Draft day has arrived for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their fans. Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds has the latest inside information and analysis on the team in this pre-draft primer.

WHY THE BUCS WILL DRAFT A RECEIVER IN THE FIRST ROUND
Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks has Tampa Bay picking Tennessee State cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the first round. Rivals.com has the Bucs taking Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason, as does NFL.com’s Pat Kirwan. The St. Petersburg Times picked South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins as the Bucs’ selection in their mock draft on SI.com.

Heck, Jenkins was on the cover of Pewter Report’s 2008 Bucs Draft Preview earlier this month. So Tampa Bay is a lock to take one of this year’s talented corners in the first round, right? Wrong.

The Bucs welcomed Torrie Cox back from injured reserve, re-signed Sammy Davis and added Eugene Wilson to a cornerback position that already features starters in Ronde Barber and Phillip Buchanon. Granted, Barber just turned 33 and the contracts of Wilson, Buchanon and Davis will expire after the 2008 season, but this draft is deep at cornerback.

This draft is also deep at wide receiver, but it is not particularly deep when it comes to quality speed receivers. Tampa Bay already has big wideouts, such as Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall, but what Jon Gruden needs (and wants) is a deep threat who can stretch the field in addition to taking slant routes for big gains. That’s why the Bucs have been focused on smaller receivers this offseason, including the likes of Houston’s Donnie Avery, Cal’s DeSean Jackson, Virginia Tech’s Eddie Royal, Appalachian State’s Dexter Jackson and Richmond’s Arman Shields.

None of those receivers are over 6-feet tall, and none run slower than the low 4.4s. In fact, the only big receiver the Bucs really like is Indiana’s 6-foot-5 James Hardy, who is a Bucs’ Best Bet at WR in the Pewter Report Bucs Draft Preview. But with all of the interest in smaller, quicker receivers, we feel that is what Tampa Bay will target on draft day.

Gruden got to sit around and watch defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin have all the fun last year in a defensive-oriented Bucs draft. This year, the head coach will make sure it’s his turn with a first-round wide receiver. If you don’t think the Bucs would or should draft a wide receiver in round one, just go back to 2004.

In 2004, Tampa Bay had just acquired Galloway in a trade and still had Keenan McCardell (before he was really in hold-out mode) and Joe Jurevicius, who was making good progress coming off knee surgery. Wide receiver didn’t seem like a pressing need that year with most local writers predicting the Bucs would draft either linebacker D.J. Williams or running back Steven Jackson in the first round. Pewter Report predicted a wide receiver, although we didn’t guess correctly (Reggie Williams) and Clayton was the pick.

Gruden saw how pedestrian his offense was late last year when Galloway was nursing a serious shoulder injury that rendered him ineffective down the stretch. He doesn’t want to go through that again and will make sure of it by drafting a speedy, Galloway-like receiver – who can contribute immediately as a return specialist – in the first round.

WHY AVERY COULD BE A BUCCANEER IN ROUND ONE
Why has Pewter Report had Houston wide receiver Donnie Avery going to Tampa Bay in each of its three mock drafts, including being the first-round pick in its final two? There are several reasons. The first of which is his resemblance to Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway.

At 5-foot-11, 192 pounds and blessed with 4.28 speed (from his junior day timing for NFL scouts), Avery is the closest thing to Galloway in this draft. Avery's stock has been on the rise since running a 4.35 time at his pro day after he ran a somewhat disappointing 4.40 at the NFL Scouting Combine due to a pulled hamstring. Avery's acceleration and explosiveness are rare, and on tape and running the three-cone drill (in which he ran an astonishing 6.3, which was the best of any receiver in the draft), it is clear he has more than just straight-line speed.

Avery had 210 receptions for 3,289 yards (15.6 avg.) and 19 touchdowns in his college career at Houston, including 91 catches for 1,456 yards and seven TDs as a senior. Avery has posted 14 games of 96 receiving yards or more for the Cougars, including a school-record 13-catch, 346-yard performance against Rice in 2007 in which he scored twice.

Production and workout numbers aside, Avery is a model citizen with a great work ethic in the weight room and on the practice field. The Bucs had him in for a visit in early April along with other wide receivers.

You may have read a recent interview with Cal’s DeSean Jackson in the St. Petersburg Times that gives you the impression that he is Gruden’s guy. That may turn out to be the case, but Gruden says the same thing to a lot of visiting prospects.

Gruden and Doug Williams kept calling Avery “Little Joey” during his visit to One Buccaneer Place because he reminded them so much of Tampa Bay’s 36-year old speedster.

The reason Gruden might have spent so much time with Jackson was to try to fully assess his character. One NFL source told Pewter Report that Jackson has come across “like a pompous ass” in an interview with a team. If Jackson does have an attitude as has been suggested by various NFL sources this offseason, Gruden likely will want no part of that.

A few years ago, Pewter Report caught up with Gruden and asked his opinion on Braylan Edwards prior to the draft. Gruden said he was going to fly up and see him because Michigan receivers have a reputation for not panning out in the NFL and being, as Gruden put it, “a-holes.”

“I don’t want any a-holes on my team, do you know what I mean?” I recall Gruden saying, possibly referring to his clashes with outspoken receiver Keyshawn Johnson. “I’m not going to take a guy if he’s an a-hole.”

So far, Gruden’s primary receiving corps – Galloway, Ike Hilliard, Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall and Paris Warren – has been a bunch of ego-less, team-first, hard workers. The mature Avery would fit right in with this group.

Not only did the Bucs have Avery in for a visit, Pewter Report has learned that Tampa Bay representatives also attended his pro day workout and then flew wide receivers coach Richard Mann over to Houston to privately work him out. In addition, Pewter Report has also learned that Avery had another workout scheduled with the Bucs on Thursday, 48 hours prior to the draft, along with Houston running back Anthony Alridge.

That’s an awful lot of time and resources to dedicate to a player and a key indicator that he is in the Buccaneers’ first-round draft pool – if not the target. By dinnertime on Saturday, Tampa Bay could have “Little Joey” in red and pewter.

WILL SHEPPARD WIND UP IN TAMPA BAY?
How serious are the Buccaneers about trading for Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard? That is awfully tough to figure out 24 hours prior to the draft when One Buccaneer Place has been locked down and sources aren’t returning phone calls or e-mails.

Sheppard, who is reportedly in Tampa and has met with the Buccaneers, has been to a couple of Pro Bowls with the Eagles, but he’s also missed 14 games over the last three years with injuries. I have to wonder, is this guy worth trading for? He’s 27 years old, which is still the prime of his career, and has 17 interceptions and three touchdowns in his six seasons in the NFL. That’s an average of 2.8 picks per year.

But Phillip Buchanon, who entered the league the same year, has 16 interceptions and four touchdowns over the same span. Sheppard, who is making $3.45 million in the last year of his deal, wants a rich, new contract to which Philadelphia said, “No, thanks,” especially with Sheldon Brown and free agent acquisition Asante Samuel as the starters in 2008.

FoxSports.com reported that the Bucs and Eagles are talking trade, and it is presumed that Philadelphia wants second- and fifth-rounders, which is what Atlanta received from Oakland for cornerback DeAngelo Hall. If this deal were to go down, expect general manager Bruce Allen to go right down to the wire in the second round before making the call to Eagles president Jeff Banner to execute the trade – if the Bucs even want to (the interest in Sheppard could be a smokescreen to try to fool teams into thinking that Tampa Bay’s biggest need is cornerback).

I could also see Allen calling Banner after the Bucs have picked in the second round, offering up Tampa Bay’s third-round pick for Sheppard instead – or perhaps a pick in 2009. What we’re hearing is that not only have the Bucs balked at Philadelphia’s demand for at least a second-round pick, but Sheppard allegedly wants $7 million per year in his new contract, which he will not get from Tampa Bay.

The minute the Bucs commit that much money to Sheppard, Buchanon and Eugene Wilson won’t be pleased, and neither will Ronde Barber. Tampa Bay let Drayton Florence sign with the Jaguars for crazy cornerback money, and did not get in a bidding war with New Orleans for Randall Gay. They aren’t about to pay a king’s ransom to Sheppard when they have Wilson and Buchanon coming up for new contracts in 2008.

Pewter Report had heard from multiple sources that the Bucs were not going to draft a cornerback in the first round this year, but keep an eye on Indiana’s Tracy Porter in round two and Kent State’s Jack Williams in round three.

NO QUARTERBACK FOR GRUDEN?
In addition to the Bucs not taking a cornerback in the first round, Pewter Report has also heard that Tampa Bay may not be drafting a quarterback this year – much to the chagrin of head coach Jon Gruden. Word is that he is a little upset about that war room mandate.

Whether this is a smokescreen or not, we won’t know for sure until Sunday. It makes sense to draft a player like Louisville’s Brian Brohm or Michigan’s Chad Henne because this team does not have a clear-cut future starter. Jeff Garcia is 38 years old and in the last year of his contract. Brian Griese is 33 and Luke McCown has promise, but hasn’t shown enough yet to be regarded as the future QB of the franchise. Bruce Gradkowski is likely the odd man out this training camp, as is Chris Simms, who will likely be traded at some point.

But if the Bucs draft a quarterback, it will likely mean the team is giving up on McCown, which would be unfortunate because of his upside. Right now, the Bucs’ depth chart for 2008 is Garcia, Griese and/or McCown as the backup with the loser in that battle falling to third. A rookie quarterback would mean that either the Bucs have to keep four QBs, which is tough to do given the rigors of a 17-week NFL schedule, or releasing either McCown or Griese.

If Tampa Bay does pull the trigger on a QB this year, it will likely be in the first round. The top tier of quarterbacks, which includes Boston College’s Matt Ryan, Brohm, Henne and Delaware’s Joe Flacco, will likely be gone by the time Tampa Bay picks in the second round. It’s doubtful that San Diego’s Josh Johnson or USC’s John David Booty are better than McCown – maybe as good, but not better – and it doesn’t make sense to burn a middle-round draft pick on a quarterback in that instance.

With only five selections in this year’s draft, Tampa Bay would only be receiving a potential impact from four of those rookies if it drafted a quarterback this year. The Bucs would be better off to see what McCown does in the preseason in 2008 to gauge whether he is progressing to the point where he could really be considered the future of the position in Tampa Bay. The good news for the Bucs is that there will be plenty more quarterbacks in next year’s draft, too.

A RUN TOWARDS YOUTH
If the Buccaneers draft a running back as expected this weekend, the clear-cut loser as a result is Earnest Graham. The Bucs’ leading rusher in 2007 should head into training camp as the starter after posting 898 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns while starting eight games for the injured Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman, but the re-signing of Michael Bennett in late February in addition to the acquisition of Warrick Dunn in March diminishes Graham’s value to the team – and his leverage in negotiations.

Graham served as his own agent in 2006 when he negotiated a two-year contract extension that had a salary cap value of $512,520 in 2007 and a cap value of $605,000 in 2008. It is a shame that he did not negotiate any monetary incentives into his contract, such as bonuses for leading the team in rushing or rushing touchdowns as he would have collected on those.

It is clear that Graham deserves to make more than $605,000 this year, but what is unclear is how much Graham and uber-agent Drew Rosenhaus are looking for in a contract extension. Neither the Bucs nor the Graham camp has commented publicly on the details of any contract negotiations. If Tampa Bay selects a running back in the first two rounds of the 2008 draft, it could mean that the Bucs cease contract extension talks with Graham.

The reason? Graham is 28, and 30 is usually the death knell for running backs in the NFL (ask Shaun Alexander). While Graham doesn’t have the wear and tear of 25 carries per game over his five-year NFL career, he has been through five training camps and preseasons, as well as being a staple on special teams. He was never a speedy runner to begin with (his 4.7 time in the 40-yard dash coming out of Florida was the reason why he went undrafted), and Graham is not going to get faster with age.

Pewter Report believes Graham deserves a new contract that is at least on par with what Michael Pittman has made over the last couple of years (over $1 million per season), but he would be hard pressed to get more from this conservative, cash-conscience front office. Graham needs to take what he can get before hitting the free agent market next year – as a 29-year old running back.

DEFENSIVE LINE SCOOP
Bucs defensive tackle Jovan Haye was not offered up to Kansas City, despite an ESPN.com report suggesting he was. Another player was offered to K.C., but it wasn’t defensive end Greg White, either.

White made some noise earlier this week when his agent, Jack Bechta, told the Tampa Tribune that he would like to see his client traded if a long-term extension could not be worked out. The problem is, White has no leverage, which prompted Bechta to back track later in the week.

Like Earnest Graham, White is asking for a new contract at the ripe old age of 28. White’s problem is that he was a rookie last year after bouncing around NFL training camps and the Arena Football League for years. White is an exclusive rights free agent this year and was offered a one-year tender that bumped his base salary of $285,000 up to $370,000 in 2008. But the problem is that he will be an exclusive rights free agent in 2009 again, before becoming a restricted free agent in 2010.

By the time White is 32, he will have hit unrestricted free agency – provided the Bucs don’t sign him to a long-term deal prior to that, which they may not given his age. Like Graham, White should take whatever he can get from the Bucs. Tampa Bay can prevent him from leaving for the next three years if it wants to due to the fact that he has only one accrued season in the NFL.

Yes, White, who was Pewter Report’s Defensive MVP last year when he recorded a team-high eight sacks and seven forced fumbles, deserves to make market value if he can sustain those numbers, but that likely won’t happen given the circumstances. Perhaps he should just be thankful that he is in the NFL instead of the AFL or working at Best Buy or delivering pizzas. The NFL can be a cold-hearted business sometimes, as White is finding out.

There has been some discussion of the Bucs trading for Miami defensive end Jason Taylor. The Dolphins are believed to want a second-rounder for Taylor. I could see the Bucs parting ways with a third-rounder and quarterback Chris Simms for the 33-year old sack artist, but not a second-rounder on draft day.

 


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PEWTER REPORT DRAFT RECAP THIS SUNDAY ON ABC Watch Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds on Sunday night at 11:30 p.m. on Sports Zone with Al Keck and Tom Korun on ABC Action News in Tampa Bay for a recap of the Buccaneers 2008 draft. And for the best local coverage of Tampa Bay sports and Tampa Bay news, check out ABCActionNews.com.

 

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

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: sr@pewterreport.com
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