Yes, it’s really early, but you all know how I live for the NFL draft. This season hasn’t been one of the more enjoyable ones, but I think we’ve at least been able to evaluate a lot of the “talent” on the roster. Quickly, here’s a position by position current state assessment with some potential free agent cures. First, let me say that these are potential free agents, and the tenuous status surrounding many of them will be determined by the outcome of the CBA situation. Depending on how that works out, the market could be flooded with talented players whose teams are looking to dump inflated contracts without cap ramifications.
QB – Josh Freeman has performed admirably thus far. Some are more impressed with his efforts than others (me), but he looks like he might be worth building around given some decent coaching. Ideally they’d improve the backup position with a veteran, but Chad Pennington looks to be the best of a shoddy free agent class.
RB – Cadillac has performed unexpectedly well, but Ward has failed to provide much of a spark. Graham has been reduced to a FB. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but the way I understand it, Cadillac is an RFA if we head into an uncapped year. Otherwise, he’s a UFA. One way or another, we might be looking for depth if nothing else at this position. Willie Parker, Larry Johnson, Chester Taylor, and LaDainian Tomlinson are the best current potential free agent options.
WR – Everyone not named Sammie Stroughter pack your bags. Sadly, it doesn’t look like Michael Clayton is going anywhere, so we’ll be stuck with him and his shitty play again in ’10. Stovall hasn’t been too shabby lately, and I’d be fine with keeping him as the last receiver on the depth chart; especially considering his special teams skills. The problem is he’s being asked to play a significant role. Bryant’s year has been wasted, and I have a hard time seeing him wanting to return or the Bucs really wanting to spend the money to retain him. We need at least 3 additions at this position, and there could be some decent options available in free agency (Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Braylon Edwards, Kevin Walter, and Miles Austin).
TE – For better or worse, all three of our TE are under contract for ’10.
OL – Their play hasn’t been terribly inspiring, in part because of Faine’s extended absence, but I really don’t see us replacing any starters for ’10. I’m guessing the scheme will change instead. Zuttah has probably been the weakest link this year, but I think he needs more time with Faine. Jahri Evans (G, New Orleans) will probably be the best free agent lineman, so there doesn’t look to be any upgrade in free agency. Aaron Sears also just rejoined the team, so here’s to hoping he’s healthy and able to contribute in ’10, along with ’09 draftee Xavier Fulton.
DE – Wilkerson (a free agent to be) has been a real bargain, White makes a play every now and then, and Crowder has played well in spurts. Kyle Moore has been inactive most of the season, but you’d hope he’s ready to perform in ‘10. We still need a serious threat off the edge; someone who can consistently rush the passer from his blind side and make plays in the backfield. Ideally, Wilkerson is retained, and the Bucs upgrade in free agency and/or the draft. Julius Peppers, Elvis Dumerville, and Aaron Kampman are free agents.
DT – Miller has been a fine addition, but Hovan and Sims haven’t gotten the job done and should be backups at best next year. We need to see more of Dre Moore to find out if he’s worth keeping around in ’10. Needless to say, this is a real weak area. The free agent crop looks to be weak as well. Ryan Pickett (GB) might headline the list.
CB – My hat off to you Ronde. Thanks for stepping up and showing us you’ve still got something in the tank. Talib is well on his way to becoming one of the league’s top playmakers, so we’ve got one solid starter in ’10. Can Ronde be counted on again? We know that Mack can’t. Ideally, Cox’s spot is upgraded. Mickens and Biggers have potential but are questions. We can’t afford to go into another season with a “let’s check these guys out” attitude. Leigh Bodden will be on the market again next offseason as will Dunta Robinson.
S – Tanard Jackson is solid, but Sabby is still undisciplined. Our depth is injured, and Corey Lynch is a question. The best free agents (OJ Atogwe, Ryan Clark, and Antoine Bethea) are all FS.
By my guesstimation (not necessarily in order) our primary needs would be DT, DE, WR, CB, and LB, and to a lesser extent depth at RB, S, and the OL. Depending upon how committed the coaching staff and front office are to extending the Piscitelli experiment, safety might creep up the list of needs as well. As of right now the Bucs have 10 picks in next year’s draft.
R1 – TB
R2 – TB & Bears
R3 – TB
R4 – TB
R5 – Patriots (Alex Smith trade); Cleveland has ours as part of Winslow deal
R6 – TB
R7 – TB & BAL (Marques Douglas trade from last year)
The 10th pick would be the conditional pick from the Jags for McCown.
Here’s my current preference for how the first 3 of those picks are used.
I think DT has to be the first pick. There’s not much value at other positions the Bucs would be looking at here (DE, T, WR, CB), and Ndamukong Suh (6-4, 302, Nebraska) and Gerald McCoy (6-4, 295, Jr, Oklahoma) might be the top two prospects in the entire draft, not just at their positions. Suh is the more powerful of the two. He has huge upper body strength, great handwork, controls his man at the LOS, sheds blocks better than anyone at his position, and has shown a tendency to occupy and disrupt passing lanes. Dude’s name means “house of spears”, so you’ve got to love that. Collegiate linemen are no match for him, and he frequently blows up double teams. McCoy is the more versatile of the two, and he might have more explosion off the snap and be the better penetrator, but Suh doesn’t just clog lanes. Sure he’s big strong, but he’s also an intelligent, instinctive defender (as evidenced by his ability to disengage from blocks and bat down passes when he can’t get to the QB). Want some numbers?
7 QB hurries
2 blocked kicks
’09 (through 10 games) –
19 QB hurries
3 blocked kicks
The pick – Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska)
The Bucs have two picks in this round thanks to the deal that sent Gaines Adams to the Bears, and right now, Chicago is sitting at 4-5 (2-4 in conference). There are 14 other teams at 4-5 or worse at this point, so the Bears have some losing to do to get themselves to the top of the draft. Their remaining games:
Vs. St. Louis
Vs. Green Bay
That’s not an easy stretch considering how bad the Bears have been playing, and they could easily end up 6-10 on the year. Having 3 of the first 40 picks in the draft would put the Bucs in position to emerge with some real talent.
After going DT in the first round, I’m now looking at DE, LB, CB, WR, RB, and T. The first of the two picks should be in the 33-38 range, and below are the players taken with those picks in the last 5 years.
33 – Lions (Louis Delmas, S, Western Michigan)
34 – Patriots (Patrick Chung, S, Oregon)
35 – Rams (James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio St)
36 – Browns (Brian Robiskie, WR, Ohio St)
37 – Broncos (Alphonso Smith, CB, Virginia Tech)
38 – Bengals (Rey Maualuga, LB, USC)
33 – Dolphins (Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson)
34 – Rams (Donnie Avery, WR, Houston)
35 – Redskins (Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan St)
36 – Packers (Jordy Nelson, WR, Kansas St)
37 – Falcons (Curtis Lofton, LB, Oklahoma)
38 – Seahawks (John Carlson, TE, Notre Dame)
33 – Cardinals (Alan Branch, DT, Michigan)
34 – Bills (Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn St)
35 – Bucs (Aaron Sears, G, Tennessee)
36 – Eagles (Kevin Kolb, QB, Houston)
37 – Chargers (Eric Weddle, S, Utah)
38 – Raiders (Zach Miller, TE, Arizona St)
33 – Texans (DeMeco Ryans, LB, Alabama)
34 – Browns (D’Qwell Jackson, LB, Maryland)
35 – Redskins (Rocky McIntosh, LB, Miami)
36 – Patriots (Chad Jackson, WR, Florida)
37 – Falcons (Jimmy Williams, CB, Virginia Tech)
38 – Raiders (Thomas Howard, LB, UTEP)
33 – 49ers (David Bass, C, Michigan)
34 – Browns (Brodney Pool, S, Oklahoma)
35 – Eagles (Reggie Brown, WR, Georgia)
36 – Bucs (Barrett Ruud, LB, Nebraska)
37 – Lions (Shaun Cody, DT, USC)
38 – Raiders (Stanford Routt, CB, Houston)
Some hit, some didn’t, and so far DeMeco Ryans is the only one to have earned Pro Bowl honors. Here are the players I’m looking at right now as options with those two second round picks:
Brandon Spikes (6-3, 256, Florida) and Rolando McClain (6-4, 256, Jr, Alabama) are two guys that I’d love to see manning the middle of our defense, but I think both will be off the board in round one. McClain isn’t a sure thing to declare. If I’m still looking at LB, the guy at the top of my list would be Sergio Kindle (6-4, 255) from Texas. Regardless of the scheme, I think he can come in and be a big time producer. He’s a SLB with tremendous blitzing ability and a knack for making plays in the backfield. His versatility would be a huge asset here in Tampa where he would have the opportunity to line up as a DE on passing downs and give the defense another capable pass rusher. He’s what the Bucs were hoping Quincy Black would be. He’s quick and decisive, closes well, and has the strength to make open field solo stops. Last year Kindle averaged just under 1 TFL per game (12.5 in 13 games), totaled 10 sacks, had 5 QB hurries, and recovered 2 fumbles. Playing at DE this season, he’s accrued another 14 TFL and 3 sacks. Aggression is his game, and I’d love to pair him with Suh as our first two picks in the draft. I have a feeling opposing defenses would feel a bit more pressure by adding those two.
Eric Norwood (6-0, 252, South Carolina) and Sean Weatherspoon (6-1, 245, Missouri) are two other guys I really like. Norwood would be more in Kindle’s mold of a SLB with the ability to rush the passer while Weatherspoon is a very athletic, active, instinctive WLB. Norwood has been very productive at South Carolina where he headed into this year as the school’s all time leader in TFL and third in career sacks. Through 11 games this year, Norwood has 7 sacks, 10.5 TFL, 2 INT, 9 QB hurries, and an impressive 3 blocked kicks. Weatherspoon had 18.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 INT, 6 QB hurries, and 7 pass break ups last year, and through 10 games this season, he’s added another 12 TFL, 3.5 sacks, and 1 INT. His 93 total tackles are also almost double that of the next highest total on Missouri’s defense.
Man do we need someone who can rush the passer. At DE, I’m looking for the Freeney/Dumerville type rusher; the shorter, quicker guys. In other words, I’m avoiding the lanky, rangy Gaines Adams types. It’s not solely because of Adams’ lack of success, but I want to get a guy who can burst off the edge and get into the backfield consistently without having to tap dance with a tackle. Thankfully, there are quite a few prospects that fit that build – Brandon Graham (6-1, 265, Michigan), Everson Griffen (6-3, 280, Jr, USC), Jerry Hughes (6-3, 257, TCU), and Brandon Lang (6-4, 255, Troy) are four guys on the radar. Each is going to be considered in both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, so the Bucs will have extra competition for their services.
Graham is a hustler who I expect to go in the first round. Through 11 games, he has a whopping 21.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks after totaling 20 and 10 respectively last year. Griffen, a teammate of ’09 pick Kyle Moore, is an extremely quick junior with a ton of potential. His numbers (8 sacks and 9.5 TFL) won’t match those of other prospects, but his athleticism is undeniable. He’s really quick for a guy who sits 6-3, 280 and is impressive to watch in pursuit in the open field. Griffen, like Graham, could easily be a first round pick.
Hughes might be the most likely 3-4 player at the next level, but he could have a future as a 4-3 RE with his ability to fire off the LOS and zero in on QBs. His ’09 numbers (10.5 sacks and 13 TFL) won’t match last year’s 15 sacks and 19.5 TFL, but he can (in part) thank his reputation and increased attention from offense blocking schemes for that. A former RB, speed and agility are his game. I like his relentless pass rush and explosion off the snap. Lastly, Lang will be a bit under the radar playing at Troy, but he’s a consistent threat off the edge. His ’09 numbers (6.5 sacks and 9.5 TFL) are down a bit from last year’s 10.5 sacks and 17.5 TFL, but the things I like most about his game are his lateral movement, how he uses his hands to gain leverage, and his utilization of various pass rush moves in addition to a solid speed rush.
Jason Pierre-Paul (6-6, 260, Jr, USF) might make me change my mind about the lanky type end because that dude has been a menace all year long. Definite upside there. I like Willie Young (NC State) too, but at the moment, I think he’s a 3rd rounder.
My work on this position is far from done. To be honest, it’s gotten less attention than every position except for TE, G, C, and S. That said, here are my very fluid top 10 rankings as of right now:
Joe Haden (5-11, 180, Jr, Florida)
Donovan Warren (6-0, 185, Jr, Michigan)
Both of these guys will be first round picks if they come out, and both are projected shutdown corners at the next level. I wish Haden was just a smidge bigger, but that’s my biggest gripe about the guy. I really like his willingness and consistency as a tackler. The rest of these corners have a good shot of making it through the first 32 picks unselected.
Patrick Robinson (5-11, 194, FSU) – athletic, instinctive, speed, and hands; could improve tackling
Amari Spievey (6-0, 190, Jr, Iowa) – really nice size and physical play; lacks elite speed
Trevard Lindley (6-0, 179, Kentucky) – great cover skills, gambles, ball skills; not terribly strong
Kyle Wilson (5-10, 186, Boise State) – aggressive, cover corner, ball skills; not much of a tackler
Jerome Murphy (6-1, 185, USF) – tough, active, high effort, closes well; I’d like him to be thicker
Javier Arenas (5-9, 198, Alabama) – accomplished return man, productive; aggressive; better off in zone
Ras-I Dowling (6-2, 200, Jr, Virginia) – ideal size, nice jam, physical; lapses of inconsistency, slow recovery
Brandon Ghee (6-0, 190, Wake Forest) – closes really well, aggressive, jam; lacks instincts, hits better than he tackles
A couple others:
Myron Lewis (6-2, 205, Vanderbilt) – I like his size, but he looks like an NFL safety
Alterraun Verner (5-11, 180, UCLA) – cover skills, intelligence; lacks elite speed, limited potential
Perrish Cox (6-0, 198, Oklahoma St) – nice size but don’t like his press skills in our current scheme
I’m not a big fan of this receiving class, but picks 2a and 2b will likely be our best chances to land a quality starter. Let’s safely assume that Dez Bryant is off the board. I’m not saying he’ll be the only one picked in the first round, but he’s got the best shot of going first IMO. Damian Williams (6-1, 190, USC) and Brandon LaFell (6-3, 210, LSU) are two who could join Bryant as first rounders. Williams is polished and does all the little things right, but on the heels of Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett, I’m a bit gun shy of USC receivers. He’s a very accomplished route runner for a college WR and attacks the football rather than allowing it to play him. LaFell is a guy who you can line up in multiple spots. He’s really quick in the open field and has a knack for finding space and making himself available to his QB. He consistently gets good ball-you-man position against defenders, but I’d like to see him do a better job of regularly catching the ball with his hands rather than his body.
Mardy Gilyard (6-1, 180, Cincinnati) and Golden Tate (5-11, 195, Jr, Notre Dame) are my two favorite receivers in this class (assuming Tate declares), and they should both be available with our second pick. In addition to Gilyard’s explosiveness, reliable hands, and excellent body control, I think he’s got the best vision in this class. I love his upside and think he’d be a great weapon for Josh Freeman. Adding Gilyard to Stroughter would give him two promising, young wideouts at his disposal. Tate is usually the one on the receiving end of Jimmy Clausen’s deep tosses. I love his speed, concentration, and the way he catches the ball in stride. He’s really strong for his size, but I have some concerns about his ability to be a premier receiver at the next level. Gilyard’s easily my favorite of this year’s class. I like Jordan Shipley (6-0, 195, Texas) too, but I think he can be had in the third round.
A sneaky pick might just be one of the tackles that falls out of the first round. I keep going back and forth with Bryan Bulaga (6-6, 305, Jr, Iowa) and Russell Okung (6-5, 300, Oklahoma St) in the top spot, but regardless, both will be early 1st round picks and unavailable when we choose a second time.
Bruce Campbell (6-7, 310, Jr, Maryland) might be the best of the bunch, but he’s missed some time this season with knee and foot injuries. I suspect he returns and tops next year’s list. I’ve got Anthony Davis (6-6, 325, Jr, Rutgers) right there with Matthews. He’s an impressive combination of size and athleticism, but his focus/commitment has been questioned on more than one occasion. He’s a solid run blocker who, if focused, has the skill set to develop a complete game at the next level.
Charles Brown (6-6, 295, USC) and Jason Fox (6-7, 310, Miami) are two really athletic type tackles with a lot of potential. Brown’s quick feet and length help him excel in pass blocking, but he needs to get stronger and more physical to be a force in the run game. Fox has been a fixture on the left side of the Hurricanes’ line, and I think he’s a bit underrated by the reports I’ve seen. He won’t be the most talented guy in the league, but I think his package of experience, athleticism, and intelligence will allow him to be a productive tackle in the NFL.
Two of the better known tackles that I’ve got down on my list are Ciron Black (6-5, 330, LSU) and Trent Williams (6-5, 305, Oklahoma). Black is a really strong, durable run blocker, but I don’t like his footwork and think he’s too inconsistent in pass protection. I think he ends up a RT in the NFL where he’ll be better than Gosder Cherilus but not as successful as Jeff Otah. Call it overreacting, but from what I’ve seen this year, Trent Williams is going to watch his draft stock fall. I don’t think he’s an NFL LT, and because of that, he’ll likely be a late 1st round pick.
Tony Washington (6-6, 300, Abilene Christian) is really athletic and shows nice technique on the edge. His run blocking could use some work, and his biggest question will no doubt be the level of competition he’s faced in the Lone Star Conference. He’s someone to really keep an eye on. Washington seems to have the makings of a quality NFL LT, and it will be interesting to see how he does against top competition in the end of season All Star games.
Selvish Capers (6-5, 295, West Virginia) has nice footwork and lateral movement, and he’s a guy I could see excelling at the next level if he stays in a ZBS. He gets a good set against the pass rush and plays with balance. He’s got a pretty decent ceiling, but can he get stronger?
It might not appear to be a need, but we still have a ways to go before our season is done and our situation is settled. Is Cadillac going to be a free agent? Does Graham return? Is Peanut going to be used more out of the backfield? Come April we just may be looking for a back, and there’s going to be some talent available when the Bucs pick in the second round.
Jahvid Best (5-10, 194, Jr, California) is still my favorite of the bunch. I could go on and on listing his skills, but to keep it simple, I’ll just say see Chris Johnson. Wow! I don’t know if he’s leaning towards returning, but if he comes out, he’s going to be one of the first 32 players chosen. CJ Spiller (5-11, 193, Clemson) is another player likely to go in the first round. There’s not much on the football field he can’t do. Spiller runs, catches passes, and returns kicks with the best of them. He’s not going to be an inside runner in the NFL, but he’s not a guy who shies away from contact either. He’s a playmaker and would look really good in Philadelphia, Minnesota, Baltimore, Miami, Green Bay, and Atlanta just to name a few teams.
A guy I’m really intrigued by is Ryan Mathews (5-11, 215), the junior from Fresno State. This kid runs hard every carry, hits the hole well, runs with good pad level, doesn’t hesitate in traffic, keeps his feet moving after contact, and displays impressive vision both inside and outside. He’s not very shifty and doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he’s likely the top lead back if he declares. I think he’s a surefire first rounder.
If Mathews does return, the honor of top lead back could go to Toby Gerhart (6-1, 235, Stanford) or Jonathan Dwyer (6-0, 228, Georgia Tech). Gerhart’s back to back banner performances against Oregon (223 yards, 3 TD) and USC (178 yards, 3 TD) alone will earn him a lot of recognition and consideration. He’s incredibly light on his feet for a 235 pounder and is a very balanced runner. He’s really hard to bring down (especially on initial contact and in the secondary), and he keeps his feet moving the entire time the ball is in his hands. His vision is top notch (even more noticeable at the second level), and his ability to provide solid pass protection will give him a leg up on most NFL rookies. Gerhart’s also an outfielder on the Stanford baseball team. I hate that Dwyer is stuck in a gimmicky offense, but I like his skillset at the next level. He’s really strong, runs with authority inside, breaks tackles, has a powerful lower body, possesses impressive cutback vision, and shows decent speed for a big guy. Neither is used much in their team’s passing game, but I think it’s more an issue of scheme than ability in both cases. They’re both durable backs. Dwyer sustained a shoulder injury this year against Clemson and was limited in his next game against Miami, but he put up 158 yards on 19 carries against UNC the following week. Gerhart did tear his ACL in the second game of the ’07 season, but he came back the next year and broke Stanford’s single season rushing record and earned second team Pac 10 honors. In addition to Tampa, I think these guys would look good in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Houston, and Cincinnati.
The picks –
Sergio Kindle (LB, Texas) and Mardy Gilyard (WR, Cincinnati)
(alt) Everson Griffen (DE, USC) and Eric Norwood (LB, South Carolina)
(alt) Patrick Robinson (CB, FSU) and Toby Gerhart (RB, Stanford)
So after two rounds I’ve given the Bucs the best player in the draft, a force at LB who doubles as a pass rusher, and a playmaker at WR. Defensive end and corner would be next on my radar, but I think we’re off to a good start here.
Rounds 3-7 at a later date
Talbuc is a guest columnist here at “What the Buc?” He has is own blog on Blogspot that he updates regularly as well as sharing content with us. he is a happily married father of one who continues his love for the Bucs from his secret location in Tallahassee, FL.