keith Tandy on prior to the start of draft day two as my top remaining free safety prospect.  Yes, Tandy was a corner at West Virginia, but knowing a little more about what the Bucs plan on doing in the secondary, I really think his skill set would translate well at free safety. 

He’s a tough SOB with a proven ability to get to the football whether it be via the ground or air.  I like him moving forward and pursing the football more than I do watching him in coverage.  The Bucs apparently intend to start him out at corner, and with the Bucs now going public about moving Ronde Barber to safety, Tandy might have a shot at landing that nickel job. 

Tandy exhibits similarities to Barber, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Bucs have him shadowing the veteran quite regularly this season.  On a “cool” note, it’s worth mentioning that not only were Tandy and previous pick Goode teammates at West Virginia, they were roommates as well. 

Pick Grade – 5 out of 5
At worst, he’s an improvement over EJ Biggers and Myron Lewis at corner.  At best, he’s the team’s free safety of the future. 

Obviously the new coaching staff wasn’t happy with what it had at the RB position.  While this pick took me by surprise, it has the potential to be the strongest 7th round picks this team’s made in years. Smith is mostly an unknown due to playing behind Robert Turbin at Utah State, but what is known is that he possesses speed that did not previously exist on the Buccaneer roster. 

Smith has a track background and is a guy who can take it to the house given the narrowest of openings.  Working in his favor is the fact that he’s a solidly compact 5-8, 207 and runs much stronger than most backs his size.  He has a lot of potential as a 3rd down back, both as a runner and receiver.  I expect the Buccaneers to try and exploit defensive mismatches with Smith in the passing game because you don’t keep that speed on the bench. 

Pick Grade – 3.75 out of 4
There were a couple other players I would have preferred, but given what’s known about this guy, it’s hard not to love the pick.  Don’t be surprised if he’s eventually stealing Sucker Punch’s snaps. 

I won’t spend much time on this pick given that I know nothing about the guy.  Dunsmore appears to be an H-back type who won’t address the need for a blocking tight end.  He’s quick and has hands, so maybe he’ll develop as an intermediate weapon.

Pick Grade – 2 out of 4
There were several corners that went undrafted that I would have chosen in this spot.

Undrafted Free Agents
In addition to the huge haul in the draft, the Bucs may have landed a couple of free agent gems.  The two that stand out most are Leonard Johnson and Cody Johnson. 

Leonard was a CB from Iowa State who surprisingly went unselected.  His lack of timed speed was his biggest knock, but I’ll gladly take the guy who gave Justin Blackmon his biggest headache of the year.  He should have a good chance of making the team. 

Cody was brought in at FB and has only Eric Lorig blocking his spot atop the depth chart.  Cody needs to work on his lead blocking technique, but he’s an established ball carrier who could be a short yardage and red zone asset. 

Offensive linemen Bradley Sowell (Mississippi) and Desmond Wynn (Rutgers) are two guys who could see the practice squad if they don’t sneak onto the back end of the roster. 

Overall Grade = A
(44.50 / 48 = 93%)
Their first three picks are instant starters, and the next three should see significant snaps.  If the undrafted Johnsons make the roster, the Bucs would have done a tremendous job of addressing their weaknesses this offseason.  The last few months have gone about as well as any Bucs fan could have hoped for.  How it translates on the field is yet to be seen, but in a division that I believe is wide open this year, the Bucs have put themselves in position to make some noise.