1st Three Picks – What the Bucs Should Do

Ok, so we’ve got ten draft picks and a lot of cap space.  What do we do this offseason?  Well, the crop of free agents figures to be bleak due to the CBA situation, so there’s unlikely to be substantial activity in that area.  In the draft, the first of our ten picks is the third one overall, and we have needs at DE, DT, LB, CB, WR, SS, RB, QB, and OL.  That’s pretty much everyone except FS and TE.

DE – The Bucs were 26th worst in the league with only 28 sacks on the season.  Our best end tore his ACL to close out the year, and the only other player with a hint of a pass rush is Stylez G. White.  Kyle Moore and Tim Crowder are in house, but upgrades are needed.

DT – Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims need to be replaced up front.  They’re in the center of a line that has been consistently run on and run through.  Roy Miller is a capable NT but needs help next to him.  Dre Moore is an untested two year player.

LB – This was another area of disappointment in 2009.  Geno Hayes looks like a building block, especially if we stick with this scheme, but it’s unfair to expect him to be the next Derrick Brooks.  Quincy Black struggled with fundamentals and consistency and could be replaced.  MLB Barrett Ruud is a source of controversy.  He’s not the worst MLB in football, but he doesn’t make the volume of big/game-changing plays that you expect out of the leader of your defense.  As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t mind seeing him moved to SLB and for us to find a more active, physical player in the middle.  Ruud is also looking for a long term deal.

CB – Aqib Talib is one of the best young corners in football, and Ronde Barber did better than expected this year.  Still, 2010 will likely be Ronde’s last season as a significant contributor, and his replacement isn’t on the roster.  Elbert Mack fell back a step or two this season, and the Bucs shuffled in guys like EJ Biggers, Kyle Arrington, Derrick Roberson, and Brandon Anderson.

SS – As long as Tanard Jackson doesn’t get suspended again we’re set at one safety spot.  Sabby Piscitelli manned the SS position this year, but we’re probably a better team in 2010 if he doesn’t.  Jermaine Phillips likely ruined any slim chance he had of returning when he was arrested, and Will Allen is better off sticking to special teams.  I’d like to see Corey Lynch get an opportunity, but the Bucs aren’t going to hand him the job.

QB – Josh Freeman is obviously the starter, but will they keep Josh Johnson as the #2 guy?  There’s nothing (Chad Pennington) in free agency, and all the backups in the league aside from Kevin Kolb are junk.  Is Rudy Carpenter really going to be on our roster next year?

RB – Cadillac Williams had a fine comeback season, but he’s no sure thing long term option.  There’s his health situation to consider.  Any chance of another freak injury?  He also has a tenuous contract situation.  Is he a Buccaneer beyond 2010?  Derrick Ward didn’t provide the impact that was expected of him and isn’t a lock to return.  Earnest Graham is 30 years old, carried the ball 14 times this year, and has rushed for 264 yards less in his entire career than Chris Johnson did in just this season alone.

WR – Antonio Bryant probably won’t be back due to his health, contract demands, and verbal jabs at the coaches and Josh Freeman.  Michael Clayton was a horrible re-sign and needs to be relocated immediately.  Maurice Stovall is a free agent and worth keeping, but we’re not a better team with him in the starting lineup.  Sammie Stroughter is a nice #3, but he’s not going to be #1 or #2.  Bryan Clark is good on special teams and is a #5 receiver at best.  I doubt we’ll get them but we need to acquire two legit starters with deep threat and “if it’s in the air it’s mine” possession skills.  It can be two guys who can do both or one of each, but we need those skills.  There isn’t a vertical threat that defenses fear; no one for Freeman to make use of his huge arm.  Big talent upgrades are needed here if our franchise QB is ever going to be any good.

OL – Donald Penn is worth keeping if he keeps his weight in check.  Jeremy Trueblood is the source of a lot of frustration, but untimely penalties aside, we could do a lot worse at RT.  Like Cadillac and Ruud, neither of these guys is locked up long term.  Jeff Faine returns as the starting center, but he’s always dealing with a nagging injury of some sort and his compensation will more than double next year, going from $2 million to $5 million in 2010.  Am I asking for him to be replaced?  Certainly not, but we’ve seen what happens without him.  Davin Joseph is certainly a keeper at RG, but Jeremy Zuttah was the weak link of the line this season.  He was routinely overpowered and couldn’t get a consistent push at LG.  Aaron Sears returned at the end of the season, but who knows if/when he’ll get back into football shape?

Taking free agency out of the equation since we don’t even know who is/isn’t a free agent at this point, how can the Bucs most efficiently improve?

With the 3rd pick in the draft, the Bucs will be able to take the top player at nearly all of those positions.  I’m assuming Ndamukong Suh is off the board when we pick and one of either Gerald McCoy or Russell Okung will be gone as well.  I’ve tentatively slotted the Lions to take McCoy, so who would be left to fill our needs?  Below is a quick position by position breakdown of the top talent that should be available when/if the Bucs pick 3rd.

DE – Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech)

He’s the top defensive end in the draft.  Some will be scared off of picking a DE this high due to the fiasco known as Gaines Adams, but Morgan is nothing like the former bust.  Gaines is an empty 6-5, 258, while Derrick is a physical 6-4, 270.  In addition to being a pass rusher (18.5 TFL and 12.5 sacks this year), Morgan is solid against the run as well; high motor.  Granted #3 might be a little high for him, but we have one of the worst pass rush situations in the league.

DT – Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma)

The #2 rated DT in the draft brings the quickness and penetration skills that you want out of a DT in this scheme.  He didn’t put up eye popping numbers at Oklahoma, and you typically don’t see a marked increase in stats going from college to the pros.

LB – Rolando McClain (Alabama)

He’s the driving force of the Crimson Tide defense.  McClain is an instinctive, strong, aggressive LB who simply makes plays.  He has the size, athleticism, and intelligence to be a big success at the next level.

CB – Joe Haden (Florida)

Projected as a shutdown corner in the NFL, is he enough of a sure thing to take 3rd overall?  I love his ball skills and how he makes plays while his feet are off the ground.  Gets beat on occasion (who doesn’t) but you can tell by watching him that he knows where he’s supposed to be; fundamentally sound.  I think he can play in any defense; just wish he was a little taller.  How high is his upside?

SS – Eric Berry (Tennessee)

The top rated safety is a hard hitting playmaker often compared to Ed Reed.  He has plus footwork and hips, elite ball skills, and is a strong tackler for his size.  I love his vision and ability to read the QB.  I think he’s going to create a lot of turnovers at the next level, but I feel that he’s being a little overhyped this draft season.  He’d give us one hell of a duo at safety and have us one corner short of an absolutely elite unit.

RB – CJ Spiller (Clemson)

Explosive playmaker; something the Bucs offense desperately needs.  Draws comparisons to Chris Johnson. I think that he and Toby Gerhart have the best vision in this year’s class of backs.  Spiller’s great in the passing game, especially on screens; tremendous hands.  He’s a patient runner, allows time for his blocks to set up.  I don’t think he has Johnson’s ceiling, but I feel he’d be a great fit in places like Miami, New England, or San Francisco.

OL – Russell Okung (Oklahoma St)

He’s the top rated tackle on the board; athletic with good footwork for a big guy.  Oklahoma State ran a lot of tackle traps with him, so he has some lateral quickness to him.  In the passing game, he doesn’t get beat around the edge; really nice drop step, bigger ends are going to be able to out-physical him early on.  He needs to get stronger up top.  He started 47 straight games; experienced and durable.

WR – Dez Bryant (Oklahoma St)

Okung’s teammate is the unquestioned #1 receiver in the draft despite only playing in three games this year.  From Mike Mayock (draft analyst I respect the most) “Dez Bryant physically reminds me of Andre Johnson. They each have a great frame, tremendous speed and acceleration, and very strong hands to fight for the football.”  Bryant plays with a little flash; backs up his attitude.  Decent shakes; good focus/footwork on the sidelines; goes up and fights for the football.

What do I suggest?  Let me eliminate them one by one.

The first one off my board is Joe Haden.  Too high for a corner given our plethora of needs and the proven fact that Cover 2 corners (if that’s what we’re going to need primarily) can be found later in the draft.  Not that it matters, but since 1999 only three corners have been picked in the top 6 (Quentin Jammer 5th in ’02; Terence Newman 5th in ’03; Adam Jones 6th ’05).

Next would be Eric Berry.  The gurus are tying him to us already, but I’m not buying.  Talent alone, I’m hesitant to take him with the third pick.  Yes, he’s a fine safety, but is he going to make a #3 pick type impact?  As I’ve asked on more than one occasion, would/could the Glazers afford both he and Tanard?  Last year’s third overall pick (Tyson Jackson) signed a 5 year $57 million deal ($31 million guaranteed), and Tanard will make just over $500,000 next year.  Anyone see a problem there?

Following Berry would be Russell Okung.  He’s regarded by most at the top tackle in this draft, a draft that could easily see six tackles come off the board in the first round.  I know that Penn has a contract issue to be worked on, but would it be wise to spend the 3rd pick on a player to improve a position we’re pretty decent at already?  Okung may have the higher ceiling, but is he the best use of a top pick given our other needs?

Five left.

Fourth off my list is Gerald McCoy.  He’s a fit if we keep the same defensive scheme, but where were all his big plays?  Don’t get me wrong, I think the kid is talented, but I don’t want us to fall all over ourselves for the top 3-technique guy just because we’re playing this unwinnable game of trying to find the next Warren Sapp.  McCoy had 25 tackles and 6 sacks on the season which is about what he did last year.  Where was the improvement?  Did anyone see a big spike in play from him this season?  How likely is it that his numbers will improve as a pro?  You must get production from a top 3 guy.

Next to go would be CJ Spiller.  I love this guy’s abilities and have been fortunate to watch him play a lot over the last four years.  He’s exactly what we need talent-wise, but like WR, are the Bucs going to spend the #3 pick a RB?  This draft isn’t deep at RB, so we’ll likely lose out on an impact player at the position past round 3.  And while we still need to improve here, our picks are limited, and our needs are arguably greater elsewhere.

Dez Bryant is next due simply to the fact that this is shaping up as a fairly deep (likely 3 rounds) draft to find quality receiving talent.  Freeman could sure use a #1 talent like Bryant, but I don’t anticipate the Bucs spending the 3rd pick on that position.  Bucs fans might not embrace the selection, but it wouldn’t take long for him to win them over.

Two left.

I’ve narrowed my preferences for our first pick to two players, both on defense.  I think we’d do well with either one, but given our situation/circumstances I’ve got a clear leader at this point.  With the 3rd overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select……

Rolando McClain.

Surprised?  Morgan was my previous pick, so I obviously like what he brings to the table.  The main question I have with Morgan is whether or not the Bucs themselves will be hesitant to spend a top 5 pick on another DE with Gaines Adams still fresh in their heads?  The Iowa game didn’t help his cause, but I expect him to shine in his pre-draft workouts.  I’d still be pleased if he was the pick, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought we could get a bigger bang for our buck by shaking up the LB position.

McClain would replace Barrett Ruud as the starting MLB, moving him out to the SLB position where he may be more effective and better suited.  Adding McClain allows us to improve two positions and provides us with a replacement should Ruud leave via free agency this year or next.  Regardless of what kind of defense we run, we need a thumper, someone who will mix it up and make some big plays up front on defense.  And if you’ve been paying attention to Raheem’s quotes, he wants to get bigger on defense.

“We’re just not made right now to knock people back,” Morris said. “That’s how we’re cut. We don’t have big, intimidating linebackers or big, intimidating linemen.”

You may say that #3 is too high for McClain.  We need an impact player with this pick, and I’ll argue that outside of Suh, no one will make a more immediate impact than McClain.  Regarding his inability to play in a Cover 2, I think that’s a bit narrow-minded or shortsighted.  He may not have elite vertical coverage skills, but I’ll take his game any day.  I think he can not only play but excel in any system.  I’ve seen him diagnose and get out into the flats on receivers in time to shut down plays at the point of reception.  He’s a coach on the field; a film rat who has great dedication to the game and his teammates.  If you’ve ever watched an Alabama game, you’ve seen McClain directing all layers of his defense and making the necessary pre-snap adjustments.  We were without a real leader this year, and I think McClain is the guy to hold the title for a decade.  He’s the franchise QB for the defensive side of the ball, and although I know it’s not what we’re here to discuss, the Bucs could have a huge (literally) marketing campaign with Freeman being the young offensive stud and McClain being his defensive counterpart.

Now that we’ve improved the second layer of our defense, I want to spend our two second rounders on a combination of DT, DE, and WR.  I’ve been reading Shawne Merriman’s name a little over at Pewter Report.  He tore his LCL and PCL in December of ’07 and went against the advice of multiple doctors, choosing play through the injury in ’08.  A week into the year, he changed his mind and was lost for the season due to undergoing surgery.  All that aside he’d still be an upgrade over what we have now.  Is anyone getting their hopes up for Julius Peppers?  What about Aaron Kampman?

At DT we’re looking at Brian Price as the best option.  It’s highly possible that he’s gone before we pick for a second time, but as I’ve broken down earlier, a lot of the teams picking towards the end of the first round either run 3-4 defenses (for which I don’t think he’s ideal) or have other, more dire needs to fill.  Jared Odrick would be next on my list.  He’s a bit narrow for a DT, but he’s athletic and is a pretty sound tackler.

At DE the talent pool figures to be pretty deep when we pick 35th.  Derrick Morgan will be gone, and there’s a strong likelihood that Greg Hardy and Carlos Dunlap are too.  Jason Pierre-Paul burst onto the scene with a monster year and will undoubtedly improve his stock at the combine, but should we be hesitant to pull the trigger?  He’s raw, and there’s a good chance he’s drafted higher than he should be based on athletic ability alone.  Everson Griffen jumped from 18 to 45 tackles and 4.5 to 8 sacks from ’08 to ’09 and shows really nice pursuit in the open field for a big guy.  Brandon Graham (6-3, 263) might be a bit smaller than what they’re looking for, and while he may be better off as a 3-4 OLB, he should have the strength to play DE in a 4-3.  He compiled 46 TFL and 20.5 sacks over the last two years.  Corey Wootton used ’09 as basically a rehab year after tearing his ACL in last year’s bowl game, so he might be a bit of a bargain in round 2.  Looks a little lean and Adamsish and could get a little stronger, but he’s really quick and stands 6-7, 270.

At WR, I’ve got Dez Bryant, Golden Tate, Arrelious Benn, and possibly Damian Williams off the board in round 1.  That leaves us with options like Brandon LaFell, Mardy Gilyard, and Dezmon Briscoe.  LaFell can be used inside and out, is quick in the open field, and is very effective on WR screens.  Gilyard has tremendous vision and toughness, exhibits explosive speed, and is an accomplished return man as well.  I’ve called Briscoe a Michael Clayton with hands.  I like his size and that he’s tough to tackle, but his routes need work.  He’s hard to jam and does a nice job catching the ball with his huge hands.

Acquiring one of the veteran defensive ends mentioned above might allow the Bucs to focus on DT and WR with these picks.  Assuming they don’t here’s my order of preference:

1 – Brian Price, DT (UCLA)

2 – Everson Griffen, DE (USC)

3 – Mardy Gilyard, WR (Cincinnati)

4 – Brandon LaFell, WR (LSU)

5 – Jared Odrick, DT (Penn State)

6 – Corey Wootton, DE (Northwestern)

If we’re able to emerge from the first two rounds with Rolando McClain, Brian Price, and Everson Griffen or Mardy Gilyard, I’ll be very excited about the direction of our team.  Again, McClain improves two positions.  He’s brings a face and attitude to the defense.  Price gives us the penetrator to work in combo with Miller.  In Griffen and Gilyard we get either a pass rusher to compliment our other defensive picks or a tough, elusive playmaker at receiver.

I’ll get to rounds 3-7 later, but I think this would be a strong start.