I take it some of you had issues with the first three rounds of my mock draft?
I'll provide a post-mortem at the end of this explaining my logic and where this mock could go between now and April 20, when I update it again. In the meantime, here are rounds four through seven.
Bob Stoops doesn't run the Cover 2, but he uses his linebackers much the same way the Bucs do. He likes to open up space and let his backers make plays, and Alexander is quite good at that. Besides, OU's proved to be pretty good to Tampa Bay (Lee Roy Selmon and Davin Joseph to name two).
The 6-foot, 227-pounder has been compared to Chicago's Lance Briggs. He moves through traffic easily, can knock back lead blockers and reads quarterbacks well in coverage. Plus, he's a sound tackler. He's another weak side guy (like Derrick Brooks and Cato June), but I think he's got enough talent to play strong side, too, which puts him in competition with Ryan Nece (and June, who is reportedly working there as well). One service grades him a first-round talent, but most mock drafts have him falling into the middle of the draft. If that's the case, he's a tremendous value pick (God, I sound like Kiper!).
The Bucs are going to need a center someday soon. John Wade is signed through 2009, but he's also entering his 10th season. Plus, the departure of Sean Mahan, his backup, to Pittsburgh leaves an immediate hole. The recently-signed Matt Lehr could be his backup. He played center in Dallas in 2003.
Datish (6-4, 302) has never missed a game due to injury. Most scouts regard him as a solid pass protector and run blocker. He's tough, smart, quick and competitive, a lot like Wade.
Haven't heard of the guy? Don't worry, that's why I'm here. He's nearly six-feet tall and 194 pounds and had a productive career at KSU. Scouts say he has natural cover skills, doesn't miss open field tackles and has the speed and athleticism to break down and adjust to routes. Of course, he has debits, most notably a penchant for arriving late to the ball. But the debits are few. He's under the radar because of his school, but scouts see him as a safety eventually that can make immediate contributions on special teams.
Seventh round (245th overall, compensatory pick) — David Ball, WR, New Hampshire
All this guy did with I-AA New Hampshire was break Jerry Rice's record for career TD receptions. No he doesn't have top-end speed, nor is he a great tackle-breaker. But Ball (6-0, 193) caught 80-plus passes three years straight at UNH, didn't miss a start and exhibited excellent ability to exploit underneath routes and zones. Scouts will underestimate him because of where he went to school. But I think he could be another Joe Jurevicius or Kevin Curtis. I mean, 4.6 in the 40 isn't anything to sneeze at.
Jon Gruden complains every year about not having a game-breaking kick returner. Here's a thought – draft one. Figurs is a player the Bucs could have in the Marques Colston, nearing Mr. Irrelevant area of the draft. He ran a 4.3 at the combine in the 40 and has the kind of "long speed" that enables Figurs (5-11, 175) to break away from a pack of tacklers. Scouts say he's slippery and can fit through tight seams. Of course, his hands concern some scouts, and that's a valid concern. But when Figurs did return the ball he averaged 22.6 yards per kickoff and 14.7 yards per punt. The Bucs would take that all season.
You quibble? You probably do. I like a balanced draft that addresses as many needs as possible. Considering the Bucs had so many needs to address, I didn't feel like I could load up on any one position, though I did end up with three wide receivers and that probably needs to be rectified between now and April 20. But in the seventh round, who are you going to take? I think I did pretty well to get Ball and Figurs that late.
I didn't address defensive tackle, and that's a big need. My reasoning is this. The Bucs have signed Kevin Carter to play opposite Simeon Rice. Tim Crowder, my second-round pick, could back up Carter, while last year's defensive end selection, Julian Jenkins, could back up Rice. That would allow the Bucs to slide Greg Spires inside and platoon with Ellis Wyms. Spires can play the position — he did so for two games in 2004 — and he has that dirty work disposition teams like. His teammates call him "The Crane," because he does the jobs no one else wants to do.
I might have also ignored the offensive line, despite taking Datish. I'm not totally convinced that Lehr and Luke Petitgout will make the line that much better. A first-day pick for the offensive line isn't outside the realm.
If Johnson were gone by the fourth overall pick, I would select the top defensive player on the board, probably DE Gaines Adams.
The further I got into this forecast, the harder it got. It's nearly impossible to account for every permutation. But I walked away relatively pleased, because I addressed most of the needs and found some very talented players that could have an early impact.
That said, this mock will probably change in 10 days. One thing this mock did not take into account was player visits, which will continue this month at One Buc Place. I'll have a partial list on the site on Thursday, with some analysis. Knowing exactly who the Bucs have invited to Tampa will help give the mock draft a bit more heft on April 20.
Have thoughts? Put them on the message board and I'll do my best to respond.