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Here are some random thoughts and tidbits regarding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading into the 2008 NFL Draft, which will be held this weekend (April 26-27).
CLAYTON REVISITED It was interesting to hear Bucs director of college scouting Dennis Hickey tell the media on Tuesday that players should be evaluated three years after they are drafted, not the year in which they're selected.
That's a fair philosophy, but certainly not one that reflects well on wide receiver Michael Clayton, who entered the NFL in 2004 as Tampa Bay's first-round draft selection.
After catching 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, Clayton's star has faded from a production standpoint, catching just one touchdown over the past three years and hauling in a career-low 22 passes for 301 yards in 2007.
While he's considered a good teammate and excellent blocker, many pundits have labeled Clayton a bust after three straight disappointing seasons.
But how big of a flop has Clayton really been compared to the receivers in his draft class?
Even though Clayton was the 15th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, four receivers — Larry Fitzgerald (third overall pick – Arizona), Roy Williams (seventh overall pick – Detroit), Reggie Williams (ninth overall pick – Jacksonville) and Lee Evans (13th overall pick – Buffalo) — were taken before him that year.
Clayton has caught 167 career passes for 2,222 yards and eight touchdowns in four seasons. When comparing his stats to some of the receivers taken ahead of him in the 2004 NFL Draft his career truly has been disappointing from a statistical standpoint.
Fitzgerald has nearly doubled Clayton's production in terms of career catches with 330 for 4,544 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Roy Williams has hauled in 245 career passes for 3,652 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Evans has caught 233 passes for 3,727 yards and 29 touchdowns.
There's no doubt these three receivers have been much more productive than Clayton, but production doesn't automatically lead to wins in the NFL, and that's where Clayton has an edge.
The Buccaneers have won two division championships with Clayton on their roster. How does that compare to Arizona, Detroit and Buffalo? Well, those teams have yet to win a division title with the help of their productive, former first-round receivers.
Clayton also has more career receptions than Reggie Williams, who was taken six spots ahead of him in the 2004 NFL Draft. Reggie Williams has caught just 152 passes for 1,958 yards and 15 touchdowns in four seasons.
Michael Jenkins was actually the sixth and final receiver taken in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft. But he too has disappointed, catching just 135 passes for 1,595 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Tampa Bay could have opted to select another player instead of Clayton. After all, running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Will Smith still were available when the Bucs picked Clayton.
But remember — the Bucs needed a wide receiver. Keenan McCardell was a holdout, Keyshawn Johnson had just been traded for Joey Galloway and Joe Jurevicius was coming off a serious knee injury.
And unless they had traded up in the first round to land Fitzgerald, Roy Williams or Evans, the Bucs actually selected the best available wide receiver if you're going off of statistics alone.
Clayton has also outperformed several receivers taken after him in the 2004 NFL Draft, including Devery Henderson (second round – New Orleans), Darrius Watts (second round – Denver) and Keary Colbert (second round – Carolina).
The former LSU standout has even caught more passes than WR Bernard Berrian, who was a third-round pick that year. However, one could argue that the careers of Berrian and Clayton are going in opposite directions.
Clayton has also out-caught WR D.J. Hackett, who was a fifth-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
Has Clayton lived up to expectations? Absolutely not. Of the six receivers taken in the first round that year Clayton has the fewest amount of touchdown receptions.
But perhaps Clayton hasn't been as bad as some of us believed before revisiting the wide receiver class of the 2004 NFL Draft.
AT LEAST ONE ASPECT OF SCHEDULE BODES WELL FOR BUCS Tampa Bay's 2008 regular season schedule is more difficult than the one the team had last year, but it could have been much worse for the Buccaneers.
With the exception of Tampa Bay's two-week road trip with contests at Dallas and Kansas City in late October and early November, I like the Bucs' schedule, especially with their bye week falling in Week 10 and two straight home games to finish the regular season.
Of Tampa Bay's 13 different regular season opponents, only four of them – Green Bay, Seattle, Dallas and San Diego — made the playoffs last year.
There are some tough opponents on Tampa Bay's schedule, but a closer look at the quarterbacks the Bucs will face in 2008 should make the team feel better about it.
If the new season started today these are the quarterbacks Tampa Bay's defense, which ranked No. 2 overall in 2007, would face.
Drew Brees (New Orleans – twice) Jay Cutler (Denver) Brodie Croyle (Kansas City) Jake Delhomme (Carolina – twice) Rex Grossman (Chicago) Joey Harrington (Atlanta – twice) Matt Hasselbeck (Seattle) Travaris Jackson (Minnesota) Jon Kitna (Detroit) Phillip Rivers (San Diego) Tony Romo (Dallas) Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) JaMarcus Russell (Oakland)
So which quarterbacks on this list scare you? Certainly not Croyle, Grossman, Harrington, Jackson, Kitna, Rodgers and Russell.
It's probably safe to assume most people would agree that Brees, Hasselbeck, Rivers and Romo are quarterbacks that could require extra game planning from Tampa Bay's perspective.
But that's only four of the 13 quarterbacks the Bucs tentatively scheduled to face in 2008. And as if that wasn't already favorable, Tampa Bay will take on Brees, Hasselbeck and Rivers at Raymond James Stadium while playing vs. Brees and Romo one time each on the road.
So the Bucs defense should be licking their chops, right? Perhaps, but this unit better perform better than it did against some of the lesser-known quarterbacks they faced last year, like Jacksonville's Quinn Gray, Houston's Sage Rosenfels, San Francisco's Shaun Hill and Carolina's Matt Moore.
All four of those signal callers moved the ball on Tampa Bay's defense and beat the Bucs last season.
WERE THE BUCS SERIOUS ABOUT TRADING FOR ALLEN? We now know that Kansas City Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen has been traded to Minnesota and will sign a six-year, $74 million deal with the Vikings.
We're still working on gathering facts regarding Tampa Bay's interest in Allen, but here is what we've gathered from around the league.
The Bucs were indeed interested in trading for Allen, who led the league in sacks last year with 15.5. But some of our league sources would not categorize Tampa Bay's interest as being "serious."
We've also heard that Tampa Bay was offering Kansas City more players than draft picks, but Kansas City ultimately did a deal with Minnesota for the Vikings' first-round pick and two third-round selections.
The Bucs might have been offering their first-round pick and defensive tackle Jovan Haye and quarterback Chris Simms to the Chiefs in exchange for Allen, but that has not been confirmed and is speculation at this point.
As far as contract numbers go, Tampa Bay did attempt to negotiate a long-term deal with Allen, but apparently little to no progress was made as the Bucs were not prepared to offer Allen anything close to the $31 million in guaranteed money he received from the Vikings.
But even if Tampa Bay had backed out of the contract negotiations weeks ago, which might have been the case, Kansas City didn't hesitate to use the Bucs as leverage against Minnesota in its negotiations.
The interesting part about that is Bucs general manager Bruce Allen has negotiated two trades with Chiefs president Carl Peterson over the past year for defensive tackle Ryan Sims and running back Michael Bennett, respectively.
Both deals were considered favorable for the Bucs, so one can only wonder if this might have been Tampa Bay's way of returning the favor to Kansas City.
While Pewter Report hasn't confirmed that notion, it cannot be ruled out since the Buccaneers were involved in a similar situation during the 2006 offseason.
When Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson hit the open market during the 2006 offseason two teams expressed an interest in signing him – Green Bay and Tampa Bay.
Woodson visited with both the Packers and the Bucs, but he ultimately signed a seven-year, $53 million deal with Green Bay.
Pewter Report later learned that the Bucs were never really interested in signing Woodson, who joined the Raiders as a first-round pick under Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden, to a long-term, lucrative deal.
Not only was Woodson drafted by Allen and Gruden, but his agent, Carl Poston, had negotiated a deal with Allen that allowed the cap-strapped Bucs to sign linebacker Ian Gold during the 2004 offseason.
The long-term contract Gold signed was structured more like a one-year deal and the Bucs ultimatley couldn't afford Gold after the 2004 season, but Poston worked with Allen to get Gold in Tampa Bay when he might have been able to sign better deals elsewhere.
Were the Bucs returning the favor when they brought Woodson in for a visit during the 2006 offseason? No one knows that for sure, but Tampa Bay's attempt to act more interested than it was in Woodson definitely didn't hurt Poston's negotiations with Green Bay.
Tampa Bay helped Kansas City land a boatload of compensation and aided Jared Allen in becoming the highest-paid defensive end in the NFL. Whether or not that was intentional remains to be determined.
SHOULD THE BUCS TRADE FOR DE TAYLOR? With Jared Allen now a Viking, some have suggested the Buccaneers should trade for Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor in an effort to improve the team's pass rush.
ProFootballTalk.com reported on Wednesday that the Dolphins were shopping Taylor around and were looking for a mid- to- late first-round pick in exchange for his services.
Tampa Bay needs to improve its pass rush, and Taylor has 117 career sacks, but there is a reason why Miami is shopping Taylor.
The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Taylor turns 34 in September and has notched 36.5 sacks over the last three seasons. He has been a great player, but Taylor can't be planned on to sustain that production into his mid 30's.
The Bucs need to find a way to get after the quarterback on a more consistent basis in 2008 — they notched just 33 sacks in 2007. But the Bucs would be crazy to trade away their first-round draft pick (20th overall selection) for Taylor.
Now, if Taylor is released by the Miami consider Tampa Bay interested. The Bucs did, after all, sign running back Warrick Dunn and defensive end Kevin Carter when both players were 33 years old.
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