Less than a month before the NFL Draft, there isn't much consensus about who the No. 1 pick will be. Sure, JaMarcus Russell looks like the favorite to join Al Davis' loony 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, is the star of this draft and deserves to go No. 1. It's not just that he's huge (6-foot-5 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 trip 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 (35th overall) — Tim Crowder, DE, Texas
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 Abiamiri, 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.
I'll take Crowder here because he had a great track record at Texas. He sack totals weren't that impressive, sure, but it's not all about sacks. In the Tampa 2, it's about pressure, and Crowder has the quickness, agility and speed to do that on the strong side. He can shed blockers and has sneaky pursuit speed, according to some scouts. Plus, the 6-3, 271-pounder from Tyler, Texas, probably has enough room to add 15-20 pounds, which, if he doesn't lose his 4.9 speed makes him more difficult to fend off on bull rushers. Plus, coming from Texas means he's about as prepared for the NFL as any defensive end in the draft.
He'll need good coaching to realize his potential. That's where the Bucs new defensive line coach, Larry Coyer, comes in. He's one of the best in the business. I mean, in Denver he got a bunch of Browns castoffs to play as one of the better units for the past two seasons. That speaks volumes. He may be able to help Crowder reach his potential.
Second round (64th overall, from Indianapolis) — Eric Weddle, S, Utah
Every once in a while when I'm allowed to roam the halls at One Buc Place I'll run into the ghost of John Lynch. The Bucs have not had a Pro Bowl safety since Lynch left. Weddle probably isn't a Pro Bowl safety, but I think he has the chance to be a reliable starter, pushing both Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen for playing time from the start.
He makes up for his relative lack of size (he's just 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds) with great intelligence, keeping receivers in front of him and exhibiting great reaction to the ball. He was a cornerback at one point, so his ball skills aren't a surprise. He's not a punishing tackler, but he makes the tackle, and that's a point that seemed lost on Phillips and Allen (along with much of the defense) last season. Plus, he seemed to make a big play at least once every game for the Utes, and what everyone should be looking for this early in the draft is production.
Some scouts grade him a second-round talent, some a third-rounder. You can scratch Florida's Reggie Nelson, Miami's Brandon Meriweather and Virginia Tech's Aaron Rouse off the list of potential picks. They'll be gone by the end of the first round. The good news is this is considered a great draft for safeties, and Weddle is drawing some comparisons to Chicago's Mike Brown. That's not a bad comparison if you're judging safeties.
Third round (68th overall) — Brian Leonard, FB, Rutgers
At first I didn't think he would be here at No. 68. But most of the mocks I'm seeing have him going in the third round. So there's a good chance the Bucs could land Mike Alstott's heir apparent here, as I'm convinced this will be Alstott's final season.
If Alstott is Pro Football Weekly's prototype fullback — an overdeveloped running back with traits of a fullback — then Leonard fits the profile. The 6-foot, 239-pound Scarlet Knight has great speed for a player his size (4.6 in the 40), outstanding receiving skills and ability to run either inside or outside. Sure, he wants to be a running back. But that won't happen. Teams will look at him as either a fullback or an H-back. About the only debit against Leonard is that he's not a violent blocker. I'm sure Art Valero can teach him that.
This is assuming Gruden wants a player of Leonard's skill. There's a part of me that believes Alstott is an albatross around the coach's neck, handcuffing him from doing what he really wants to do — take a pure, Craig Heyward-meets-Lorenzo Neal type of fullback to open up 25 holes per game for Cadillac Williams. If that's the case, then Gruden should take either Alabama's Le'Ron McClain or Tennessee's Cory Anderson (who at 268 pounds is enormous for a fullback), and both would be available in the fourth 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.