Yardbarker Horiz

2012 NFL Draft Countdown

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Buccaneers have more injury homework this year

Another NFL Draft, another talented prospect with a possible knee for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to mull over.

Last year it was Da'Quan Bowers, who was at one time the #1 prospect in the NFL Draft.  Tampa Bay took a chance on Bowers when he slid deep into the second round (51st overall).  The Buccaneers brought him along at a reasonable pace, and may end up looking stellar:  Bowers played in all 16 games last season as a backup and contributed 22 solo tackles and 1.5 sacks.

This year the player in question is the uber-athlete Trent Richardson, running back from Alabama.  Richardson is generally considered to be one of the two most athletic players in the 2012 NFL Draft along with Morris Claiborne, cornerback from LSU.  Both players are expected by many to be on the board when the Buccaneers select at the #5 overall position.  It's an interesting choice for new Head Coach Greg Schiano.

Richardson, however, revealed last week he would not be participating in the combine drills due to minor knee surgery after an injury in practice leading up to the BCS National Championship Game.  Fortunately for the Buccaneers this time it could be a non-event: the injury required some work on his lateral meniscus and, more importantly, had nothing to do with any ligaments.  Richardson will undergo the typical interview and medical examination processes.

It's a far cry from where Bowers was sitting last season when he was recovering from arthroscopic surgery to repair his right knee.  The medical examination at the combine warned of possible long term problems, and teams shied away quickly.

Fortunately, the story is very different for Trent Richardson.  He has passed the same exams with no such warnings.  This means the Buccaneers could have the top running back as well as the top cornerback on the board when they make their first pick this year.

What could be better than that?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What the Buccaneers say they need

On reviewing some notes from the middle of last season, I came upon a list of needs from a source close to the team.  A few weeks later, another source within One Buccaneer Place gave me a similar list.  Matching up the lists gives the following list of where the Buccaneers may be watching as the 2012 NFL Combine approaches.

Need #1: Cornerback
Both sources had corner at the top of the list, with the departure of Ronde Barber in the near future (neither said this was the season, but both felt the playing career could stop in the next few years).  Other reasons include the inability of Aqib Talib to have a quiet offseason.  Finally, the team believes there is talent on the roster for this position, but wants more fuel on the fire.

Need #2: Offensive Linemen
The current set of offensive linemen have played mostly intact for the past four years, which is spectacular.  However, C Jeff Faine is entering his tenth offseason and three of the other four starters up front are entering thier seventh offseason (tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood and guard Davin Joseph).  The team needs to continue developing young linemen like G Ted Larson and T Derek Hardman so when these veterans complete their careers there are ready and able replacements available.

Need #3: Quarterback
This one surprised me.  It appears the Buccaneers are of the opinion with the new roster limits that carrying a third quarterback will soon be a thing of the past in the NFL.  In that spirit, a top-flight backup becomes that much more important.  QB Josh Johnson could start for other NFL teams and may get his chance during the free agency period this year.  Tampa Bay may try to grab a rookie signal-caller in the middle rounds to backup Freeman for the next several years, hoping the young player will be able to step in right away if needed.

Need #4: Linebacker
Both Geno Hayes and Quincy Black spent time out of the starting lineup this season because of poor performance on the field.  The team believes Dakota Watson is making strides along with Mason Foster.  Drafting a third young linebacker means there is a talented next wall of players ready to step forward if the group does not perform up to the expectations of the new coaching staff.

These needs may have changed since midseason, but I believe the reasons here still apply.  I would expect the Buccaneers to address these positions in some way during the 2012 offseason.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Blount and Richardson could share the backfield

With the fifth pick in the upcoming draft, many prognosticators have elected to peg the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the selection of CB Morris Claiborne from LSU. This makes it all the more fun to talk about other options.

One possibility is running back Trent Richardson from the University of Alabama.  Richardson seems to be considered (pre-combine) one of the top two overall talents this year (with the other being Claiborne).  At 5'11" and 225 lbs, he has the prototypical size of an NFL tailback.

With LeGarrette Blount on the roster this would seem to be a odd move.  But the Buccaneers could make it work.  A pro-set with split backs comes to mind, or mixed formations like the Alstott/Dunn tandem from the turn of the century, with Blount becoming more of a fullback (think "inside tailback") and Richardson being the speed (think "edge tailback").

The only thing which gives pause to this idea is the passing game.  It was widely reported that Blount was unable to catch on to the passing schemes of departed offensive coordinator Greg Olson.  However, a new system and a new, simpler scheme could make those concerns disappear quickly.  Blount showed last season he can be a receiver out of the backfield by catching 15 passes for 149 yards.    Richardson also has shown promise as a pass catcher by snaring 29 passes for 338 yards last season (full stat sheet).

If the Buccaneers are still not comfortable with Blount and pass protection, they have been grooming Kregg Lumpkin for the 3rd down back role, plus undrafted free agent RB Mossis Madu from Oklahoma showed promise last season.  Richardson could be spelled by Earnest Graham, provided Graham has a solid recovery and rehabilitation get him back in prime shape for the upcoming season.

Picking Richardson at #5 would give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a backfield of outstanding young runners comparable to any tandem in the league.  If new Head Coach Greg Shiano is looking for a dominating running attack, this may be the right way to go with the first selection of his NFL career.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

2012 Buccaneer Draft Analysis: Core Defense

Continuing to build up our analysis of how the 2012 NFL Draft may line up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we next look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers young core on defense.  Like the young core offense, the "young core" defense is the group of players with five or fewer years of experience -- that is, the players who have not yet reached their second contract.  These are the players who will carry the team to the playoffs for the next four to six years.

The defensive group below is composed of all players with 5 or fewer years of NFL experience from the Buccaneers current roster (as of 1/30/2012).  In addition, I have added the practice squad players who have already been offered contracts for next season.

2012 Young Core Defense

DE: Crowder, Tim (5, IR); Bennett, Michael (3); Wilson, E.J. (2, IR); Te'o-Nesheim, Daniel (2); Reed, Nick (2); Johnson, George (1, IR); Clayborn, Adrian (0); Bowers, Da'Quan (0)
DT: Okam, Frank (4); Miller, Roy (3); Price, Brian (2); McCoy, Gerald (2, IR)
OLB: Black, Quincy (5); Hayes, Geno (4); Watson, Dekoda (2); Cutrera, Jacob (2, IR); Curran, Rennie (0)
MLB: Hayward, Adam (5); Foster, Mason (0); Balogun, Mike (0)
SS: Asante, Larry (1)
FS: Lynch, Corey (4); Jackson, Tanard (4); Grimm, Cody (2, IR)
CB: Talib, Aqib (4, IR); Mack, Elbert (4); Biggers, E.J. (3); Lewis, Myron (2); Holland, Devin (0, IR); Gaitor, Anthony (0); Black, Ahmad (0)

Unlike the young core offense, this group does have some fifth year players: two at linebacker and one at defensive end.  The Buccaneers have selected a linebacker each of the past two drafts (Watson, Foster) and selected two defensive ends in the 2011 draft (Clayborn, Bowers).  Foster, Clayborn, and Bowers earned a significant amount of playing time last season while Watson earned two starts and was a standout on special teams.  It would be surprising for the Buccaneers to take another defensive end in 2012.  A third straight year with a linebacker selection?  Not surprising at all.

In the interior the Buccaneers have plenty of youth.  For now, this unit appears to be well stocked.

I think the most focus of the 2012 draft will be put on the defensive backfield.  The Buccaneers have spent two draft picks each of the past two years on defensive backs (Lewis, Grimm, Black, and Gaitor), with Biggers added in the 2009 draft.  Yet, at times last season the defensive back play was less than stellar.  With Talib, Mack, Lynch, and Jackson reaching the crossover point out of the young core, I expect the Buccaneers to continue to spend draft picks in the defensive backfield.

According to the two-deep at Rutgers, new Tampa Bay Head Coach Greg Schiano played a 4-3 style of defense.  This matches the current Buccaneers roster and player assignment scheme, so I do not expect any targeted positions due to changes in scheme on the defensive side of the ball.

The final anlysis for the defense is a selection on the front line seems highly unlikely given the past two drafts.  A linebacker or two and defensive backs would seem to be where more talent is needed.