With the fifth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must make the most prudent decision for their future. Last season was as disappointing as it gets for a team that was nearly in the playoffs the previous year, and the Bucs need to use that pick on a player who can help be a building block for a specific unit. The decision comes down to either LSU cornerback Morris Clairborne or Alabama running back Trent Richardson, and the Bucs need to take the former instead of the latter of the SEC stars.
Picking a running back with the fifth pick in the draft is a severe waste of resources and is an old school mantra that no longer holds true in a passing league. Picking running back with a top ten pick was a worthy investment 15 years ago, but quarterbacks are supreme in the NFL today and running backs are easy to find. Combine that with the lack of need for a running back, and there is no reason why the Bucs should draft Trent Richardson. LeGarrette Blount is one of the most elusive backs in the league and is full of talent, despite the blocking concerns and the relative lack of receiving ability. Those are minor qualms in comparison to his value as a rusher, because there aren’t many RBs in the NFL with his uncanny mix of speed, elusiveness, and that sneaky power.
Cornerbacks, on the other hand, are at a premium and are far more difficult to find. Morris Clairborne is a rare talent with the ability to shut down one side of the field in college, and he is a better pure corner than former teammate Patrick Peterson, who was also a top five pick last year. Since this is a quarterback driven league, players who can help stop the QB and make life difficult for him are nearly as important as the quarterback himself. With teams running more spread looks and three and four WR sets, the importance of having more than one quality corner cannot be overstated.
Drafting a running back is crazy talk for the Bucs at this point, because LeGarrette Blount is already a more than adequate option in the backfield. He is a legitimate feature back, but he was not used enough and was set to fail by the incompetent playcalling and decision-making by offensive coordinator Greg Olson. In 2010, he tore apart the league when given carries and averaged 5.0 yards per carry on those 201 attempts.
Blount may offer nothing as a receiver and is poor in pass protection, but he is extremely elusive and shows that running the football is an art. What this team needs is a number two back who is a jack-of-all-trades, and they can find that guy later on in the draft. Fellow Oregon Duck LaMichael James would be a terrific option at the top of the second round, and that is the proven college running back who they should draft. The concerns about his size are baseless, and he is a terrific pure rusher (in college) who offers more as a pass blocker and catcher than Blount. He is nowhere near Blount, but James is a solid back who can excel with Blount.
The fact that the Bucs can find what they need in the second round shows that wasting their first rounder on Trent Richardson is a poor decision. It’s usually a poor idea to draft a running back in the first round, because backs get injured and are easy to find and replace on the open market.
Cornerbacks, however, are difficult to find on the open market, and the Bucs have more of a need at CB. Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib can both be brought back, but Talib is another fight away from getting run out of the league. Barber is not a top two cornerback anymore and is just veteran depth, because he missed over 20 tackles last season and is losing it as a run stopper. The Bucs desperately need another corner, and Clairborne can be their savior with his tremendous coverage ability. He is a marquee corner in this draft who will immediately start beside Talib, and there is no reason why the Bucs should pick Trent Richardson ahead of him. Clairborne better fits a team need and is at a position of greater stress and higher value. No team in their right mind would pass up on an elite corner for an elite back with the fifth pick in the draft. The Bucs should take Clairborne in the first round and LaMichael in the second, and they will destroy both birds and have the guys they need who fit their team best.
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