By now it’s pretty well established, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would like to draft either Morris Claiborne or Trent Richardson with the fifth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. But what if they’re both gone when the Bucs pick? What if the Vikings really aren’t sold on Matt Kalil and draft Claiborne third, while Cleveland snags Richardson fourth?
Then Tampa finds itself in a bit of a quandary… What’s the best course of action?
You don’t want to reach for a player with a top five pick, that almost never works well. So the Bucs will need to go another direction in all likelihood. That’s where it all kind of runs through Justin Blackmon.
The preference would be to trade down, pick up a corner later in the first round and accumulate a couple more picks, but there’s not any guarantee the Buccaneers can get any action at five unless other teams really covet Blackmon, who is unlikely to make it past the Rams at six.
In that case, the Bucs are in business, they could package the fifth pick to a team who wants to draft the Oklahoma State receiver, move back in the first and add another early pick (potentially even another first rounder next year).
But a trade like the Browns finagled out of the Falcons last year for Julio Jones is unlikely in this year’s draft.
If the Bucs can’t find a trade partner and have to use the selection, here are three good options, including one you might not have seen coming…
1.) Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
Why not go pick up the best linebacker in the draft? Kuechly is an instinctual tackling machine with an extremely high football IQ. Selecting him fifth wouldn’t be a reach and it would instantly improve the defense as well as insert a true leader at its center. With Kuechly, the Bucs could shift Mason Foster back outside and that would give them an exciting young linebacking duo to build around. The lineplay on the Buccaneers should also improve dramatically this year with new coaches and a full off-season to practice and (more importantly) train in an NFL conditioning program you should see real progression out of them. That will honestly be as important as anything else in the play and development of the Bucs linebackers. In any 4-3 scheme, if the line can’t keep blockers from disrupting the linebackers then the ‘backers are going to struggle, no matter who is there. Look at the Baltimore Ravens, Ray Lewis is a legend but he’s also played behind some of the best defensive lines, specifically defensive tackles, in football over that time. Those two things are not unconnected. With the expected progression of the defensive line in Tampa, a healthy Gerald McCoy, and Luke Kuechly in the middle of the Buccaneer defense, you would see a dramatic improvement out of the Tampa D in 2012.
2.) Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California
No, compared with a tailback or a corner this wouldn’t be sexy, but it would essentially turn the Tampa Bay offensive line into one of the premiere units in the league. Right now the interior of the offensive line merits that distinction and the tackles are serviceable, but nothing to write home about. Drafting Kalil would really just be taking the best player available, but it would solidify the trenches which is arguably as important as anything in football. Jeremy Trueblood could become a reserve (before coming off the books next off-season) and Donald Penn could move to right tackle, a position he’s much better suited to. It would really be two upgrades, and upgrade with Penn moving to RT, and an upgrade at LT where Kalil would start. Kalil should be an NFL mauler for the next decade and having him to protect Josh Freeman’s blindside could be too attractive to pass up. The other benefit of adding Kalil is it strengthens the line to the point where running back actually becomes a less pressing need. Yes, the Bucs will still need to add another back in the middle rounds, but the daylight and holes that the offensive line is opening up in Tampa should be big enough for myself and Josh Hill to run through if Kalil is in the mix next year. With a good enough line, you don’t need an elite back, just a solid one. That’s one of the secrets as to why backs have been so devalued. Even the best backs struggle without a good line in front of them, but average backs can make Pro Bowls behind great lines. Adding Matt Kalil would help the Buccaneers offense a lot more than you realize, even if it may not seem like it.
3.) Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Don’t call me crazy, come with me for a second on this one. Realistically, the Buccaneers will not be able to fix their defense in one off-season, especially when the majority of their free agency dollars were spent offensively. You’ll see the Tampa D improve some next season, but in all likelihood they’ll probably still run in the middle of the pack and struggle against some of the higher-octane offenses in the NFL. That means the Bucs will trail in games this year and as we all know, run-oriented offenses are not conducive to coming back in the NFL. Essentially what I’m saying is, if you’re being objective/realistic about 2012, there’s a good chance the Bucs will need to throw a lot in the second half of ball-games. With that in mind, adding the draft’s best receiver to line up opposite the NFL’s top free agent receiver would take the Buccaneers passing offense from pedestrian in 2011 to downright potent in 2012. With Jackson, Blackmon, Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Preston Parker, Kellen Winslow and Luke Stocker all able to do damage to NFL secondaries, suddenly the Buccaneers run-game becomes more effective by default and the Bucs can still be competitive in 2012, even as their young defense grows.
There is a possibility that Mark Dominik and Greg Schiano are looking at this as a two-three year plan. If that’s the case they’re laying down a foundation. Maybe you can’t get the bell-cow back yet, but maybe you’re not ready for him either. Adding another dynamic passing element to an offense with a revamped line will still let you be productive, and it better suits your roster while you build your defensive unit into a strength.
Think about it, if you’re modeling your offense to be a ball-control offense that pounds the rock, you better have a defense that can make stops and get the ball back for your offense. If you don’t have confidence you can’t count on your defense to do that, you aren’t going to have a very successful offense and you won’t win many games. Realistically, going from a bottom five defense to a good unit in one year is a tall order.
The safer pick, for this season and also maybe even long term, might actually be Blackmon, even if Trent Richardson is there at five.
What do you think?