The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history in 2013. The amount of turnovers from the quarterback position certainly puts a bit of a black mark on an otherwise impressive set of numbers, but there is really no pressing need on offense heading into the 2013 NFL season. The Buccaneers could use a good tight end, and the third receiver position isn’t set at this point, plus a strong backup for Doug Martin would be useful.
That means it would be wise to spend more time this offseason improving the other side of the ball, because it was the Buccaneers’ defense that was responsible for many of the teams’ woes in 2012. There are still needs at every level of the defense, and plenty of room for a rookie to come in and compete. Luckily, the draft matches the Buccaneers’ need for defense, as CBS Sports’ draft rankings show 7 of the top 13 prospects are defenders, with another 4 of the top 13 being offensive linemen (which the Buccaneers don’t need at all this offseason). That means the Bucs are going to likely be in a position with the 13th selection to take a player who can make a contribution to the defense right away, and won’t have to reach for a player at a need position.
So why on earth would the Buccaneers take Tavon Austin with the 13th pick? Many fans have spoken out in support of selecting the West Virginia wideout in the first round, and now mock drafters are hopping on board. Walter Football’s latest mock draft has the Buccaneers selecting the diminutive athlete at wide receiver with the following explanation:
The Buccaneers obviously have several holes on defense. They’re desperate for cornerback upgrades. Inside linebacker is a big need. The defensive line also has to be addressed. The stop unit is a mess.
However, Tampa Bay also has to find help for Josh Freeman on offense. Freeman struggled mightily down the stretch this past season, so the Buccaneers need to do everything in their power to keep this from happening again. Drafting Tavon Austin would be a big boost for Freeman. There’s some top-10 buzz for Austin, so he’s definitely in play at No. 13 overall.
In other words, the Bucs need cornerbacks, which are available in this mock draft. They need a middle linebacker, which is also available in this mock draft. And they need defensive linemen, which are also available in this mock draft. But the quarterback who just set the franchise record for yards and touchdowns in a season needs “help”?
I understand that the Buccaneers could stand to add another playmaker to the team, as they lack a dynamic return man and none of their receivers are particularly special athletically in the way that Percy Harvin or Randall Cobb might be. But to think that a team would take its third wide receiver with the 13th pick of the NFL draft, when players at every position that the mock drafter considered a need are available, is asinine. Bjoern Werner would provide the Buccaneers with much needed pass rush, as would Barkevious Mingo. Arthur Brown would provide a middle linebacker, allowing Mason Foster to move to the strongside. Desmond Trufant could add a much needed cornerback. Any of these picks, even if they are a bit of a reach in some cases, would make much more sense than selecting a player who would play no more than 600 snaps on offense, and return 40 punts. There is no doubt that Austin is a playmaker. He’s a special athlete. But to reach to take a borderline top 20 prospect who is limited to being a slot receiver with concerns about his size and ability to consistently catch the football with so many other pressing needs would be foolish.
If this were Madden football, and the player’s ability to abuse the speed of Austin came into play, this would make more sense. But in real life football, which doesn’t take place in compression shorts on a turf field with stopwatches, speed only gets so much done. Austin has impressive speed, but he was tackled quite often in college (as most players are). He’s not a great enough prospect to waste an opportunity to continue to build a defensive core, and he would be better suited with a team that needs help at receiver. And for that matter, he’d be a better match for a quarterback who is accurate on short to intermediate passes. Josh Freeman struggles with passes over the middle, and when he misfires it is often a high throw. Having a short receiver in the fold may prove problematic, as Austin would be left out to dry by his quarterback, or simply overthrown. Every contributing wideout on the roster at the moment is 6’1″ or taller. So in more ways than one, selecting Tavon Austin in the first round just doesn’t measure up for the Buccaneers.