Yardbarker Horiz

2012 NFL Draft Countdown

Monday, May 23, 2011

2012 Projected Draft Needs

What a difference a year can make in the NFL.  The 2010 season featured a hoard of young players getting onto the playing field due to an insane number of injuries.  The youth filled in admirably and have become part of the young core offense and young core defense.

But has the youth movement of 2010 changed the outlook of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the front office machine turns it's eyes towards the class of 2012?  Let's see what the thinking was just after last year's NFL Draft:

From the Post-2010 NFL Draft assessment of needs in 2012:

Offensive Losses:  None.  Defensive Losses:  DE White, DE Crowder, LB Hayward, S Piscitelli, and S Jackson leave the chart
2012 will clearly have a strong swing back to the defensive side of the ball.  Now defensive end is a significant need -- so defensive end and safety look to be the primary focus as two players at each position could be needed.  The defensive end need, however, could vanish.  The Buccaneers have eight men competing for the two defensive end positions during the 2010 offseason.  If the team decides that six men competing for two positions is enough then the need vanishes (this could happen if the team decides the talent level is sufficient for good competition).  Finally, what is shaping up as an annual need at linebacker continues to appear.

The 2011 draft followed expectations and left the identified needs listed above in tact for the 2012 NFL Draft.  Now, With the 2011-NFL Draft in the books, we can again check the young core offense and young core defense and see what players will drop from the chart:

Offensive Losses: WR Spurlock
Defensive Losses: DE White, DE Crowder, LB Hayward, LB Black, S Jackson

The departure of S Sabby Piscitelli (cut Nov 30, 2010) and the emergence of WR Micheal Spurlock are important events which will influence the direction of the 2012 NFL Draft for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  With Piscitelli gone, a need is removed.  With Spurlock's arrival, the Buccaneers will need to decide if he gets a long term contract after a very short audition.  

With safety Tanard Jackson still suspended (since Sept. 22, 2010), safety is still a need.  The Buccaneers have spent draft picks at safety in each of the past two drafts, yet the need persists.  If the youth in the deep backfield shows it's talents early and Jackson is expendable, the need vanishes.  Should the NFL elect to not reinstate Jackson, then the need is more than real.  Unfortunately, the season will already have started.

Last season, Tampa Bay packed the roster full of young wide receivers, and the group responded with talent and a rapid ascent of the learning curve.  It is doubtful WR will be a pressing need next year regardless of Micheal Spurlock's status.

During the 2010 off season, the Buccaneers carried eight, even nine defensive ends on the roster looking for the best possible talent.  Two of the main contributors will fall off the young core defensive chart this season.  However, GM Mark Dominik infused the position with two dynamic young talents in the 2011 NFL Draft.  Will the Buccaneers decide to carry fewer defensive ends this offseason because of the talent upgrade? If so, this need in 2012 has been erased.  If not, look for another early pick at this position as the Buccaneers continue to pack talent onto the edge of the defensive line in hopes of finding a long term answer (or two!).

The 2011 draft also saw the first linebacker selection by Tampa Bay since Geno Hayes in 2008 (and the first at the position by the new administration and coaching staff).  The position has some youth, but also is starting to age a bit, and will most likely be a target again in 2012.

The only other position on the young core rosters without at least two players available is center (as well as long snapper).  Jeff Faine, the rock around which the current offensive line is built, will not play forever (sorry, Josh Freeman).  The Buccaneers need to develop some youth at this position.  If the center is injured, the situation is made worse if a starter at guard has to slide inside and a backup steps forward at guard (1 injury, 2 positions affected).  Young Ted Larsen played at center in college but would cause the two-for-one issue as he has entrenched himself at guard with an excellent showing last season.  The Buccaneers may need to draft in depth at center.

The rundown
Linebacker:  A definite need in 2012; possibly two.
Defensive End:  Probably not a need, but could happen if the right player is on the board.
Safety:  Not a strong need, but possibly a need just based on numbers.
Wide Receiver:  Doubtful, just too much young talent already on the roster to make this a need.
Center:  A need, possibly a draft need.  Consistency at center is important for any quarterback.
Long Snapper:  Probably not a draft need, more likely a free agent acquisition.

Two linebackers, a defensive end, a safety, and a center would be five of the seven rounds in 2012.  Looks like a solid shopping list going into preparations for the 2010 NFL Draft.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Post-2011 Draft Young Core Offense

To build this chart of the Young Core Offense, I took the most recent Buccaneers roster and sorted all the offensive players with four years of experience or less (because the average NFL player has a 3.5 year career) by position, then by years of experience (in parenthesis).  This provides a glimpse of the "core" of the offense -- these are the players who will determine Tampa Bay's playoff fortunes for the next four years or so:

2011 Draft Choices are in bold italics and some position assignments are a best guess.

QB:  Josh Johnson (3), Josh Freeman (2), Rudy Carpenter (2)
RB:  Kareem Huggins (2), LeGarrette Blount (1), Allen Bradford (0)
FB:  Kregg Lumpkin (2), Erik Lorig (1)

XWR:  Micheal Spurlock (4), Mike Williams (1), Dezmon Briscoe (1), Ed Gant (1)
YWR:  Sammie Stroughter (2), Arrelious Benn (1), Preston Parker (1)
TE:  Ryan Purvis (2), Nathan Overbay (1), Luke Stocker (0), Daniel Hardy (0)

RT:  James Lee (3), Marc Dile (1)
RG: Derek Hardman (1), Brandon Carter (1)
C:  Jeremy Zuttah (3)
LG:  Ted Larsen (1), John Malecki (1)
LT:  Demar Dotson (2), Barker, Will (1)

P:  Robert Malone (1)

GM Mark Dominik added his third running back in three drafts to this board, keeping that pipeline full (and adding some heft).  The tight end position is the oldest on the team and was in need of young talent -- can Kellen Winslow and John Gilmore give these young players time to mature?

The influx of offensive linemen from the waiver wire last season assures Tampa Bay when their current, aging offensive line starts to tap out there will be someone there to step in.  With LG Davin Joeseph, C Jeff Faine, and RT Donald Penn under hefty contracts, it's interesting that Tampa Bay did not draft along the offensive line this season.  Partly, that could be a matter of who was (or was not) available.  It may also be a gamble on the part of Dominik, who may think the new collective bargaining agreement (whenever completed, post-lockout) will look similar to the prior CBA, allowing him to use franchise tags and matching offers to keep his veteran line in place in front of Josh Freeman.  It could be a solid one-year gamble: with Ted Larsen at the front of the line at left guard and James Lee ascending to the starting position at right tackle last season Dominik may be able to sign some "final contracts" or, if need be, trim some cost from the roster.  Youth is on the doorstep up front.

It's not even worth talking about the wide receiver talent on this team.  Anything I could say would fall short anyway.  This is as exciting a group as there is anywhere in the NFL and expectations should remain high for years to come.  These guys can deliver.

And, of course, quarterback is rock solid.

The one thing the Buccaneers may be looking for is a long snapper, but most likely can grow one from within the current squad of offensive linemen.

29 men represented on this roster.  In some places, depth of only two young players works out fine.  In others, such as wide receiver, the competition will be fierce at a very high level.  This is exactly what Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris have been talking about since day 1: put young talent on the field, let them compete, and carve out a team each week of the top performers.

Looks like the offense is right where it should be.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Post-2011 Draft Young Core Defense

One way to gage the rebuilding process in Tampa Bay is to look at the young core players who have been selected to make the Buccaneers defense a dominant squad. It's a group that is getting more and more talent through the draft.

To build this chart of the Young Core Defense, I took the most recent Buccaneers roster and sorted out all the defensive players with four years of experience or less (because the average NFL player has a 3.5 year career) by position, then by years of NFL experience (in parenthesis).  This provides a glimpse of the young "core" of the defense -- the players who will determine if the Tampa Bay Buccaneer make the playoffs during the next five years or so.

2011 Draft Choices are in bold italics and some position assignments are a best guess.

LDE  Stylez White (4), Michael Bennett (2), Brandon Gilbeaux(0), Da'Quan Bowers (0)
2DT  Miller, Roy (2), Price, Brian (0)
3DT  Okam, Frank (3), McCoy, Gerald (0), Woods, Al (0)
RDE  Tim Crowder (4), Kyle Moore (2), Alex Magee (2); George Johnson (0), Adrian Clayborn (0)

WLB  Geno Hayes (3), Tyrone McKenzie (2)
MLB  Adam Hayward (4), Mason Foster (0)
SLB  Quincy Black (4), Dekoda Watson (0)

LCB  Aqib Talib (3), E.J. Biggers (2), D.J. Johnson (2), Vince Anderson (1)
RCB  Elbert Mack (3), Myron Lewis (0), Anthony Gaitor (0)
SS  Dominique Harris (0), Larry Asante (0), Ahmad Black (0)
FS  Tanard Jackson (4), Corey Lynch (3), Cody Grimm (0)

K  Connor Barth (3)

As expected, the 2011 draft filled in this chart quite cleanly, including possibly filling the need at inside linebacker.

There are 34 men listed here -- a very large number of young defensive players for any offseason roster.  This chart demonstrates the Buccaneers will have to continue to rely on youth for the next season or two.  The hope would be for the bulk of these men to continue on after their fourth year (become a "second contract" player), which would thicken the depth chart and reduce the number of young players, but mean established, experienced NFL players are leading the way.  Are White, Crowder, Hayward, Black, or Jackson players who are valuable enough to this team to make that transition?  Or will they be players signed to short term contracts while others here mature?

It's a big group with a lot of talent (six Tampa Bay draft picks on the defensive line alone) and should be improved next season just on the basis of another year under their belts.  Long term, however, it should be getting harder and harder to crack this unit.

If not, the Buccaneer Defense could be a young group for a long time.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tampa Bay Drafts Daniel Hardy, TE, Idaho

With their 8th and final pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used their compensatory 7th round pick (#238 Overall) on tight end Daniel Hardy (6'4", 249lbs) from Idaho Univerity.

Hardy was Idaho's leading receiver with 32 catches for 545 yards in 2010 in spite of sitting out the final five games of the season due to a broken arm.  In 2009, Hardy had 39 catches for 691 yards. A former walk-on for the Vandals, the redshirt senior first broke into the receiving rotation as a sophomore and elevated to a 2nd Team All-WAC performer as well as a semifinalist for the 2010 John Mackey Award given to the top college player at the tight end position each year.

Hardy is a developmental player who can provide some immediate impact as a dedicated receiving tight end but will need to further develop his skills to become an every-game player in the NFL.  He could be a practice squad candidate, following a path similar to current Buccaneer tight end Ryan Purvis who spent time developing on the practice squad until reaching the regular roster last season.

<< 2011 Seventh Pick (#222 Overall)

Tampa Bay Drafts Anthony Gaitor, DB, Florida International

With their 7th pick (#222 overall) and first pick in the 7th round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers selected defensive back Anthony Gaitor (5'10", 177lbs) from Florida International University.

Gaitor was a four year starter for the Panthers, and is only the third player from FIU ever drafted by the NFL.  The three time All-Sun Belt Conference player had 52 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 interceptions in 2010. He is regarded as an instinctive corner with good footwork and moves smoothly in coverage.  He is not the prototypical NFL corner as far as size but plays big.

Florida International played him tighter to the line of scrimmage in 2010, and that may be telling in the Buccaneers plans.  Since the arrival of the new leadership at One Buccaneer Place in 2009, Tampa Bay has been collecting long and lean corners.  Gaitor has shown toughness in the run game and is willing to put a facemask into the opposing running game.  So, at least today, with his size and toughness, Gaitor appears closer to the mold of safety currently on the Buccaneers roster.  Add in his experience at corner and Gaitor would be a strong candidate for early time in nickel and dime situations as well.

<< 2011 Sixth Pick (#187 Overall) 2011 Eighth Pick (#238 Overall) >>

Tampa Bay Drafts Allen Bradford, RB, Southern California

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used their 6th round pick (#22 in the round, #187 overall) on running back Allen Bradford (5'11", 242lbs) from USC.

This pick was acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs as part of the Alex Magee trade executed during the 2010 NFL regular season.  Tampa Bay gave up a fifth round pick in this year's draft for Magee plus this selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Bradford finished the 2010 season with 794 yards and a 7.2 yards per carry average for the Trojans.  He also had 3 catches for 74 yards and one touchdown.  The senior was a bright spot on a program going through significant change last season.  A powerful, downhill runner between the tackles, he appears to be a strong candidate as a short yardage back.  On special teams as a junior, he recorded six tackles and forced one fumble.  To make the roster with the depth at running back, Bradford will have to show a willingness to play on 4th down first, then work his way into the regular rotation.  Bradford has been in a rotation situation at USC for most of his career which could be how his career begins with the Buccaneers.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tampa Bay Drafts Ahmad Black, SS, Florida

With the 20th pick in the fifth round, #151 overall, the Buccaneers selected Ahmad Black (5'10", 184lbs) from the University of Florida.

Safety was not a strong suit of the 2011 NFL Draft.  In fact, only five safeties total were drafted in 2011, three free safeties and two strong safeties.  Only one went before the fifth round (Rahim Moore, UCLA, to Denver).  The Buccaneers picked on of the three safeties chosen in the fifth round in Black.

Black is considered a reliable open-field tackler with good instincts.  He finished with 13 career interceptions for the Gators, tied for 4th most in school history.  He has started every game since his sophomore season, and was named a first team All-American by Rivals.com this past year.  The senior was also a First-Team All-SEC by both the ESPN/coaches panel and AP Writers of America.  He also played on kickoff and punt coverage teams, a highly regarded value by Tampa Bay General Manager Mark Dominik.

Black enters a Buccaneers secondary desperately searching for stability over the past two seasons.  To make the team as a rookie he will have to show his skills on special teams -- which he has plenty of.

<< 2011 Fourth Pick (#104 Overall) 2011 Sixth Pick (#187 Overall) >>

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tampa Bay Drafts Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee

In the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, General Manager Mark Dominik moved up from position #116  to #104 in a draft day trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.  Tampa moved up and surrendered their 2012 fourth round pick to select Luke Stocker (6'5",  258lbs) from the University of Tennessee.

Stocker, a redshirt senior, is considered a well-developed pass catcher with soft hands and great body control when fighting for the ball.  He is considered a bit of a project when asked to stay back in protection but shows good run-blocking skills.  He was the only Tennessee player to have at least one catch in every Volunteer game in 2010.  He caught 29 passes for 417 yards in 2010.  In 2009, he also caught 29 passes and gained 389 yards.  Stocker also started every game as a sophomore.

NFLDraftScout.com stated Stocker could be one of the few potential starters in a weak TE class in the 2011 NFL Draft.

<< 2011 Third Pick (#84 Overall) 2011 Fifth Pick (#116 Overall) >>

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tampa Bay Drafts Mason Foster, LB, Washington

With their third pick in the 2011 NFL Draft (#84 overall), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Mason Foster, outside linebacker from the University of Washington.  Linebacker was on the want list after all (as previously discussed).

Foster is a true Senior (6'1", 245lbs).  First team All-Pac-10 and first team All-America by scout.com and rivals.com, Foster started all 13 games for the Huskies last season at outside linebacker.  He lead the Pac-10 and was second in the nation with 163 tackles last season (12.5 tackles per game).  In 2009, Foster started all 12 games as well, finishing 2nd on the team with 85 tackles plus three interceptions and six forced fumbles.  As a Sophomore in 2008, Foster again started all 12 games at outside linebacker and led the Pac-10 conference with 105 tackles, leading Washington with 12 tackles for loss.  As a freshman, Foster played in all 13 games, starting four.

Foster has shown versatility during his college career, starting both inside and outside at linebacker at various times.  Physically, Foster compares favorably with current Buccaneers Barrett Rudd (6'2", 241lbs) and Quincy Black (6'2", 240lbs).

Like the prior two picks in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Foster was a team captain.

<< 2011 Second Pick (#51 Overall) 2011 Fourth Pick (#116 Overall) >>

Tampa Bay Drafts Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson

In what could be the biggest surprise in some time for the Buccaneers in the NFL Draft, former Top 10 Overall rated defensive end Da'Quan Bowers stayed on the board until the 51st pick overall, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Bowers their second selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.

How did it happen?  Bowers had his knee surgically repaired (torn meniscus; diagram) just after his college football season ended last year.  The true junior was outstanding in his last season at Clemson University, becoming a finalist for the Lombardi Award, Bednarik Award, and Nagurski Award and was only one of two players selected for the Walter Camp National Player of the year.

Bowers broke Clemson records for number of sacks in a season and most consecutive games with a sack, records previously held by former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Gaines Adams.  Bowers and Adams were close friends -- Bowers cites Adams as a reason he attended Clemson and wore Adams' old number, 93.  Besides the loss of Adams in February 2010, Bowers also lost his father during Clemson's fall camp last season.

Bowers was a team captain last season.

(Background information condensed from NFLDraftScout.com information at CBSSports.com)

Notable Other Possibilities Were:
Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (Fla) - to Texas with pick #60
Mikel LeShoure, RB, Illinois - to Lions (from Seahawks) with pick #56

<< 2011 First Pick (#20 Overall) 2011 Third Pick (#84 Overall) >>