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1. TRADING DOWN
After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded their second-round pick for tight end Kellen Winslow, there has been much speculation that the Bucs might look to move down from the 19th overall pick in the first round to re-acquire a second-round selection.
The Buccaneers have a number of needs, including defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver, and cornerback. With a large number of needs and not many early picks to fill them with, it is not surprising to hear many Bucs fans advocating the team trade down to get a second-round pick back.
While that is definitely possible, it may not be wise. Tampa Bay does have a lot of needs for its roster, but it also needs elite talent. The Bucs have had a shortage of Pro Bowlers and All-Pros in recent seasons, and trading down in the draft decreases your ability to find a player that can be one of the best players at their position in the NFL. Thus, if the Buccaneers trade down they should not drop very far from their original spot.
Some might argue that at 19 overall in the draft you are already too low to find elite talent, but that is not the case, and in this draft it may be the best part of the draft to be picking. Sports Illustrated's Peter King quoted NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock that around 18-20 you get every bit the football player that is being taken in the top 10 for a third of the price. Mayock said the late teens through the early 20's is the best place to be drafting this year.
In that range the Bucs could get one of the players they are believed to be considering in the first round from Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson, Northern Illinois defensive end Larry English, Illinois' cornerback Vontae Davis, Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin and Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.
That means the Bucs are in great shape to get a dynamic playmaker. It also means there could be high demand for their pick. Last season the Philadelphia Eagles traded the 19th overall pick for the Carolina Panthers' second-round pick and this year's first-round pick. Perhaps a team will make that big of an offer to Bucs general manager Mark Dominik, but if taken the Bucs would go into next season without a first-round pick to help create a pass rush, or contribute immediately on the field.
If the Bucs trade down to get a second-round pick the best team to do a deal with would be the New England Patriots. There are a few reasons why, the first of which is that the Patriots have three second-round picks, and two third-round selections. New England's first-round pick is 23rd overall, so Tampa Bay would stay at a good spot in the first round to still land an impact player. For dropping down only four spots the Bucs could pick up the Patriots' final pick in the second round, the 58th overall selection, or the Patriots' third-round pick (89th overall). That second-round pick is only eight spots lower than the Bucs' original pick that they sent for Winslow.
The other team that would be a good trading partner would be the Miami Dolphins. They have two second-round picks, so Tampa Bay could drop down to the Dolphins' 25th overall pick in the first round and get their later pick in the second round, 56th overall. It helps the Buccaneers that these two potential trade partners are in the same division, run similar defenses, and could be vying for the same outside linebacker prospects. The New York Giants are another team that picks late in the first-round (29th) and has two second-round picks (45th and 60th), but going down 10 spots is drastic.
The only drawback to the Giants and Dolphins picks is that the Bucs may then miss out on more talented players in the first round. If this reporter were in Dominik's shoes, moving down to the 23rd or 25th pick would be the options to consider. Moving down one or two spots and getting a second third-round pick could be just as fulfilling.
Getting another third-round pick while dropping down only a few spots in the first-round would be effective as well for Tampa Bay to address its needs. If the Bucs move down slightly and draft either Johnson or English, then in the third round they could fill needs at wide receiver with Ole Miss Mike Wallace and at cornerback with Oregon State's Keenan Lewis. Wallace and Lewis went to O. Perry Walker high school together in New Orleans. That would leave the fourth-round pick for the Bucs to potentially get a small-school steal that the team is high on.
2. SAMMIE LEE HILL
One of the fastest rising prospects in the NFL Draft right now is Stillman defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill. The Buccaneers are one of the teams that is high on Hill, and have hosted Hill for a pre-draft visit. In this year's crop of defensive tackles, Hill has unique size, and that is helping him to rise up draft boards.
There are very few defensive tackles in the draft that are big run stuffers that can push the pocket with bull rushes. The Boston College tandem of B.J. Raji and Ron Brace fit that mold, but they will be drafted in the first and second round respectively. After them the only other two defensive tackles with size are Hill and Hampton's Chris Baker (6-2, 326).
Hill (6-4, 329) has a deceptive speed to go along with his mammoth size. As a three-year starter he produced 191 tackles, 44.5 tackles for a loss, and 17.5 sacks. Last season he had 7.5 sacks, and some in the NFL community have told Pewter Report that he could have posted even better numbers. They say that at his school the statisticians were not up to par with typical college programs, and he may have produced even bigger numbers.
After starting the draft process as an unknown, Hill has been making the rounds around the NFL. Teams that play 3-4 defenses are interested in him as a nose tackle, and other teams that prefer big defensive tackles like the Bucs, Titans, and Lions are fits for Hill as a run-stuffer in a 4-3. Right now Hill is projected to be a mid-round pick, and is a real option to become a Buccaneer in rounds 3-5.
3. TIGHT ENDS HAVE BIG BLOCKING CHANGE
With the Buccaneers changing their offense away from Jon Gruden's version of the West Coast offense to Jeff Jagodzinski's zone-blocking rushing attack and vertical passing game there are a number of changes the Bucs players are going to have to adapt to. One of those is the blocking assignments for the tight ends in the running game. However, after talking with the players the zone-blocking for tight ends is much easier than it was under Gruden's one-on-one blocking scheme.
"It is hugely different because you always got a tackle with you," said tight end Jerramy Stevens. "It is not going to be completely no more one-on-ones but just not as many. It is a natural mismatch in favor of the defensive end when we have to block them one-on-one with the run, and on an outside run. It is nice to know that you have tackle help, and it makes you feel more secure when you got body presence there. There are going to be plenty of challenges still."
Stevens said he has some experience in zone-blocking.
"We did it some in Seattle, but I played next to Walter Jones in Seattle," Stevens said. "He was so dominant that he didn't need help. He blocked D-ends ends by himself all the time. In Seattle the full zone that we're doing here, there was some of that, but it was more of a man scheme. It is exciting. It is fun."
By the sounds of it, the change in blocking scheme helps the tight ends that are considered more of receivers, namely Stevens and Winslow. Tight ends Alex Smith and John Gilmore may see less playing time because their skills as blockers may not be as critical as they were in the old offense.
4. COULD A TOP RECEIVER FALL?
Lately there have been a number of draft prognosticators predicting that the Oakland Raiders are going to reach and select Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh overall pick. They are making that projection because he has the best size-speed (6-2, 210 and a 4.25 40-yard dash) combination in the NFL Draft. Heyward-Bey had the fastest 40-yard dash at the combine, and the Raiders are known to love speed receivers.
If Heyward-Bey is selected by Oakland that would likely be over the top three consensus receivers in the draft: Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree, Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, and Florida's Percy Harvin. The latter has been viewed to be going in the area of the Bucs' first pick, but if Heyward-Bey blows up the draft board could Crabtree or Maclin slip to Tampa Bay?
Probably not. There are enough receiver-needy teams selecting ahead of the Buccaneers that Crabtree and Maclin would both be taken before the 19th pick. The Jacksonville Jaguars (eighth overall), Houston Texans (15th), and New York Jets (17th) are all prime candidates to grab Crabtree, Maclin, and potentially Harvin before the Bucs pick.
5. LEFTWICH SIGNING
Some Pewter Insiders will recall that a coulple of months ago I wrote a PI Quick Hits plan for the offseason that outlined what I would do if I were running the Bucs in free agency and the draft. In that plan I had the Bucs signing free agent quarterback Byron Leftwich to compete with Luke McCown for the starting quarterback position. I also suggested signing Leftwich in 2009 Free Agency Preview magazine of Pewter Report. Thus, for selfish reasons I was pleased when news leaked on Easter Sunday regarding Leftwich's deal with the Bucs.
What I don't like about the signing is the timing of it. If the team liked Leftwich enought to give him a two-year contract why didn't they do it at the start of free agency? Had the Bucs signed him in March, Leftwich would have been able to get started with learning the new offense and participate in the team's mini-camp in early April.
Now Leftwich is at a disadvantage in the competition with McCown and backup Josh Johnson. Leftwich is a veteran quarterback that should be able to learn the offense quickly, but missing mini-camp also robbed him of time to develop chemistry with his new receivers and teammates.
In his one-year with the Steelers, Leftwich played well, completing 21-of-36 attempts (58.3 percent) for 303 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 104.3. Leftwich (6-5, 250) has the arm to complete passes deep downfield, and he is only 29.
The former first-round pick owns a career 80.3 quarterback rating with 54 touchdowns and 38 interceptions. He has a cannon for an arm and is a good fit as a downfield passing quarterback in Jagodzinski's offense. Last season, Leftwich rebounded with the Steelers' run-heavy offense, and that is what the 2009 Buccaneers are expected to look like.
In this writer's opinion Leftwich was a good signing by Dominik. It was an affordable player that is still young, has had some success, and is a good fit for the new offense. If the signing came a month earlier it would have been even better.
6. QUICK THOUGHTS
a. There were only three unrestricted free agents that were proven pass rushers and the Buccaneers missed out on all of them which contributes greatly to them likely spending their first-round pick on a pass rusher (Albert Haynesworth, Antonio Smith, and Rocky Bernard).
b. Most draft evaluators have English rated ahead of Johnson.
c. I always take comments from the draft experts on ESPN with a big grain of salt, but it concerns this observer that neither Mel Kiper nor Todd McShay has Michael Johnson in their top 25 or 32 prospects, respectively.
d. It was interesting to hear former general manager Charlie Casserly and Mayock say that Brace is a one-dimensional fourth-round prospect that will go in the second-round because of team needs for defensive tackles.
e. Don't expect the debated positive drug tests to push Raji down to where the Bucs are picking.
f. A positive marijuana test never sacred away former general manager Bruce Allen from a prospect (Gaines Adams and Aqib Talib), but it is unclear whether that matters much to Dominik.
g. Check out the great mock drafts at WalterFootball.com. The staff there does a fabulous job of knowing the teams, their needs, and who they like in the draft. It is a great resource for draft information, and I strongely recommend checking it out often. Tampa born writer Matt McGuire is on staff there, and is also an avid reader of Pewter Report.
h. Another great draft site is draftcoundown.com. For years Scott Wright has been producing some of the most accurate mock drafts on the internet. Check out who he has the Bucs taking in rounds 1 and 3.