SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik knows his job is on the line. In order for him to maintain job security in 2014 and beyond, Tampa Bay likely has to make the playoffs in 2013. At least that’s what he thinks.
By the end of April, Dominik will have had five drafts, one of which has produced a franchise-type quarterback in Josh Freeman, and five rounds of free agency that has solidified the Bucs’ kicking game through the years and landed the likes of wide receiver Vincent Jackson and left guard Carl Nicks among others. The Bucs showed improvement in 2012, winning three more games than they did in 2011 and came close to making the playoffs after a strong 6-4 start.
The next logical step is posting a winning record and pushing for the playoffs in 2013. The playoffs have eluded Tampa Bay for five years. The Bucs haven’t won a postseason game since the Super Bowl, which capped off the 2002 season.
Dominik and his staff are coming off a banner draft in 2012 in which Tampa Bay landed three future superstars in safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David in the first two rounds. All three were starters this past year with David being named Pewter Report’s 2012 MVP and Martin being named Tampa Bay’s Offensive MVP.
Tampa Bay’s young general manager has a real decision to make this April. Does he take a safe pick in the first round like he did last year with a proven producer like Barron was at Alabama and Martin was at Boise State? Or does he roll the dice a bit on a player with loads of physical talent and ability with a huge upside, but one that may not be ready to make an impact as a rookie?
Taking a player that has more potential than production is a dangerous proposition in the NFL. The risk is extremely high in the first round, but the reward can be just as high if the right team lands the right player, such as the New York Giants did with pass rushing defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Born to immigrants from Haiti, Pierre-Paul had very little experience playing football growing up and didn’t play until his junior year of high school.
Pierre-Paul went to two different junior colleges and spent one year at the University of South Florida before making the leap to the NFL and being drafted with the 15th overall pick in the first round in 2010 after recording just 6.5 sacks in his lone season with the Bulls.
There is another player whose story closely resembles that of Pierre-Paul’s in this year’s draft. BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is that player.
There is no denying Ansah’s talent and his freakish athleticism. At 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, he is so physically gifted that he is a first-round talent despite only starting one year at defensive end in college. In fact, Ansah, who resembles Pierre-Paul, has only played organized football for three years – all at the college level – after coming to America from the country of Ghana in Africa.
He went to BYU to perform on the track team and walked on to the Cougars football team in 2010, impressing head coach Bronco Mendenhall enough to see action in six games where he made three tackles and broke up a pass. Ansah saw more playing time in 2011, but was still so raw and just learning the game that he made very little statistical impact, notching just seven tackles.
Ansah became a starter as a senior in 2012 and notched 62 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, nine pass breakups, 4.5 sacks, one interception and forced one fumble. His first career sack came in a 7-6 loss at Boise State in which Ansah also notched eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and broke up a pass.
Two weeks later in a 6-3 victory over Utah State, Ansah had five stops, three tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. The BYU defensive end also had a sack and eight tackles against Georgia Tech. In the Cougars’ 23-6 victory over San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl, Ansah picked off pass, forced a fumble and had five tackles to end his college career.
During the Senior Bowl practices, Ansah started off slow and got pushed around due to the fact that his legs are skinnier than his upper body. He made more of an impact jumping up and swatting passes down than actually getting to the quarterback. As the week went on, Ansah showed that he is an incredibly fast learner and improved mightily with each practice.
By the time Saturday came, Ansah recorded a game-high seven tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and a pass breakup in the Senior Bowl and was named the game’s Defensive MVP. It was the most dominating performance of his fledgling football career. Ansah showed off his quick-twitch ability, his admirable hustle, maximum effort and his strength.
Tampa Bay selects 13th overall in the first round, and might be a quandary. The Bucs need a cornerback, but Alabama’s Dee Milliner is expected to be a top 10 pick and the next best corner, Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, is regarded as a late first-rounder. What if Central Michigan’s left tackle Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s offensive tackle Lane Johnson are already taken before the Bucs select?
What if Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd are already off the board, too? Does Tampa Bay invest in Ansah, whose stock is rising and is expected to star at the combine in Indianapolis later this month?
New Bucs director of college scouting Eric Stokes has a different approach to players than Dominik, and that’s part of the reason why he was brought into the fold from Seattle, where he played a huge role in the Seahawks taking chances on players like quarterback Russell Wilson, safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman.
“I am always driven by size, speed, length and the word ‘potential,’” Stokes said. “I do believe in the word ‘potential.’ If you have a raw player, an unfinished player, a diamond in the rough, give that player more credit for that. Lock into that player more because coaching on this level is so different from coaching at the college level. Players can truly develop and become something with NFL coaching.
“Football is your business here, football is your job. There are no outside distractions. If you have the right makeup, if you have the right drive if you want to be successful, you can be as successful as you want to be and have a career if you have the talent. The coaching at this level is on another level. They truly are the best coaches and the reason they are at this level. If you give them something to work with and they can spend the time with the players you can allow guys the chance to reach their potential.”
Most teams need their first-round picks to come in and contribute right away to justify the financial investment and to help the team immediately. Could a player like Ansah do that and make an impact like Martin or David did and help Tampa Bay reach the playoffs this year? Will Dominik listen to Stokes and roll the dice on a freakish athlete with great character, potential and determination despite the lack of production?
Ansah has the drive to improve and be great. His hustle and commitment is evidenced in this highlight film.
Or would Dominik simply be drafting Ansah for the next general manager if he takes longer to adjust to the NFL level than Pierre-Paul did?
It will be interesting to see what happens if Ansah is still on the board by the time Tampa Bay picks at No. 13. If he becomes a Buccaneer it will speak volumes about how much influence Stokes now has in the war room, and how much comfort level Dominik has about his future
at One Buccaneer Place.
FAB 2. If Tampa Bay doesn’t draft BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah in the first round or a player like SMU’s Margus Hunt in the second round, a player that may be considered in the later rounds is Illinois’ Michael Buchanan. The Bucs need a pass rusher and the Fighting Illini defensive end is a very interesting prospect.
Buchanan has had some off-field issues, including a DUI arrest in 2010 during his sophomore season, and a broken jaw from a fight during the summer of 2012. Those transgressions were closely scrutinized at the Senior Bowl by NFL teams, including Tampa Bay.
“I interviewed with the Bucs and I think they’re interested in me,” Buchanan said. “I met with the G.M. and they told me they do need some pass rushers and hopefully I can be their guy, but I think I’ve met with all 32 teams here.”
The reason why Buchanan was so in demand was because of his size, athleticism and production. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Buchanan’s physique resembled that of another athletic Illinois product that played in Tampa Bay – former Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the combine,” Buchanan said. “I think I can be very solid at 265 pounds. Anything more than that would kind of be a stretch for my frame. I’m 252 right now.
“I’ve idolized guys like DeMarcus Ware, Aldon Smith, Bruce Irvin, Von Miller – those are the undersized guys kind of around my weight. I try to emulate them in the things I do. They are the kind of guys that have made plays in the league and made an impact.”
Buchanan recorded 161 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, nine pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception for the Fighting Illini where he was a two-year starter. He had a tremendous junior season in which he notched 64 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Check out his highlights right here. (Warning: the highlight video contains profanity).
Buchanan’s production fell off a bit as a senior as he posted 57 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Instead of building on a great 2011 season, his waning production in 2012 will cost him a round or two in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Buchanan has the quickness and ability to rush the passer from either side. He routinely beat Wisconsin right tackle Ricky Wagner during the Senior Bowl practices.
“Ricky Wagner and I have had some battles in the Big 10,” Buchanan said. “He’s a very good player, a very polished player. It’s good to go up against him again. It’s been a good rivalry.”
Buchanan even held his own against Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson in the Senior Bowl game and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher during the Senior Bowl practices.
“I hadn’t heard much about Eric Fisher,” Buchanan said. “I hadn’t heard much about him before. He definitely surprised me. He’s very polished. He’s a big guy with great feet and great technique. He’s going to be a very successful NFL player.”
And Buchanan has the chance to be a very successful player, too, if he receives better coaching and can make plays on a more consistent basis. The Buccaneers could target Buchanan in rounds four or five if they need a pass rusher.
FAB 3. In previous editions of SR’s Fab 5, we have profiled several top cornerbacks the Buccaneers are targeting in the 2013 NFL Draft, including Senior Bowl participants like Washington’s Desmond Trufant, Utah State’s Will Davis and others. Now it’s time to introduce you to a late-round target in Cal’s Marc Anthony, who was one of the players Tampa Bay spent a lot of time with in Mobile, Ala. in late January.
“I have met with the Buccaneers multiple times, and I met with the general manager,” Anthony said. “It was intense. It was one of the best interviews I’ve had. They got into it and really asked me a lot of questions about the defense. They wanted me to be very specific and they wanted me to be very detailed. It was a very good interview.”
Anthony is best described as a physical cover corner with first-round talent, but fifth-round production and consistency. He had a pretty good, but not great showing at the Senior Bowl, but NFL scouts are intrigued by his skill set and wonder if his best football doesn’t lie ahead of him in the pros. Prior to the combine, Anthony is currently regarded as a fifth-round pick.
In 2012, Anthony recorded 52 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, two interceptions, including a 61-yard touchdown against Southern Utah and a forced fumble. His best all-around game came against Stanford in Cal’s 21-3 loss where Anthony had six tackles, a tackle for loss, a red zone interception, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. Check out his highlights from that game right here.
The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Anthony has recorded 138 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 21 pass breakups, five interceptions and two forced fumbles in his Cal career, and was a three-year starter for the Golden Bears. While the Bucs would have liked to see him pick off more passes and not have lapses in coverage, the team likes his length and physical style of play.
“I’ll be willing to go in there and step in to help out any way I could,” said Anthony, whose cousin is New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan. “As a player I’m versatile. I’m a big guy that is strong and likes to come up and play the run. I play the pass very, very well. They’ll see that on the film.”
Allen, whose secondary coach at Cal was Ashley Ambrose, a 13-year NFL veteran cornerback, likens his game to two of the best players to ever play the position.
“I like Champ Bailey and the way he plays the ball in the air and his aggressiveness when it comes to tackling,” Anthony said. “Ronde Barber is one of the better cornerbacks to ever play the game. He’s been consistent for over 15 years. He’s one of my idols. It would be dream to play alongside either one of those guys.”
Anthony credits his development as a cover corner to facing Cal’s junior wide receiver Keenan Allen, who is expected to go in the first round in April, on a daily basis in practice.
“Keenan Allen is unbelievable,” Anthony said. “He’s one of the best – if not the best – receivers in the nation. He can do everything you can ask of him. He made me better in practice every day. We always shared tips on how to get better as players and that helped in our development.”
FAB 4. Now let’s talk about a player that I’m not sure the Buccaneers are interested in. As of Monday night during the Senior Bowl week, Lousiana Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton had not met with Tampa Bay and it is unknown whether or not the team interviewed him or not in Mobile, Ala.
But Patton was probably the most impressive wide receiver on either Senior Bowl team because of his competitiveness and ability to separate. The player who became known as “General Patton” for the Bulldogs because of his stellar play reminds me of Baltimore’s Anquan Boldin or former Pittsburgh star Hines Ward. The 6-foot, 202-pound Patton is not the fastest nor is he the biggest, but he just finds a way to get open, catch the ball and make plays. “As a young guy coming in I know how to work and I know how to separate myself on the football field and from the competition off it,” Patton said. “I know how to be a ballplayer because that’s what I was born to be and that’s how I was raised. I’m a ballplayer and I compete. I’m not cocky,
but I’m confident in my abilities.
“The type of player an organization is going to get is a hard-working guy that is going to come in every day and knows the limits between business and personal life. I’m not going to get in any trouble off the field. I’m going to bring my ‘A’ game every day, every practice, every quarter and every minute to try to do my best to make my team better. I’m a team player all the time. I have a great personality and I get along with everybody.”
Patton was one of the top receivers in the nation in 2012 and was a key performer on college football’s most prolific offense, catching 104 passes for 1,392 yards and 13 touchdowns. In his Louisiana Tech career, Patton amassed 183 receptions for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns, and was often instrumental in helping lead several second half comebacks last season, including the Bulldogs’ 59-57 thrilling loss to Texas A&M in which he established career highs in 21 catches, 233 yards and four touchdowns. That performance really put him on the radar of NFL scouts. Check out his 2012 highlights right here.
“It was just one of those games that you tune in to,” Patton said. “I was always taught that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time ball games. I was a big-time players and leaders on our team and I had to step up and make plays for my team.”
At one point, Louisiana Tech trailed Texas A&M by 27 points before rallying to tie the game in the fourth quarter. “We can’t be spotting teams 27 points all the time and then come back,” Patton said. “Down there in Louisiana Tech we’re not going down without a fight. We’re not going to look at the scoreboard if we’re up or down. We’re just going to keep playing. In the second half and the fourth quarter, that’s when we turn it on even more because that’s when ballgames are won no matter how far you are behind or ahead.”
Patton was fortunate to have a good college quarterback in Colby Cameron to throw him the ball. The senior Bulldogs signal caller is a mid-round NFL Draft prospect after throwing 31 touchdowns with just five interceptions in 2012.
“Colby is just so cool under pressure,” Patton said. “He’s from California, so you know how Cali people are. They’re laid back. Colby is just cool. He’s a film junkie. He’s always watching film. There were many times after practice where I would say, ‘Colby, can we go home now?’ And he would tell me that we had to watch more film. That’s what made us great. Those 31 touchdowns came off Colby’s reads.”
Patton has fared well against some of the nation’s best cornerbacks in Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks and Houston’s D.J. Hayden.
“Johnthan Banks is definitely up there with the toughest cornerbacks I’ve faced. Banks and I had a battle every play even when I was blocking,” Patton said. “Both our helmets came off. It didn’t matter. We were trashing talking up and down the field and battling. I have a lot of respect for him. Neither one of us backed down.”
In 2011, Patton caught 11 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown against Mississippi State in Louisiana Tech’s 26-20 loss.
“One of the others was from Houston – D.J. Hayden,” Patton said. “I’m in Houston training right now and I hit D.J. up all the time on Instagram. I heard he almost died and that almost brought me to tears because I played against him. I hit him up and gave him my number and we have been hanging out and we’ve almost become best friends.”
Hayden is a player that was chronicled in a previous SR’s Fab 5 as one of the top senior cornerbacks before he suffered a very serious, freak injury in practice that nearly took his life. Last November after the East Carolina game, Hayden tore a vein – the inferior vena cava – that carries blood from the lower half of the body back up to the heart. Ninety-five percent of all people that have this injury die and if it wasn’t for the quick action of the UH medical staff, Hayden surely would have perished.
Hayden, a team captain at Houston, is a turnover-creating machine, and racked up six interceptions, returning them for 229 yards, including three returned for touchdowns, in addition to breaking up 19 passes and forcing six fumbles. He had five tackles and two pass breakups in Houston’s 35-34 win in 2011 in which Patton had five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. You can check out his 2011 highlights right here.
In 2012, Hayden, whose NFL future is uncertain as he continues his recovery from heart surgery, had 10 tackles, broke up a pass and got the best of Patton in Louisiana Tech’s 56-49 victory where Patton was held to a season-low four catches for 36 yards.
“He just got released to practice not too long ago and I went out there and ran some routes and worked on some releases with him,” Patton said. “He’s a real talented guy. If that didn’t happen to him he would be at the Senior Bowl, too.”
Patton’s draft stock will be helped or hurt by what he runs in the 40-yard dash. If he can time under 4.5 he should be a second-round pick. If he times in the high 4.5-range he may fall to the third round. Any time of 4.6 or higher could cause him to slide into the fourth round.
Three of the Buccaneers top four receivers – Mike Williams, Tiquan Underwood Arrelious Benn – are in the final year of their contracts, so don’t be surprised if Tampa Bay adds another pass catcher in the draft. Patton would be a great addition to the Bucs in the third round if he slides a bit in the draft, and Hayden would be a nice risk to take in the sixth or seventh round assuming he shows signs that he could clear an NFL physical at some point and resume playing football in 2013 or 2014.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• The Buccaneers interviewed SMU defensive end Margus Hunt for over an hour at the Senior Bowl. The 6-foot-8, 278-pound defender, who was the biggest and most impressive looking player from a physical standpoint in Mobile, Ala. Hunt had some of the biggest seniors literally looking up to him.
“Margus is my roommate,” Illinois defensive end Michael Buchanan said during Senior Bowl week. “When we wake up in the morning I have to kind of look up to him a little bit. I’m 6-foot-5 and I don’t have to do that very often, but he’s 6-foot-8. I’m used to being the guy everybody has to look up to. Margus is a tremendous athlete. He’s a freak.”
• Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene, who was profiled in last week’s SR’s Fab 5 column, spoke glowingly of his Scarlet Knights teammates, junior cornerback Logan Ryan, who is on the Bucs’ radar as a possible second-round pick.
“Logan is really special,” Greene said. “He’s a guy that works really hard and is a great guy off the field. He doesn’t get into trouble and has a great family foundation with his mother and father. The football tape speaks for itself. He left as a junior because he got bored.
“What he was doing to people week in and week out shows he was a shutdown corner and I think he just got bored by being so great. The significance he plays in our defense is amazing. We could do a lot of things and just leave him on an island by himself. I’m excited to see him at the combine show off his athleticism.”
• The Buccaneers haven’t made much of a push to re-sign defensive tackle Roy Miller, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. Miller, who
is the team’s starting nose tackle and an integral part of Tampa Bay’s top-rated rushing defense, isn’t expected to command much on the free agent market. Tampa Bay is interested in re-signing Miller, but is engaging in a typical free agent dance.
The Bucs know Miller wants to remain in Tampa Bay, so they are showing little interest right now and will make him sweat a bit. Then right before free agency starts the Bucs will likely offer him a modest contract, and it is expected that he will swoop down and sign it quickly, knowing that he won’t be a hot commodity on the open market. No two-down defensive tackle with limited pass rushing ability really is.
• If you are a Pewter Insider and you haven’t RSVP’d for Sunday’s Pewter Report Get2gether at Courtside Grille Tampa on Race Track Road near Westchase, now is the time. You can do so right here. There will be free appetizers and soft drinks/tea and Bucs fans can meet and get autographs from Tampa Bay free safety Ahmad Black as well as get your Bucs-related questions answered by yours truly, Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds, Mark Cook and draft expert Eric Dellaratta. Former Bucs defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson will also be on hand to meet Bucs fans and answer Bucs questions, too. We are expecting a great turnout and hope to see you Sunday from 1:00-3:00 p.m. at Courtside Grille Tampa for our first official Pewter Report Get2gether this year!
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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
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