FIRST-ROUND Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson The reason: Johnson is one of the elite players in this draft and is definitely worthy of being drafted in the top 5 thanks in part to his blazing 4.35 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. At 6-foot-5, 239 pounds, Johnson’s freakish size gives Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden the ability to create mismatches on the perimeter against smaller corners and the frame and toughness to be an effective receiver going across the middle. Of course the Buccaneers need help along the defensive line, but Gruden knows he needs to score points on offense to win games. The Bucs can’t afford to miss with their first-round pick, and Johnson is as close to “can’t miss” as it gets – and is certainly more of a sure thing than any top defensive line prospect at this point.
SECOND-ROUND Boston College C-G Josh Beekman The reason: Did you notice how Beekman logged more snaps for the Bucs-coached North squad than any other offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl? Tampa Bay wanted to see him get extended snaps at both guard and center and he did quite well at both positions. Beekman was at the point of attack during Tony Hunt’s touchdown run to give the North squad a 7-0 lead in the Senior Bowl. He pulled to the right from his left guard position and blew up Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Willis to pave the way for Hunt’s score. Tampa Bay needs to have a contingency plan for their center position as John Wade is in the twilight of his career. Beekman, who is just under 6-foot-1, will likely be there at the top of the second round and will likely be the second center picked behind USC’s Ryan Kalil, who could be a late first-round pick.
SECOND-ROUND (FROM INDIANAPOLIS) Florida DT Marcus Thomas The reason: This is a real risky pick given Thomas’ past character issues at Florida (he failed a drug test and got kicked off the team at midseason), but looking at the player’s talents alone – he’s worth it. While Louisville’s Amobi Okoye and Michigan’s Alan Branch are deemed to be the top defensive tackles in this draft, if Thomas didn’t have his past transgressions, he would easily be ahead of them as a top-10 pick. Thomas is a powerful player with a quick first step and the ability to redirect and pursue relentlessly. He is born to play under tackle in a 4-3, one-gap defense like Tampa Bay’s. Due to Thomas’ off-field problems, this former first-rounder will likely fall to the second or third rounds. If he can stay clean, getting Thomas with the last pick in the second round could be a steal. This selection will be highly debated, but will ultimately come down to how well Thomas interviews with Tampa Bay’s scouts, coaches and front office.
THIRD-ROUND California DT Brandon Mebane The reason: This would be an ideal spot to draft a defensive back like a safety or a corner, but expect Tampa Bay to address both of those positions in free agency. Given the fact that Tampa Bay needs to improve its defensive line this offseason, stockpiling some defensive tackles is not a bad idea. The Bucs coached Mebane at the Senior Bowl where he performed well, but his draft stock took a hit at the NFL Scouting Combine where he turned in a pair of disappointing 40-yard dash times. The best time for the 6-foot-1, 309-pounder was 5.11 in the 40. Due to his stout frame, Mebane would be an ideal nose tackle in the Tampa 2. He has a tendency to disappear in some games, but did notch a career-high 52 tackles last year to go along with four sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. As a junior, Mebane recorded seven sacks.
FOURTH-ROUND Central Michigan DE Daniel Bazuin The reason: Here’s a newsflash: Tampa Bay needs pass rushers. Bazuin recorded 26.5 sacks (25 solo), nine forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in two years as a starter for the Chippewas. He also was the Defensive MVP of the East-West Shrine Game with 2.5 sacks and two tackles for loss. Bazuin reminds me of Justin Smith and Jared Allen in terms of his pass-rushing tenacity. He’s not the most athletic defensive end in the draft, which is why he may not be selected in the first day of the draft. Bazuin isn’t as tall as Smith and Allen is, and he’s a little stiffer in the hips. His ability to redirect is also in question. However, the 6-foot-3, 266-pound Bazuin is a high-motor player that is sound against the run and relentless getting after the quarterback.
FIFTH-ROUND Kansas State Return Man/WR Yamon Figurs The reason: Tampa Bay has waited until the seventh round to draft a return specialist in years past (see Aaron Lockett in 2002 and Mark Jones in 2004). Given the impact Pro Bowl rookie Devin Hester had for the NFC Champion Chicago Bears last year returning punts and kicks, teams in the copycat NFL will be gunning to find the next Hester. That player may be Figurs, who didn’t score as many touchdowns as Hester did in college, but was the fastest wide receiver at the Combine with a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. Figurs is expected to crack the 4.3 barrier at his pro day workout at Kansas State. Figurs could replace Jones as a punt returner and a kick returner, and can also be a deadly gunner on special teams, which is something Jones isn’t. Figurs will get a strong endorsement from Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, who coached Figurs last year as K-State’s defensive coordinator. Based on his college production, Figurs should really be a sixth-round pick, but his 4.3-time will push him into the fourth or fifth-round. He’s raw, but Figurs also has some upside as a deep threat wide receiver.
SIXTH-ROUND Traded to New York Jets for tight end Doug Jolley. The Buccaneers are hoping to get at least a sixth-round compensatory draft pick for losing free safety Dexter Jackson in free agency last year, but the compensatory picks haven’t been handed out yet.
SEVENTH-ROUND Northern Illinois OT Doug Free The reason: Tampa Bay needs to find a younger and cheaper alternative to Kenyatta Walker as a backup offensive tackle. At 6-foot-6, 324 pounds, Free has good size and decent athleticism. The biggest question mark is whether he is motivated to play every play in an aggressive manner. Free is a second-day NFL talent, but falling to the top of the seventh round should give him all of the motivation in the world to play with more vigor. Perhaps part of the dropoff in his play in 2006 can be attributed to the fact that he played with a groin injury and a stress fracture in his foot. Free played a big role blocking for NIU star running back Garrett Wolfe, but is actually a better pass protector than a run blocker. His size and quickness allows him to play right tackle in the pros, or left tackle, which is his natural position. In the seventh round, Free is a great value pick.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]