What is the biggest need the Bucs have going into next season offensively? Last year the Bucs chose to address wide receiver early in the draft. Given Dexter Jackson's struggles as a rookie, should they do so again?
Chris Steuber: The Bucs will be in the market to select another wide receiver, but I don't see them taking one in the first round; they should address their running back situation in the opening frame. With Earnest Graham being placed on injured reserve this season with an ankle injury and Cadillac Williams suffering another major injury to his reconstructed left knee, there are serious concerns moving forward. In my most recent mock draft, I have the Bucs selecting Ohio State junior RB Chris Wells. Wells has yet to declare for the draft, but if he does and he's on the board at No. 19, it's a no-brainer for Tampa. Even with a healthy Graham and recovered Williams next season, adding a player of Wells' ability to the fold isn't a bad thing. In the NFL today, many teams have at least two solid running backs and having a third is an added bonus. If the Bucs decide to go in another direction in the first round and want to select a running back in the second round, here are some players that will fit nicely in their system: Donald Brown (Connecticut), Shonn Greene (Iowa), C.J. Spiller (Clemson) and Javon Ringer (Michigan State).
Matthew Postins: I agree with the fact that the Bucs need a wide receiver, but the top two WRs – Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin – aren't likely to drop. So running back would be a more likely option on offense. I don't think you can count on Caddy anymore, given his injury history, but I feel Graham will bounce back nicely for 2009. The Bucs should look for someone that gives them a higher gear, much like Warrick Dunn. QB isn't an option here. Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez are the only options, and neither will take an Aaron Rodgers-sized drop into Tampa Bay's lap.
What are their biggest needs defensively? CB Aqib Talib appeared to work out well as a first-round pick last year. Should the Bucs address other defensive positions early in this draft?
CS: They could draft a defensive player in the first round, and there will be some quality players available to them with their first pick. Depending on how the Bucs view some of their young linebackers -- Quincy Black, Adam Heyward and Geno Hayes -- they could look for an eventual successor for Derrick Brooks. The ?09 draft is rich at the linebacker position, and players like James Laurinaitis (Ohio State) and Clint Sintim (Virginia) will be there for the taking. Another area of interest will be to upgrade the defensive line. There will be an abundance of talent to be had, and the names that will surface around the 19th pick are: Georgia Tech DE Michael Johnson, Alabama DT Terence Cody (if he declares), Ole Miss DT Peria Jerry, Boston College DT B.J. Raji and LSU DE Tyson Jackson.
MP: Linebacker is certainly an option, as I'm not sure the franchise views any of those young linebackers as future stars. But I think a pass rusher could be a good investment here, as the Bucs' sack total dropped in 2008. Is there one worth a first-round pick? Well, if Florida State's Everette Brown or Texas' Brian Orakpo fell into their laps, I doubt the Bucs brass could turn down drafting either of them. Pair them with Gaines Adams and create a consistent pass rush for the next few years. The Bucs need it.
Where do the Bucs need more depth? Their pass rush sputtered at the end of last year, and the injury to Jermaine Phillips, a free-agent to be, could open up jobs for mid-round picks. Are there players available that could address those needs?
CS: There are a lot of areas the Bucs could use depth at: offensive line, running back, wide receiver, defensive line and in the secondary. The most pressing depth issues reside on the defensive line and secondary. If the Bucs are looking to address those areas in the mid-rounds, here are some players that may intrigue them: Hawaii DE David Veikune, Michigan DE Tim Jamison, Tennessee DE Robert Ayers, Boston College DT Ron Brace, Clemson DT Dorell Scott, Wake Forest SS Chip Vaughn, USC SS Kevin Ellison, Michigan CB Morgan Trent and Oregon State CB Keenan Lewis.
MP: Building some depth at safety will be important, as I don't expect SS Jermaine Phillips to return via free agency. That leaves the Bucs FS Tanard Jackson, SS Sabby Piscitelli and a bunch of spare parts back there. So selecting a safety in the second or third round is definitely an option. They might be capable of getting Alabama's Rashad Johnson in that slot. And don't discount the possibility of the Bucs selecting a corner and training him to be a safety. That's what they did with Jackson. There's plenty of tackle depth in the mid-rounds, and the Bucs may need to mine it if Jovan Haye doesn't return. Either way, with the number of free agents at those two defensive positions, the Bucs have to address them.
The Bucs see Josh Johnson, last year's fifth-round pick, as their QB of the future. But is there a QB in this draft, perhaps in the mid rounds, that offers the Bucs better long-term success than Johnson?
CS: The senior quarterback class is very weak this year, and depending on the underclassmen that declare, it could be one of the worst QB classes I can remember. With that said, I would never rule out the possibility of the Bucs adding another QB to the fold. Here are some mid-round prospects that may interest the Bucs: Mike Reilly (Central Washington), Nathan Brown (Central Arkansas), Cullen Harper (Clemson) and Hunter Cantwell (Louisville). But if they truly believe that Johnson is their QB of the future, they won't disrupt the plan and make him feel insecure about his future in Tampa.
MP: Chris, you must not watch the Bucs too closely. They LOVED to disrupt the plan under former head coach Jon Gruden. It's difficult to get a read on what new head coach Raheem Morris will do at quarterback. But if he intends to start over with a new quarterback, this probably isn't the year. As I said before, Sanchez and Stafford are the only ones worth a first-round pick. Texas Tech's Graham Harrell could end up intriguing a few teams, simply because of his prodigious numbers. So will Missouri's Chase Daniel. This decision will really come down to whom Morris hires as his offensive coordinator and in what direction he wants to take the offense.
Underclassmen declared on Thursday. Are there a few out there that the Bucs should focus on?
MP: Crabtree will catch their eye, even though there's no way in the world the Bucs will have the chance to select him. Think of him as this year's Calvin Johnson.