This is my first article here at Pewter Plank, my name is Matthew Levanduski and I have been a diehard Buc fan since 1996. I’m twenty six years old so the Bucs have been a huge part of my sports life since I was twelve. I ended up becoming a fan of Warrick Dunn when he was a Nole, so when the Bucs unveiled a new stadium, new uniforms, and ultimately knocked Steve Young out I was hooked. Now that the short introduction part is out of the way let’s talk some Buc ball shall we?
Aqib Talib has dominated Buccaneer headlines this week, right when he started to get positive recognition (NFL Alumni DB of the Year) this tragic turn of events happened. This is a tough pill to swallow for any Buc fan, the way we finished our season against Seattle and New Orleans was amazing. I honestly wondered what would have happened if not for the botched call on the Kellen Winslow touchdown against Detroit. Green Bay was behind us in the standings until that week and would never have made the playoffs if we won out (subsequently we would have if not for blown call). Everyone knows the rest of the story. I was looking forward to this season more than any ever, we have our franchise quarterback for the first time since I have been a fan, our last draft class (including Blount) was probably the best we had since 1997, and honestly I think the Saints and Falcons have peaked. The Bucs were the young team trending upward with a roster full of young productive players that have not even tapped their potential. This was going to be our year to step up and take over the south.
In the unfortunate event Aqib is found guilty our defense is not as strong. When we were basically in a playoff game against Detroit they were down to their third string quarterback Drew Stanton. Without Talib we were picked apart over and over and Calvin Johnson ran circles around E.J. Biggers. Now I want to think that I’m wrong about this, but I do not think that we can replace Talib with anyone on our roster. Even though Biggers was a nice surprise in parts of last season, he probably is at best a number two or three corner in the NFL. Shutdown corners do not just grow on trees ladies and gentlemen, Aqib Talib is not only a shutdown corner, he is one of the best going into only his fourth season. Now what I want to discuss with fellow Buc fans is where does this leave our team moving forward? With the twentieth pick in the NFL Draft the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select whom?
Honestly I hope that the front office does not feel the immediate pressure to replace Talib. There is always the chance that he is innocent, his accuser does not sound like a very credible witness. Things at one time looked dark and gloomy for Big Ben in Pittsburgh, but that dirty laundry seems to be fresh and clean again. Many draft experts believe that the Bucs are looking for help in the pass rush this year. Most mock drafts I have read around the internet seem to agree. Mark Dominik hinted that the Bucs might not pick a defensive player, but since this team will either rise or fall on the play of Josh Freeman it might be best served to take an offensive player.
My personal hope would be for either Robert Quinn or DaQuan Bowers to fall out of the top ten and that our team trades up and gets one of these two. Obviously it would be a costly move, however picking twentieth every round we probably should be aggressive if there is a player worth the move in the first round. Last season picking third each round it was much more logical for a player to fall to us that actually was graded in the round ahead (Brian Price, Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn). Now however if we have to move ahead without Talib I’m not so positive this idea works anymore.
On the Buccaneers roster our cornerbacks that will most likely battle to start opposite of Ronde Barber are….
E.J. Biggers who was a seventh round draft pick in 2009; he ended up missing his entire rookie season to injury. Biggers certainly has outplayed that seventh round draft position, he made a game clinching interception against Cleveland, and he won the nickel corner job (his competition was thin). Please do not get me wrong, I like E.J. Biggers I just don’t see him as anymore than a nickel corner. He is a pretty good athlete, not elite but not horrible, but lacks strength and physicality. Biggers does not re route receivers with his press, and is a liability tackling. I really only want him on the field in passing situations, the Buc front seven is already undersized.
Myron Lewis was a third round pick from Vanderbilt in 2010. I would like to believe that this kid has potential; he has the size and strength of Talib at the very least. Lewis was a team captain for the Commodores and All SEC corner in his career. College statistics do not always tell the entire story for an NFL player however, Lewis was said to be raw in training camp. Lewis is somewhat the polar opposite of Biggers. While Lewis is not as fast and shifty, he has great size and ball skills. With no off season workouts however, I really do not think Lewis is going to be ready to step in and take Aqib Talib’s position quite yet.
Elbert Mack is not very high on my list. I am surprised that he has a job still actually. This is a perfect example that college production means nothing in a professional prospect. Mack led FBS in interceptions in 2008 for Troy. Undersized with little athleticism or strength, Mack is a liability most times he is on the field. Elbert Mack will not start I promise.
So guys where does this leave the Bucs looking forward to the draft? As much as the Nmamdi talk is starting up, I highly doubt that the Glazers are considering paying over ten million bucks annually to anyone. Even though they did offer Albert Haynesworth mega bucks it just is not something that the Bucs usually do. It would be awesome to get Nmamdi here, it would really alleviate all of my concerns but I won’t even think about it until that time hopefully comes.
As of today there are only three cornerbacks with first round grades from most scouting services. Patrick Peterson who is in my opinion the most complete prospect in the draft will not fall out of the top ten. Prince Amukamara (corners and their sweet names) is probably being considered long gone by our pick at 20. San Francisco (7), Dallas (9), Houston (11), Detroit (13), Jacksonville (16) and even the New York Giants (19) all would be crazy not to look long hard at Amukamara if available at their pick. All of their secondaries are in rough shape, landing Amukamara would be a great step towards being decent again.
This leaves the only corner remaining to be Jimmy Smith from Colorado. Smith put up ridiculous numbers at the combine and some experts believe he is actually the best cover corner in the draft. This kid reminds me of Talib quite a bit actually. I believe Smith ran a low 4.4 forty yard dash with close to twenty bench reps of 225lbs. He is tall and fast with a long lanky body. He would most likely be a top 15 pick if he would have just kept his mouth shut at the combine. (Does this tall, strong, fast, and extremely talented corner sound familiar?) Most people have Smith plummeting down draft boards; reports say Smith is not even on some draft boards anymore.
I want to know from other fans do you think the Bucs are in a desperate position to risk drafting a Jimmy Smith with hopes that Raheem can make the kid grow up, or what do you guys see happening with and/or without Aqib Talib. Assuming that we are going to be without Mr. Talib, I would probably take a chance on Jimmy Smith if we are looking at say the seventh or eighth best DE, or the third or fourth tackle being our options. If we have Talib, and his case is closed and everything checks out than I say no way in hell. Those two probably would not work well together; Raheem’s hands are already full with Talib and Tanard as is. If Talib is on board I say a guy like Clayborn or Aldon Smith would certainly be acceptable picks, I’m assuming that Ryan Kerrigan will not be sitting available after nineteen other picks.
One of my hopes was that the Bucs would select a new middle linebacker; I personally can’t stand watching Barrett Ruud get drug downfield after attempting to tackle. His tackle statistics are overrated because of the scheme, and our run defense has been awful with Ruud running the defense. He expects to get paid big time, and being that the Bucs have not ponied up and paid him over the last two years I doubt Raheem values him as much as it might sound in his recent interview at the owner’s meetings. Ruud will most likely remember how long he had to wait to get a contract, and continue to play at a low level if resigned.