The media description of the 2013 Draft as having no elite talent but still being deep can be described with a better word: “mediocre.” That is why the Bucs pursuit of Darrelle Revis, even though it costs them multiple draft picks, makes so much sense – they would not be giving up potential elite talent to gain proven elite talent. It helps them against their biggest threat – (I’m talking about you Dirty Birds) and along with FS Dashon Goldson creates a legitimate secondary. Still, over a seven-round draft, the Bucs need to pick some players to step in and start in order to win the division. Let’s take a look at their divisional matchups and the Bucs’ – and their opponents’ – strengths and weaknesses in order how the Bucs can grow to dominate the NFC South after giving up their first round pick for Darrelle Revis.
Atlanta Falcons (2012 record, 13-3, first in the division) – The king of the hill does not have many obvious flaws. On offense, the Falcons’ main weapons are WR’s Julio Jones, who will continue to improve off his 1198 yard, 10 TD season. Roddy White is right is just as scary with 1351 yards and 7 scores. The weakness is in the running game, where aging star Michael Turner was let go and RB Stephen Jackson not a sure thing at his age. On defense, the Falcons led the division by allowing only 18.7 points per game – well within the magic 20-point realm. If the Dirty Birds score three TDs they are likely to beat you. Where are they vulnerable to the Bucs attack? They cut John Abraham so immediately subtract ten sacks from a team that generated only 29 – a big loss and good news for the Bucs. In 2012, Atlanta was not tough to run on (they surrendered 1,977 yards and 16 TDs) so running the football is key – in the 22-17 Tampa victory in Week 17, Doug Martin ran for 142 yards. The Falcons are vulnerable to TE’s who can get up the field: note NO’s TE Jimmy Graham, who hung 146 yards and 2 TDs on them in a Week 10 Saints’ victory. Bucs’ best strategy: keep the safeties backed off the line-of-scrimmage with a deep threat up the middle and blanket Jones and White. Who to draft? Rnd 2: TE Vance McDonald, Rice – big-bodied, deep threat with soft hands.
Carolina Panthers (2012 record, 7-9 tied for second) – Carolina’s offense is not very good. They lack a deep-threat WR and rely too much on QB Cam Newton to generate an offensive spark. They scored only 357 points, worst in the division. But they played the Bucs tough in both games, each was decided by less than a TD, and the Week 11 contest ended in OT. In both of those games Newton led in passing, throwing for 303 yds and 252 yds respectively. It is also key to remember that Carolina boasted a top-ten rushing attack in 2012, averaging just over 130 yards rushing per game. In both meetings, both Bucs’ wins, the Tampa defense held up well against them, completely shutting down the Panther’s RB’s. On defense, Carolina led the division with 39 sacks, which is hard to believe for a 7-9 team, but they lost their top CB in Chris Gamble and have a lot of work to do. Still, their running game is a threat to a Bucs’ defense that lost two starters on the defensive line and cannot stop the run. Remember, the Bucs ended in a three-way tie with Carolina. Bucs’ best strategy: keep shutting down the run on defense and rush the ball effectively on offense. Who to draft? Rnd 3: DT John Jenkins, Georgia – goodbye, running lanes!
The New Orleans Saints endured a broken season after the Bountygate debacle and the subsequent suspension of guru head coach Sean Payton. Does anyone really believe that New Orleans will sink to the levels they did in 2012 now that their leader is back? With New Orleans just one season removed from a 13-3 season, the Saints will be tough to beat. Payton will be breathing fire, seeking vindication and proof that he still has the moxie to dominate the conference. The Saints are solid on offense, led by perennial messiah, QB Drew Brees, who wasn’t himself without his head coach but in 2012 still managed 5,177 yards and 43 TDs passing. That is a career for most QB’s and numbers that could keep Greg Schiano up at night. The Saints also retained dynamic back Chris Ivory, who averaged 5.9 yards-per-carry and proved every bit as dependable as first-round selection Mark Ingram (602 yards, 5 TD’s). We need not mention TE Jimmy Graham, who is a threat on every level. The weakness in the Saints’ game for some time has been outside the hashes, where they lack a true deep threat: WR’s Marques Colston (1154 yards, 10 TDs) and Lance Moore (1041 yards, 6 TDs) are excellent, but not top-flight. The real weapon in the passing game is Brees, who refuses to be sacked – despite his 670 dropbacks, Brees was sacked just 26 times, mainly because the Saints offense calls for such short breaks. Don’t be fooled, though, give the guy time and he will dismantle you. Defensively the Saints were hilarious – allowing 440 yards per game and a stunning 1089 plays over the season, third-worst in the League. Here’s betting they cannot fix the defense in one season. Best Bucs’ strategy: pressure the New Orlean’s defense up the middle to keep the chains moving and the score close. Who to draft? Round 4: WR Stedman Bailey, West Virginia. Bucs get a WR from West Virginia, just not the one many fans thought.