Less than a month before the NFL Draft, there isn't much consensus about who the No. 1 pick will be. Sure, JaMarcus Russell is considered the odds-on favorite to join Al Davis' looney bin in Oakland, but there plenty of scenarios floating about, such as Randy Moss heading to Green Bay to clear the path for Davis to take Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson. Or the Raiders trading down. Or the Redskins trading up. Or the Buccaneers trading up to No. 2 to take Johnson. Or taking Gaines Adams at No. 4.
You get the idea. There's plenty of intrigue.
Around 1 p.m. on April 28 everyone will know who the Bucs have selected. Who will that player be, and who will follow as the Bucs make their other eight selections? That's pretty difficult to ascertain, as the Bucs make it difficult. Consider this non-answer given to me by Bucs director of college scouting Dennis Hickey to a relatively innocuous question about which position is the strongest in the draft:
"You can tell after three years where it was strongest," he said.
Tampa Bay is notoriously cagey when it comes to answering some of the simplest questions. But there are ways to determine what the Bucs will be interested in come the end of the month, and this article is all about exploring those options.
This is the first of three Bucs round-by-round mock drafts by BucsBlitz.com.
This is the first one I've done, so bear with me.
First, there's basic agreement on where the Bucs have the most glaring needs — defensive end, defensive tackle, linebacker, wide receiver, safety and offensive line. Now the challenge is to play the role of general manager (or in the case of Tampa Bay, head coach). Are you a need-based philosophist, or do you want the best player available? The Bucs are usually a best-player available team, especially with a high pick. Personally, I agree. I like the best player available, so I'll use that philosophy and try to marry need with talent as much as possible.
Next, I sought out 10 different mock drafts, including Scout.com guru Tom Marino's, as a way of determining value for different players I would be interested in if I was Bucs GM.
Then I drafted, taking into account no trades. For now, I'll draft where the Bucs are slotted.
Since this is the first of three mocks, this is certainly subject to change.
First round (No. 4 overall) — WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech.
Yes, I feel like a lemming, but a happy lemming. I just landed the consensus No. 1 talent in this draft at No. 4 overall, saving myself a little scratch and giving my head coach, Jon Gruden, a valuable new weapon.
Johnson, despite the fact that he's not pegged to go No. 1 yet, is the star of this draft and deserves to go No. 1. It's not just that he's huge (6-4 ½ and 235 pounds). It's not just that he has terrific hands. It's not just that he went to the combine, borrowed somebody's kicks and ran a 4.35 40-yard dash. It's not just that he's durable and has great character. It's not just that Pro Football Weekly's harshest scouting criticism of him is "Have seen him drop a few catchable balls — and Angelina Jolie has ugly toes. Truth be told, Johnson has very little downside."
It's all that, plus this quote from one scout — "He's Randy Moss without the baggage."
How could you not want that on your football team?
He'll make the Bucs offense markedly better immediately, much the same way Cadillac Williams did in 2005, when he rushed for a team rookie record and aided their race to a NFC South title. Gruden will love having this guy in the red zone, as will whoever the Bucs' starting quarterback will be. Aside from Joey Galloway, is there any receiver on the roster that is assuredly a No. 2? No. Michael Clayton is close to being a bust, Ike Hilliard is too old and Maurice Stovall hasn't shown enough flashes on the pro level to be confidence he can be a legitimate factor this season.
No, Johnson's the best pick at this point in the draft. Yes, the Bucs REALLY need a pass rusher, and Clemson's Gaines Adams will be there. He's my backup if Johnson somehow disappears from the draft board. But this draft is deepest on the defensive and offensive lines, and with two picks in the second round, I think I can gamble on finding a above-average prospect to be Simeon Rice's protégé there.
Second round (36th overall) — Charles Johnson, DE, Georgia
Part of the reason I can afford to take Calvin Johnson at No. 4 is the glut of above-average ends in this draft. Judging from the mocks I've seen, there will be at least five defensive ends taken in the first round, including Adams, Arkansas' Jamaal Anderson and Nebraska's Adam Carriker.
In the second round there will be plenty of good talent to choose from — Notre Dame's Victor Abiarmiri, Texas' Tim Crowder, Purdue's Anthony Spencer (who's going in the first round in some mocks), Michigan's LaMarr Woodley and Charles Johnson.
Abiamiri probably has the most upside, but many scouting reports I've read criticize his inconsistency and effort on the field. Crowder is considered a base end and doesn't grade well against better blockers. I'd take Spencer if he's there, but I don't think he will be. Woodley is a tweener who might be better suited for outside linebacker.
That leaves Charles Johnson. His production last season with the Bulldogs was as solid as any of the aforementioned players. But three things catch my eye. First, one of his best traits is as a back-side pursuer. He's considered a relentless pursuer of the ball. Second, he bats down a lot of balls. Third, he can play the run effectively and is a sure tackle, the former of which can't be said about a certain Bucs end.
Yes, he has debits, according to scouts, the biggest of which is that he's just a one-year starter. Crowder, Spencer and Woodley all have longer track records. And I wonder if 270 pounds will be as big as he gets. But he has plenty of upside, good skills and could be an impact player out of the gate, something the Bucs will be in dire need of if they decide to move end Greg Spires inside to play under tackle. He's a quality pick at this time of the draft. If he's gone, I'd take Crowder, a solid, four-year starter from a quality program who is probably as well-prepared as any defensive end in this draft to play pro football.
Second round (64th overall, from Indianapolis), Michael Griffin, S, Texas
This should probably be qualified with "… if he's there." There's no guarantee Griffin lasts this long. But safety doesn't appear to be a high-value position in this draft. Only three or four safeties have first- or second-round grades. At least a couple of mocks have Griffin sliding this far. If he does, the Bucs should snap him up. The ghost of John Lynch haunts One Buc Place like no other player released recently by the Bucs. Tampa Bay has never found an adequate replacement for him. Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen were atrocious last year. They gambled too often behind a porous front seven and tackled poorly. The position needs an infusion of talent because the past two drafts the Bucs have paid cursory attention to the position. I honestly thought the Bucs would address this need in free agency. If Griffin comes to Tampa Bay, he'll be an immediate contributor. His quickness is his best trait, which fits in well with the Bucs' Cover 2 defense. Scouts like his ability to cover the deep middle, the Cover 2's most vulnerable area. He can support the run and has enough strength to play man-to-man in short-term situations. He's also provides splendid special-teams play. He had six blocked kicks in college. Griffin's pluses come with one caveat — he needs proper coaching. Two scouting reports pointed out that he can sometimes miss tackles and can overpursue due to tunnel vision. Those are likely areas that can be refined by new secondary coach Raheem Morris, a Mike Tomlin disciple. If Griffin is gone, I might look to another position here. But if Miami's Brandon Meriweather is there, I'd have to consider him, taking into account the character issues regarding his role in last October's Miami-FIU brawl.
Third round (68th overall), Le'Ron McClain, FB, Alabama
The Bucs wrap up the first day of the draft by taking Mike Alstott's understudy. I'd love to say that Rutgers' Brian Leonard — the most complete fullback to come out of college in years — will be available. But he won't, and no one's really sure if he's a fullback or a running back since he lost that weight before the combine. So don't mess with him.
If Alstott is Pro Football Weekly's prototype fullback — an overdeveloped running back with traits of a fullback — then McClain is the proper pick. He's as big as Alstott — 265 pounds — and in the words of PFW scouts, he "commands respect — no one messes with him." He moves the pile whether he has the football or not, he can pick up the blitz and could be the best lead blocker among the fullbacks in this draft. Scouts have criticized his lack of touches and his route running, but considering how sparingly Gruden uses Alstott now, I don't imagine he'll heap a lot of work on McClain once Alstott retires. I see McClain as the guy opening up 25 holes per game for Cadillac Williams and smiling while doing it.
Plus, scouts compare him to the late Craig Heyward. That should be good enough for anyone.
While I like McClain's value in the third round, I was tempted to go after another defensive end with this pick, notably Central Michigan's Dan Bazuin, whose speed and ability to fill gaps might be a perfect fit for a Cover 2. Miami's Baraka Atkins was also a consideration, but I think there's a chance I could get him on Day 2. He's a tweener who could add depth.
Well, that's Day 1. We'll see what Day 2 holds in story tomorrow.