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OVERVIEW Although they have Alex Smith and Anthony Becht under contract for the 2006 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers likely will invest one of their 10 selections in the 2006 NFL Draft on a tight end.
The Bucs featured two-tight ends sets more often they would have liked in 2005 in an effort to protect tackles Anthony Davis and Kenyatta Walker in passing situations.
Tampa Bay attempted to upgrade its tackle positions but was outbid for free agents Jason Fabini and Tom Ashworth, whom signed with Dallas and Seattle, respectively.
Although they feel Davis and Walker will improve with an offensive line that was kept intact, the Bucs likely will have to play more two-tight end sets again in 2006.
That’s not such a bad thing seeing as Smith appears to be an up-and-coming playmaker on Tampa Bay’s offense. In his rookie season, the 6-foot-4, 258-pound Smith hauled in 41 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns. His run-blocking ability also improved as the season progressed.
But Smith likely will start over Becht (6-5, 272), who restructured his contract during the offseason and is not considered a pass-catching threat. His strength is in the run-blocking department. Last year, Becht caught just 16 passes for 112 yards and didn’t score a touchdown.
Featuring two-tight end sets limits what head coach Jon Gruden wants to do offensively, and should Smith and/or Becht suffer an injury in 2006, Tampa Bay’s offense could be in trouble seeing as its backups are Dave Moore (6-2, 250) and Mark Anelli (6-3, 265), both of whom are considered long snappers.
That’s why the Bucs are expected to use one of their 10 draft picks on a tight end.
It might sound crazy, but don’t be surprised if the Bucs use their first-round pick (No. 23 overall) on a tight end. Sure, the Bucs already have Smith, who was a third-round pick in 2005. But spending two first day picks on tight ends isn’t unheard of.
The New England Patriots did it when they used a 2002 first-round pick (21st overall) on TE Daniel Graham and a 2004 first-round pick (32nd overall) on TE Ben Watson when they already had TE Christian Fauria on their roster.
Maryland’s Vernon Davis, who is the top-rated tight end in the 2006 NFL Draft, will be long gone by the time the Bucs pick, but UCLA’s Marcedes Lewis (6-6, 256) could be available and would be a player the Bucs would have a hard time passing on at No. 23.
Georgia’s Leonard Pope (6-7, 254) also is a player the Bucs could grab in the first round, but taking him with the 23rd overall pick could be a bit high.
Tampa Bay could land a solid tight end in the second round as well. That’s where Notre Dame’s Anthony Fasano (6-5, 252) is projected to go. Fasano is a player the Bucs are intrigued by because of his ability to block and catch.
With former USC assistant coaches Jethro Franklin and Greg Burns now on Tampa Bay’s defensive coaching staff, the Bucs are expected to give Trojans TE Dominque Byrd (6-2, 258) strong consideration in the third round if they haven’t taken a tight end by then.
North Carolina State’s T.J. Williams (6-2, 263) is a player the Bucs could pick up should he fall to them in the fourth round.
Oregon’s Tim Day (6-3, 265), Purdue’s Charles Davis (6-5, 260), Virginia Tech’s Jeff King (6-4, 262), Western Michigan’s Tony Scheffler (6-5, 250), Auburn’s Cooper Wallace (6-3, 261) and Colorado’s Quinn Sypniewski (6-6, 266) are players the Bucs would consider selecting if they haven’t drafted a tight end by the fifth round.
Current Position Grade: B-
Bucs Update Publishing Schedule April 23 – Offensive Tackles April 23 – Centers/Guards April 24 – Defensive Ends April 25 – Defensive Tackles April 26 – Linebackers April 27 – Cornerbacks April 27 – Safeties April 28 – Kickers/Punters
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