Matthew Postins: The Bucs took Adam Hayward in the sixth round last year and he's Derrick Brooks' backup. But the heir to Derrick Brooks' throne on the weak side is actually strong side linebacker Cato June. They even shared some passing downs at the position in 2007. So, let's say the Bucs take USC's Keith Rivers, as you suggest. Is he capable of playing another linebacker position?
Chris Steuber: That's if Cato June is around long term. June didn't have a great season this year with Tampa, and he got exposed in some games. He's a natural weakside linebacker, and when Brooks retires, it makes sense for June to move over. But I think drafting Rivers gives the Bucs more flexibility, depth and a better idea of what they want to do in the future at linebacker. Rivers is a physical player that can play either WILL or SAM linebacker positions, but he's most effective on the weakside where he can make plays. Like I said, with Rivers you have options, and when Brooks retires, the Bucs will look for those options.
Matthew Postins: If Rivers can play the strong side and June replaces Brooks, as expected, where does that leave Hayward and Quincy Black, whom the Bucs drafted last year and seem, at the moment, to like?
Chris Steuber: Competition is a lovely thing. When you have young players on your team you never want to hand them anything, you want to make them earn a roster spot and a possible starting position. Drafting a highly touted prospect like Rivers will most likely bring the best out of Black and Hayward, setting up an interesting training camp battle for depth chart positioning at linebacker.
Matthew Postins: The juniors are beginning to make their presence felt in this draft and they have until next week to declare. Judging by who has declared and who you anticipate declaring how will the junior class affect this draft?
Chris Steuber: Absolutely, the juniors will disrupt the draft in a major way. There are two positions that have been affected tremendously by the juniors who declared – running back and wide receiver. If I was a top senior prospect, not just at those positions but at any position, I'd pray that some of the players who've declared slide a bit during the offseason.
Matthew Postins: The second back in your mock draft, after Darren McFadden, is Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall, who recently declared. I ask about Mendenhall because you have him selected at No. 18 to Houston, which puts him in the Bucs' neighborhood. With Cadillac Williams out for a while, Michael Bennett a free agent and Michael Pittman a potential free agent, what do you think Mendenhall could bring to a Jon Gruden-led offense?
Chris Steuber: First of all, Mendenhall is a big back who has great quickness. He's tough between the tackles and has the speed to get around the end and be creative on the edge. The Bucs like their running backs to be physical; Errict Rhett, Mike Alstott, Michael Pittman, just to name a few, brought that physical presence opposing defenses had to respect. Mendenhall is not only physical, but he has the elusiveness to be a big play back.
Matthew Postins: Some might scoff at this, but with Florida's Derrick Harvey dropping to the Redskins at No. 21 in your mock draft, the Bucs could consider selecting him. The Bucs probably have more pressing needs, but with Gaines Adams now entrenched on the right side, could Harvey be a player the Bucs could slot into the left end position, giving them a solid, if not spectacular, pair of pass rushers?
Chris Steuber: Possibly, but if that were to happen, what DE do you have faith in trying to defend the run? It's nice to have two potentially dominant pass rushers, but those guys have to be able to drop back, shed blocks and identify the ball carrier. Gaines Adams and Derrick Harvey are the same kind of players who have one goal, sack the QB. Kevin Carter is getting old, but at least he has great size to play opposite Adams. If the Bucs want to draft a defensive end to replace Carter, I'd wait until the third or fourth round and draft Hampton's Kendall Langford. He reminds me of a young Kevin Carter. He's 6-foot-5, 297-pounds and defends the run and rushes the passer. The Bucs have other needs to address in the first round.
Matthew Postins: The Bucs are in need of some offensive playmakers. That became clear after their playoff loss to the New York Giants. One guy who popped up on my radar in your mock draft is Texas wide receiver Limas Sweed, who you have at No. 25 to Tennessee. Sweed's size (6-foot-5, 219) fits the profile of the big receiver Gruden likes. But he needs more than functional speed out of one of his receivers if he has any hope to replacing Joey Galloway one day. Can Sweed be that guy?
Chris Steuber: No. The Bucs already have a player similar to Sweed, Maurice Stovall. Personally, I've been disappointed with the way Tampa has utilized Stovall. Stovall has the opportunity to be a really good receiver in the NFL. He doesn't have blazing speed, but his size is intimidating, and he should be a quality red zone threat. Sweed is the same kind of player as Stovall, but Stovall attacks the ball better. If the Bucs are looking for a speed receiver, they can pray DeSean Jackson falls to them. Even though Jackson isn't the most polished receiver, he's one of, if not the, fastest in the draft. Another player the Bucs may look at is 6-foot-7, 220-pound James Hardy from Indiana, who I have going to the Niners with the 30th pick overall. He's still developing, but he has great speed and size.
Matthew Postins: Finally, with the Bucs only holding four draft picks at the moment (they traded three during the 2007 calendar year for Jake Plummer, Ryan Sims and Michael Bennett), there isn't much hope for them to trade up. So after the first round, where do you see the Bucs taking a very important second-round pick?
Chris Steuber: That's a tough question, and a lot will be based on what they do in the first round. If they draft Rivers for instance, I think they have to select a receiver in the second round. A couple of receivers the Bucs could identify in the second round are: Devin Thomas (Michigan State), Davone Bess (Hawaii) or Harry Douglas (Louisville).
Did you miss Steuber's most recent mock draft? Click here to check out his complete first-round selections.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.