The discussion on The Pewter Plank thus far this offseason has been fairly negative, and I will confess I have been one of the culprits. It’s hard to leave behind a losing season and not feel a bit of negativity and frustration. Fans will call into question the construction of the team in times likes these, and so far most of the discussion has centered upon the tumultuous future of certain players and coaches in the Buccaneers organization. I think it’s about time for something more positive, and today’s news provided a springboard for a more optimistic discussion. Pro Football Weekly and the Pro Football Writers of America named their annual All-Rookie NFL team, and the Buccaneers had three players appear on the list. Only the Vikings had as many, and no NFL team had more rookies honored than the Bucs. So let’s take a moment to consider just how good this trio of Young Bucs were.
The most obvious inclusion on the all-rookie team from the Buccaneers is the Boise State product otherwise known as the Muscle Hamster. Martin was acquired thanks to a brilliant bit of wheeling and dealing on draft day, as the Buccaneers leaped back into the first round and snagged the running back just in time. Mark Dominik and his team would use a 4th round pick (the one they received from trading down in the first round to take a safety from Alabama) to trade back up and take Martin with the 31st pick. The Giants, sitting in the 32nd position in the draft, were likely to take Martin, and the Buccaneers were wise to trade up with the Broncos and ensure they got their man.
Martin rushed for 1454 yards this season, which was good enough for 5th in the entire league, and second most in Buccaneers history. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry, and had 11 carries over 20 yards, along with 11 touchdowns rushing. These stats alone made him a top flight NFL running back this season, but his involvement in the passing game made his season that much more impressive. Martin added 49 catches for 472 yards and yet another score, giving him over 1900 total yards and 12 total scores for his rookie season. His total yards from scrimmage were 3rd most in the NFL, behind just Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson, and 140 yards more than Marshawn Lynch. His touchdowns from scrimmage total was 6th in the league. One can consider all of these stats and conclude that the Dougernaut was easily one of the top 5 skill position offensive players. And I still haven’t mentioned his incredible 251 rushing yard performance against the Raiders.
Martin quickly ascended from a late first round pick that might compete with LeGarrette Blount, to a franchise running back capable of putting up massive numbers and carrying a heavy workload. He will be the focal point of the Buccaneers offense in 2013, and will only get better as he continues to evolve into an NFL player.
The player the Buccaneers traded down to select at the top of the first round wound up being worth the wait, as Mark Barron landed on the All-Rookie team as well. While he was certainly the subject of discussion in regards to his awareness and capability in pass coverage, Barron registered 89 tackles, 4 of them being for loss, and turned in 10 pass breakups. He certainly proved he was capable of making the big play, delivering big hits and making plenty of sure tackles in open space. He also hauled in his first career interception, and was unfortunate to find himself part of the last line of defense in a very weak pass defense.
Barron certainly has a strong future in the NFL. Most strong safeties struggle adapting to the passing game in the pros, and Barron will adapt as he grows in experience and confidence. He has all the size and skill needed to be an All-Pro at his position, and should hopefully continue to develop into a franchise player for the Buccaneers.
The rookie who proved to be the biggest surprise might have been the linebacker from Nebraska. David was certainly discussed as a player to watch in the preseason, but I don’t think anyone foresaw the performance David turned in. The backer played in multiple positions, in both run and pass situations, and turned in an incredibly impressive season. He registered 19 tackles for loss, and had 5 passes defended with one interception. Lavonte added 2 sacks, and a team-leading 139 tackles, in a very impressive debut season. He began to draw comparisons to a former Buccaneer linebacker that came from Florida State and won defensive player of the year in 2002. While I’m not sure we can declare Mr. David as Derrick Brooks 2.0 just yet, he is well on his way to leading the revival of the Buccaneer defense.
David will be the focal point of a hopefully improved defense in 2013. He has some things to work on, just like Barron, but the two should benefit greatly from their year of NFL experience.
The Buccaneers might not have the most talented roster in the NFL, and the defense is certainly lacking in veteran talent. The offense has some big names and big contracts, but was a bit unbalanced coming into 2012. The NFL draft provided the talent the defense needed to keep its head barely above water, and gave the offense the workhorse needed to help stabilize an inconsistent passing game. If Mark Dominik can do just as well in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers could be setting up for another golden age like the one experienced around the turn of the millennium. While a lot needs to happen for that to occur, draft choices like Barron, David, and Martin are a solid foundation upon which the Buccaneers can rebuild the franchise.
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