ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper has projected Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman to Tampa Bay with the 19th pick in the first round of the 2009 draft.
Pewter Report confirmed during the week of the Senior Bowl that the Bucs do have an interest in the 6-foot-6, 250-pound, strong-armed quarterback, who was a freshman starter in 2006 during Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris’ only year as the Wildcats defensive coordinator.
When reached by phone on Sunday during his pre-Combine training at Athlete’s Performance in Tempe, Ariz., Freeman took some time out of his schedule of working with Missouri tight end Chase Coffman, Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo and Rutgers wide receiver Kenny Britt to say that he loved the idea of reuniting with Morris in Tampa Bay.
“It would be awesome going to Tampa Bay,” Freeman told Pewter Report. “Raheem and I had a great relationship at Kansas State and I think Coach Morris is someone I would love playing for. I liked Raheem a lot when he was at K-State. He definitely brought a lot of energy to the defensive side of the ball as well as the whole team. It was a joy having him around that year.
“Guys like Ian Campbell were still talking about Raheem this past year. Everybody loved playing for him and they were sad to see him go, but I know a lot of guys still talk to him.”
The Buccaneers, who are not interested in re-signing 39-year old Jeff Garcia, who has been the starter over the last two years, invested a fifth-round draft pick in quarterback Josh Johnson in 2008, and recently re-signed backup Luke McCown to a two-year deal worth $7.5 million while promising him the chance to start. Eleven-year veteran Brian Griese is still on the roster, but the Bucs are looking to get younger at the quarterback spot and find a franchise-caliber player to lead the team for years to come.
Like all 32 NFL teams, Tampa Bay is evaluating whether or not Freeman is that type of player. If the Bucs come away with that conclusion, Morris’ unique insight into Freeman from their time together in 2006 could help the team pull the trigger on the former Wildcat on draft day.
Freeman departed K-State after a junior season in which he set many career records. Freeman leaves K-State as a 59 percent passer (680-of-1,151) with 8,078 yards and 44 touchdowns against 34 interceptions. He got better in the major categories and showed improvement in each year without a strong supporting cast.â€¨â€¨
In all three of his seasons, Freeman’s touchdown passes went up from six to 18 and then to 20 as a junior, while his interceptions fell from 15 to 11 to just eight last year. Freeman also reduced the amount of sacks he took from 25 to 17 to only 15 in 2008 despite the horrendous play of the Wildcats’ offensive line. His rushing touchdowns also climbed from two in 2006 to four the next year and then 14 in ’08.
Most NFL Draft analysts project Freeman to be the third-best quarterback this year behind Georgia’s Matthew Stafford, who is also training with him at Athlete’s Performance, and USC’s Mark Sanchez, and there is a chance that Freeman could become a first-round selection, even though the NFL Draft advisory board concluded that NFL team’s rated him as a second-round pick, which influenced his decision to leave K-State.
“I see myself as a first-round guy, honestly, and the Combine is where I’m going to prove myself – not just physically, but during the individual meetings with the NFL teams,” Freeman said. “I want to go to the Combine and just show them me. A lot of NFL people may not know me. I’m looking forward to just going out and introducing myself to them and having them get to know me and what I do.”
Freeman will get his chance to show off what is perhaps the strongest arm in this year’s draft, and his surprising athletic ability on Sunday, February 22 when the quarterbacks take the field in Indianapolis. After not being asked to run during his first two years with the Wildcats and totaling minus-61 yards and six rushing scores, Freeman ran for 404 yards, 14 touchdowns and a 3.8-yard average as a junior, and was K-State’s second-leading rusher.
“I consider myself a pocket passer, but it was necessary for our running game and our red zone running game, especially, for me to carry the ball,” Freeman said. “We lost one of our running backs in the offseason and all we really hard were true freshman and a converted wide receiver playing running back. I was fine doing it, but I really don’t consider myself a running quarterback.”
Freeman is hoping to open some eyes with his 40-yard dash time at the Combine.
“I’m not 100 percent sure, but I would like to say that I will run in the vicinity of 4.75,” Freeman said.
That would be a very good time for a quarterback with his size, but scouts know that his right arm – rather than his legs – will be where he makes his living at the next level. Freeman needs to work on his decision-making, and having a more talented cast around him along with NFL coaching has many within the NFL believing that the K-State quarterback’s best playing days are ahead of him. While scouts have given him high marks for his football intelligence, he has to translate that into a higher completion percentage on the field in the pro ranks.
“Everybody knows I’m an athlete, and I’m 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, but I want to be recognized more for the cerebral part of the game, sitting in the pocket, making reads and getting the ball out quickly and accurately,” Freeman said. “That’s where it all starts – in the film room. You can have the strongest arm in the world, but it may never translate if you never know what is going on. I like to watch a lot of film and know my opponents and what type of defense they like to run.”
That’s something he is looking forward to relaying to NFL teams like Tampa Bay at the NFL Scouting Combine later this week. Freeman will present to NFL scouts a rather soft-spoken individual off the field with an even-keeled demeanor that may remind some of former Tampa Bay and Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy’s personality. But Freeman wants to clear up the misconception that just because he isn’t loud and hyper that he is not a fiery player.
“I have no idea where that came from,” Freeman said. “I am fiery and emotional with my teammates out on the field. Football means a lot to me. Winning means a lot to me. A lot of people may think that because somebody drops a pass and I don’t get in their face or grab their facemask that I don’t care. That’s not true. I guess some people are used to quarterbacks yelling at players when they come to the sidelines. I don’t yell at my coaches or go off on my teammates.
“When it comes down to it, my team knows that I’m passionate about the game. I’m fiery and I’m working hard to get the job done. Just because I’m not jumping up and down on every play doesn’t mean I’m not excited. They know I’m excited – just like I always have been.”
Due to his enormous size and strong arm, Freeman has drawn comparisons to Oakland’s JaMarcus Russell and Detroit’s Daunte Culpepper. But the 21-year old Kansas City, Mo. native sees a different pair of NFL quarterbacks in which he compares himself to.
“Ben Roethlisberger is a great quarterback and I’ve heard the comparisons for the last three years a lot,” Freeman said of the two-time Super Bowl winner. “There are certain aspects of my game I compare to Ben Roethlisberger. But we also ran a similar offense to what the Indianapolis Colts ran, and I like to watch film on Peyton Manning and study his game. I’d like to think I have the same approach to the game as he does. So I would say Roethlisberger or Manning.”
Both Manning and Roethlisberger were high first-round picks, which is something Freeman is attempting to become. Aside from Tampa Bay at pick 19, Freeman could draw the attention of Detroit at pick 20 – assuming the Lions don’t pick Stafford first overall – and Minnesota at number 22 if he performs well at the Combine and his pro day workout. If he doesn’t shine in Indianapolis, he may be destined for the upper part of the second round.
Freeman heads to the NFL with a starting record of 14-18 at Kansas State, but did have one of his better games against Iowa State in his college finale, a 38-30 victory over the Cyclones in which he completed 17-of-30 passes (56.7 percent) for 279 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 62 yards on 11 carries.
“It was just a matter of being relaxed and playing my game,” Freeman said of his final contest in a Wildcats uniform. “We had a great game plan and the line did a great job. They were giving me time. The receivers did a good job of getting open and I just put the ball on the money.”
However, that grand performance and others in 2008 against Texas A&M, Oklahoma, North Texas and Louisiana-Lafayette are offset by games against Texas Tech, Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri in which his completion percentage was not above 50 percent, or his outing against Kansas in which he threw three interceptions and no touchdowns. His up-and-down performances in his junior season speak loudly about what Freeman has to work on at the next level.
“Just consistency,” Freeman said. “That’s the main thing I need to work on. I know I can make all the throws. It’s just a matter of making them at the right time. I will say I need to become a more consistent quarterback in my passing and in the realm of game management.”
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@example.com