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What will the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do with their first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft?
That's the question many Bucs fans are attempting to get answered with the draft quickly approaching, but no one is going to get straight answers from Tampa Bay's front office.
It's hard to believe anything that is coming out of One Buccaneer Place right now. That's not to suggest sources blatantly lie to the media, but they certainly aren't going to tell you the truth regarding the players they are targeting in the draft.
That said, this reporter has used the information Pewter Report has gathered from sources (at One Buc Place and around the league), game highlights and tapes, pre-draft visits and an overall evaluation of Tampa Bay's current roster to determine the top five positions the Bucs will target in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
In addition, a percentage has been assigned to each of those five positions to indicate the likelihood of Tampa Bay selecting a player at that particular position with the 19th overall pick in the draft.
DEFENSIVE END – 55% Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates puts extra emphasis on the defensive ends in his 4-3 scheme. While Tampa Bay has a first-round draft pick invested in Gaines Adams, the Bucs need to find a long-term solution and capable pass rusher at left end, where Jimmy Wilkerson and Stylez G. White are projected to start right now. White, who turns 30 in July, is signed through 2010, but his base salary will increase from $825,000 to $1.375 million next year. Wilkerson, 28, is in the final year of his contract.
Tampa Bay is definitely targeting defensive end in this draft. By the time the 2009 NFL Draft begins one week from Saturday Penn State's Aaron Maybin, Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson and Northern Illinois' Larry English will have had pre-draft meetings with the Buccaneers.
Some consider Maybin (6-4, 250) and English (6-2, 255) undersized and possible linebackers at the next level, but Jason Taylor was a sack machine for Bates in Miami at just 244 pounds. Maybin has the most explosive first step of any defensive end in this draft, but his ability to add weight at the next level is a real concern.
The Bucs might also be set on keeping Adams at right end even though he's played better at left end at times. If that is indeed the case, the Bucs might pass on Maybin and English, and target Johnson or Tennessee DE Robert Ayers, the latter of which could be a reach since Ayers had just nine sacks in college.
Johnson, who had 19 career sacks and 10 forced fumbles while playing both right and left end, is a physical specimen and tremendous athlete. He's a player the Bucs are extremely high on, but it's unclear whether the team would be willing to take him with the 19th overall pick when some draft pundits don't consider him a first-round selection because of an alleged inconsistent motor.
While they might not be able to do it with Maybin, the Bucs could opt to trade down in the first round to select Johnson or English. Such a move would allow the Bucs to recover a draft pick (second-or third-rounder) Tampa Bay lost in the trade for tight end Kellen Winslow.
CORNERBACK – 15% When the Bucs selected Aqib Talib in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft it marked the first time since 1986 that Tampa Bay had invested a first-rounder at that particular position. So would the Bucs really go with a cornerback in the first round two straight years after such a long first-round drought?
It's certainly possible, especially when you consider how much emphasis Bates puts on cornerbacks, who will be called on to play press and bump-and-run coverage in his defensive scheme. One of the reasons why Bates' system allows players, particularly the defensive ends, to get to the quarterback is because the cornerbacks prevent the receivers from getting a free release from the line of scrimmage, thus forcing signal callers to hold onto the ball a few seconds longer.
Talib will be a starting cornerback for years to come in Tampa Bay, but there are questions behind him. Ronde Barber is 34, and some wonder how much gas he has left in the tank or how he will fare in the transition from Tampa Bay's defense under Monte Kiffin to the new system under Bates.
The Bucs are high on Elbert Mack, who as of right now would be Tampa Bay's nickel cornerback, but he was an undrafted free agent and made a great first impression in a different scheme. No one knows for sure how Mack will do under Bates.
Torrie Cox, Greg Fassitt and Kyle Arrington are questions marks at this point.
That said, the Bucs could be tempted to draft Vontae Davis with the 19th overall selection, especially when considering he's the second-best player at his position in this draft in terms of most pundits' ratings.
Davis, an early-entry junior, is a great athlete like his brother, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, However, he only had seven career interceptions and could come with some off-the-field baggage depending on whether allegations of positive marijuana tests at the Combine turn out to be true.
Of the 22 interceptions Tampa Bay recorded in 2008, 16 of those picks came courtesy of the team's cornerbacks. An improved pass rush likely would go a long way in helping the Bucs secondary create more turnovers, but the corners will also have to help the defensive ends get to the quarterback.
While Davis would be considered at 19 overall, the Bucs will have to determine how much better Davis is over some of the other players they like in the later rounds, including Oregon State CB Keenan Lewis, Cincinnati CB Mike Mickens, Georgia CB Asher Allen, Virginia Tech CB Macho Harris, Tennessee CB DeAngelo Willingham, UCF CB Joe Burnett, among others.
Another reason why Tampa Bay could pass on cornerback in the first round and wait to address the position later in the draft is because there are still a few experienced CBs available on the free agent market, including Patrick Surtain, Jamar Fletcher and Chris McAllister. Surtain and Fletcher played for Bates in Miami, and the 31-year-old Surtain made three Pro Bowls while playing in his scheme.
WIDE RECEIVER – 10% The Bucs have needs at wide receiver, but it's not like Tampa Bay didn't address this particular position this offseason.
The Bucs placed the franchise tag on Antonio Bryant and re-signed Michael Clayton. Tampa Bay also signed Kelly Campbell, Anthony Mix and Paris Warren to futures contracts.
But the reason why the Bucs need to add another receiver to their roster is because previous draft picks haven't panned out. That includes Maurice Stovall and Dexter Jackson, who were acquired with third- and second-round selections.
As Pewter Report's Charlie Campbell noted in one of his PI Quick Hits columns, the lack of depth at wide receiver was apparent during Tampa Bay's three-day mini-camp. If Bryant and/or Clayton were to be sidelined with injuries for any length of time the Bucs would have some real problems even though their new offense under Jeff Jagodzinski will be run-first in nature.
Tampa Bay loves Ole Miss WR Mike Wallace, but the problem is other teams are starting to fall in love with him, too after he ran a 4.28 40-yard dash time at the Combine. Wallace could go as high as the second round, where the Bucs don't have a pick.
If the Bucs don't feel they will have a shot to land Wallace in the third round, they could opt to invest their first-round pick in a receiver, and there should be some good ones available, including Florida's Percy Harvin, Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rutgers' Kenny Britt.
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said he wants the team's offense to score touchdowns, and Harvin could certainly help in that area. Harvin, Maclin and Heyward-Bey have the speed the Bucs need to stretch the field while Britt possesses the physical style of play Jagodzinski likes on the perimeter to aid the running game.
Although Tampa Bay likes some of the late-round receivers in this draft, the Bucs could also turn to free agency if they were to miss out on any first-round receivers or Wallace.
However, the pickings appear to be slim for the Bucs in free agency, especially when you consider the fact that PewterReport.com has been informed through league sources that Tampa Bay likely isn't interested in signing former St. Louis WR Torry Holt or former Detroit WR Mike Furrey.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE – 10% At one point this offseason the Bucs attempted to sell the media on Dre Moore and Greg Peterson as players that can come in an compete with Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan for starting jobs at defensive tackle.
That might be wishful thinking on Tampa Bay's part, but the Bucs are probably right to play Moore and Peterson to see what they have in those players, who were acquired with fourth- and fifth-round draft selections.
Of course, Tampa Bay's run at Albert Haynesworth in free agency didn't necessarily give a vote of confidence to any of Tampa Bay's current defensive tackles. Then again, Haynesworth might have been considered too good to pass up, which the Bucs eventually did, allowing him to ink a $100 million contract with the Washington Redskins.
That logic could come into play again when the draft rolls around one week from Saturday. That's because some believe Boston College DT B.J. Raji could fall out of the top 10 due to an alleged positive drug test for marijuana at the Combine. Raji is the top-rated defensive tackle in this draft and is a player Jagodzinski is quite familiar with from his coaching days at Boston College.
If Raji were to fall to the Bucs the team would have to consider drafting him even though Tampa Bay doesn't believe it needs a Warren Sapp-type defensive tackle in Bates' system.
The Bucs are looking for big bodies to take on blocks and take up space, which will allow the defensive ends to get to the quarterback while the linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks sprinkle in a few blitzes.
It's interesting to note that Tampa Bay had a pre-draft visit with Raji's college teammate, Ron Brace, who is projected to go in the second round of the draft. Tampa Bay, of course, is without its second-round selection due to the trade for Winslow. However, the fact that the Bus would schedule a visit with the 330-pound Brace while without its second-round pick suggests the Bucs believe they could possibly find themselves in position to land him. That would likely mean the Bucs would have to make some sort of trade in order to acquire a second-round pick.
Another player the Bucs could target with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft is Ole Miss DT Peria Jerry. Sources had initially indicated to Pewter Report that Jerry would have been a great fit for the Cover 2 scheme the Bucs ran under Kiffin, but that he wasn't necessarily a good fit for Bates' system. However, Tampa Bay has warmed up to the idea of possibly drafting Jerry, whom the Bucs recently had in for a pre-draft visit.
Although it hasn't used a first-round selection to draft a defensive tackle since 1999 (Anthony McFarland), Tampa Bay won't be desperate to take a defensive tackle in the first round this year. That's because one of the players the Bucs are targeting is Stillman College DT Sammie Lee Hill, who is projected to be a later-round pick and considered by some to be a real sleeper in this draft.
LINEBACKER – 10% The Bucs are determined to play Quincy Black, Adam Hayward and Geno Hayes because they have draft picks (one third- and two sixth-round selections) invested in them. Tampa Bay won't be able to determine what it has in those players unless it plays them. The Bucs obviously aren't in the market for a middle linebacker since Barrett Ruud is the starter there and Niko Koutouvides was added to the backup competition during the offseason.
However, one could make the case for the Bucs using their first-round pick on an outside linebacker, even after the team signed Buffalo free agent LB Angelo Crowell.
Crowell is a talented and productive player when healthy, but he is recovering from a knee injury and condition teams, including the Bucs, expressed concern over.
Crowell will compete with Black while Hayes competes with Jermaine Phillips, who was moved from strong safety to outside linebacker this offseason.
That experiment could end as soon as draft weekend if the Bucs decide to use their first-round pick on a linebacker – something the team hasn't done since 1995 when it selected 11-time Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks.
One player the Bucs could seriously consider drafting with the 19th overall pick is USC LB Brian Cushing, who is considered a good run defender and pass rusher. If the Bucs were to select Cushing in the first round, Phillips likely would be moved back to safety to compete with Sabby Piscitelli.
But Tampa Bay selecting a linebacker in the first round is far from a lock since some of the players it appears to be targeting are linebackers that will be available in the later rounds. That includes Ole Miss LB Ashlee Palmer, Western Illinois LB Jason Williams and USF LB Tyrone McKenzie. All three players have had pre-draft visits with the Bucs.
As of right now, the chances of the Bucs taking a linebacker in the first round appear to be slim, but no one can rule it out.
WILD CARDS There are two positions that are worth mentioning in regards to Tampa Bay's first-round pick because there is a slight chance the Bucs could target one of them with the 19th overall pick in the draft, although we must stress that it appears to be unlikely at his point.
The Bucs are very high on Kansas State QB Josh Freeman. They had a pre-draft workout with him and Bucs head coach Raheem Morris worked with Freeman in 2006 while serving as Kansas State's defensive coordinator.
Freeman has impressive physical attributes, including a cannon for an arm, but he is an early-entry junior who completed less than 60 percent of his passes at the collegiate level.
Before they added Byron Leftwich through free agency, there was a good chance the Bucs were going to draft Freeman, but with Leftwich onboard Tampa Bay has the four quarterbacks it was looking to take into training camp.
Plus, the Bucs have some other positions they need to address over quarterback. But with Luke McCown and Leftwich having two years on their respective contracts, and McCown and Josh Johnson unproven, one could still make the case for the Bucs drafting Freeman.
Remember – Tampa Bay hasn't drafted a quarterback in the first round since 1994 (Trent Dilfer) and while it hopes McCown or Johnson will emerge as the quarterback of the future, drafting Freeman would increase Tampa Bay's chances of solidifying the most important position in football.
The other position to keep in mind is running back. Sources have informed Pewter Report that the Bucs are extremely high on Ohio State RB Beanie Wells, who is believed to be the top-rated running back in this draft.
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Wells is a powerful and explosive back, which is what Jagodzinski craves in his zone blocking scheme. But when the Bucs signed Derrick Ward in free agency the chances of Tampa Bay drafting Wells dropped dramatically.
The Bucs have Ward, Earnest Graham, Cadillac Williams and Clifton Smith in their stable of running backs. That's a crowded backfield, but no one can rule out the possibility of the Bucs drafting Wells with the 19th overall pick because of the fact that Ward and Graham are 28 and 29, respectively, and Williams is coming off his second major knee injury in as many seasons.