PewterReport.com has the inside scoop on the first two rounds of the 2008 NFL Draft from One Buccaneer Place.
SMOKE FILLED WAR ROOM AT ONE BUC PLACE Just 24 hours prior to the start of the 2008 NFL Draft, Pewter Report had reported that the Buccaneers would take a wide receiver in the first round and not a cornerback. They didn’t.
Just before the draft kicked off, The Tampa Tribune had reported that if the Buccaneers were going to draft a cornerback in the first round it would be USF’s Mike Jenkins if he were still on the board at number 20. They didn’t.
During the draft, The St. Petersburg Times reported that the Buccaneers had traded their second-round pick for Miami defensive end Jason Taylor. They didn’t.
There were a lot of smokescreens in place leading up to this draft and during Saturday, masking the Bucs’ intentions of drafting Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib quite well.
After heavy criticism from some fans over picking Houston wide receiver Donnie Avery for Tampa Bay in round one of PewterReport.com’s mock draft, Avery wound up being the first receiver taken on Saturday, going to St. Louis with the 33rd overall pick. This despite not showing up that high in any mock drafts other than PewterReport.com’s. ESPN’s Todd McShay had Avery as a fourth-round pick, and neither the Times nor the Tribune ranked him as one of their top 10 receivers.
In the end, the pick was Talib, who was thoroughly vetted by the Bucs coaches and scouts about his past transgressions with marijuana.
“We talked to him when he came in and he said they were behind him and we have to believe that they are,” Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “You sit and talk with him and he’s just a good guy. I believe what he said. I trust these guys.”
What the Bucs liked about Talib over South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins was his athleticism and his ballhawking ways. Jenkins only logged six interceptions in his four years at South Florida, while Talib snared 13 picks in three years at Kansas where he led the nation with 22 pass breakups as a sophomore in 2006.
Kiffin likes the fact that Talib possesses 4.4 speed and the necessary agility to play man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage.
“The thing about Talib, he can run,” Kiffin said. “You can’t teach speed. You can improve technique. I can take a guy, and [Bucs defensive backs coach] Raheem [Morris] and I can teach a guy to play Cover 2, but you can’t teach a guy to play Three Deep or man-to-man. You can’t teach him to run fast. If you can draft fast corners, you have a chance to teach him, but it all goes back to this – there are some really fast defensive backs that come out every year and they won’t tackle. But we can teach tackling. They have to buy into it. I think Phillip Buchanon will tell you that he’s really improved his tackling since he’s been here.
“Some corners will say, ‘I’m paid to cover, I’m not paid to tackle.’ Well let me tell you something. I’m paid to have you cover and tackle. They see a Ronde Barber at 178 pounds go out there and tackle.”
Despite being known as a Cover 2 team due to the Tampa 2 moniker, the Bucs have played a lot more man coverage, Three Deep zone and Quarters coverage over the past two years. Talib’s skills allow Kiffin to plan on using even more of those types of coverages in the future.
“We would like to play a little more man-to-man if we can,” Kiffin said. “We don’t necessarily change coverages because of a corner, but if we have a big corner who can play some bump, then we are certainly going to do that.”
BUCS TARGETED SMALL POOL OF SMALL RECEIVERS The Buccaneers were dead set on drafting a smaller, faster receiver in the mold of Joey Galloway this year, as opposed to the bigger receivers Jon Gruden has drafted in the past (see Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall). The only problem in this good – but not great – class of receivers was there were only a handful of highly-rated players that Tampa Bay liked that met the criteria of possessing blazing speed and return skills.
At the end of the second round with the likes of Houston’s Donnie Avery, Virginia Tech’s Eddie Royal and Cal’s DeSean Jackson off the board, Tampa Bay used the 58th overall pick to select Appalachian State wide receiver Dexter Jackson, who rose to national prominence with three catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the Mountaineers’ 34-34 upset win over Michigan in the 2007 season opener.
Pewter Report had listed Jackson as a second-day Bucs’ Best Bet at wide receiver in its 2008 Bucs Draft Preview, but in recent weeks, Jackson’s stock had climbed to the third round due to strong postseason workouts. Tampa Bay was forced to a reach a little bit to grab Jackson late in the second round because he was the last speed receiver left on the team’s draft board and that filled a big need on offense and special teams.
The Bucs were in position to draft DeSean Jackson in the first round, but passed. The diminutive Cal receiver, who had been linked to Tampa Bay in several St. Petersburg Times stories, was not highly thought of by some members of the Bucs’ brass due to his smallish size (he weighed 167 pounds at his pro day) and his “me-first” attitude.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said that despite coming from a smaller school, Jackson compared favorably to better known players like DeSean Jackson.
“There were some similarities [to DeSean Jackson] – I don’t want to say smaller – but to guys that weren’t quite as tall like Avery at Houston, or DeSean, Dexter and Eddie Royal at Virginia Tech,” Gruden said. “All four of those guys are similar at size and speed. Dexter Jackson, towards the end of the second round with his return ability, gives us some juice in what we think are three areas and we’re excited about that.”
In fact, sources tell Pewter Report that had DeSean Jackson, who was taken 49th overall by Philadelphia, been on the board at the same time as Dexter Jackson, the Bucs would have still taken the Appalachian State receiver. What sold Dexter Jackson over DeSean Jackson – aside from size and attitude – was toughness.
DeSean Jackson rarely ran slant passes at Cal and did not venture over the middle too often, while Dexter Jackson scored both TDs against Michigan on slants, which is the staple route of the West Coast offense, and ran that route quite often at Appalachian State.
“What we did acquire was some heat – a guy that can really provide speed in the passing game, and a guy that has experience as a returner in both kicks and punts,” Gruden said. “It seems as if the big arena doesn’t bother him. This is a confident guy. I think we all saw what he did at Michigan in one of the great upsets in football this past season.”
TRADING DOWN DID NOT COST BUCS On the surface, it looked like Tampa Bay had made a terrible mistake by trading down with Jacksonville in the second round from the 52nd spot to the 58th selection in which the Bucs picked up the Jaguars’ fifth-rounder in 2008 and seventh-rounder in 2009, in addition to selecting Appalachian State wide receiver Dexter Jackson.
Pittsburgh drafted Texas receiver Limas Sweed with the 53rd pick, Tennessee drafted Eastern Michigan defensive tackle Jason Jones with the next pick, followed by Rutgers running back Ray Rice, who was drafted by Baltimore. But the real kicker was the selection of back-to-back quarterbacks – Brian Brohm and Chad Henne – who went to Green Bay and Miami, respectively, at picks 56 and 57.
Sources tell Pewter Report that none of those players would have been drafted by Tampa Bay at number 58 had they slipped there. The Bucs liked Jones, but not in the second round, while Rice and Sweed were not high on Tampa Bay’s draft board at all.
As for the quarterbacks, Brohm and Henne might have carried high grades on Tampa Bay’s draft boards, but the team could have made a conscious effort to not take a QB this year as Pewter Report reported on Friday as the team already has five on its roster, not including the retired Jake Plummer.
If Tampa Bay wanted either Brohm or Henne, it had two chances to draft them and passed both times.
SR’s DRAFT OBSERVATIONS AND INSIDE SCOOP • Bucs head coach Jon Gruden didn’t seem too thrilled last year when Tampa Bay drafted Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams with the fourth overall pick. But despite the Bucs taking a second defensive player in the first round in the last two years, Gruden’s attitude was much more positive this year. It was clear that he really signed off on the selection of KU cornerback Aqib Talib, despite the fact that a wide receiver had not been picked in the first 19 spots in the draft. The fact that Talib reminds Gruden of former Oakland Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson is one of the reasons. Woodson was one his favorite players.
• Despite Pewter Report’s best efforts to convince Buccaneers fans that general manager Bruce Allen is in charge of this franchise and not Jon Gruden’s puppet, there are still some fans out there that believe that Gruden has the final say on personnel or that Allen never tells Gruden “No.” Listen to what Gruden had to say after Tampa Bay drafted Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft: “My guts are ripped out of my body right now. I'm no different than our fans,» Gruden said. «I fall in love with some of these guys. You get relationships with them. You study their tape, their profiles. You follow their progress on a daily basis, and you drive home at night, wake up in the morning some days and envision what a great thrill it would be to coach some of these guys. That's why they have general managers to make the tough calls. I certainly support Bruce (Allen) all the way on this, and I know our staff is excited as a whole. We've got a guy with a lot of juice, a lot of energy.”
• The Bucs passed on some awfully good talent with the likes of Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall, South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins, Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason and East Carolina’s Chris Johnson in the first round. None of those players had character concerns attached to them like KU cornerback Aqib Talib did. It will be interesting to see which player emerges out of this group as the best over time.
• It was unfortunate that the Buccaneers could not find a trading partner while they were on the clock in the first round with the 20th pick. The Eagles were able to trade down with Carolina, who grabbed Pittsburgh offensive tackle Jeff Otah with the 19th pick, and Washington was able to trade down with Atlanta for USC left tackle Sam Baker with the 21st selection.
• As Tampa Bay heads into the second and final day of the 2008 NFL Draft, here are a couple of players the Bucs will likely be targeting:
RUNNING BACKS Jamaal Charles – Texas – The Bucs have been scouting him hard Anthony Alridge – Houston – He could be a Joker back and return specialist Tashard Choice – Georgia Tech – Loves football, plays with passion and toughness Steve Slaton – West Virginia – Dangerous in the open field, a great receiver Kevin Smith – UCF – Slippery, elusive runner has good hands and toughness
WIDE RECEIVER Kevin Robinson – Utah State – Talented return man is also a decent WR Arman Shields – Richmond – Smooth, fast wide receiver with great agility Will Franklin – Missouri – Has all the physical tools, needs some polish
TIGHT ENDS Kellen Davis – Michigan State – A great frame (6-foot-6) and athleticism Martin Rucker – Missouri – Tampa Bay likes his receiving ability Gary Barnidge – Louisville – Was a receiving weapon at Louisville
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN Anthony Collins – KU – The junior LT has great athleticism, but is raw Jeremy Zuttah – Rutgers – Can play guard or tackle at the next level Donald Thomas – UConn – Great athlete who is still raw in some areas John Sullivan – Notre Dame – The Bucs like his intelligence and toughness Steve Justice – Wake Forest – Smart technician could back up Jeff Faine
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN Dre` Moore – Maryland – DT is strong and stout with a great bull rush Chris Ellis – Virginia Tech – A good pass-rushing end that needs to develop Carlton Powell – Virginia Tech – Has a good first step and power for a DT Brian Johnston – Gardner Webb – Dominated lower level of competition
CORNERBACKS Jack Williams – Kent State – Small, but tough, with a nose for the ball Orlando Scandrick – Boise State – Fast, tough, raw cornerback Dwight Lowery – San Jose State – Good instincts, but lacks footspeed Trae Williams – South Florida – Picked off a lot of passes due to instincts
And if the Tampa Bay feels inclined to draft a quarterback, San Diego’s Josh Johnson and San Diego State’s Kevin O’Connell would be the Bucs’ Best Bets. If the Bucs decide to draft a linebacker, they could be targeting Virginia Tech’s Xavier Adibi, Kentucky’s Wesley Woodyard or Georgia Tech’s Phillip Wheeler.
• A few days ago, I asked Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber who he thought the best cornerback was in the draft. His answer? KU’s Aqib Talib. I should have listened, Ronde.
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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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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