Grading a team's draft before any of the guys they selected has played a single down for them is always tricky. Some guys end up over achieving and of course some guys end up underachieving. They you have the guys who have a great first year and then fall off after that (*cough* Clayton *cough*). So take the rest of this post with a grain of salt.
I give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft a C+. I realize that some people have given them much higher grades and I respect many of those who have done so but I have straight forward reasons why I feel this way and I intend to explain them. Some people will agree, some won't but I think everyone will at least see where I'm coming from.
First of all individually I like every guy we drafted. Here's the full list.
1st round Gerald McCoy
2nd round Brian Price
2nd round Arrelious Benn
3rd round Myron Lewis
4th round Mike Williams
6th round Brent Bowden
7th round Cody Grimm
7th round Dekoda Watson
7th round Erik Lorig
In a vacuum I like each and every guy on that list. A LOT. Every draft pick played for a big school in a big conference and just about each and every one of them is a "safe" pick.
Unfortunately you don't draft in a vacuum, and like I mentioned the other day, the Bucs have specific needs that had to be addressed through the draft due to their aversion to being active in free agency this year. There was a chance, albeit a slim one, that they could have pulled such a feat off. However one pick in particular all but guaranteed that they wouldn't.
The 2nd round selection of Brian Price just doesn't make any sense to me at all. I know that the media is reporting that the Bucs are saying they planned to take him all alone to pair him with Gerald McCoy but I just don't believe it. OF COURSE the Bucs are going to say they planned it from the beginning lest they look incompetent, but I believe that Price just happened to be the highest guy on their board so they took him instead of stretching for need. Now in another year, in another situation, that would be perfectly fine and preferred in fact. But you can't draft best available when your team has as many needs as ours does. By taking Price with our first pick in the 2nd round the Bucs made an on the field error in addition to a draft strategy error. Lets talk about each.
First we will start off with the on the field implications. GM Mark Dominik explained why they took Price in addition to McCoy this way:
Dominik said the idea of drafting both McCoy and Price and teaming them with Miller in a three-man rotation was something he envisioned while preparing for the draft.
"We want to get back to what we did in the past," he said. "We've had a lot of success here over the years rotating our defensive lineman and (beating) the heat that way."
Here's the thing, I am sure Brian Price CAN play nosetackle, BUT he is much better suited to be an undertackle (3 technique). Make no mistake about it, I have been very high on Price, and in my own alternate universe we chose Eric Berry with the 3rd pick in the first round then we selected Brian Price to be our 3 technique. So my question is why would you get a guy that high who is pretty much the same player that you took in the first round if all you are going to do is make him take on double teams most of the day on Sundays? Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should and having Price at nosetackle will be wasting his pass rush ability on early downs. Sure he might be able to rush out of a 3 technique on 3rd downs but that's just a maybe. And lets get one thing straight, Price WILL be our starting nose tackle. Remember we had to hit homeruns this year with the draft or people are going to have to walk the plank no matter what. So what does that mean for Roy Miller?
I suppose that maybe the Bucs aren't as high on Miller as they once were but lets not forget that he himself was a 3rd round pick just last year. And besides that nothing that the Bucs have said publicly this off season to this point would give anyone reason to believe that Miller was disappointing them. That is until they drafted a guy in the 2nd round to take his job. Does this mean that Miller will now be labeled a bust? I guess only time will tell.
My biggest question is this. How exactly is this "rotation" supposed to work? Last year Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims started and then Miller would spell each of them in the rotation. It was relatively simple because we played left and right defensive tackles last season rather than an undertackle and nosetackle that flip sides according to the call and the offensive formation. So now when Miller comes in to spell Price I would assume that he would be at nose and McCoy would stay at 3 technique. But what happens when Miller spells McCoy? Does Price then go to undertackle and Miller strictly plays nose? Or will Miller play 3 technique so Price can continue to develop as a nosetackle?
This may seem like a trivial line of questioning but it absolutely is not. Depending upon how the rotation goes Price may actually get some time in at undertackle where he can utilize his pass rushing skills more or he may be relegated to strictly playing nosetackle. And I am of mixed emotions about the former. I mean I want us to have the most dominant pass rush possible at all times, but with nose tackle being a new position for Price and one of the hardest positions technique and blocking scheme recongnition wise for guys to adapt to, do we really want Price to be playing anything but the position he starts at? My fear is that we end up with 3 pretty good undertackles and 2 shitty to average nosetackles. As I have said before, our nosetackle position is a big factor in stopping the run. If we don't get consistently good play there, we won't have to worry about our pass rush because teams will just run it down our damn throats.....again.
There is one last thing that I feel compelled to point out. What happens if it turns out that Price is a better pass rusher than McCoy, at least initially? It may just be that Price picks up the pro game quicker than McCoy and starts off stronger in terms of getting pressure on the quarterback. How long would the Bucs resist the temptation to then either move McCoy over to nose or bench him altogether? Well I would say benching him is not an option, but still there is that possibility. Probably a bigger possibility than most think.
The other thing about picking Price at 35 is that it showed poor draft strategy in my opinion. I know hindsight is always 20/20 but I again feel the need to remind the reader how much the Buccaneers themselves hyped up this draft and promised fans that even though they weren't signing many free agents, the draft picks would more than make up for that. I admit that I wasn't sure that Price would fall all the way to the 2nd round but look at the teams picking behind us at #35.
Notice anything? All but one of those teams who chose between our pick at #35 and our pick at #42 run a 3-4 scheme which isn't really much of a fit for Brian Price. On the other hand just about every team in the interim needed a wide receiver. I am not saying we definitely had to take Arrelious Benn at #35 or that Price would have definitely fallen to us at #42 if we had. What I am saying is that it was more likely than the opposite scenario which was actually our reality when we picked Price first then had to spend a 5th round pick just to move up 3 spaces and pick Benn.
This may seem like a small thing but with as many holes as we have on our team right now we can't afford to deal away a draft pick that might actually have starting potential or at least be a major contributor. In the 5th round we might have been able to pick either Kam Chancellor or Larry Assante, two safeties who both went in that round and two guys who would be in the mix to start or play quite a bit for us at strong safety. Or maybe we go for Cam Thomas or Art Jones to give us another defensive tackle to add to the mix. After all if there is to be a 3 man rotation, what happens if one of the 3 gets hurt? Or maybe we could have gone offense and gotten Riley Cooper to give Josh Freeman another target to throw to while putting a little local flavor on the roster as well. Don't for one second believe that having players on the roster from the big in-state college teams wouldn't help with attendance.
My feeling is that instead of trading away a 5th rounder to move up to get Benn we could have possibly been gaining draft picks from a 3-4 team that wanted to move up to get offensive weapon Dexter McCluster who ended up going at #36 or outside rush linebacker Sergio Kindle who ended up going at #43. Worst case scenario we just stand pat, pick Benn at #35 and if by chance Price is taken in the intervening 7 picks then you turn to defensive tackle Lamarr Houston out of Texas who also had a first round grade and does a lot of the same things that Price does. Those are the kinds of things that teams that are considered great at the draft do. They make moves to continue to acquire picks rather than spend them to move up and in the end they have a quality draft with a lot of picks and usually some extra picks for future drafts as well.
Instead of those scenarios playing out we were stuck with not having a 5th round pick for this year's draft. That's HUGE when we haven't been signing free agents.
I would also knock the Bucs for taking a punter with our lone 6th round pick. Again I like Brent Bowden as a player and I know the importance of special teams play. But with a team in need of so many upgrades, is punter really our most pressing need at that point? Keep in mind that defensive end Greg Hardy was still sitting there at that point. Wide receiver Carlton Mitchell from USF is still sitting there at that point. Jonathan Dwyer, Charles Scott, Trindon Holliday all still sitting there. And we go.....punter.
And since we aren't drafting in a vacuum lets also look around our own division.
Do you think our draft is better than the Saints?
How about the Falcons?
What about the Panthers?
These teams all finished in front of us last year and they all also seemed to plug some of the biggest holes on their team in this draft. Of course they did this in addition to, and not instead of, being active in free agency as well.
Where is the big blocking tight end we are going to need to help get our running game going? Where is the safety, no offense to Cody Grimm, that will push Tanard Jackson, Sabby Piscitelli, and Sean Jones for a starting spot? Where is the upgrade at left defensive end? Where is the depth at middle linebacker pushing Ruud for a starting spot either this year or next?
Did we fill some of our holes?
Without a doubt we did.
I feel great about Benn and Mike Williams on offense. Both guys are tall, physical receivers who will go up and get the ball in traffic and have speed to stretch opposing defenses. Having seen Mike Williams torch USF repeatedly even when it was obvious that he was pretty much the only offensive weapon that Syracuse had and against true double coverage on almost every play, I am a big believer in his abilities. I am still somewhat wary of his quitting on the team but on the other hand I believe that the Bucs organization has a close enough relationship with Syracuse's coach, Doug Marrone, that if his actions were a deal breaker we never would have taken him. If we can give Freeman enough time, I think those two guys will help put some pop back in our offense and actually begin to strike fear in opposing secondaries.
I also like McCoy, Price and Myron Lewis a lot individually if not collectively. I think Lewis is going to be a physical corner somewhat in the same mold of Aqib Talib and that he will eventually transition into the role in nickel that Ronde has played for our defense for over a decade now. Early downs aside, I do feel like Price and McCoy will at some point in the season give teams fits on 3rd downs with their pass rush and help to make our defensive ends' pass rush better as well with their push, keeping opposing quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket to avoid the ends' speed rushes.
I'm even excited about Cody Grimm and Dekoda Watson on special teams and I have heard that Erik Lorig will be a very hard worker on the defensive line and on special teams as well.
What it comes down to for me is that we didn't do enough with the picks that we had and that leaves us with a few too many question marks in my book.
I will say that this grade is definitely still in flux. In the fall the players' production could push it up or down. Also if the Bucs finally decide to bring in a few free agents to cover the spots we didn't get to in the draft, that could push it up as well. But it also could go in the other direction. If Price doesn't transition well as a nosetackle. If Williams doesn't make a major contribution this year. If Lewis doesn't end up starting at nickleback this grade, like our season, will likely be going down.
Keep in mind that its definitely still early, but for me this is how we look on paper. I am sure some folks will say I'm too negative while others will be apoplectic that I'm even this positive. Can't help it folks, I tell it like it is and how it comes together in my own mind. In the end its still just a prediction/projection, nothing more and nothing less. Its up to you whether you buy it or not.
It is what it is.
P.S. When we won the Superbowl we had a stacked secondary with John Lynch, Dexter Jackson, Dwight Smith, Ronde Barber, and Brian Kelly making big time contributions.
Our starting nosetackle on the other hand was Chuck Darby.