Yardbarker Horiz

2012 NFL Draft Countdown

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Is Linebacker On the Want List?

In the flurry of the 2010 regular season while Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans were starting to believe in the playoff run (around Week 9, remember?), there was a move attempted by the Buccaneers which failed.  It's  time to take a closer look at that transaction because it may determine what Tampa Bay is looking for in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Back in early November, the Buccaneers attempted a waiver claim of Shawn Merriman but lost out to the Buffalo Bills.  This is a big reveal of the thinking in the Buccaneer's front office.  Merriman would be an outside linebacker in the Buccaneers Tampa-2 system, where Quincy Black plays currently.

Clearly, the Buccaneers were looking for an upgrade at the outside linebacker position -- a player who can not only drop back in coverage, but also rush the quarterback when necessary.  The top prospect at the outside linebacker position is Von Miller (6'3", 246lbs, Texas A&M University) and he is a consensus Top 5 pick this Thursday.  However, the next two could be on the board when Tampa Bay picks at #20.

Akeem Ayers (6'3", 254lbs, UCLA) is a physical player with good gap discipline.  However, he may be more suited to a 4-linebacker defense. Ayers currently has an overall rating of #30 by NFLDraftScout.com.

The more intriguing pick could be Justin Houston (6'3", 270lbs, University of Georgia).  Houston played outside linebacker in the Bulldog's 3-linebacker defense, making him a good fit for the Buccaneers.  With big size and a big motor he resembles what Tampa Bay may have gotten had they landed Merriman (6'4", 265lbs).  Houston currently has an overall rating of #40 by NFLDraftScout.com.  Walterfootball.com currently has Houston being one of the players the Buccaneers may be targeting at #20 in the first round.

Targeting Houston may also provide the Buccaneers the opportunity to trade down 3-6 spots as he may not be coveted by the Chiefs, Colts, or Eagles who have other pressing needs, but the Saints have the 24th pick and Houston may fill a defensive end need for them because of his size.

If this is the position the Buccaneers are looking to fill there should be good opportunities in the first round.    If the draft goes a different direction, by the time the Buccaneers pick in the second round (#51 overall), as few as four outside linebackers could be off the board, allowing an opportunity for a value pick.

Again, the Buccaneers can stay put in round one this year and still get good value with their pick.  It's another indicator the rebuilding process is over in Tampa Bay.

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