With the NFL Draft just 24 hours away it is a great time to debate draft strategy. Most Bucs fans have taken part in arguing which draft prospects their team should take. Often in mock drafts, fans will explain their reason for a choice by saying that this player is the ‘best player available.' Other times fans will cite the reason for a pick by claiming that the player fills a need.
In this Cover 2, I will put a spin on the age-old debate of best player available versus need. Here I will debate drafting for need versus drafting players from the strongest positions in the draft.
Cover 1 – Choose From The Draft's Deepest Positions
Every year the draft has certain positions that have a larger amount of talented players then other position groups. In the 2008 NFL Draft the deepest positions are considered to be offensive tackle, cornerback, and running back. In order to keep a high level of talent on a roster it is smart to draft from the deepest positions of a draft.
Drafting from the strongest positions provides your team with more talent than a given draft slot would indicate. A prime example of this is Tampa Bay's selection of safeties Sabby Piscitelli and Tanard Jackson in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Safety was one of the strongest positions in the draft last season. In the first round four safeties were selected (LaRon Landry by Washington, Michael Griffin by Tennessee, Reggie Nelson by Jacksonville, and Brandon Meriweather by New England). Three more safeties went in the second round with San Diego selecting Eric Weddle, and Detroit taking Gerald Alexander before Piscitelli was made the last pick in the second round.
Green Bay took Aaron Rouse in the third round before Jackson became a fourth-round pick at 106 overall. Thus, Jackson was the ninth safety selected in the draft. Many of those nine safeties contributed to their teams in their rookie seasons. With the exception of Piscitelli all of those players logged significant playing time, and with the exception of Detroit, all of those safety-drafting teams went to the playoffs.
Considering the great play of Jackson in his rookie season, it appears that the Buccaneers greatly benefitted from the depth in the safety class. If the Buccaneers were looking to draft a safety in this year's draft they would be hard pressed to get players like Piscitelli and Jackson. Not only at their draft slots, but draft players as talented as them, period.
This year the belief is that only Miami's Kenny Phillips is a first-round pick at safety. Many teams need safeties and players like California's Thomas DeCoud, North Carolina State's DaJuan Morgan, Notre Dame's Tom Zbikowski, Arizona State's Josh Barrett, and Arkansas State's Tyrell Johnson are players that will likely be drafted in the second or third round. The top five safeties in 2007 went in the first 37 picks. This year the draft will probably be into the third round by the time the fifth safety is taken.
Oklahoma's Reggie Smith is viewed as a cornerback-safety ‘tweener much like Jackson was a year ago. Some projections have Smith going at the end of the first round or early in the second round due to the lack of talent at safety. Last season a similar prospect, Jackson, was pushed to the fourth round due to the depth at the position and the fact that some teams viewed him as a cornerback.
If Jackson was in this year's draft, I believe he would be viewed as a prospect that would go in the top half of the second round. Where Smith may be selected tomorrow. Now if last year's class was redrafted Jackson would be a first-round pick based off of his impressive rookie season.
Looking at the players in this year's safety class, Piscitelli would be the second rated safety. With a ranking that high Piscitelli would likely go an entire round earlier. If he were in this draft I could see San Diego selecting him with the 27th overall selection.
When you get players with higher talent then their draft position dictates it makes a team's talent level higher. Reaching too high for a player at a certain position dilutes your roster's overall talent compared to the rosters of other teams that are not reaching for a specific position. Drafting for the top talent at deep positions leads to teams fielding better rosters.
Cover 2 – Draft According To Team Need
Many teams address their positions of need when it is their turn in the draft. The Buccaneers seem to be one of them, and given the play of their first-round picks in their rookie season, it is a good approach. Drafting a player at a position of need yields an immediate impact for your roster. The player typically comes in and becomes a starter in their rookie season.
Wide receiver Michael Clayton, running back Carnell Williams, guard Davin Joseph, and defensive end Gaines Adams all became starters for the Buccaneers in their rookie seasons. Each player also provided good production in their first year.
Clayton snagged 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. Williams ran for 1,178 yards and six touchdowns. Joseph started 12 games and excelled at run blocking. Adams started eight games making 55 tackles, six sacks, and two forced fumbles.
In the NFL today, teams are often forced to play their young players early. The reasons are numerous. For starters, the salary cap and free agency compels a regular amount of roster turnover. With free agency moving players around, teams get the most out of players the sooner they get them on the field.
Tampa Bay's 2004 draft class, the first of general manager Bruce Allen, are still in their rookie contracts. Let's examine the status of the first player selected and other first-round picks by Tampa Bay from the 1995-2003 drafts and see whether they signed a second multi-year contract with the team.
1995 Warren Sapp – signed a second contract
1995 Derrick Brooks – signed a second contract
1996 Regan Upshaw – did not sign a second contract
1997 Warrick Dunn – signed a second contact, six years after first expired
1997 Reidel Anthony did not sign a second contract
1998 Jacquez Green – did not sign a second contract
1999 Anthony McFarland – signed a second contract
2000 Cosey Coleman – did not sign a second contract
2001 Kenyatta Walker – signed a second contract, but was cut one year later
2002 Marquise Walker – did not sign a second contract
2003 Dewayne White – did not sign a second contract
In looking at those 11 players really only three players wound up signing a second long-term contact. The Dunn and Walker contracts obviously are not what teams have in mind for rewarding their homegrown talent.
Brooks is the only player on that list that has not played for another team. Studying the picks made in the later rounds of those drafts provides additional evidence that players often sign with another team when they are supposed to be entering their prime years in their late 20's.
With that being the case an organization gets more out of their draft picks if they select them for a position of need. It is best for these young players to come in at a weak position on a team where they could soon be starters, if not start right away. A need-based addition immediately infuses talent in a position that was weak.
Wide receiver is perhaps the biggest need on Tampa Bay's roster heading into the 2008 NFL Draft. The wide receiver starting opposite Joey Galloway may be the only starting position that a rookie could come in and compete for. In this draft there are a few players that could come in and possibly be starters when the Buccaneers start the season in New Orleans on Sep. 7.
Houston receiver Donnie Avery is a potential first-round pick that could fill that role. Last year Avery caught 91 passes for 1,456 yards and seven touchdowns. Another is Indiana's James Hardy, who hauled in 79 balls for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns. Michigan State's Devin Thomas also could be that rookie starter. Last season Thomas grabbed 79 receptions for 1,260 yards and eight touchdowns.
Drafting for need is the better route to go because the players will return a faster investment on the large amounts of money that is given out to draft picks.
After considering both arguments, I would agree that it is the best long-term approach to draft from the deepest positions. If a team drafts talented players from deep positions it is more likely that those players will earn a second multi-year contract. The NFL Draft is the best resource for building a team, and compiling your roster according to the top talent available is the smartest philosophy.
With offensive tackle, cornerback, and running back being the deepest positions this year the Buccaneers could get excellent value drafting from there. Not only in the first round, but with many players at those positions being selected early, quality players are pushed down lower than their talent level would indicate.
For a tackle the Buccaneers could get a potential franchise left tackle in Vanderbilt's Chris Williams. He could fall to Tampa Bay because other offensive lineman will go earlier. Miami already has signed Michigan tackle Jake Long. After him Boise State's Ryan Clady, Virginia's Brandon Albert, and Pittsburgh's Jeff Otah could all be selected by the time Tampa Bay is on the clock. Perhaps Williams will already be taken, but the depth at tackle may push Williams down. Williams is a better prospect than Arizona's Levi Brown who went fifth overall last year. Williams will go well beyond the fifth pick.
At cornerback the Buccaneers may be able to get a top-notch player at 20. Troy's Leodis McKelvin, Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Kansas' Aqib Talib could all be drafted before the Buccaneers pick. That would leave South Florida's Mike Jenkins in position for Tampa Bay to get a highly talented cornerback of the future. Aside from Jenkins the Buccaneers could be in position to draft Arizona's Antoine Cason, Virginia Tech's Brandon Flowers, and Indiana's Tracey Porter in the second round.
The Buccaneers will go the same route at cornerback as they did last year when they found a gem in the fourth round with Jackson. This year that gem could come in a third-rounder like Kent State's Jack Williams. The 5-foot-9, 177-pound Williams was hindered by injuries in his senior season, but is a tough competitor that is lightning fast. He also is a ballhawk recording 13 interceptions in his college career.
Another late-round find could be South Florida's Trae Williams. Like Jack Williams, Trae Williams is adept at taking the ball away, recording 16 interceptions in his career. Both of these players are going to get pushed lower in the draft due to all the corners that will go in the first two rounds.
There could be four to five running backs selected in the first round of this year's draft. For months Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Felix Jones have been projected to go in the first round with Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall and Oregon's Jonathan Stewart. East Carolina's Chris Johnson is viewed by some as a first-round pick, but will certainly be selected before the end of the day.
Other players that are second and third round options due to all the prospects going early include Texas' Jamaal Charles, Rutgers' Ray Rice, West Virginia's Steve Slaton, Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice, and Central Florida's Kevin Smith. Aside from that talented group Tulane's Matt Forte may go in the fourth round, which would be an absolute steal.
While my preference is for selecting from the strength of the draft, the Buccaneers will do a combination of the two approaches. That can be seen in our Three-Round Mock Draft which was published yesterday. There we see the Buccaneers addressing a priority need in the first round (Avery), and then drafting the strength of the draft in rounds two and three (Johnson and Jack Williams).
Share your opinion below as to which philosophy the Buccaneers should follow tomorrow and throughout the weekend.
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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.