After two straight 9-7 seasons, the Bucs struggled to replace veteran Jeff Garcia at quarterback at the start of last season and finished just 3-13. Josh Freeman, the team’s 2009 first-round pick, went 3-6 in nine starts after the team started 0-7 including a Week 16 overtime victory against the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. Freeman had good success as a rookie considering he didn’t have much to work with at the wide receiver position, a need Tampa Bay made a point to address in the offseason. They traded for Reggie Brown and signed Maurice Stovall, but that wasn’t the end of their efforts to give Freeman more options to throw to. Chris Tripodi looks at what the Bucs did in the draft to fill their holes at receiver and on defense, as Tampa’s run defense ranked last in the NFL last season.
The Buccaneers addressed their need along the interior defensive line with their first two picks. Sitting with the third overall pick, Tampa selected Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy after Ndamukong Suh went second to the Lions. They followed the McCoy pick by drafting UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price early in round two.
McCoy has great speed and quickness for a 6-4, 295-pound tackle and his suddenness and explosive first step allows him to shoot the gaps and prevents offensive lineman from squaring him up on blocks. He uses his quick hands to fight off blocks when engaged but a lack of natural bulk sometimes led to a single lineman handling him in college. McCoy will continue to mature physically and add bulk, which will allow him to outmuscle opposing linemen as well as beat them to the spot. A complete defensive tackle with great upside, McCoy has the potential to be one of this draft’s best players.
Price lacks the potential of McCoy but brings a similar skill set to the Bucs interior line. Like McCoy, Price lacks great bulk but plays with great leverage at just 6-1 and has a quick first step. Great hands allow him to shed blocks and Price always seems to find a way to get into the opposing backfield even when double teamed. He wore down at the end of games in college and will need to build up the stamina to have an impact in the fourth quarter and towards the end of the season, but his athleticism and leverage make him a perfect fit as Tampa’s three-technique tackle alongside McCoy.
The Bucs started to address their need at receiver four picks later, drafting Illinois’ Arrelious Benn 39th overall after a trade with the Raiders. At 6-1, 219 pounds with 4.45 speed, Benn is more of a possession receiver than a game-breaker. He struggled with injuries and poor quarterback play last season, but has the ability to make catches in traffic, adjusts to errant throws and out-jumps defenders to the ball. Benn plays with solid awareness but lacks explosiveness off the line and out of his breaks.
In round three, Tampa selected Vanderbilt cornerback Myron Lewis, who we had rated as a late-round prospect. Lewis lacks top-end speed (4.42) and struggles to stay with receivers out of their breaks, but these weaknesses should be somewhat disguised in Tampa’s Cover 2 scheme, as he has good size (6-1, 203) and the physicality to engage receivers at the line of scrimmage. His instincts and awareness are solid and he comes up the field quickly defending the run, although he has a tendency to over-pursue. He offers very good upside in the Buccaneers defensive scheme and could eventually replace Ronde Barber opposite Aqib Talib.
The pick that could make Tampa’s draft came early in the fourth round, when they drafted former Syracuse wide receiver Mike Williams. Williams is a top-three receiver talent in this draft, but serious off-the-field issues during his time at Syracuse caused him to drop out of the top 100 picks. Williams was suspended for academic reasons in 2008 and for one game in 2009 for a violation of team policy before quitting the team. His 2009 stats of 49 catches, 746 yards and 6 touchdowns in just 7 games on an average offense show his playmaking ability. At 6-1, 221, Williams can run any route, has great ball skills and plays faster than his 4.53 40 time. If he matures soon and focuses on playing at a high level, he could be a very productive starter for the Bucs and one of the draft’s bigger steals.
Tampa didn’t pick again until round six, where they drafted Virginia Tech punter Brent Bowden. Bowden has a decent leg and good accuracy on his kicks and has the potential to be a reliable NFL punter.
The Bucs had three picks in the seventh round; taking Virginia Tech linebacker Cody Grimm, Florida State linebacker Dekoda Watson and Stanford defensive end Erik Lorig.
At just 5-11, 203 pounds Grimm will be moved to safety in the NFL, but his 4.55 speed and marginal ball skills will make that an interesting transition. He is very good making plays up the field and in the box against the run and could be used as a traditional strong safety against the run and on special teams.
Watson looked like a high-upside prospect after a good sophomore season with the Seminoles, but played uninspired football over the past two seasons. He’s athletic enough to stick and his lack of size (6-1, 240) will be somewhat disguised in Tampa’s Cover 2 if he can show enough in camp to make the roster as a backup.
Lorig is a solid athlete who was slowed by a groin injury last season. At 6-3, 281 pounds with 4.9 speed, he’s a developmental prospect at who could find his way into a defensive line rotation thanks to his non-stop motor.
Tampa addressed its two most pressing needs by drafting a pair of defensive tackles to improve their 32nd-ranked run defense and a pair of wide receivers to give Josh Freeman some options on the outside. McCoy and Price should have more immediate impact than Benn and Williams, but all four players could end up being top 50 values in this draft. Defensively, the Bucs drafted players that fit their system and could develop into starters in a few seasons. This was a very solid draft for Tampa in terms of filling positions of needs with upside players. The development of Freeman and this year’s rookie crop will determine whether the Bucs can return to contention in the NFC South.