All month throughout April (and starting today) we will be doing a weekly feature covering players that the Buccaneers may not target high in the draft but could still come in and contribute well in the Tampa system. Today we lead off the series with Noel Devine, the talented young back out of West Virginia. Devine currently rates as the number nine tailback on our big board and looks to be taken somewhere in the middle to late rounds of the draft.
The knock on Noel Devine is his glaring lack of size. At just about 5’8 and having weighed in at just 160 pounds at the senior bowl, Devine lacks the type of bulk that gives coaches a sense of security in the NFL. The flipside of that is Devine is the nephew of Deion Sanders and brings Primetime’s athleticism to the field in droves. Devine is a nightmare in the open field, combining elite speed with incredible elusiveness.
You can probably see where this is going, the Bucs don’t need an every down back when they have a grinder the likes of LeGarrette Blount, they could however use a dynamic change of pace. What’s a better change of pace for a 250 pounds wrecking ball than a tiny speed back that runs in the low 4.3′s? Devine’s quickness and speed combined with Blount’s power and strength would make an ideal thunder-and-lightning style duo. And while I’m not encouraging the Bucs take carries from Blount, the fact remains the NFL is now a two-back league.
The downside of this is pass protection and whether either of the two could handle the more nuanced parts of the Buccaneers offense. Cadillac Williams stayed on the field last season sheerly because he could do the little things well, pick up blitzers, adjust protections and generally help Josh Freeman when the play was not designed for him (Williams). Blount, even as of the end of last season, was still not fully assimilated into the Bucs offense. That’s not likely to improve much at the start of this year due to the complete lack of off-season work that the team can organize (thanks, lockout).
So while drafting Devine would provide the Bucs with a talented runner and a viable option out of the backfield, it wouldn’t do much on pass protections where the back needed to stay in. Even supposing Devine could learn to do that, asking a 160 pound back to block an end or linebacker off the edge is a tall order. Either way, the Bucs will need a veteran back who can manage those responsibilities at the start of the year.
But drafting Devine would give the Bucs time to develop those skill-sets for both players and eventually would allow the Bucs to move into a two-back system full time. The offensive capabilities of the duo can’t be denied and Earnest Graham can still contribute in the backfield as a fullback. It may not be the direction the Bucs go, but adding Devine in the late rounds would give the Bucs’ offense yet another potent weapon and make game-planning for them that much more difficult.
Not to mention Devine would challenge Michael Spurlock on return duties. It’s hard to keep that kind of speed off the field. Whether the Bucs wanted to try him on special teams or even line him up in the slot occasionally, there are ways to work a player with that type of ability into an offense for a few plays a game, and trust me it would be worth it with Devine.