The 2011 draft was a great opportunity for teams to build through youth. A record 56 entrants were underclassmen, and only 2 of the top 10 picks were seniors. There was a well of talent also, as 8 of the top 16 picks have already seen a Pro Bowl in at least one of their first 2 seasons, and surely more will make the trip by the end of their careers. The 2011 draft was marred by the looming lockout and labour dispute, meaning players could not be traded for draft picks. The NFLPA even went as far as trying to persuade potential draftees to NOT attend the event. Eventually though, realizing it was a once in a lifetime chance, most did attend, including Von Miller, Aldon Smith, and our very own Adrian Clayborn.
Heading into the draft, Tampa held the 20th pick. They were coming off what seemed like a brilliant season. A 10-6 record saw them narrowly miss out on playoffs in 2010. The Green Bay Packers beat the Bucs out by tiebreakers, and would go on to win the Super Bowl. Many people also believe a blown call against the Lions cost Tampa a playoff appearance. It was definitely a disappointing and frustrating season for the Bucs, to come so close to a playoff berth.
Tampa was continuing the belief of building through the draft, and particularly on defense. Gerald McCoy and Brian Price were taken in the first two rounds the year previous. This draft class would see more picks spent on upgrading a young front four, and a beginning in the improvement of linebackers. The past three drafts have been key in retooling the defense, not only improving the talent level, but the age as well. 6 of our 11 starters have been drafted since 2010, and another signed since as an undrafted player (one reason that I believe the Bucs will take a CB with the 13th pick this year regardless of who is our roster).
Without further ado:
1st Round (20th overall) – Adrian Clayborn – DE – Iowa
In college Adrian Clayborn was an Orange Bowl MVP, and was invited to the senior bowl, to which he opted out. His best season came in his junior year when he had 11.5 sacks, 70 tackles, and 4 forced fumbles. After being drafted by Tampa, he became the first player signed out of the first round of drafting. In his rookie season, Clayborn started all 16 games, and collected 7.5 sacks along with 3 forced fumbles and 40 tackles. In the 3rd game of his 2012 season, he injured his knee and landed on IR. Rehabbing ever since, he has been saying his recovery is moving along well and he is excited for the start of this season.
2nd Round (51st overall) – Da’Quan Bowers – DE – Clemson
Da’Quan Bowers was a college standout. In his senior year, he had 74 tackles (2nd on the team) and led the nation with 15.5 sacks on his way to becoming the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Leading up to the draft, Bowers was widely considered to go 1st overall, especially when Andrew Luck took himself out of the equation. In the offseason, before the draft, Da-Quan had knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Even after the surgery, people said he would have time to rehab and prove himself to be a top 5 pick and anything below 10th would be a STEAL. He slid all the way down to Tampa with the 51st overall choice. After drafting Da’Quan, Tampa didn’t want to rush him into a starting role, allowing his knee time to recover and fully strengthen. Though he played second fiddle to Michael Bennett, he did see time in all 16 games, with 6 starts. He recorded 1.5 sacks and 25 tackles. In the offseason, he tore his Achilles tendon, and was on IR until week 7. Michael Bennett, however, was playing well and there was no reason to rush Bowers back into the lineup. In the 10 games he saw time, he was able to achieve 3 sacks and 12 tackles. The Bucs have given Bowers a vote of confidence by letting Michael Bennett walk. If he is able to stay healthy this season, he has an opportunity to finally have the breakout season everyone has been hoping for expecting. He did receive a gun charge in February for trying to check a handgun with his luggage, but all charges have since been dropped or reduced.
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