COMMENTARY | Though a first round pick usually garners the most fanfare during the NFL draft, much of the excitement for the Tampa Bay Bucs already occurred. Trading their 13th overall selection, the club acquired cornerback Darrelle Revis from the New York Jets. Signing him to a salary cap friendly 6 year, $96 million contract, the Bucs dominated the NFL news cycle, but must now endure the lack of a first round pick.
Fear not, Bucs' fans. Holding seven selections between the second and sixth rounds, Tampa Bay retains an opportunity to make substantial improvements during the three day process. Though trading into the first round remains possible, the Bucs must obtain a quality player with the 43rd pick. Here's a look at positions of need and potential prospects.
The need to reform the defensive backfield was clear and general manager Mark Dominik got the message. Last year's first round selection of safety Mark Barron proved successful, but the rookie primarily aided run defense and must be surrounded with improved talent. Surrendering a league worst 297 passing yards per game in 2012, the Bucs could not stop strong passing attacks and that must change.
While Darrelle Revis will serve as the most dramatic step, even the 4-time Pro Bowler cannot transform this unit alone. The free agent signing of Dashon Goldson provides a quality safety to pair with Barron and eases the sting from the likely retirement of Ronde Barber. Furthermore, Tampa Bay convinced Eric Wright to restructure his contract, making it possible to retain the inconsistent corner. Despite these moves, additional help is required, as the unit was simply that woeful.
Luckily, the 2013 draft is deep at cornerback. Dee Milliner (Alabama) and Xavier Rhodes (Florida State) are likely first rounders, and a blockbuster trade would be required to attain their services. Additionally, stock on D.J. Hayden (Houston) and Jamar Taylor (Boise State) is rapidly rising and both may slip into the first round. If either are available when the Bucs select in the second round, few would object to their selection.
Solid depth will continue to exist at cornerback, however, even as the draft moves into middle rounds. Johnthan Banks (Mississippi State), Desmond Trufant (Washington), and Logan Ryan (Rutgers) are all second round talent. Those players would be worthy options with the 43rd pick and steals in the third round. Furthermore, keep an eye on a pair of SEC corners as late round selections. Tyrann Mathieu got in trouble at LSU, but the "Honey Badger" was an all-around star when on the field. I'm also high on Sanders Commings (Georgia), who is a physical athlete with a knack for big plays.
Thought to be a strength entering 2012, injuries displayed how brittle offensive lines can become. Veteran guard Davin Joseph was sidelined with a knee injury for the entire campaign and Carl Nicks only competed in 7 games, before a toe injury ended his year at the other guard spot. While hoping both return, health in the trenches can never be presumed. The Bucs additionally lost longtime right tackle Jeremy Trueblood to free agency.
Guards Chance Warmack (Alabama) and Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina) are considered the best options at position and should be gone when the Bucs select in the second round. Yet, Kyle Long (Oregon) and Larry Warford (Kentucky) could make tempting second round options, especially if there are health concerns for the highly-paid guards. While Warford offers great size, Long is the athletic son of Hall of Famer Howie Long. Brian Winters (Kent State), Hugh Thornton (Illinois), and Jeff Baca (UCLA) are also middle round guard prospects on which to keep an eye.
If not addressing guard, selecting an offensive tackle is essential. While Donald Penn gets no younger, I have doubts on Demar Dotson's ability at right tackle, despite the decision to reward the 6'9" giant with a new contract. The draft is rich at tackle, as Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) and Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) may become its top overall picks. Lane Johnson (Oklahoma), D.J. Fluker (Alabama), and Menelik Watson (Florida State) are further considered first round talent at tackle and would be steals at pick 43. Otherwise, the Bucs may look for middle round value here, including Justin Pugh (Syracuse) and Dallas Thomas (Tennessee).
Take Best Available Player on Defense
The cliche dictates selecting the best available player. However, in the case of the Bucs, the team would be generally wise to draft the top available player at any defensive position. After all, only tackle Gerald McCoy and rookie linebacker Lavonte David distinguished themselves in 2012. Bucs' fans rarely witnessed stellar play at the other nine positions and the unit allowed the fifth most points in the NFC.
One improvement would be bettering the ability to reach quarterbacks. With only 27 sacks, Tampa Bay possessed the NFL's third worst pass rush in 2012. A year earlier, they were the league's worst in the same statistic. Making the task more arduous, the Bucs lost Michael Bennett to free agency, who topped the squad with 9 sacks last year. Since Adrian Clayborn and DaQuan Bowers have battled injuries throughout their young careers, the need at defensive end is substantial. Potential second or third round picks that could help include Sam Montgomery (LSU) and Alex Okafor (Texas).
While Tampa Bay's pass rush usually derives from the front lines, the Bucs may consider bolstering its linebackers. Rookie Lavonte David was a tackling machine in 2012 and the second rounder proved one of the entire draft's best selections. Few supporters have such faith in returning players Mason Foster, Dekoda Watson, or Adam Hayward. If outside linebacker Alec Ogletree (Georgia) remains at pick 43, he would make a dynamic selection that could help pass coverage. Not seeing much from last year's pick of Najee Goode, the Bucs may look at inside linebackers, such as Nico Johnson (Alabama) or Jelani Jenkins (Florida).
Finally, though McCoy's improved play led to ranking as the NFL's top rushing defense, tackle remains a weakness. Derek Landi was added in free agency to replace to departing Roy Miller, but the position's depth chart is still filled with underwhelming names like Gary Gibson and Corey Irvin. If the highly regarded Shariff Floyd (Florida) were to drop in the first round, trading to land a local player at a position of need would be popular.
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Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
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