The 2009 NFL Draft has arrived and Pewter Report unveils its final seven-round mock draft for the Buccaneers. Jim Bates’ defense is the big beneficiary with the majority of the team’s draft picks falling on the defensive side of the ball, including the Bucs’ first-rounder.
ROUND 1: Guessing not only which player, but which position the Buccaneers will draft this year in the first round is probably the most difficult prognostication PewterReport.com has had to make in some time. The reason? As Bucs fans know, their favorite team has a lot of holes despite coming off a 9-7 season in 2008.
With Tampa Bay wisely focusing so much on offense in March because the strength of free agency was on that side of the ball, logic says that the Bucs will heavily draft defense this coming weekend. The exception, of course, could be Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman, whom PewterReport.com has been linking to Tampa Bay since we learned of the team’s strong interest in him at the Senior Bowl back in January.
Actually, the team’s interest in Freeman dates back much farther than January. A member of the Bucs’ personnel department actually picked my brain on him back in December for about 10 minutes, knowing that as a Kansas State alumnus. I have watched Freeman play with a close and critical eye over the past three years and study the NFL Draft perhaps closer than any other Tampa Bay media member.
The high level of interest in Freeman continues as Pewter Report has learned that the team was continuing to watch tape earlier in the week prior to the draft. Just because Tampa Bay signed Byron Leftwich earlier this month does not take Freeman off the board. Freeman’s arrival would likely spell the end of Josh Johnson’s tenure in Tampa Bay as the Bucs would head into the 2009 season with Luke McCown, Leftwich and Freeman, who was listed as Pewter Report’s Bucs’ Best Bet at QB in its 2009 Bucs Draft Preview, as the quarterbacks with Brian Griese and Johnson being the odd men out unless Leftwich doesn’t cut it.
If Freeman is there at 19, and I believe that he might be gone by the time the Bucs’ pick, I don’t see Tampa Bay passing on him. McCown and Leftwich only signed two-year deals. McCown has potential to be a star, but is unproven. Leftwich is on his third NFL team and was not widely sought after in free agency this year after being a backup in Pittsburgh last season. Yes, the Bucs need help on defense, but I’ve heard from five people within the organization that Tampa Bay believes Freeman has the potential to become a franchise-type quarterback.
But I assume Freeman will be gone by 19 – possibly to the New York Jets at 17. So where does that leave Tampa Bay and its first-round pick? As Pewter Report’s Charlie Campbell pointed out in this week’s PI Quick Hits, Jim Bates’ defense is cornerback-driven, so let’s look at the cornerback position as a real possibility in the first round for the Bucs.
If Illinois’ Vontae Davis, who has superb man coverage skills, is on the board at 19, he could very well become the pick. Yes, the Bucs need help pressuring the quarterback, but Bates’ man press scheme is designed to give the defensive line an extra second to reach the quarterback with real tight coverage. The Bucs have yet to replace Phillip Buchanon, who left via free agency to Detroit, and after starters Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib there is only Elbert Mack and the likes of Torrie Cox and a bunch of unheralded prospects. Cornerback is a need position for Tampa Bay, especially given how important the position is in Bates’ scheme.
This is also not a good year for cornerbacks in the draft, although there are a handful of pretty good ones in the middle rounds, including Georgia’s Asher Allen and Oregon State’s Keenan Lewis among others, and the Bucs may have a chance to draft the first one at 19. Davis, who is Pewter Report’s Bucs’ Best Bet at CB, is high on Tampa Bay’s wish list – higher than Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins. Throw in the fact that Raheem Morris is the team’s former defensive backs coach and the fact that Barber is still on the team and would serve as a good mentor to yet another promising young corner (along with Talib and Mack), and those are even more reasons to consider drafting one in the first round.
But as weak as Tampa Bay’s cornerback position is, its defensive end position is just as weak. Gaines Adams has yet to emerge as a double-digit sacker, but he remains the most likely candidate to do so. Stylez G. White saw his production dip last year as Jimmy Wilkerson made an impact and figures to get more playing time at defensive end this year. The only other defensive end on the roster is Louis Holmes and don’t expect him to make the 53-man squad come September.
The Buccaneers need another defensive end to line up opposite Adams and rush the passer. Tampa Bay likes LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson and views him as a young Kevin Carter due to his size (6-foot-4, 296 pounds). However, he ran a 4.94 in the 40-yard dash and was not the pass-rushing beast Carter was in college. As a three-year starter at LSU, Jackson accumulated 17 sacks, which is not bad at all, but was extremely streaky, notching sacks (eight) in only six of his last 27 games.
Where is the value in using a premium pick to draft a defensive end in the first round that has gone sackless in 21 out of his last 27 games? Despite notching only 4.5 sacks during his senior season, Jackson’s stock is on the rise because he’s a better fit as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Expect him to be drafted by Denver at either 12 or 18, and that’s good news for the Bucs who need players who can get to the quarterback.
Pewter Report has been touting Northern Illinois defensive end Larry English over the past few months (and we prefer him over other defensive ends) and the team is interested in him, but at this time, I don’t believe they will use their 19th pick on the pass rusher that has racked up 31.5 career sacks. The reason is his size. At 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, he’s undersized and would almost exclusively have to play on the right side. That’s where the team wanted Adams to play when it used the 2007 fourth overall pick on him.
Tampa Bay wants a defensive end with size, and the person who fits the bill and has good pass rush ability is Georgia Tech’s Michael Johnson, who is Pewter Report’s Bucs’ Best Bet at DE. At 6-foot-7, 266 pounds, Johnson has recorded 30.5 tackles for loss, 19 sacks and 10 forced fumbles during his Yellow Jackets career.
Johnson can play left or right end and despite knocks about his motor and his consistency, he has recorded sacks in 11 of the last 26 games, including eight of his last 13 games when he emerged as a starter during his senior season. That trumps the pass rushing production from the likes of Jackson and Tennessee’s Robert Ayers, who has logged sacks in only five of the last 25 games, including recording sacks in only two games during his 12-game senior season.
Physically, Johnson can add another 10-20 pounds to his frame and probably maintain his 4.66 time in the 40-yard dash. Johnson would be penciled in at left defensive end and allow the team to maintain its plan of having Adams be the right end.
Pewter Report started hearing buzz about Johnson from the Buccaneers during the Senior Bowl where he did not participate. Couple that with the fact that he came in for a great visit and the team’s pressing need at defensive end and Johnson becomes a logical pick. He’ll also be there at 19 when the Bucs pick, whereas Freeman and Davis might not be.
THE PICK: DE MICHAEL JOHNSON Georgia Tech
ROUND 3: Let’s take a look at Tampa Bay’s depth chart at wide receiver. Michael Clayton was signed to a five-year contract, so his future with the team is set. After that, everyone else at the position is on shaky ground, which means wide receiver is a need. Antonio Bryant is clearly the best receiver on the team, but he was franchised by Tampa Bay and has yet to be signed to a long-term deal. He’s definitely worth keeping around for the long term with another great season, though.
After that, Dexter Jackson, last year’s second-rounder, needs to stand and deliver as a receiver in training camp or risk being cut as a costly bust. Maurice Stovall is in his fourth season – and a contract year – and was called out by head coach Raheem Morris as someone who needs to step up his game. After Stovall and Jackson, the Bucs have a host of unproven players headlined by the likes of Paris Warren, Brian Clark and Kelly Campbell. The bottom line is that the success of these players – including Stovall and Jackson – is not guaranteed.
It’s time to bring in somebody new with speed, playmaking ability and promise. The Bucs have liked Ole Miss wide receiver Mike Wallace since the Senior Bowl where he performed well in practice and caught a touchdown during the game. That interest blossomed into a visit to One Buc Place in early April.
Wallace’s stock is on the rise after a great Cotton Bowl (four catches, 80 yards and one touchdown), Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine in which he ran a 4.33 and posted a 40.5-inch vertical jump. Wallace is projected to be drafted in rounds 3-4, but expect Tampa Bay to take him in the third round because he may not be there in the fourth. Last year, the Bucs were forced to take Jackson in the late second because he was the only speed receiver left in the draft. Tampa Bay would rather be early than too late when it comes to selecting Wallace.
Wallace, who has recently been profiled on PewterReport.com, averaged 18.9 yards per catch for the Rebels, catching 101 passes for 1,910 yards and 15 TDs in his career. During his senior year, Wallace had 39 catches for 784 yards and seven touchdowns. He possesses great speed, playmaking ability and a set of improving hands. The 6-foot, 189-pound Wallace can also return kickoffs and had two touchdowns in the return game at Ole Miss.
THE PICK: WR MIKE WALLACE Ole Miss
ROUND 4: The Buccaneers like James Lee, who served as the team’s swing tackle last year as an undrafted rookie that was signed after he was released by Cleveland in the final roster cut-downs from training camp, but want to add some competition to the offensive tackle position. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood shows promise, but is entering a contract year in 2009. The team is also high on left tackle Donald Penn, but he was only signed to a one-year tender as a restricted free agent and has not agreed to terms on a long-term contract with Tampa Bay.
The Bucs did have an interest in former Jacksonville offensive tackle Khalif Barnes this offseason and came close to signing him before passing due to character concerns. Offensive tackle is still a position of need due to the long-term uncertainty at the position due to the contract situations of Penn and Trueblood, and Lee’s rawness.
Houston’s Sebastian Vollmer is a player whose stock is climbing after a great senior season, a stellar East-West Shrine Game and a surprising NFL Scouting Combine in which he posted times and stats that rival this year’s projected first-round draft picks. At 6-foot-7, 312 pounds, Vollmer turned in a 5.09 in the 40-yard dash, had a 35-inch vertical jump and benched 225 pounds 32 times.
Vollmer has the size and strength to play right tackle and the footwork to play left tackle, which is where he has been a starter over the last two years at Houston. His strength is pass protection given Houston’s pass-happy offense, but he also has the strength and agility to be a factor in the Bucs’ zone blocking scheme.
The former Cougar has a lot of potential and upside in the NFL after only playing organized football since 14 when he migrated to America from Germany. The Bucs had Vollmer in for a pre-draft visit in early April and would have to take him in the fourth round – if he’s still there.
THE PICK: OT SEBASTIAN VOLLMER Houston
ROUND 5: Tampa Bay’s need at the defensive end position was spelled out in the first round section of this mock draft. The only thing that bears adding is the fact that White will turn 30 in July and Wilkerson turned 28 in January. Drafting another defensive end is not out of the realm of possibility. The only curious thing is that it is coming ahead of drafting a defensive tackle or a cornerback in PewterReport.com’s final mock draft.
Oregon State’s Victor Strong-Butler produced 40 tackles for loss and 26 sacks during his prolific career for the Beavers. He capped off an impressive senior season in which he notched 12 sacks with a school-record four sacks in Oregon State’s 3-0 victory over Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl. He also forced a key fumble and was credited with four quarterback hurries in that contest. Strong-Butler’s senior season was no fluke, coming on the heels of a 10.5-sack campaign in 2007 as a junior.
At 6-foot-2, 239 pounds, Strong-Butler certainly has to add some size to become an every down defensive end in the NFL. But he already has the pass rushing skills to become a situational pass rusher. He is a high-motor pass rusher with the ability to rush the quarterback from either the left or the right side, much like Wilkerson.
Strong-Butler’s times in the 40-yard dash ranged from 4.58 to 4.72 at his pro day. Not only will that help him pursue quarterbacks, but it will also serve him well on special teams where he will thrive covering kicks and blocking on kickoffs.
THE PICK: DE VICTOR STRONG-BUTLER Oregon State
ROUND 6: While it might seem odd that Tampa Bay has waited until the sixth round to draft a defensive tackle when the position is thought of as a big need, Jim Bates’ defense doesn’t need premium players at the tackle position – just space eaters and guard occupiers. Keep in mind that the Bucs will likely keep four defensive tackles on its 53-man roster in 2009 and those players will consist of likely starters Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims, in addition to two out of four players that will consist of Greg Peterson, Dre Moore, Chris Bradwell and the rookie defensive tackle that gets selected.
For that reason, defensive tackle may not be considered as strong of a need as defensive end or cornerback this year. However, Hovan turns 31 in May and Peterson, Moore and Bradwell are all unproven players. If a couple of those youngsters pan out, Tampa Bay is in good shape tackle-wise for the future. If not, defensive tackle becomes a huge need in 2010.
The Bucs like several mid-round defensive tackles and are very high on Stillman’s Sammie Lee Hill. But Temple’s Terrence Knighton is a player that came in for a visit during the team’s first mini-camp in early April and at 6-foot-3, 321 pounds, he has the size necessary to plug the run and pressure the passer.
Knighton is considered to be a poor man’s Ron Brace and is not known for his pass-rushing prowess, evidenced by his six career sacks. But the Temple product has amassed an eye-opening 26 tackles for loss (20 solo), and that shows his ability to get penetration and stuff the run.
THE PICK: DT TERRANCE KNIGHTON Temple
ROUND 7: Despite cornerback being a pressing need, the Bucs wait until the seventh round to take one. This scenario seems as illogical to you as it does to me, but I believe the Bucs will trade a player (perhaps tight end Alex Smith and/or quarterback Brian Griese) this weekend or trade back in the first round to acquire an additional pick somewhere in rounds 2-5 that will be used to draft a corner. Keep an eye on the likes of Cincinnati’s Mike Mickens, Georgia’s Asher Allen, Oregon State’s Keenan Lewis, Nicholls State’s Ladarius Webb and Hawaii’s Ryan Mouton.
But PewterReport.com doesn’t project trades in its mock drafts. We just prognosticate where the Bucs have actual picks. And one of the corners the Buccaneers are targeting is Western Michigan’s E.J. Biggers. Biggers has great size at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds and has been timed as low as 4.35 40-yard dash at his pro day, in which he turned in a 36-inch vertical jump. He’s a physical corner with good man coverage skills.
Biggers has logged 136 career tackles, six tackles for loss, seven interceptions and 19 passes defensed. He was overshadowed at Western Michigan by safety Louis Delmas, who could become a late first-round pick this year, but the attention Delmas has received from pro scouts has benefitted Biggers as Western Michigan is not exactly an NFL factory.
Biggers, who was a three-year starter at Western Michigan, is a very good athlete that has seen some time on offense, throwing a pair of passes off reverses in his Broncos career, including a 76-yard touchdown against Cincinnati in 2006. He has also blocked a kick, returned six punts for 48 yards, returned 11 kicks for 170 yards and would be a good special teams player for the Bucs while he learns the defense.
THE PICK: CB E.J. BIGGERS Western Michigan
ROUND 7: With Jermaine Phillips’ move to linebacker, the Bucs could use another safety to pair with Sabby Piscitelli, Tanard Jackson and Will Allen, while competing with Donte Nicholson for a roster spot. The Bucs had a lot of success converting Jackson, who was a four-year starting cornerback at Syracuse, to safety and they may attempt to do the same thing with another physical corner.
Although Pewter Report prefers Kentucky’s Marcus McClinton, Tennessee’s DeAngelo Willingham is a big, physical cornerback that could make the transition to safety. At 5-foot-11, 217 pounds, he has great speed (4.46) and coverage ability.
Willingham was a starter at cornerback at Tennessee for a year and a half after transferring from College of the Desert where he tallied eight interceptions in two years, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He also returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a touchdown against San Bernadino Community College.
Once at Tennessee, he started eight of 14 games at cornerback in 2007, forcing two fumbles and recovering a fumble while deflecting four passes and making 31.5 tackles. During his senior season, Willingham recorded three interceptions, broke up four more passes and notched 33 tackles.
Willingham is an intriguing athlete who should be a factor on special teams while making the transition to safety on defense at the NFL level.
THE PICK: FS DeANGELO WILLINGHAM Tennessee
ROUND 7: With the Bucs’ final pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the team takes a jack-of-all trades football player in Boston College linebacker Brian Toal. The unselfish Toal is the kind of player who is a coach’s dream because he loves the game so much. He played offense, defense and special teams for the Eagles during his career, which was derailed a bit by injury.
Toal arrived at B.C. as a Parade All-American and was the Big East Rookie of the Year in 2005 with 63 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble and one blocked kick. Toal also carried the ball 23 times for 56 yards and scored six touchdowns as a short-yardage and goal line back.
In 2006, Toal carried the ball 19 times for 35 yards and scored six more touchdowns, and was just as productive on defense with 50 tackles, two interceptions before missing the entire 2007 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder.
Last season, Toal played in the first six games of the season before missing the final eight due to a broken fibula. He had 42 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks on defense while rushing for 55 yards on eight carries as a short-yardage back.
Toal should be a key special teams player for the Bucs, and had a 43-yard kick return and an 18-yard punt return. The fact that he is undersized at 6-foot, 228 pounds and has an injury history that also includes a neck injury that limited him in during 2006 will cause him to fall into the later rounds of the draft or perhaps go undrafted. Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski was the head coach at Boston College during the last two years and loves Toal, which could prompt the team take him.
Toal is intelligent, physical and instinctive. His versatility and special teams ability make him an attractive option in the last round of the draft.
THE PICK: LB BRIAN TOAL Boston College
See what we forecasted last month:
Pewter Report’s previous mock draft
When following the 2009 NFL Draft, PewterReport.com recommends checking out our friends at ProFootballTalk.com, WalterFootball.com and DraftCountdown.com this weekend for the latest mock drafts and league-wide draft coverage.