Choosing to shore up their cornerback situation instead of addressing needs at wide receiver, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib in the first round of the NFL Draft on Saturday.
Talib is considered a shutdown corner by most scouts who possesses great leg drive and tackling ability, both solid assets in Tampa Bay's Cover 2 defense. While most scouts believe Talib must work on his ball skills, the Cover 2 gives corners plenty of cushion to cover receivers and Talib has solid closing speed and great ball skills, as evidenced by his work in Kansas' offense and on punt returns.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden loved what he saw in Talib during their meeting earlier this month.
"To put him in a room with Ronde (Barber), we feel like we got a lot better today," Gruden said. "We felt it was a good year for corners."
Gruden said Talib would work exclusively on defense.
"We'll use offense as incentive," Gruden said.
Gruden also said that Talib would compete immediately for playing time. Barber and Phillip Buchanon are the incumbent starters, while free-agent acquisition Eugene Wilson can play either cornerback or safety. But with Buchanon and Wilson not signed for 2009, Talib is clearly the future at the position.
After several trades shook up the first 19 selections, Tampa Bay had its choice of cornerbacks and wide receivers. Every wide receiver was on the board and the only cornerbacks selected were Leodis McKelvin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Among the players available included University of South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins, a player Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin openly praised during Jenkins' pro day at Raymond James Stadium in March. Jenkins ended up going at No. 25 to the Dallas Cowboys.
Gruden said it was a tough call between Talib and Jenkins.
The Bucs used their entire 10 minutes and at one point it appeared that Michigan State wide receiver Devin Thomas would be the selection. He was shown on ESPN talking on the phone, supposedly to a Bucs official. The telecast then cut to California wide receiver DeSean Jackson, another player on Tampa Bay's radar, checking his phone.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came to the podium and announced Talib's name and there was plenty of reaction at Radio City Music Hall.
Talib ranked second in school history with 13 interceptions, topped only by Ray Evans' 17. He owns the school record for most yards off interceptions and was a unanimous first-team All-Big 12 and All-American selection.
Talib missed two games in 2006 due to a team suspension, which news reports have now linked to Talib's admission that he tested positive for marijuana three times during his college career. Kansas head coach Mark Mangino did not confirm that the suspension was linked to anything other than a disciplinary action. Gruden addressed that on Saturday, but also said he wanted to move on and would let Talib speak for himself.
"I trust the kid and I back him up," Gruden said.
Scout.com's Senior NFL reporter, Adam Caplan, said the selection of Talib probably rules out a rumored trade for the Eagles' Lito Sheppard.
"The team apparently decided against trading for veteran CB Lito Sheppard and went with the younger and perhaps even more talented Talib," Caplan said. "While Talib had been red flagged by some teams, Tampa Bay was comfortable enough with the information they received in order to select him. While Talib doesn't run as well as the cornerbacks selected ahead of him, he's a bit more physical. He'll likely compete right away against veteran CB Philip Buchanon."
Former NFL scout and current Scout.com personnel analyst Tom Marino believes that Talib was a late first or early second-round value.
"He's a talented shutdown corner with a world of ability," Marino said. "I like his size, zone awareness and ball skill. He is field fast, has excellent feet, plant and drive skills, with rare ball awareness. He sorts it out very quickly, he has wideout hands and has outstanding matchup possibilities on the outside. He a good, but not an exceptional tackler. He has some off the field concerns that need to be addressed."
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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.