The National Scouting Combine begins later this week and, like the rest of the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be looking for talent.
But exactly what will the Bucs be looking at for each position? That's what this article is out to find out.
Based on what I saw and heard at the Senior Bowl, plus what has transpired since then, I'll try and give you an idea of who and what the Bucs could be looking at this weekend. Call it a Combine Crib Sheet, if you will.
I confirmed that Arkansas' Marcus Harrison, Southern Cal's Lawrence Jackson, Florida State's Andre Fluellen, Eastern Michigan's Jason Jones and Alabama's Wallace Gilberry all met with the Bucs during the Senior Bowl. All but Jackson and Jones are tackles.
I think it's pretty obvious the Bucs are looking at drafting a defensive tackle in April, if they don't address the need in free agency first.
I think Harrison may be most like what the Bucs are looking for — a 300-pounder that can plug the middle against the run, where the Bucs were ranked No. 17. It's the primary source of concern on defense and something they must address.
There is a significant dropoff after the top three tackles in the draft — LSU's Glenn Dorsey, USC's Sedrick Ellis and North Carolina's Kentwan Balmer. Keep an eye on Balmer. He might drop far enough to be selected by the Bucs at No. 20, but I think other needs will be taken care of at No. 20 (read wide receiver).
So who should you watch? Well, Harrison has dropped all the way to No. 14 in our Scout.com tackle rankings, so he could be a late-round bargain now. But he'll need to improve his 5.2 40-yard dash time. Auburn's Pat Sims, the top junior, is intriguing in that he weighs 300 pounds and can run a 5.0 40. He's also considered a strong run defender. But he's had off-the-field troubles and there are questions about his ability to get off blocks at the NFL level.
Two dark horses are from Texas — A&M's Pat Bryant and Texas' Frank Okam. These guys were both at the Senior Bowl and they're MASSIVE. Bryant weight 330 pounds and moved surprisingly well. Okam is 325 pounds. They're both plenty strong, but they'll need to show they're quick enough to succeed at the pro level.
End, to me, appears to be a second-day need, so you can eliminate most of the Top 7 prospects. I think the Bucs are looking for more of a base end than a speed rusher, since they already have Gaines Adams. Jones would be an intriguing prospect on the left side. He showed he can rush the passer, and even though he had only 3 ½ sacks his senior year he had 19 tackles for loss, and left end is more of a run-stopping position. Gilberry can play both tackle and end and really has a nose for getting behind the line of scrimmage, as he had 27 tackles for loss last season.
Also, you should watch Hampton's Kendall Langford (6-foot-6, 275 pounds), a player who drew a lot of interest at the Senior Bowl, and TCU's Tommy Blake (6-foot-3, 274), a guy who at one point in his college career seemed to be a first-round lock but is now projected as a fifth-rounder. He's going to have to explain to teams why he missed the first five games of last season for "personal reasons." But he's undeniably talented.
The Bucs met with Wesley Woodyard and Xavier Adibi at the Senior Bowl. Adibi's agent told me that the Bucs look at him as a "Derrick Brooks clone." But the Virginia Tech product needs to gain a bit of weight. We'll see if he did that when he gets to Indy.
Adibi and USC's Keith Rivers are probably the best two linebackers in this draft (though Ali Highsmith of LSU is also in the running). Rivers is seen as a first-round guy, while Adibi is a second-rounder. I think good combines for both players will make them first-round locks.
Should the Bucs take either? If other needs weren't issues, I would say yes. The Bucs must have Brooks' replacement ready in two years, and either player could fit the bill (don't just count on Cato June moving to the weak side when Brooks retires. His contract ends the same year as Brooks').
But I think the Bucs may bargain hunt a bit here, as they did last year.
Erin Henderson of Maryland looks like an intriguing prospect and he's worth a look. His brother, E.J., plays for the Vikings. Scouting reports peg him as a good all-around linebacker with solid speed and quickness. He can also play inside and outside, as he's big enough (241 pounds) to take the punishment. Problem is, if he has a good combine, he's probably out of the Bucs' price range (a third-round pick).
The Bucs likely will give Michigan's Shawn Crable a look because of his size (6-foot-5, 241 pounds), but the guy that I'm real interested in seeing is Geno Hayes of Florida State. With all of his off the field troubles, he's projected as a third-round pick. But he's undeniably talented. Any team that looks at him will have to have a frank interview with him. In this area of the scouting process the Bucs have fared well in recent years, as they've drafted high-character players that don't get into off-the-field trouble.
The only meeting I was able to confirm in Mobile was Leodis McKelvin of Troy. He brings added value in that he's one of the nation's top kickoff returners. But at the moment he's considered a mid-first round pick, taking him out of the Bucs' wheelhouse in the first round.
But, now that Brian Kelly has chosen to buy out his contract and test free agency, cornerback is a need in this draft. But the Bucs are probably looking at it as a second- or third-round need.
These are all players that are projected in the second or third round of the NFL Draft. Barber and Kelly, if you remember, were not first-round picks.
I watched Porter at the Senior Bowl and found him to be an above-average cover corner. He really helped himself with a full week of workouts in front of pro coaches. The issue, some scouts say, is his open-field tackling, and that's a concern in the Cover 2 since corners offer help in run support. He boosted that stock with some solid tackling in Mobile, but he'll need to show more during the Combine to improve his stock.
But he's practically the same size as Barber (5-foot-11). Flowers (5-foot-10) is considered by some to be one of the best boundary corners in college football. But the size issue might catch him, too.
Smith and Godfrey are bigger, but Godfrey is considered raw while Smith is actually considered by some to be a Top 10 pick, despite being rated by others a second- or third-round pick. Keep an eye on him this weekend. Smith may work his way into the first round.
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.