Point/Counterpoint: How Would an All-Buc Draft Play Out?

The NFL Draft is still two months away.  Your fantasy football drafts even longer.  Maybe you pass the time in March with a fantasy baseball draft or too, but we all know that’s not the same thing.

Here at the CB, we’re jonesin’ for some draftin’ right now, so we came up with this idea: What if two G.M.s were to split the current Buc roster in two by holding a back-and-forth draft of the 60 or so available players?  Who would be the most coveted player?  How would the two G.M.’s go about building a foundation for the future?

Let’s not speculate; let’s do it.  You and me, Andrew.

Here are the ground rules:

  • Serpentine draft, which means after the first pick, there will be two picks in a row for the second “G.M.,” and so on.
  • The 53 players who finished the 2012 season on the active roster, plus the 13 who were on injured reserve at the time, are eligible to be drafted.  Contract status does NOT matter; assume each drafted player is at the beginning of a five-year contract.
  • Positional scarcity does matter.  A top-notch player at a more coveted position should be given more weight.
  • Each “G.M.” will draft six players (an even number of rounds is necessary to make it fair in a serpentine draft).  Assume that you will then have the rest of your roster filled out by roughly league-average players.  Thus, you do NOT have to draft a particular position just because your opponent does.  If you don’t get the best, say, safety, you will at least get a decent player there on your 53-man roster.  However, that player will NOT come from the Buccaneers’ 2012 roster, so if you pass up on a Buc you want now, that’s your last chance.
  • Assume you are trying to build a winner for at least the next five years.  During those five years, you WILL have the opportunity to add to your team through free agency and the draft, this offseason included.  Thus, you will want to consider how hard you believe it is to restock certain positions.
  • Age is a factor.  Remember, we’re trying to still win with these two team cores five years from now.  Injury history can be a factor, but assume any player will be fully healthy by the start of the next training camp.

Got it?  Good.  That means the only thing we have left to do is flip a coin to see who goes first.  I’m walking over to your desk now.

And the coin flip winner is…

Andrew Norton: Woohoo! First pick. And in my mind there is only one position that you can build your team around: quarterback. So, easily, my first pick of the 2013 All-Buc Draft is Mr. Josh Freeman.

Even beyond the fact that there is some position scarcity here, I think Freeman is a solid building block and I’ll tell you why. He had a phenomenal 2010 season when he was an up-and-coming star with a year under his belt. His production suffered after the work stoppage, but he came back strong and showed his true potential in 2012.

Just take a look at the potential. Single-season Buccaneer record in touchdowns (27) and yardage (4,065). Leader of one of the most explosive teams in the NFL. Held the offense to a high standard despite defensive woes. All of this under a brand new coaching staff, with a rookie running back, brand new number 1 receiver, and missing his two Pro Bowl starting guards. I’m in the “sky is the limit” camp with Freeman and think next year, and years after could be something very special as he has time to gel with the system, coaches and offensive stars.

Scott Smith: Well, I shouldn’t be surprised, but I guess I was hoping that you would get fancy and try something different.  I agree that if there is a potential franchise quarterback on the board for this draft, you have to take him.  Adding to what you said above, that was Freeman’s first year with new coordinator Mike Sullivan, who looked quite promising in his own right.  I don’t think Freeman’s new records are going to last long.

Alright, with my first-round pick I’m going to go with what I also believe is a no-brainer: defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.  This is a player who just scratched the surface of what he can do in 2012, ending up in the Pro Bowl and proving that his first two injury-plagued seasons were flukes.  A three-technique tackle who can penetrate up the middle and plug the gaps against the run?  That’s what a dominant 4-3 defense is built on; at least, that used to be the case here in Tampa.  Since you got Freeman, I wanted to start on defense, and McCoy is the player I want to build around.

My second-round pick may surprise you.  Obviously, there are some offensive stars on the board there, just screaming for me to pick them, but I’m going to take one more pick to solidify my defense.  Maybe it’s those years of watching the old Buc D dominate, all the way to the Lombardi Trophy, but I want to be rock-solid on that side of the ball.  There are several worthy choices, but I’m going with linebacker Lavonte David.

You know how I said the old Buccaneer defense was built around a penetrating three-technique tackle.  Well, that was obviously Warren Sapp, and his number-one running mate was Derrick Brooks.  Brooks played the weakside linebacker spot and simply made tackles and big plays from sideline to sideline.  Lavonte David is my Derrick Brooks.  His rookie season was phenomenal (nearly breaking a rookie record with 20 TFLs) and, like McCoy, I think he’s only headed up.  David has proved he can make plays behind the line of scrimmage.  If he adds the sort of pass-coverage plays that Brooks was known for, he’ll be spending a lot of Februarys in Honolulu.

Andrew Norton: Februarys? I feel it should be Februaries… Word doesn’t red squiggly line either of them, but I like the “-ies” better. Anyways…

I was really hoping that you’d let David slide to me. I really wanted my second round selection to be a defensive one, but that will not be the case. Instead I will be taking the other 2012 Buccaneer rookie phenom, Doug Martin.

This close (my fingers are being held roughly an inch apart) to hitting 2,000 total yards from scrimmage. That is the third-highest total yardage number for a rookie in NFL history. He also notched 12 touchdowns and never seemed to crash into that rookie wall we are all so worried about. Plus, again, he did it without the Bucs Pro Bowl guards. Because of his performance, and his endurance and durability, I’m going to say that he also avoids the infamous sophomore slump and will help make the Buccaneers a sleeper in 2013. That’s why he’s making my team.

Now, kicking off Round 3, I would really like to start something on defense. But, I’m not gonna. I’m going to help out my two current picks by giving them a wall to work behind with G Carl Nicks. A force in pass protection and a force in the run game. I’ve mentioned in my previous two picks that Freeman and Martin had success without their Pro Bowl guard in 2012, and I think they can be even better with him, so he’s making my cut.

It’s not necessarily the easiest thing to find written stats about an offensive guard. But in his five NFL seasons he has two Pro Bowl appearances and one first-team All Pro selection. Pro-football-reference.com has an approximate value ranking for the position, where Carl Nicks lands with a 17 point rating for his 2011 season, that is tied for the highest mark since 1950.

Scott Smith: Well, shoot.  You called my bluff, Andrew.

Obviously, I wanted to get my hands on some of the team’s marquee offensive players, and I would have liked to have been able to pick from all of them (other than Freeman, who went first overall).  I thought if I surprised you with two defensive picks, you would use at least one of your next two picks on a defensive player, not wanting to get way behind on that side of the ball.

Alas, you were too smart for that trick and you nabbed two excellent choices.  The good news, however, is that the cupboard is far from bare.  In fact, you may have done me a favor.  How does one choose between Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin?  Or between  Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph?  Well, now I don’t have to.

My first pick is Vincent Jackson.  He brought a dynamic new edge to the Buccaneers’ offense in 2012.  I may not have a franchise-type quarterback just yet, but I think Jackson can help any passer improve his numbers.  He can blow the top off the defense for big plays, go up high for balls in traffic and pretty much work all areas of the field.  In 2011, the San Diego Chargers (Jackson’s former team) ranked 5th in the NFL in producing passing plays of 25 or more yards, while the Buccaneers ranked 28th.  Last year, the Buccaneers, now with Jackson on their side, tied for 4th in that category while the Chargers dropped into a tie for 22nd.  Neither team changed QBs from 2011 to 2012.  Enough said.

As for my pick in the fourth round, frankly I’m torn.  I want to start up my offensive line, but I’m having trouble choosing between Joseph and left tackle Donald Penn.  Both have been to the Pro Bowl and both are among the best players at their position in the NFL.  Left tackle might be a somewhat more important position, assuming I end up with a right-handed quarterback.  However, I’m going to go with Davin Joseph because I want that road-grader for my running game up the middle.  If I’m lucky, you’ll feel practically obligated to go defense with your next two picks, and I’ll still have a shot at grabbing Penn, too.

As for the Februarys/Februaries debate, all you had to do was look it up on dictionary.com and you would see that…um, never mind.

Andrew Norton: Well, I guess it is time for defense. And I’ll be honest, I’m having a very hard time making up my mind which of four players I want to say that I’m going to choose.

Dramatic pause full of hand-wringing and pacing.

Alright. Out with it. Michael Bennett and Mark Barron.

Bennett came on very strong in 2012, putting up some fantastic numbers and really being a force for both the pass and rush defense. Not only did he lead the team in sacks with 9, but he also finished just two behind your Lavonte David with 18 tackles for a loss, good for fifth in the NFL. His tackle numbers remained consistent from his 2011 campaign, which shows me that 2012 was no fluke; it is solid progression. Moving forward, I think he can give me a solid pass rush from the outside and really bottle up any runs that come his way.

Barron also makes the team and with Bennett, I think provides a solid foundation for my defense. He had his ups and downs in his rookie season, but I say that is to be expected. And he really came on strong late in the season. He led all rookie safeties in tackles with 71, was second of all NFL safeties in stuffs (tackles behind line of scrimmage), and added a forced fumble and interception.

Scott Smith: This is at once harder and easier than I expected.  It’s harder because I’ve really missed out on some guys I wanted, but it’s easier because there has been no shortage of good picks.

And that’s why I can rather happily finish out my draft with two players I would have had no problem taking in earlier rounds: tackle Donald Penn and defensive end Adrian Clayborn.  OL/DL one-on-one drills are going to be the best part of my training camp this August.

I kind of laid out the reasoning for the Donald Penn pick above.  The most important positions on the field are usually considered to be quarterback, cornerback, left tackle and pass-rusher (whether it be DE or a 3-4 LB).  If you can get a top-notch left tackle in the fifth round…well, you have to do it.  Penn is still only 29 and, by the rules laid out above, I now have him under contract for the next five years.  With him anchoring the left side and Joseph leading the way on the right, I think I could fill out my line pretty easily (wish I could have Jeremy Zuttah, too, however).

And I’m wondering if Clayborn slipped as far as he did just because of the injury that cost him most of the 2012 season.  If so, that bit of misfortune worked in my favor, because that is some high-end talent I’m getting in Round Six.  This was our sack leader in 2011, when he was a rookie, and he was playing well at the start of 2012 before he got hurt.  I’m grabbing Clayborn and hoping he becomes that feared pass-rusher to go along with my three-technique tackle and my sideline-to-sideline linebacker.  You know, the Simeon Rice to my Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.

Right about now, Andrew, you should have a mental image of me rubbing my hands together in smugly self-satisfied glee.

I think the hardest job of this whole thing is yours, now, with the last pick.  After that pick, we can’t have any of the remaining players on the Bucs’ 2012 roster.  Think of the guys that are still on the board right now: Mike Williams, Ronde Barber, Mason Foster, Jeremy Zuttah, Da’Quan Bowers, Roy Miller, Adam Hayward.  After you nabbed Doug Martin, I easily could have called on LeGarrette Blount, looking for another season like 2010 from a low-mileage 26-year-old back.  Heck, the Bucs have a pretty awesome punter-kicker combo in Michael Koenen and Connor Barth, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.  I know the rules of this game make Barber an unlikely early-round pick, but it’s still hard to pass up what I consider a sure-fire Hall of Famer who was still playing at a high level in 2012.

Oh, well, I guess that’s your problem.

Andrew Norton: Stole Clayborn from me. I’m beyond excited to see what he’ll come up with in 2013 having a year to work on his upper body. He’s going to be shedding blockers like nothing.

I have the honor of rounding out the first annual 6-man All Buccaneer Draft and I’m going to do so by giving myself a defensive signal caller with LB Mason Foster.  It was indeed difficult to leave so many other worthy players on the board; maybe next time around this could be a 10-round draft.

Foster himself is no slouch when it comes to the tackle for loss number, notching 13 of his own. His 80 tackles also put him at second on the Buccaneers while his two sacks match that of David. What I really like about Foster is seeing his progression from his 2011 rookie season, showing that he will continue to grow throughout our five-year plan. With more confidence and experience, I can see him fighting for the numbers that others at his position are achieving.

I am certainly missing some fantasy and Buccaneer football, and can’t wait to see how 2013 shakes out with our picks. The countdown is on for another Buccaneer season and our young stars have another year to grow and capitalize on all the potential that we’ve seen. Here’s hoping that we’ll be seeing our guys out on the field for many Februaries to come.

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