It’s been more than a month since we’ve checked in on the various NFL mock drafts dotting the web and, as is the case every spring, they rarely stay static.
Our earliest review of the mocks, way back in January when the online experts were just starting to get warmed up, saw a nearly unanimous belief that the Bucs would take a cornerback, generally either Alabama’s Dee Milliner, Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes or Mississippi State’s Johnathan Banks. A few weeks later, we saw some more variety start to creep into the process, partly because Milliner’s “stock” had risen and put him out of reach at #13.
That was in early February. Now it’s late March, and in addition to the inevitable evolution of thinking that takes place over the pre-draft weeks there was also one very significant event that took place in between. The NFL Scouting Combine at the end of last month definitely affected the experts’ mock drafts, so it makes sense to take another look at where they stand with just over a month to go until the real thing.
There are still those, of course, who connect the dots between the Bucs and their cornerback needs, and at the moment the consensus is that the best option for Tampa Bay at #13 will be Rhodes.
That’s the opinion, for instance, of Dane Brugler of Yahoo.com (and The Sports XChange), who posted his latest mock about a week after the Combine ended. Wrote Brugler:
“The Buccaneers need to continue and rebuild the defense and might not return either of their starting cornerbacks from last season. Rhodes has imposing size for the position and plays with the aggressiveness and quickness to be a true bump-and-run corner in the NFL.”
Others who match the Bucs with Rhodes include Doug Farrar, also of Yahoo.com (posted on Feb. 27), Charles Davis of NFL.com (March 5) and Matt Smith of NFL.com (March 18). Like Brugler, Farrar also notes Xavier’s big frame, saying he “fits the NFL’s new paradigm for cornerbacks with his size, physical style, and trail speed.” Davis is sticking with the same pick he made back on January 15.
On the other hand, two other NFL.com analysts – Bucky Brooks and Josh Norris – have come off their original Rhodes predictions. Brooks said Rhodes in two different versions of his mock in January, but is now predicting Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan. Norris, who also said Rhodes in January, goes with the same position as Brooks but thinks Florida State’s Bjoern Werner will fall to #13. These two updates were posted on March 14 and March 13, respectively, and may have been based on the rumored (and eventual) departure of Michael Bennett.
SI.com’s Don Banks also posted a new mock draft right after the Combine; before the Indy event, he had paired Tampa Bay with Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree. This time, he agrees with Brooks and feels that Werner will simply represent too much value for the Buccaneers to pass in the 13th spot, no matter what other needs they might have.
“The Bucs’ greatest need is at cornerback, so Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes may be in play here,” wrote Banks. “But to take him, they’d probably have to bypass the draft’s top-rated defensive end, Werner, also of FSU. Given Da’Quan Bowers’ gun arrest, and Adrian Clayborn’s injury issues, and Tampa Bay’s dismal sack totals, Werner would seem too good to overlook.”
Others aren’t sure that Rhodes will be there even if that’s who the Bucs are targeting. Pat Kirwan of CBSSports.com thinks the Bucs are looking for a corner but predicts the former Seminole going to the Dolphins one pick before Tampa Bay is on the clock. Thus, he slots Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant into the #13 spot.
Kirwan’s mock draft was posted earlier this week, on March 18. Timing is obviously important when evaluating these predictions, and the reason why the high-profile draft analysts generally roll through a number of versions from January to April. For instance, ESPN.com’s Todd McShay is definitely plugged into all things NFL Draft, but the 3.0 version of his mock draft includes a prediction for the Bucs that is likely to change in the eventual 4.0 post. McShay’s latest version went up on March 6 and had the Bucs taking Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. That’s not impossible, of course, but it seems far less likely since the team’s March 13 signing of all-pro safety Dashon Goldson.
McShay’s ESPN foil, Mel Kiper, changed his pick for the Buccaneers, too. Kiper had the Bucs paired with Ogletree in January and with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o in early February. Now he has Tampa Bay going with Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
“This isn’t the top need for the Bucs,” wrote Kiper most recently, “but assuming everything checks out for Lotulelei on the medical front, he’d be a total steal here and allow Greg Schiano to create depth and make this a potentially dominant run defense going forward.”
The defensive tackle draft rankings seem quite fluid. At some point, Lotulelei, Florida’s Sharrif Floyd and Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson have seemed to gain momentum towards taking the top spot. Russ Lande of National Football Post matched the Bucs up with Floyd in his March 14 mock, with much of the same reasoning Kiper used to pick Lotulelei.
“Gerald McCoy is an elite talent, but with Roy Miller expected to leave team as a free agent the Buccaneers need a defensive tackle to pair with McCoy,” wrote Lande. “Floyd is a rare physical talent with a remarkable combination of size, explosiveness and strength and will give the Buccaneers one of the best tandems of defensive tackles in the NFL.”
CBSSports.com’s Clark Judge agreed with Kiper on the Lotulelei front in his March 18 mock draft. Fellow CBS analyst Will Brinson, in another March 18 posting, goes a slightly different route on defense, predicting that LSU linebacker Barkevious Mingo will fall to pick #13.
The most interesting new pick, however, belongs to NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, who just updated his mock draft on March 20. Jeremiah, who previously foresaw the Bucs grabbing LSU defensive end Damontre Moore, now puts West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin in the 13th spot.