I’m a firm believer that if you aren’t early then you’re late. Reservations, parties, movies, whatever it may be, I’ve got no problem being the first in line. Heck, I showed up three weeks early for my own birth. So, while the 2013 NFL Draft is on April 25th (a mere 92 days from now), I’m all about getting into the art of premature speculation.
The Buccaneers finished out the year in place for the 13th overall selection in the Draft this year. So I vote that this week in Point/Counterpoint we play the role of mock draft expert.
The 2012 season definitely saw a lot of promise for the future of this young Buccaneer team. Franchise records in points and yardage, a number of single-season personal records and three Pro Bowl selections definitely show that this team has a lot of potential to compete for the NFC South title in 2013. But it also gave us a solid glimpse at the needs for this team to take the step to the next level.
We’ll have a clearer picture once we get through free agency and see what the incoming crop of rookies displays throughout the offseason, but for now, let’s take a crack at this NFL Draft question:
Should the Buccaneers devote their first-round pick to offense or defense this year?
Take it away, Scott.
Scott Smith: That’s similar to the philosophy I’ve taught my nine-year-old about baseball practice: “If you’re early, then you can’t be late.” Of course, if you’re early then you can be very, very wrong, especially when it comes to predicting April’s draft in January. Pick any expert right now – Kiper, McShay, whatever – and print out his current top 10. Compare it to what he’s posting in mid-April, and I’ll bet that at least five of the names will be different. It’s almost a fool’s errand right now to try to predict a specific pick for a specific team.
Ah, but that’s why I like your question, in the manner it is posed. Obviously, your mama didn’t raise no fools. If I’ve got this right, rather than trying to make any solid player predictions, we’re basically arguing which side of the ball is in more need of the potentially huge lift it could get from a first-round pick. I’m game for that.
And, seriously, just look at the numbers. The Bucs’ 2012 offense finished with its highest NFL ranking ever and set new franchise records for points and yards. It was gifted with both Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin last year, and Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph will be coming back in 2013. Meanwhile, while Tampa Bay’s defense did lead the NFL in stopping the run it had persistent troubles against the pass, finishing 29th overall in yards allowed and 23rd in points allowed. So, obviously, for this argument, I’m going to take…offense.
You’re welcome, Andrew. Yes, I know full well that you’re going to use all of those facts above to state your case, and there will be merit to it. Maybe Mark Dominik could do some wheeling and dealing and end up with a pick for both the offense and defense this spring, just like he did last year. But if we only get to choose one side, I’m going with offense, and here’s why.
Have you ever heard the football saying, “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse?” If not, just stand next to a coach for a few hours. Believe me, he’ll say it at some point. They utter it almost reflexively. And that’s the situation we have with the Buccaneers’ offense right now. This thing is on the verge of being great. It’s right on the edge, and with a little nudge it could be the first truly lethal offense in the entire history of the franchise. We saw a little bit of that at midseason, when the team went on a four-game yardage and scoring binge unlike anything it had done in the previous 36 seasons. It was Patriots-like. It was Saints-like. How great would it be to root for a team that could do that with some degree of regularity?
So now is the time to rev the engine. You’ve got the young quarterback who became the first Buc to throw for 4,000 yards. You’ve got Pro Bowlers at running back and receiver. You’ve got those two ridiculously good guards waiting to come back after playing a combined seven games last year. You’ve got Mike Sullivan really coming into his own as a play-caller. You have probably the best #2 receiver the Bucs have ever had. But you’ve also got the looming specter of inertia. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.
So just how can you make it better? This is where I want to be careful, because I don’t want to impugn any of the current players that are in place. So let’s just talk about things that could make any offense better. Another impactful running back, maybe an absolutely burner and a change-of-pace guy. Another tight end to add a different dimension to the passing back. More talent for what should be a very good offensive line. And you can never have enough good receivers.
This is getting long, so I’ll save my views on why the defense can survive being passed over in the first round this year until my rebuttal. Suffice it to say, I want to see this offense take advantage of the kind of opportunity this franchise has virtually never seen before.
Andrew Norton: Bold argument there, Scott. It makes sense, and I do not argue the fact that this offense is on the cusp of something truly great. But at pick 13, you are in position to get an instant starter, a playmaker, and game-changer. And as promising as 2012 was, it is the defense that needs that first-round rookie.
Just look at the compilation of early mocks from experts around the NFL, nine of the ten are predicting a defensive player. Eight of the ten are predicting a cornerback. As we both previously mentioned, a lot of things change in the offseason, especially since we still have three months between now and draft day. But even if the Bucs do play around in free agency to make additions to the defense, I still think that the defensive side needs the most help from the draft.
The Bucs had the number one defense against the run in the NFL but ended the year 29th in total yards allowed. That’s a pretty big difference. There are multiple ways to address this in the draft, but no matter which way you slice it, something needs to be done. No matter how explosive this offense gets, and how many points they can put up, it will come down to the other side of the ball to dictate whether or not we end up with the W.
This draft class lacks the big-name offensive punch that the last draft did. There is no Andrew Luck, no RGIII, not even a Matt Kalil or Trent Richardson. While there is offensive line talent that can be had at number 13, it would seem that any other offensive position would be a reach from our spot.
But on defense, this draft is full of elite pass rushers, and three dynamic cornerbacks, any of which could come in and provide instant help to the struggling secondary. So whether the idea is to find someone who will disrupt the backfield alongside Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn, or to build around last year’s first selection Mark Barron in the backfield, you need to address the immediate problem.
I have full faith in what Mark Dominik can do. He has proven again and again to be on point during the NFL Draft. But the statistics from last year (and perhaps to some extent the massive fan encouragement for a defensive selection) has to put the odds on the defensive side. After a season full of potential, the Buccaneers are in a position to take the best player available. I just think that pool needs to be cut in half, making our selection “best player available” on defense.
Scott Smith: Starting with your last paragraph there, I share your faith in Mark. I do not, however, think any outside opinions, whether they be from loyal fans or the so-called experts, will influence the team’s draft decisions in any way. I’m not going to dwell on it, because I know that wasn’t your central point.
The mock draft evidence you supply means nothing to me, either. Those things are going to change a million times between now and April, and then they’re going to be 90% wrong once the real picking begins. All those pundits are doing right now is sharing your reasoning: Bucs’ biggest statistical weakness in 2012 was the pass defense, therefore a cornerback or a pass-rusher is the obvious pick.
Listen, there’s nothing wrong that line of thinking. I’m certainly not going to be upset if we can add either one of those things to our team. I just argue with the notion that the pass defense numbers mean the team HAS to go defense. There are plenty of ways for this defense to get better, and some of them are going to happen naturally. Adrian Clayborn, probably the team’s best pass-rusher is going to come back after barely getting to play last year. Gerald McCoy is going to be one year better. Da’Quan Bowers should be ready to make an even bigger impact. Michael Bennett, a pending free agent, may re-sign. The cupboard is certainly not bare up front. I think it’s fair to say the secondary needs some sorting out, and we still don’t know if Ronde Barber is going to return, but don’t just dismiss the free agency/trade options to add to the defensive backfield. More importantly, don’t assume that such positions can’t be addressed in a very good way AFTER the first round. That Barber guy, probably a Hall of Famer as a cornerback? Third-round pick. So were Donnie Abraham, Dwight Smith and (via a trade) Mike Washington. If you don’t know, look it up, you young whippersnapper. Ricky Reynolds and Brian Kelly were second-round picks. (You’re also exaggerating the strength of this year’s cornerback class; most pundits think it is NOT a strong position this year.)
You’re right that we could get a game-changer, a playmaker, at #13. We need that on offense. We’ve got some, but we need more. We need to be able to put the pedal to the metal while we have the chance. Josh Freeman needs even more toys!
Andrew Norton: Of course you can find talent in later rounds at any of the defensive positions. And I can pretty easily go ahead and flip that argument on you. After literally tens of minutes of research, I found: Vincent Jackson, Errict Rhett, Mike Alstott, James Wilder, all second-round picks. Mark Carrier, Michael Pittman, Mike Williams, Lawrence Dawsey, all third round or later. LeGarrette Blount, Earnest Graham, both undrafted. So, certainly, we can find Josh Freeman some excellent targets later on in the draft.
Therefore, for the first round, we need to focus on defense.
And, because you mention that the cornerback class in this draft is not being viewed as strong, I should point out that of Scouts Inc.’s Top 32 players at this point only two wide receivers (zero tight ends or running backs) graded in the 90s. 14 defensive linemen and three defensive backs graded in the 90s. So as a whole, as far as first-round talent in concerned, there is far more available on the defensive side of the ball than there is on offense, even further swinging the pendulum to a defensive draft pick.
Therefore, for the first round, we need to focus on defense.
It is clear though that we seem to be in agreement on one thing. The Buccaneers are seemingly just a few moves away from something big. We set season records last year behind an offensive line that was missing two Pro Bowl guards. Anything added on that side of the ball is just icing on the cake.
And on defense, we can look forward to being stronger just by getting Clayborn back from injury and another season of experience for budding stars like Bowers, McCoy, Barron and David. Another year under the belt for our stars, and a dominant first-round defensive draft pick should give us the kick we need on defense to not only maintain dominance against the run game, but vastly improve in defending the pass.
Say it with me… Therefore, for the first round, we need to focus on defense.