The Bucs are now one day away from making the 20th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Bucs enter the draft with a few needs, some from last season and some more recent. Unfortunately with the current state of the NFL labor situation, this is really just a temporary reprieve from the constant CBA-BS that is now unfolding in the courts of Minneapolis. But, still, for three days we get to be football fans again and dream about what could be during next season (if and when that happens).
The Bucs need help in all levels of their defense at this point, regardless of whether Aqib Talib is on the roster next season the Buccaneers will not likely extend him long-term and will probably look to add another talented corner to eventually succeed him (and the aging Ronde Barber). The team has some interesting prospects at corner already on the roster, but none are slam dunks and it would behoove the Bucs to address that position in the draft. The need for a pass-rush and upgrades at linebackers were evident all of last season. The conventional wisdom has the Bucs taking an end in the first round, I don’t know that’s a foregone conclusion anymore though.
The Bucs could choose to pick a corner in the first, especially if either Jimmy Smith or Prince Amukamara is available, Amukamara is unlikely to last that long but Smith could still be on the board. Tampa could still get a decent end in the 2nd and 3rd if they went corner in round one. If none of that happens the Bucs will go end, but it seems like there are about ten potential candidates for the pick right now. This is a very deep draft in regard to pass-rushers, so if Mark Dominik decides to stay at 20 he should have his pick of the pass-rusher that best fits the Bucs defensive style, or he could grab a corner or even a linebacker. But who is that going to be? Let’s break it down…
Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri- Smith is a very intriguing candidate that would fit well into the Buccaneers’ defensive approach. He’s got enough size and strength to grow into a solid run-defender but he also brings elite pass-rush potential to the equation. Unlike with JJ Watt and Cameron Jordan you aren’t sacrificing on the pass-rush end in order to stop the run. Smith is still going to require some coaching, he’s young and needs a lot of help on technique but he also has a ton of athleticism and he has the intangibles to make it as a very good end in the NFL. He could also play outside linebacker in a 3-4, which is a good benchmark for what the Bucs are looking for: if a guy would be a 3-4 OLB he’s a good candidate at end, if he’d be DE in a 3-4 too, he’s probably not bringing pressure off the edge like you’d like.
Odds he ends up in Pewter and Red: 60%, Beyond Bowers I see Smith as the next most likely player to end up in Tampa, and I don’t think Bowers falls to 20.
Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson- Bowers was once the top prospect in the draft but concerns over his knee have made him drop on a lot of teams’ boards. A lot of Bucs fans have mentioned the similarities between Bowers and former Buccaneers and Clemon Tiger Gaines Adams (RIP). Gaines actually served as a mentor to Bowers, and his passing caused Bowers to recommit to the game and dedicate himself to achieving his massive potential. Bowers is stronger than Adams was, he’s not lacking for quickness but he’s not as quick as Gaines was either though. Regardless, Bowers projects as a very good NFL pass-rusher and a quality end who can stay in and play the run as well. He would make the Bucs a lot better and teaming with Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, he would see his fair share of one-on-one looks too.
Odds he ends up in Pewter and Red: 40%, If he’s on the board at 20 Tampa will take him, but that’s a big IF.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue- Kerrigan is the kind of player that gets every last ounce of his God-given ability, the first one in and the last one out of the team facilities, a high-motor, high-effort kid who has great character. The question is whether or not Kerrigan has enough ability to be successful as an NFL pass-rusher. A lot of guys like Kerrigan, the grinders, don’t always pan out in the NFL because despite their 110% they just lack the high-end athleticism to compete. Adam Archuleta comes to mind, hard-working guy but he wasn’t talented enough to be much more than a back-up it in the NFL at safety (as St. Louis slowly found out). Will Kerrigan be more Archuleta or will his work ethic craft him into an elite NFL-pass rusher? I think Kerrigan is a 1-a defensive end at best. 1-a meaning if he teams with another top-notch end, he will win his one-on-ones more often than not and apply pressure. But agaisnt double-teams I don’t think Kerrigan will ever be able to have much of an impact.
Odds he ends up in Pewter and Red: 25%, He could end up in Tampa if some of the more talented ends go in the first 19 picks, but I doubt he’s the guy Tampa is targeting.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa- I really don’t see the Bucs going after Clayborn, but our resident medical expert, Dr. Mark Kenna is very high on him. I see Clayborn the same way as I see JJ Watt and Cameron Jordan, he’s probably better suited to be second defensive end or shift inside if he stays in a 4-3, but he’s not going to be an elite pass-rusher and the Bucs need that more. If the Bucs already had a good speed-rusher, a bigger end who can generate a decent rush and shut down the run would be perfect. But the Bucs have neither and frankly, with Brian Price healthy and Roy Miller inside, the Bucs could just shift McCoy out and have basically that exact player filling that role. The Bucs are more likely to be targeting a guy who excels at the pass-rush, and while Clayborn is adequate this is a deep enough class that the Bucs can find a better fit.
Odds he ends up in Pewter and Red: 20%, He’s a possibility but only if there’s a run on ends and Tampa’s other choices are already off the board.
Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado- Smith is a big-bodied corner with good speed and quickness and the swagger to be an NFL shutdown corner. He completes the trinity of corners that make up the NFL-ready group from this class. Smith is not without some questions, a string of incidents in 2007 have caused many teams to write the talented corner off, but he seems to have been clean since that point four years ago and has more than enough talent to justify the pick at 20, provided he is still around then. Smith would give the Bucs a big, rangy corner who plays the run well and has a nose for the ball, but taking him also means waiting on addressing the pass rush until rounds two and three.
Odds he ends up in Pewter and Red: 20%, If the Bucs take a corner it will probably be Smith.
Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA- Ayers had a disappointing time at the combine, posting a 4.8-40 and plummeting down teams’ boards. This guy plays a lot faster than that time though and he has good enough instincts and ability to either continue to play outside linebacker in a 4-3 or to drop down and play end as well. At 6’3 250, I think he could be a very talented defensive end, but he would require coaching in order to do so. Still, a player such as Ayers represents an intriguing possibility for the Bucs as he sports what is arguably first round potentially at two (or three if you believe some scouts who think he could play in the middle) positions. The Bucs could take him into camp and see what they had. Still, in the first you’d prefer not to get a project.
Odds he ends up in Pewter and Red: 15%, Versatile though he is, he’s not a slam-dunk anywhere and the Bucs need a guy who can make an impact.
Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal- I think Cameron Jordan is a lot better fit in a 3-4 than in the Bucs’ system. Face it, 6’4 287 isn’t generating a big speed rush. Jordan is a great prospect but he’s a lot better against the run and asking him to come off the edge and put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks isn’t playing to his strengths. I’ve actually been a little bit surprised about the amount of analysts who have the Bucs taking Jordan in their mocks. If the Bucs want to use a player that size to get to the quarterback they would have stuck with Gerald McCoy at rush-end. He’s the same size and arguably better at providing pressure off the edge. I don’t see the Bucs picking Cameron Jordan, but then, watch me be dead wrong.
Odds he ends up in Pewter and Red: 10%, I just don’t see this happening. Great player, wrong defense.
Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska- Amukamara is the type of guy the Bucs would jump at the chance to grab. I mentioned earlier this week that they may jump up for Amukamara if the price is right. Amukamara is an elite corner with elite ability, he’s well-suited to play man or zone coverage, has the physicality to play the run, the instincts to jump passes and the quickness and athleticism to recover if he’s wrong. Prince Amukamara would come to the Bucs and make fans forget about Aqib Talib within the first four games. The problem is everyone else knows how talented Prince is too, and cover corners are a rare and precious commodity. Amukamara won’t last to 20.
Odds he ends up in Pewter and Red: 5%, Only if the Bucs make a ballsy move to climb up and get him.
JJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin- Watt is another guy I have heard experts saying that the Bucs are enamored with and wondered how many Bucs games they watched last year. Yes, the Buccaneers had an issue stopping the run, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to draft a 290-pounder and toss him out at defensive end. They need a guy who can generate enough pressure off the edge to bother a quarterback, especially if they’re planning on making any drastic decisions with regard to members of their secondary. Ends like Watt and Jordan are geared for a 3-4, a good NFL tackle like Jake Long or Joe Thomas is going to handle those guys coming off the edge on their own all day with great aplomb. Watt would not be a good pick.
Odds he ends up in Pewter and Red: 5%, Watt probably won’t even be on the board at this point, but he would not be a good pick even if he was.