The Buccaneers knew they had to get younger on defense this season. During the NFL Draft in April, they made defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin a very happy camper.
The Buccaneers used seven of their 10 selections on defensive players, and all but one of them made the roster. Two of them are now starters. The three offensive players the Bucs selected included starting left guard Arron Sears.
So how did the Buccaneers do? Here's my grade book for the 2007 draft after nine games. We'll revisit this after the season ends.
Some are disappointed by Adams' progress. I'm not, because I did not have sky-high expectations for him entering his first NFL season. Most NFL scouts knew he would struggle early because he's a speed rusher who got by on athletic ability in college. He's admitted that he's still learning to use his hands at the pro level. Plus, he's taken on some pretty good left tackles so far this season. The Bucs have smartly moved him around the line in an effort to create favorable matchups. I expect improved play in the second half of this season for two reasons. First, he's already made plenty of improvement. Second, the Bucs have committed to using him more now that Greg Spires is hurt, and Adams appears to be a player that thrives on playing time. Grade: C.
Second round: Arron Sears, OG, Tennessee. Started first nine games of the season.
The Bucs drafted him to start the season as the starter at left guard. Mission accomplished. Sears is a classic road-grader guard who eventually could become the Bucs' most dominant run blocker. Right now, however, he's occasionally overmatched and needs help either from left tackle Donald Penn or center John Wade. He's missed a couple of key assignments and committed a few penalties. But overall his play has been solid. I think the past two weeks have shown this young offensive line is coming together. It would not surprise me if Sears' grade came up one letter by the end of the season. One plus — running backs coach Art Valero said the kid is difficult to frazzle. Grade: C+.
Second round: S Sabby Piscitelli, Oregon State. 2 special teams tackles. Now on injured reserve.
Some expected him to start ahead of Jermaine Phillips at strong safety. I don't think it's a disappointment that he didn't supplant Phillips, given the veteran safety's play this season. He was the first of the litany of Bucs to go down for the season, and the Bucs miss his hard-hitting style on special teams. But, his early injury also drags down his grade and makes this season a lost one for the former Beaver. Grade: D.
He's become a steady contributor on special teams. His speed is what attracted the Bucs to him, and in that regard he's been a real asset. He has the jets to keep up with just about anyone in pads. As for his progress at linebacker, that's an unknown since we don't get to watch practice. We'll have to see that next year during the offseason. Grade: C
Would it be a stretch to start a campaign for Jackson as NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year? I don't think so. Look at the NFC and find a defensive rookie with the impact of Jackson this season. He's started from Day One, solidified a position that was an albatross around the defense last year and picked off two passes. Also, he leads the defense in pass-breakups and is challenging Phillips' reputation as a hard-hitter. Whatever the Bucs saw at the Senior Bowl that compelled them to think he was a safety in a cornerback's body, they should bottle it up and give it to every scout they have. Jackson may be their best draft pick — any position, any round — in years. Grade: A.
Fifth round: Greg Peterson, DT, North Carolina Central. 15 tackles, 1 ½ sacks.
He's a backup tackle who sees significant playing time in the Bucs' "speed rusher" set, which also features Adams and Greg White. I'm already mildly impressed with Peterson, as I expected him to be a practice squad guy. Now, Peterson is a dependable part of the tackle rotation and does a solid job on special teams. Maybe the Bucs were right to take him in the fifth round, after all. Grade: C+.
Sixth round: Adam Hayward, LB, Portland State. 6 special teams tackles.
Believe it or not, he's listed as Derrick Brooks' backup on the depth chart. That's in name only, though. Hayward's role this season has been special teams and learning the ropes. He has the athletic ability to play several positions, like New England's Adalius Thomas, though he isn't nearly that big. Beyond special teams, Hayward's impact has been minimal. Grade: C.
Seventh round: Chris Denman, T, Fresno State. On injured reserve.
He injured himself in the final preseason game and the Bucs moved him to IR. He'll get his shot next year. Grade: Incomplete.
Seventh round: Marcus Hamilton, CB, Virginia.
Came in with great knowledge of the Cover 2 from his days at Virginia, but he was never quite impressive enough to make the team. He's currently on the practice squad. Grade: D.
Seventh round: Kenneth Darby, RB, Alabama.
He's bounced from the practice squad to the active roster to the practice squad again. Despite a great preseason, the fact that he was cut just before his NFL regular-season debut for Lionel Gates may say more about his development as a player. Grade: D.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.